Thursday, January 27, 2011

Educators' Role in an ICT World

Today Dr. Glen Gatin presented on the role of educators in a networked world. His main point reflected that in a world where technology is constantly changing and evolving, it is absolutely essential that teachers become experts in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). More and more of the economy revolves around intangible products and information that are built, exchanged, bought, sold, and shared via ICT. This means that because one of the goals of education is to equip its students to enter the job market and create a vibrant, successful economy, teachers cannot avoid technology and must remain cutting edge rather than archaic in this realm.

Modern technology gives students access to more information at any point in time than a teacher could ever know or care to know. Consequently, the tradition role of a teacher as being the expert in the classroom has changed. Teachers today are asked to coach, guide, and model how to aggregate, filter, connect to, and develop proper attitudes towards the great plethora of information available through technology. Instead of giving students the answer, teachers are now asked to model how to learn. For example, in alternative to presenting specific problems and giving the students the solution step by step, teachers need to give students large problems with multiple approaches to multiple solutions and model how to go about retrieving answers using ICT. Through this process, students will learn to monitor their own learning and start thinking about problems from many angles with many solutions. This is the skill that the "real world" will ask of students in their future. Teaching students meta-cognitive skills while using ICT will allow them to become successful in the future.

If you want more information about ICT ideas and tools teachers can use in the classroom, here is a link to Dr. Glen Gatin's course wiki.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is the Internet Making us Smarter or Dumber?

There is an ongoing debate about how the internet, the wide open, world wide vehicle for communication and information exchange, is impacting us personally and us as a society. For example, here are two links to articles that take a total different side to the issue:
Does the Internet Make You Dumber? by N. Carr
Does the Internet Make You Smarter? by C. Shirky

I think the internet, like any other tool before it (i.e. TV, paper press), cannot be blamed for helping or hindering learning in an individual or us as a society. I'd like to believe that individuals and society are responsible for their own intelligence. However, I also relate with N. Carr by recognizing that with the increase of technology and the huge availability of information, the level of distraction, skimming, and shallow reading detract from actual comprehension and understanding. But is that the internet's fault?

For example, if I am a student in a classroom with access to Wi-Fi and I am distracted by TSN, Facebook, and Twitter, is it the internet's fault that I do not comprehend as much information as I could be if I would not be on these sites? Or is it the genius of the internet if I am gleaning more information by reflecting on the class information on a blog post or collaborating with other students on a class project using Twitter? Deciding to be distracted or become engaged online is the final decision of the internet user. I think the only way the internet will be successful in increasing individual and societal intelligence is if we as users take ownership over how we use it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Social Media Irony in the Classroom

Today I sat in on a presentation by John Finch about using social media in the classroom. I found it extremely interesting how divided school divisions are about the use of tools such as Facebook and Twitter to aid student learning. For example, the Pembina Trails School Division actually have a Facebook and Twitter page and use them to notify students and parents of events going on in the division.

Here is a tweet from today: pembinatrailsSD Due to -45 C windchill there will be NO SCHOOL BUS SERVICE TODAY.

The ironic thing is Pembina Trials, like most school divisions in the province of Manitoba, actually block social networking sites so students do not have access to them at school. So while they obviously recognize the huge benefit these tools have in aiding communication and developing school community, they refuse to give students access to these tools to aid their learning.

Now the question remains, if school divisions do not block social networking sites, how do they approach students' misuse of social media sites such as facebook and twitter during school hours? Although I do not have any concrete answers, I believe that it is up to us as educators to teach students how to use these tools appropriately. This will mean that teachers will have to pull students aside and speak to them about their "online life". It may also mean that we may have to "suspend" computer privileges to certain students that are not adhering to policies set up by the school division regarding the use of social networking sites.

However, the alternative of not using these tools in the classroom is that students WILL use them outside of the classroom with LITTLE guidance, and no sense of ACCOUNTABILITY. Using them in school will set up a structure where social networking can create COMMUNITY, increase COLLABORATION, increase ACCOUNTABILITY, ENGAGE students, and give them more tools to access INFORMATION and increase LEARNING. The benefits of social media in the classroom far outweigh the consequences. The ironic thing is, in a world that is driven by technology, schools are a far cry from being connected.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

WBCs and Student Ownership

Ok, so I like acronyms, I think it may be a teacher thing. WBC stands for Web Based Courses, which I had the privilege of hearing about from Howard Griffith on January 13th. He had a lot of very interesting things to share about WBCs including how successful they are here in Manitoba.

Howard started the presentation by giving us as pre-service teachers a look into the spectrum of how students are instructed in Manitoba. Traditionally, and still the most common practice, a classroom of students are taught by a teacher; this method is called face to face instruction (or F2F if you like acronyms like I do). This allows for high teacher to student interaction throughout the learning process. At the other end of the spectrum is the independent student option (ISO) in which the student is basically working totally independent of any teacher guidance and all work submitted is marked by a tutor. WBCs fall in the middle of F2F and the ISO. In this case, the teacher acts as more of a guide than an instructor.

Howard suggested that on average, students perform better in blended courses, such as WBCs, than in a F2F situation or the ISO. This got me thinking about why this would be the case and I came up with one possible theory. In F2F, it becomes real easy for the student to become dependant on the teacher for content information, resources, and even judging how they are doing in their own learning. In ISO, the student must be extremely organized, motivated, and aware of their learning to succeed. WBCs take the best of both worlds. The teacher is there for students when they have a question or need guidance about their own learning. However, at the same time students must be motivated and take some ownership of their learning so they can keep on track with the course. This means students cannot depend solely on the teacher, which gives them motivation to take ownership of their own learning, while still having someone to fall back on when they need some help.

So that's my theory of why blended courses such as WBCs work better than other forms of instruction. What do you think?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the presentation by John Evans on January 6th regarding PLNs as I was in The Gap playing volleyball. However, since then I have been doing some research on PLNs and have found some interesting connections to my own personal and professional life.

A PLN stands for a Personal Learning Network. As teachers, a PLN allows us to connect with people to learn from and share with. The first time I heard about a PLN was in my ITC class last year, and I have been working on developing mine since then. Most people have some sort of PLN naturally. This could include facebook, twitter, the local media, blogs, or whatever else allows a person to connect with someone else to acquire or share information. The great thing about the great technological boom in the last few decades is it allows us as teachers to access and share a lot more information with way more people. For example, you may see a blog post on your RSS feed from a fellow student teacher about a website they have found extremely useful in developing lesson plans in your subject area. This information may help you develop new innovations in your classroom and because of the find, you also post a link on your twitter page and blog so other teachers that are connected to you will also benefit. If working correctly, the whole education world and society as a whole will benefit from the open sharing of information through PLNs because good information will be widespread, while useless and impractical information will die out.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Purpose For BUFunkED

The purpose for this blog is to reflect and discuss topics and opinions presented in my Internet for Educators course at Brandon University. I am really looking forward to this class because it incorporates technology into teaching. There have been many new technologies and internet tools that I have incorporating into my previous student teaching experiences. Two big benefits have come from it, teaching efficiency and effectiveness.

First of all, technology has made my job as a teacher more efficient. For example, Dropbox has eliminated the need for me to carry around a flash stick and remember to save multiple copies of the same document in numerous places. Dropbox makes sure I have access to the most recent version of any document or presentation when and where I need it.

Technology also makes me a more effective teacher because it engages students. Today's students are more technology savvy than ever. Therefore, it becomes my job as a teacher to stay a couple steps ahead of my students in the technology world and teach the content in a way that students understand. Viewed this way, using old technology to teach the same content (such as overhead projectors) becomes a distraction to the delivery of material and students may view the teacher like he or she is 'speaking a foreign language'.