Online Learning

The topic of online learning is one that is fairly near and dear to my heart.  As a mother of two small kids, there is nothing I love more then organizing childcare for an hour and a half while I zip downstairs to my basement to attend class, rather then organizing childcare for 3 or more hours while I drive to the university to attend face-to-face class.

Although I am a huge online learning fan, it comes with little experience.  Before taking EC&I 833, I had never used Zoom nor had I ever created a blog.  Both of these online learning tools have proven extremely useful to me in my studies.  I have really enjoyed exploring Zoom to attend class each week and can see myself trying to use this online tool in the future with adult learners, high school students or meetings with colleagues.  The use of break out rooms in Zoom creates a great forum for small group discussions while the large group format is great for facilitating information.  I am anxious to use Zoom for my class presentation in just two short weeks.  Demonstrating my learning through the use of a blog has also been extremely useful to me.  After getting over the vulnerability factor of putting your thoughts and opinions “out there” for your entire class and professor to read, I began to enjoy linking my classmates information to my own.  Perhaps a little embarrassed to admit, I also figured out to “hyperlink” through the use of blog.  After a quick text message to my helpful classmate, Channing, she was able to help me figure out this technology skill.  Something as simple as learning how to hyperlink made me feel totally accomplished as an online learner (small gains, people, small gains).

The use of Twitter also seems like an effective and relevant online teaching tool.  However, it would be essential for all learners to be actively using their accounts in order to ensure that posts, readings or comments were all being viewed by students.  As such, Twitter seems like a great means to ask questions to a group of students but as an instructor, you can’t guarantee all students are going to participate.  Also, some learners may feel uncomfortable to answer posed questions on such a public forum.  For example, questions on Twitter that have been posed by EC&I students for presentation purposes seem appropriate.  These are questions such as inquiries into peoples experience with assessment or technology use.  However, an instructor would have to be very careful of incorporating questions regarding personal matters such as religion or politics.  These types of topics may be best suited for more private forums like Zoom rather then on a such a public forum like Twitter.

When asked the question, “How would you feel about teaching with these tools in an online or distance education class?” I consider my experiences in taking an online education class.  In my opinion, one won’t feel confident or have the chance to be successful, until you try.  A couple of weeks ago, my classmate, Collette, talked about always encouraging her students to take risks.  This applies to adult learners and teachers, as well.  One won’t feel comfortable teaching with online tools that promote distance learning, until you utilize and practice with them.  I can relate to the concept of taking risks when considering my 10th and final class in my masters program.  Like my classmate, Kyla, I am also motivated to take EC&I 834 to gain insight and education on the topic of designing online and blended learning environments.  Have I ever designed an online course?  No.  Will I be successful at it?  I will only know if I take a risk; if I try.

Considering the idea of learning how to create and facilitate an online course, I think of the types of students that would benefit so much from this type of structure.  As I tweeted this past week, “Online education can be far more effective then f2f when considering barriers such as distance, personal issues or family situations.  For example, a f2f classroom leaves little room for the nursing mother or those struggling with social anxieties.”  This week’s reading addresses these types of learners; those with disabilities, handicaps or sicknesses.  Subrahmanyam and Ravichandran (2013) state, “There are many students that are unable to go to a traditional school setting because they cannot get around easily or a low immune system and get sick from other students. Distance education can help in these cases because the students will not have to leave their home or be around other people. It makes it possible for these students to still learn and to be able to get a good education (p. 6).”  I think that when considering the benefits of online learning for students who face barriers in face to face learning settings, it is hard not to imagine yourself, as a teacher, doing one’s best to learn and facilitate an effective online learning opportunity

The Highs and Lows of Technology

The video assigned for this week’s blog prompt was a humorous way to describe the distractibility that children and adults face due to the accessibility of technology.  When posed with the question, “Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?,” I have to argue that it is dependent on the individual.  Like many of my classmates have stated, the use of technology requires self-discipline, time management and self awareness.  Sage provides suggestions for increased productivity in her blog like “putting your phone away, giving yourself deadlines, closing extra tabs on your browser, and preventing information overload by setting time limits for research.”  I can relate to these suggestions.  Each week, I often find myself writing blogs for EC&I 833 with focus on connecting my blogs to assigned readings in addition to my classmates responses.  This has often left me feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information I want to include and unfortunately, short on time.  Therefore, setting time limits for research is of use to me in my studies.  In addition to this suggestion, I have also noticed that putting my phone where it is out of reach and unable to distract me has increased my productivity and ability to be “present” in my daily tasks and relationships.  As stated, two suggestions from Sage’s blog are of use to me in my work and personal life.  For someone else, it may be different.  I feel like it depends on the individual, their learning style, ability to focus, ability to ignore distractions and the severity of the task at hand.

It is clear that the Internet has the ability to distract individuals from tasks at hand and conversations with others.  The multitasking associated with the use of technology can give it’s use a bad reputation.  However, it is important to understand the benefits that technology can provide it’s users.  Over the course of EC&I 833, we have witnessed the productivity that tools like Google docs, Twitter and Zoom can provide for students and teachers, alike.  Research methods for learners are literally, right at peoples fingertips with access to smart phones and the Internet.  I echo my classmate Scott when he states the following,

“Given everything that we know, both good and bad about the internet, one thing is for certain – digital citizenship is more important now than ever and needs to be taught (by parents and teachers) starting at an early age.”

I believe that it is up to parents and educators to teach our future generations how to responsibly use technology and ways in which they can prevent it from hindering productivity in both their work and personal lives.  This week, my classmate Katie posted an excellent article addressing this issue.  “Balance in the Digital Age” by Jim Steyer outlines the importance of families understanding how addictions to technology can promote multitasking and thus, negatively affect child development and human connections.  Steyer stresses the importance of developing strategies (similar to those outlined early in this post) to “maintain humanity and ensure that while we are all connected electronically, we do not lose our ability for human connection.”  In an age where productivity and human connection can be so easily lost to a world of social media posts and text messages, it is important to teach society how to be responsible and productive, digital citizens.

Distinguishing Reality: Sesame Street vs. School

One of the tasks of this week’s blog was to unpack Neil Postman’s quote, “… We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.”  In a failed attempt to find this exact quote, I uncovered an interview Postman gave in 1989.  Postman expressed similar views to the one provided where he criticized Sesame Street as providing a false representation of what schooling is.  He specifically states, “It may be that watchers of Sesame Street are learning their letters and numbers, but they are also learning many other things about learning. They are learning that it must always be entertaining, that learning is largely a matter of images, and that learning has to involve immediate gratification.”  I suppose the first thing that I would like to point out is that Neil Postman made his opinions and statements regarding Sesame Street in the late 1980s… this is 30 years ago.  Although I discussed in last week’s blog how Seymour Papert critiqued education as evolving very little over the last 100 years, one could argue that today’s classrooms, educational strategies and teachings look different then the way they did in the late 1980s.  Audiovisual technologies have allowed students to learn in new ways through things like iPad apps, youtube, SMART boards, etc.  I would argue that including technology in a learning environment promotes a more engaging experience for learners; one that might align more closely to educational programs such as Sesame Street.

Secondly, I think it is important to acknowledge that Neil Postman’s criticisms fail to address the responsibility that parents have in teaching their children that schooling isn’t going to be like television.  As a parent, allowing your children to watch programs like “Super Why” or using educational apps must be accompanied by the real-life experiences and teachings of concepts.  Ultimately, I believe that it is a parents duty to ensure that their child enters school with the understanding that he/she isn’t stepping into an episode of the Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle.  Sorry, kids.

The idea of preparing your child for a realistic schooling experience links closely to the opinions expressed in my classmate Daniel’s blog.  Daniel states, “As a teacher in a publicly funded public education system, my obligation is to teach my courses based on curriculum established by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan…  (television programs) do not have the restriction of needing to teach specific outcomes and making SURE their audience has demonstrated a sufficiently good understanding of that outcome to be successful.”  I think Daniel makes great points here.  We can’t allow educational television and computer-based games to set the standard for public schooling when the two are in totally different playing fields.

With all this being said, it is important for parents and educators to understand that although schooling will not be a walk down Sesame Street, the use of audiovisual technologies can allow an educational experience to be elevated to new heights for learners.  As one of this week’s articles points out, “Children learn differently and audio visual equipment gives teachers the chance to stimulate each child’s learning process with a combination of pictures, sounds and attention grabbing media.”  My classmate Brooke echoes this statement in her blog, when she explains that today’s technology capabilities allow teachers to actually show students concepts rather then just having them read about it or listen to explanations from a teacher.  I agree with both authors on this topic and see audiovisual technologies as a means to enhance student learning.  When audiovisual technologies are used to assist in the delivery of curricular outcomes, students are provided with engaging opportunities in school settings.

Understanding Constructionism

Part of this week’s task was to familiarize ourselves with a Logo emulator by using tasks outlined in this Logo Workbook.  Like Brooke, this was also my first experience using computer codes to generate images.  Perhaps my first observation of this coding program was how useful it would be in a mathematics class for students learning concepts such as angles, rays, patterning, sequencing, measurement and computation.  After receiving necessary instructions from teachers, students could practice skills using this program.  As the constructionism approach to learning suggests, the best way to learn is through active creation of something tangle outside of your head and that learning happens as a consequence of experience.  Allowing students to experience the creation of images based on computerized instructions, would allow this type of learning to take place.  I strongly believe that coding would provide an engaging activity that students could apply their knowledge in meaningful ways.

When exploring the work of Seymour Papert, the following video contributed greatly to my understanding constructionism.

In this video, Gary Stager discusses many of Papert’s powerful ideas and the impact Papert had on progressing computer-based eduction for children.  I would like to point out two points that struck me in this video.

1. Stager highlights the comparison that Seymour Papert made of a modern-day surgeon visiting a hospital 100 years ago to a modern-day teacher visiting a school 100 years ago.  Papert suggested that a modern-day surgeon would enter a surgery suite and not recognize anything about the practice.  However, if a teacher had a similar time machine and travelled back 100 years, they would know exactly what to do.  For me, this comparison really exemplifies how little education models have progressed, despite evolution of the digital world.  This can serve as encouragement for educators to continue their work in incorporating computer-based education (such as the use of coding and other programs) into everyday teachings in schools.

2. Stager spoke of Papert’s belief that educators need to create a mathland where learning mathematics comes naturally.  Papert believed that we need to provide the youngest of learners with mathematical experiences that would not be possible without digital technologies.  He believed that if we were to provide these types of opportunities to students, then mathematics would be learned in a more engaging, natural way.  This idea of Papert reminded me of the Logo activities that we completed this week.  The Logo activities were engaging and would be a natural and meaningful way to teach and practice mathematical skills in today’s classrooms.

One example of how Canadian educators are practicing the ideas of Papert and constructionism is in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the provincial government has provided funding for students to learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics through activities such as computer coding.  Details of this project can be found in the following article:

As one teacher who is working to facilitate the technology-based education outlined in the article states, “Technology and certainly coding is a language that’s as important to learn as English in terms of our school system.”  This statement aligns with the beliefs of Papert and the importance he placed on technology as a tool for learning.

In closing, I am left to wonder if the Saskatchewan curriculum is progressing towards technology-based education and programs like those outlined in the news article about Newfoundland and Labrador school systems.  Any thoughts regarding this are welcomed!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.