Bridging Global Classrooms

Last week I embarked on a new journey with 4 classroom teachers at my school. We decided to participate in a Global Collaborative eBook Project called If You Learned Here. Based on the book If You Lived Here, students and teachers will connect over several weeks and share what learning looks like in our schools. The end goal is to create an eBook representing learning across the globe.

It’s my first time participating in a global project like this, and also my first time participating in something without having a class of my own! As edTech coach I am helping to coordinate the 4 participating teachers (who are spread across two campuses), and we managed to get our first school video together to post on our cohort’s flipgrid.

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Screenshot from our cohort’s Flipgrid board

Here is our video:

Global Connections

I first found out about the project through Twitter when Kim Cofino posted a tweet advertising this opportunity. Just another perfect example of how Twitter and Blogging inspire each other!

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It immediately peaked my interest as I’m already a huge fan of the Book Creator app, and I tend to jump at any opportunity to encourage teachers & students at my school to engage with tech in unique and meaningful ways. It is also an opportunity for students to connect with students from around the globe, while providing a purpose for teachers to expand their PLNs while learning the concept of a global collaborative project. What I also love about this project is it promotes the use of tech at the top phase of higher-order thinking skills: creation. Each week participating students have the opportunity to create something and contribute to global learning.

Blooms Inverse.001

Looking at this project through the lens of SAMR, I definitely see it as operating in the Redefinition phase as the collaborative aspect of this project could not exist without the use of technology. Furthermore, the end goal involves a multi-media eBook drawing on information shared across various platforms, further redefining a new task.

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Image created by Jonathan Brubaker

I’m also pleased that it encourages participants to try 2 new platforms: Flipgrid and Padlet, both which easily enable collaboration between schools. I see potential for both of these platforms to be used in future projects, whether connecting student blogs or collaborating on UOIs. It will be interesting to survey teachers at the end of this project and see what they think about using these tools again.

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Screenshot from If You Learned Here Padlet Board

Change = Growing Pains

After completing week 0 and week 1 of the project, I’ll admit that being in a coordination role has it’s challenges as the participating teachers have different levels of confidence with tech in general. Keeping the ISTE Coaches Standards in mind, I really wanted to be there as a facilitator and scaffold this opportunity for them, while still putting the classroom teacher in the driver’s seat. I knew it would feel overwhelming for some, but I’m working towards taking the training wheels off for staff at our school, and I want them to begin finding answers for themselves, rather than relying on me to find the answers for them. Initially I had an encouraging 11 respondents. Yet after maintaining my position, and continually guiding them to look and refer to specific areas on the blog for their answers, only 4 teachers decided to commit. Nonetheless, as this is my first year in this role and at this school, I see every new project and challenge as an opportunity to ‘sandbox’ it and follow up with evidence and success stories for the following year.

One of the biggest challenges was coordinating the flipgrid video, as we need 1 video on our school’s behalf, yet not all teachers work on the same campus. For this first week’s task I decided to support teachers and asked each class to submit a few photos or collages answering the questions posed on Week 1 Flipgrid which focused on Our School & Community. A few teachers found this task time-consuming, and at the end of creating the iMovie, I realised I needed to video the video itself in order to upload the final product onto Flipgrid. Whoops…huge learning opportunity for me! I ended up contacting the coordinators of the project (Carolyn Skibba and Mary Morgan Ryan) who suggested sharing the flipgrid across the 4 classes, so each class took turns responding to future weekly questions. I thought it was pretty incredible how responsive they were and how quickly they were able to partner with me in finding a solution for our school. This interaction here further emphasises the importance of communitynetworks and connectivism, in order for authentic learning to happen. Without Twitter and email connections, how could educators and classrooms troubleshoot together?

The project also has a fantastic twitter feed to under #ifyoulearnedhere and I’ve already exponentially expanded my PLN just from following participants in this feed. I just love how this project promotes natural integration of social media and collaboration tools!

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Changing Learning Landscapes

Without question, this project illustrates how educational landscapes are changing and expanding. No longer are we confined to the walls of our classroom.. for sharing learning globally is both encouraged and expected in many schools already. No longer is learning separated by its discipline, we can connect all disciplines through project-based learning opportunities. No longer does communication and showcasing exist solely in writing and images..we have opportunities for live video-feed and engaging with classrooms in real-time. No longer do we need to refer to a guide book to find answers…we can contact the creators themselves! I think this project is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the kind of learning that can happen, both for teachers at my own school and beyond. I was inspired by Kim Cofino’s related blog post that outlines Step by Step  how to set up a global collaboration. At the moment, I feel I’m playing catch up on a few of those steps as I troubleshoot and find the best way to support teachers in my coordination role, but overall I am thrilled to be participating in this unique opportunity for students & teachers and can’t wait to see where our learning stands in 6 weeks when it’s all finished.

Device Blaming & App Shaming

“We banned Minecraft in our house because my child was addicted to it, so I don’t think it has a place in the classroom.”

“Kids already use iPads at home, why should they use it during school?”

“Where can I fit actual teaching in if all they’re doing is learning technology?”

Sound familiar? I must have conversations like this at least once a week. I’ll admit that 4 years ago, I wasn’t so clear myself on the role of technology in the classroom, especially when working in a 1:1 environment. But through my own dabbling and expanding my PLN, I was inspired and motivated to bring my classroom up to par with 21st Century Schools. So while I empathise with teachers, admin and parents who consider themselves digital immigrantsit is up to the individual to (as this Coetailer put it)  Grow Smart or Go Home (Coetail Blog).

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Image from: Technapex

Going Back to Basics

It’s hard to believe the article Shaping Tech for the Classroom, written nearly a decade ago, still rings true in many classrooms today. As I mentioned in my previous post, Back to the Future Syndrome, it’s frightening how far into the 21st Century we are, with many of the same initial resistance to shifting educational paradigms.

While researching this Tech Evolution image above (which I initially saw and retweeted on Twitter a few months ago), I came across a pertinent article that describes how educators can shift teaching today to meet the needs of learning for tomorrow. Sam Gliksman details how we need to adjust learning in the classroom to reflect the 8 Pillars of 21st Century Learning listed below. I’d like to consider looking at these 8 pillars through an EdTech lens, to better illustrate how tech as a tool can promote these outcomes in students of all ages:

1. Play: Problem-solving as a skill can only be learned through exploring and experimenting. Could giving students ‘dabble time’ on iPads, coding programs and offline tech (such as BlueBots, Raspberry Pi) promote this pillar while also addressing transdisciplinary skills?

2. Create: What will students be expected to create 5 years from now? 10 years from now? What will university and job applications look like? How could digital creativity transfer to analogue creativity?

3. Socialize: According to Mimi Ito  students are already socializing in digital spaces. They have ‘friendship-driven participation’ and ‘Geeking-Out participation’..what is our role in educating appropriate behaviours in these spaces? What opportunities for digital citizenship practice exist by embracing these changing social norms?

4. Discover: Teachers are no longer the experts. How can technology promote curiosity and drive students to take initiative and become experts themselves? How can we dissolve classroom walls so students become life-long learners?

5. Experience: Building on from the importance of discovery, what opportunities are there for students to gain experience in certain areas of learning through a variety of modes and using a variety of tools (analogue and digital)? How can experience foster Growth Mindsets?

6. Express: What are the different forms of literacy students are exposed to and how are we teaching them to ‘read’ these literacies? What opportunities are there for students to practice expressing different forms of literacy using different media?

7. Move: How can we merge outdoor learning with indoor learning? What role does mobile-technology play in bringing real-world experience to student’s learning?

8. Relate: What is most relevant to students now? Do skills like handwriting and long division play a significant role in children’s day to day life experience? What are they curious about and how can we support their understanding of technology, as something they encounter every day?

When I look at these 8 goals, I cannot envision a classroom without devices and apps to support each individual pillar. I see not just a change in the tools we use, but a full-on revolution in what education should look like in 21st Century Schools.

Device Blaming

Education has been evolving for centuries now, yet for some reason we are hung up on digital technology not fitting in with this ‘natural’ evolution and change. This Edudemic article details the different forms of technology teachers have had to adopt over time, and how each proved a necessary step to prepare students for the future. By continually resisting changes such as 1:1 mobile devices and virtual learning environments, how are we harming our students?

We’ve certainly come a long way but some things seem hauntingly similar to many years ago. For example, Thomas Edison said in 1925 that “books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” I’m pretty sure this is exactly what people are saying these days about the iPad. (The Evolution of Classroom Technology, Edudemic)

Is the device (tool) to blame? Or our resistance to it? Are we ‘teaching technology’ or teaching skills? Why are we still having these discussions 15 years into the 21st Century?

Kevin Makice

Image Kevin Makice

App Shaming

One of my greatest challenges as an EdTech coach are those conversations (debates, at times) of certain apps used in the classroom. While there are a wide range of fabulous creation-based apps available, many teachers expect the app to ‘be the teacher’, leaving children alone with the iPad and expecting meaningful learning to result. While many creation apps can be self-taught by students, after the initial dabble and experimentation time, isn’t it up to the teachers to ensure it is used appropriately? Similarly, we wouldn’t just give students a stack of paper and a pair of scissors day after day and expect them to produce something in line with classroom outcomes. There is a time and place for creativity, exploration and a time and place for scaffolded instruction. Initially, the free inquiry might be exhilarating and productive. However, over time, plunking students in front of the same tools (or app) may not result in meaningful creations, thus causing the teacher to resort to the old argument that the app is a waste of time.

I also think many of the misconceptions of app-use in the classroom stems from a general lack of understanding for the Prosumer environment we are trying to cultivate.  Of course there are hundreds of apps whose general purpose is consumption. However, it is up to educators, coaches and admin to promote a culture of creating, where the majority of apps bring students through Blooms Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking Skills. It’s been interesting to work with students who have iPads at home and, when provided one at school, watch them race to find the games and youtube videos. We need to differentiate iPad and app use in classrooms from iPad and app use at home. As educators we have the responsibility to set expectations for device-use; just as classroom social behaviours may differ from at-home behaviours, we should teach prosumer behaviours, even if it’s a consumer behaviour at home.

Mike Licht Schulkanab mit iPad, after Albert Anker

 

Image by Mike Licht

Moving towards 22nd Century Learning

The question shouldn’t be What’s right for right now? but rather What’s right for tomorrow? Many teachers and parents are stuck thinking that the way they learned is what’s best for their child today. However, if we’d learned the way our parents had (in my case, the 1950s and 1960s) how would any of us have been prepared for the digital age?

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Image: First Computer Wikipedia

I think we also forget that many of the students in our classrooms couldn’t fathom a world without iPhones, Skype and wifi. This entertaining clip from The Ellen DeGenres Show highlights just how foreign certain (familiar) objects are for young students of the 21st Century.

As most revolutions go, it’s the peaceful ones that truly promote lasting change. We can’t fight the resistance but we can model the potential. Ultimately it’s not about getting the world to love technology, but about having the world see how learning is enhanced through the use of technology. As Bob Dylan once sang, The times they are a changin’…and so must we.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7qQ6_RV4VQ[/youtube]

Becoming e-Literate with new literacies

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 15.35.43Photo: A grade 1 student types a title for her first Easy Blogger Jr post on her class blog. (J.Sutherland 2014)

Q: Is she practicing literacy, digital literacy, network literacy skills….Or all three?


New Media & 21st Century Literacy

What can teachers and schools do to properly integrate new media into taught curriculums? Should digital literacy skills be linked with existing literacy outcomes, or should they be taught separately?  Is it necessary to connect and network in order to practice digital citizenship? These are just a few of the tensions I have after the beginning chapters of Jeff Utecht’s Reach.

According to Utecht there is a definite but slight difference between digital and network literacies. In short he summarised it as: Networked Literacy is about understanding connections.(Reach p 30).

I love the succinctness of this, but I’m left feeling more baffled than ever before. This was actually the first time I’d ever heard of the term ‘network literacy’. Up until now, I’ve always grouped so-called ‘network literacy’ skills under the umbrella term of ‘digital literacy’, or ‘digital citizenship’. Now I see that the two (or three) terms might need to be taught, practiced and assessed separately.

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Photo: Grade 4 students learning about Creative Commons Search for their collaborative eBook on Google Slides. Network, Digital or Both? (J.Sutherland 2014)

Thankfully, contrary to 5 years ago when Reach was published, this term has now been defined by several sources. Wikipedia has defined Network Literacy as:...the basic knowledge and skills required for citizens to participate in the networked society. (Wikipedia)

To me, this seems a very general definition that still overlaps with definitions of digital literacy, for example Cornell University defines it as:…the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet. (Cornell U)

I appreciated how Terry Heick of Te@chThought recognised this overlap and addressed it in his blog post whereby he further defined Digital Literacy as:…the ability to interpret and design nuanced communication across fluid digital forms (TeachThought)

Between these 3 related, yet separate definitions, my head is spinning. While recognised, online definitions provide subtle clarity, perhaps the greatest tension for me is: What does this look like in every day classrooms…and how should we modify existing literacy curriculums?


Theory vs. Practice

If, according to Yancey (Reach p. 28) we have “moved beyond a pyramid-like, sequential model of literacy development”, then how exactly do curriculums need to change in order to ensure all elements of network and digital literacy are modelled and practiced in todays classrooms? Utecht’s related post about The Age of Composition explores these evolving ideas around network literacy. This post raised important points about  the ‘backwards’ nature of writing in today’s world:

We need to start by looking at how writing has changed in our daily lives. Where do we go to read, how do we write, what do we write, and who do we write to? Once we know this we can build a model that meets the needs of how to teach writing. (TheThinkingStick)

As both a classroom teacher and technology coach I identify with these shifting priorities in writing. The Done Manifesto is an excellent example of the value of putting ideas first, and perfection second. As a society, we are beginning to value creativity, spontaneity and personal voice over regimented standards and predictable writing patterns. According to an article in The Guardianreaders want more ‘instant gratification’. New norms are being established as new forms of writing reveal themselves; emails, blogs, comments…are defining their unique organisational structure. Could these be taught much the same way traditional text types like reports and persuasive essays are structured? Evaluating changing literacy habits is important and needs to be unpacked by curriculum leaders in schools so that we can implement changes sooner and properly prepare students for the written world of today.


Practicing Digital Citizenship in the Classroom

When I’ve integrated and promoted the use of blogs as a classroom teacher, I’ve relied on my own understanding of digital and network literacy and created links with the school’s literacy standards. While this never felt like an efficient or effective way to bridge the gap between digital literacies and school outcomes, I felt it was necessary to ensure my students left Grade 4 more digitally literate than when they started. I wonder how many other classroom teachers feel this way?

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Photo: Fatimah’s blog receives comments from other G4s. Publishing to the blog and giving feedback were common practices in our classroom. Is this evidence of addressing network and digital literacy skills? (J.Sutherland 2013)

 From my experience, the best way to expose students to necessary digital and network literacy skills is to have them experience and practice them first hand. In my G4 classroom, students were responsible for keeping track of posts and assignments on our class blog and each student created their own publishing space through their own student blogs. We often revisited our blog and compared it with other blogs and classes we were following to see where everyone could improve. Throughout the year, we naturally addressed different elements of digital citizenship: from appropriate and valuable commenting, to page layout, to making global connections with other schools, to what kinds of ideas students should share publicly.

At the time, our school had not adopted any specific digital literacy outcomes as listed, for example, on ISTEs Student Standards. Nonetheless, I was able to make several links with the current literacy outcomes which actually addressed existing literacy outcomes in the Reading, Writing and Viewing strands. For example, blogs provided students a new platform for publishing and reading a variety of relevant text types. Comments promoted peer-peer feedback and empowered students to express themselves in writing. Students learned the organisational features of blogs, as well as comments. Design elements were naturally considered and incorporated into different posts.  It was through this digital platform that I realised how rich the blogging experience could be for students as it truly was a transdisciplinary approach to practicing and assessing key literacy skills.


Final Thoughts: COETAIL Week 1 

I anticipated this first post to be easy as I have been keeping my own personal, class and professional blogs for several years now. However, unpacking these new ideas about network vs. digital literacy left me with more questions than answers and I find myself ‘stuck’ for the moment on these tensions.

One point I keep coming back to in Reach is this: If we are to teach our students to become prosumers of information in today’s connected digital world, then we need to understand and become prosumers ourselves. (Reach p.6)

The definitions for digital literacy are continually changing and evolving, and new terms seem to be emerging each year. What can teachers do to keep up with the evolution of literacy, while still helping students achieve expected outcomes? Perhaps getting online ourselves, and learning and changing with our students is the best way to serve them…for now.


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Photo: Grade 1 respond using Easy Blogger Jr. to a Kindergarten class inquiring about ‘how to start blogging‘ (J.Sutherland 2014)