Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?

Personally, I love many things the Internet offers. When I talk about the Internet, I refer to the surface web, not the deep dark web. I consider myself a very naive Internet user, who just found out about the different layers of the Internet a couple of weeks ago. I had no idea about the scary, dangerous parts it has. I like to use the Internet since it helps me learn and expand my knowledge as an individual, as a mom and a teacher.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/22/what-is-the-internet-13-key-questions-answered#img-2

Having said that, I also noticed that the Internet adds a lot of stress to my life. I would like to start with my life as a mom. Many of you might judge my parenting skills after this blog post, but I often notice, that I am not strong enough when it comes to setting limits to my children’s screen time. If I am busy doing house work, school work, that we often have to continue during our “free evenings”, taking university classes or doing homework, my children keep themselves entertained by playing video games or being on their phones. The guilt that my kids being on the Internet is giving me as a parent is indescribable. It often makes me mad as well since it is so strong holding my children’s interest and attention, that often times they don’t hear me or they have no free hands helping me, since these big smartphones do not fit into our pockets any more.

As a teacher, I see both the positive and negative side of the Internet. Being a non-native speaker who teaches EAL, having access to the Internet gives me a sense of calm and relief, since it is there to help me communicate with my students through a translating app, offers pictures to help my students understand words and concepts when we are stuck, as well as it provides a huge amount of materials and tools to make learning and teaching more engaging. On the other hand, I think it can be a distraction for our students especially when looking for information when writing a paper or working on a project. As the video, “Single-tasking is the new multi-tasking” suggested, having multiple tabs open makes it very easy to get side tracked. Staying on task requires a lot of self-control that often times even adults struggle with. When working on the Internet, with the constant notifications, it is literally impossible to focus on one task.

Before COVID 19, I viewed the Internet as a nice addition that we can use to make our learning and teaching more engaging and rich. During the Supplemental Learning schools were offering, it became the tool that caused the most frustration and stress in our household. Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn, be up to date, and use wonderful tools but the many-many hours of shoving information into our brains about how to use Seesaw, TEAMS, OneNote, and the list is endless, I felt that everything was coming so fast at me that I couldn’t really digest it. I need time to learn how to use and implement these tools purposefully. As my classmate Catherine said, I often feel like my head is spinning and having access to the Internet is taking a toll on my mental health.

Reflecting on multitasking, the main cause for me having multiple tabs open is that when having an endless to-do list, this gives me the feeling that I can achieve more in the same amount of time. My brain is always in a million places, thinking about the various needs of my students, my children and myself. And if I think about the Internet being a productivity tool or an endless series of distraction, I feel it definitely takes away from our time to build meaningful relationships. When I cannot have a quite meal with my children, or a good night sleep because of an email I receive on a Sunday evening, I start doubting the benefits of the Internet. At this point, I am very much looking forward to a COVID19 free time, to be able to immerse myself at my own pace into exploring and implementing the best tools the Internet offers in order to feel truly productive, since as Catherine said “Productivity tools are only helpful if the user has a plan to incorporate the tools in their daily routines”. And for now, I am soaking in Nancy‘s advice and taking one step at a time towards becoming a Productivity Ninja.

https://thinkproductive.co.uk/action-for-happiness-the-productivity-ninja/

AV technology in the classroom

According to The importance of audio visual technology in education “A wide selection of AV tools make teaching and learning a rich and enjoyable experience, inspire learners with creative and innovative multimedia activities and will also save time in lesson preparation”.

After my classmates’, Tammy, Tarina, Lisa, and Caleigh‘s, presentation on AV technology, I decided to reflect on the effect of AV tools on my childhood and teaching career.

To be honest, I cannot imagine my life without AV tools. In my childhood, I experienced what is like to live in darkness. During communism we spent many many hours in darkness due to power outage and the highlight of those years were playing board games by candle light. We had two hours of T.V. program every evening and a little bit more on Saturdays and Sundays. Unfortunately I cannot relate with my classmates regarding the Sesame Street. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry, Popeye, and Charlie Chaplin. I truly enjoyed them. We also had a Natural Geographic show and of course the celebration of our good old communist leader. Looking back makes me sad. At that time it felt normal, since I didn’t know what we were missing out on but today I feel it was terribly unfair. What makes me even more sad that there are still people who live in darkness, just like we did.

Being an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher, I actually think AV tools give a different meaning to teaching. Thanks to my classmate, Curtis who introduced the wonderful Microsoft Translator app to me, I can have a conversation even with my newcomer students who do not know one single word in English. With my beginner learners, I am heavily relying on various language learning programs, such as starfall.com, Reading A-Z, flocabulary.com, and vocabulary.com. Often times I feel that having access to the Internet can be a life saver. When I am trying to teach students various vocabulary words, such as “high chair”, “crib” or “playpen”, having the opportunity to pull out my phone and show them pictures makes teaching and learning a lot more accessible.

AV tools, such as Newsela, and Youtube videos also play a big role in my everyday life as a teacher. I particularly like Newsela, since it gives me the possibility to meet my students’ needs since it offers a wide variety of articles at different reading levels. I also find the rich content Youtube is offering very helpful. I like to incorporate videos, TED talks, and podcasts since they are great tools to improve my students’ listening skills as well. The rich content the various Open Educational resources offer, such as the Khan Academy, are great ways to teach flipped lessons, or provide students with the opportunity to study at their own pace with providing translation in several foreign languages. And talking about foreign languages, we cannot forget about the assistive technology that helps meet the needs of a wide variety of students.

Looking back at the four courses I took as part of my Masters Certificate Program in Educational Technology, I had the opportunity to experience the benefits of using AV tools to showcase my learning. Documenting my piano learning journey in the form of a podcast, creating a website and the summaries of learning are all examples of creative multimedia activities that took my learning to a higher level. I had the opportunity to incorporate some of my podcasts into teaching my students the author’s purpose. I played them three parts of my podcast and they had to identify if it was informative, entertaining or persuasive. The reason I decided to use my own podcast with my students was that I speak fairly slowly and I knew that was important for my English language learners. I also added a script to make it easier to understand. This way the activity not only focused on identifying the author’s purpose, but on developing listening and reading skills at the same time. While reflecting and writing about this activity, I started thinking, why I never asked my students to create their own informative, persuasive, and/or entertaining recording with a topic of their choice? I guess this is where the idea of “constructionism” comes in. Reflecting on our teaching is truly important. I just realized I missed out on a great opportunity that I would definitely incorporate in the future.

As a mom, I love watching my children’s recordings where they explain what they learnt. I think this is a wonderful way for students to explain their way of thinking as well as reflect on their learning. It is also a safe environment, where my English learners and the shy students do not have to fear about being judged and in case of a mistake, or a “bug”, there’s always the RETAKE button or the chance to “de-bug”.

There is one thing I do not agree with though from the quote, that lesson preparation with AV tools takes less time. Looking for the right materials, discovering and exploring the various open educational resources, creating games, collaborating with other professionals, dealing with lack of devices etc. can be very time consuming and stressful especially if the respective teacher is not comfortable using technology. I agree that a great teacher can teach a great lesson with-, or without AV tools. I also think that AV tools can truly be helpful when it comes to teaching EAL students. The opportunity to fly to the home country with the help of Google Earth is just one example of the many powerful AV tools.

https://www.google.com/earth/

Ironing out the “bugs”…

Piaget’s constructivism and Seymour Papert’s constructionism sparked my curiosity towards learning more about coding. I have been hearing this term for a while, but I never really knew what it meant. The word itself reminded me of my boring computer programming classes back in high school where I had no idea what was happening. Probably that was the main reason that I never really had any interest in doing coding until I tried out the Logo Emulator. As soon as I opened up the Logo Workbook, I was excited to try programming the Turtle. But when my square didn’t really look like a square, I realized that I ran into a “bug”.

It was a little embarrassing to see that I failed, but giving up was just not an option. Reading the workbook carefully did help and I really enjoyed the various activities. I noticed a shift in my way of thinking, that failing was not that bad after all, since it helped me stop and reflect on the “bug”. When I got to more complex shapes, I decided to break the commands down into smaller chunks. This way if I made a wrong turn with Turtle, I could fix it immediately instead of having to redo everything. I was able to see how coding requires constant problem solving and critical thinking while figuring out the right degree and direction of making Turtle turn.

I was blown away when I actually created these images. It took several tries, “debugging” but at the end the feeling of accomplishment was amazing. I was learning by doing, by constantly analyzing, and synthesizing the information.

When I realized how interesting coding was, I wanted my 9-year-old son to experience it and as I was scrolling down on my Facebook page, an ad came up WhiteHatJr online coding classes offering a free trial. I signed my son up immediately thinking that this might be a great opportunity for me to see other examples of coding while he gets to try it. It was an hour-long one-on-one session with a teacher from Mumbai. Within that one hour, we went through 8 different activities and both my son and I had a great time. It was interesting to watch my son play while using higher level thinking, problem solving, computational thinking mixed with a great deal of determination and perseverance when he ran into some problems.

My son only counted the rocks, but never realized the little person would have to jump from rock to rock. As a result, he was only able to get to the middle and then got stuck.

At the end of the hour-long session I was amazed how much one can learn through coding. As an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher, I was examining how it could be beneficial for my students. Both the LOGO and the activities my son participated in focused on teaching directions, degrees, and angles, counting and using various colours. Since these little games all have a story behind them, students can improve their language skills by reflecting on the game or retelling what the task was. I think it would be interesting to experiment with digital stories as well where students can combine various elements, such as text, images, and audio. This would be a very effective tool especially for language learners since it helps them put aside their fear of being judged. I would like to spend more time experimenting with Scratch since I think that would give more opportunities for my students to improve their English language fluency while creating digital stories.

But my curiosity never stopped and I borrowed a Bee-Bot to see what would it offer to my students? Although it is mostly recommended for younger learners, I can certainly see ways to adapt it and use it with my older students as well. My newcomer students who do not have experience using any kind of technology and have very limited vocabulary in English, this would be an amazing tool to learn in a fun way, to learn by doing.

http://brianaspinall.com/10-reasons-kids-should-learn-to-code/

Today I am convinced that coding is a very effective tool that, as Brian Aspinall says “allows differentiated instruction and personal learning environments”. It offers a reform in education by focusing on hands-on learning while guiding students to become thinkers instead of regurgitating information since “You never want to get on a plane where the pilot learned to fly from worksheets.”

Thank you for reading my blog 🙂

Me as a learner and a teacher

Throughout the years my teaching philosophy has been influenced by various learning theories. Since I work with small groups, behaviour problems are not something I need to deal with on a daily basis. I know, I feel quite fortunate! So, behaviorism from the perspective of focusing on the importance of consequences is not present in my daily life as a teacher. I do like to reward students though once in a while for their hard work just to show my appreciation. For evaluation purposes, I use report card inserts to show student growth, so just doing well in school to get good grades is not the case either. The benefit of using report card inserts is that it is always positive. It is a celebration of the improvement of my students’ English language skills.

https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/514606694893812608/?nic_v2=1a4YwBrQs

If I think back of my schooling, it was probably 90% based on behaviorism. We were constantly evaluated/ graded, so I studied because I wanted to get good marks.

https://media.giphy.com/media/3orif1xSQnwOkYIRjO/giphy.gif

Due to this, I feel that in my school, developing advanced problem solving skills, inferencing, critical thinking were not a priority and what affected me mostly later on in life was the lack of advanced English language development.

I was taught English for 12 years and when I moved to Canada, I struggled expressing myself. I cannot say that cognitivism was not present since I learnt vocabulary words, grammar, I also had a lot of information stored in an organized and meaningful manner. I had the connections in my mind, I just didn’t have the opportunity to create meaning from experience (Bednar et al., 1991). As described in the article, “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective”, I feel that the specific interaction between the learner and environmental factors are critical when it comes to creating knowledge. “Just as the learning of new vocabulary words is enhanced by exposure and subsequent interaction with those words in context (as opposed to learning their meanings from a dictionary), likewise it is essential that content knowledge be embedded in the situation in which it is used.” As my classmate, Lisa mentioned Meaningful Learning helps transfer knowledge in real life situations. The rote learning based on memorization that took place for so many years in my home country was taken to the next level by me getting the opportunity through my everyday life in Canada to implement what I had learnt. This gave me the opportunity to experience the constructivist approach to learning since my everyday interactions helped me to create meaning. In my realistic setting, I was able to learn “shades of meanings of given words” and it never felt like studying since it was all relevant to my lived experiences.

When looking back at my learning curve, I can certainly see the importance of the three crucial factors when trying to be successful at learning, especially when it comes to a foreign language: the activity (practice), concept (knowledge), and the culture (context) (Brown et al., 1989). As the constructivist approach states, in order for me to be able to transfer my knowledge, I needed to be “… involved in authentic tasks anchored in meaningful contexts”. As a language learner and English as an Additional Language teacher, I agree that “If learning is decontextualized, there is little hope for transfer to occur.” But teaching my students in small groups also gives me the opportunity to incorporate many of the principles of Connectivism, such as: learning and knowing diverse opinions and views, maintaining and nurturing connections that play an important role in learning, focusing on connections between different fields, ideas and concepts as well as incorporating accurate, up-to-date learning activities. Not only in school, but during my Master’s Certificate Program in Educational Technology, I have experienced that within our hub we are well-connected where we can foster and maintain knowledge flow.

Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby

Today I would describe my teaching and learning as a mixture of all four learning theories. It depends on the students’ proficiency level and personality what strategy I see more beneficial since I do not believe in one size fits all. But I ALWAYS try to be the guide on the side (Vygotski) in order to help my students feel safe while immersing themselves in their individual learning journey.

My personal understanding of educational technology

At the start of my 5th class with Dr. Alec Couros, I feel that my personal understanding of educational technology has been shaped enormously. Those people who took classes with me previously, are aware of my very different background. I grew up in Romania as part of a Hungarian minority group. Even though Communism ended in 1989 (I was in 5th grade), it took quite a long time to catch up to the rest of the world. So, I have seen and even been to a computer lab in high school where I was taught programming (still don’t have a clue what it is) and we went to Internet Cafes to check our emails and do a bit of reading. You’d think twice how long you’d browse there since it was not cheap.

https://media.giphy.com/media/13GIgrGdslD9oQ/giphy.gif

Looking back at my childhood and my students’ struggles they had to face in March of 2020, make me think of a serious issue discussed by Neil Postman. “Who specifically benefits from the development of a new technology? Which groups, what type of person, what kind of industry will be favoured? And, of course, which group of people will thereby be harmed?” One of my biggest concerns when thinking of educational technology is the digital divide. Working in a community school, many of our families cannot afford having devices. When switching to online teaching, it took a month for our families to receive one device per household. Then they had to figure out how technology works. Having the laptop up and running was not the end of the struggle though. The next problem was which child would have a turn on the computer?

Another concern is how technology is being used in the classroom, when all the obstacles of booking the devices and having them up and running are overcome? I am thankful for the many opportunities my school division offered to learn more and immerse myself in the world of educational technology. I had the opportunity to learn more about TEAMS, Seesaw, Razkids, Flocabulary, Vocabulary etc. English learning programs. The classes that I have been taking as part of my Masters Certificate Program in Educational Technology and the additional learning opportunities created by my school division create a nice blend in order to help me move towards a balanced personal TPACK model.

During our group discussion in class, Dean shared a very interesting thought “tech should be invisible”. Dean described technology as a tool that becomes part of the learning process giving more opportunities for students to learn. He also mentioned the SAMR model based on using technology with a purposeful way in order to enhance learning. Since teachers are at different levels in the area of Technological Knowledge as well as comfort level, I think there is a lot more work to be done in order to reach to the point where technology is not only used as a time filler.

https://startime.com.au/2018/03/07/integrating-technology-classroom-samr-model/

The SAMR model leads me to Kozma’s (1994) argument “If we move from “Do media influence learning?” to “In what ways can we use the capabilities of media to influence learning for particular students, task, and situations?” we will both advance the development of our field and contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning.”

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/designing-a-course-with-accountability-and-dales-cone-of-experience/

But is it only media that can help us master Dale’s Cone of Experience? Not necessarily, but I believe that educational technology can serve as an irreplaceable tool if used properly. Educators need to watch out for the trap of practicing pure “consumerism” and focus on learning and guiding students towards “creating”. And with creating comes sharing where we cannot forget about taking the time to teach our students how to navigate the world of technology safely by raising responsible digital citizens.

https://twitter.com/sylviaduckworth/status/590262107842617344

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