The Visibility of Learning

The ETMOOC orientation was really cool. Not because there was some grand proposition or revolutionary breakthrough. It was cool because it was honest and spontaneous. A bunch of people who signed up because of some mix of curiosity and interest in edtech. Most seemed to be MOOC first timers (myself included) and jumped into Blackboard Collaborate, writing all over Alec Couros’ slides.

At some point, two questions were proposed during the session. The first was, “how are you making your learning visible?”  And the second was, “how are you contributing to the learning of others?” I had to think long and hard on this. It may seem like an easy question, but it’s actually pretty loaded. Hence this post is a week after the orientation session. I hope it makes sense!

Making learning visible is sharing. Not just sharing what you learned, but how you learned it, what barriers you encountered, and the successes you had. Learning is a process, and when you can share your learning process with others, it in turn might help them with their learning processes. We stand on the shoulders of giants. We can get to new heights because someone had done legwork previous to us. But how do I make my learning visible? Twitter, Instagram, blogging, and good ol’ fashioned conversation.

I firmly believe I am contributing to the learning of others. I don’t just mean my students either. I think that I help inspire other teachers to some degree. I want to do this because I’m inspired by others. When there’s a teacher at my school who’s doing something interesting, I’ll pick their brain and ask questions about it. In turn, when I come across something that I think they’ll like and use, I’ll share it with them. The great thing is that they’re much more receptive of my input because I’ve initiated the relationship of sharing by asking for their input first. Sometimes teachers feel like their teaching style/method/integrity is being attacked when someone makes a recommendation or suggestion to them. And sometimes we’re too eager to tell someone how we think we can help them. To combat this, ask about them and their teaching first! Take that pressure off. Show them that you’re a learner and want help. I guarantee in the future they’ll be more receptive towards your input.

I’ll close this post with two final thoughts. First, I believe learning is infectious. It must come by as an intrinsically motivated thing causing others to want to learn as well. So make your learning visible! Show yourself as a learner, and not always a teacher. Foster a culture and relationship of learning, not telling, because individually we don’t have all the answers. Secondly, making learning visible is about forging relationships. When we have a relationship then we must communicate. When there’s a relationship there’s a sort of tangible two-way communication line via text, speech, or video/audio. If this is done in a PLN, your audience, and influence, might reach more than you know and forge new relationships. When these communications are made visible, the more people are able to jump in and learn with you.

PS  I’m very interested in trying a Google+ hangout. Never done one before, so if you’re interested comment, tweet, or email me. Hopefully we can learn something from each other.

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Text Talk: We Are Not Doomed

Text-talk_infographic

There has been a lot of concern expressed these days regarding the writing skills, or lack thereof, of our current generation of youth. Why? Some simply put the blame on texting.

I saw this article on my twitter feed one day and it grabbed my attention. It’s titled, “Text talk: Are abbreviated smartphone messages proof we’re linguistically doomed?”  The article is followed up by a snazzy infographic that has some really interesting information about texting (above).

This article is not a pessimistic “kids these days…” type of grumbling despite what it’s attention-grabbing headline might suggest. The end of the article, and infographic, seem to defend texting as a sort of evolution of language.

The article (well, I guess the author) also asks some very legitimate questions, such as:

  • Will text talk become our main form of communication in the future? 
  • Will the widespread use of text talk negatively impact the way we communicate? 
  • Are we engaged in the creation of a colorful new language every time we text?

I’m not going to directly answer these questions, instead I will use this article’s subject as an opportunity to write about some ideas that have long been on my mind.

The subject communication technology is really interesting to me because I feel I’m part of the age group that spans this generational gap between the “old school” and the “millenials” in which there has been a great change in the way we communicate. In other words, I remember the days when there were still rotary phones around, no Internet, and if you wanted to hang out with a friend you had to call their home and hope they were around. My age group then saw our communication technology quickly evolve into smartphones by the time we were in our 20’s.

The purpose of this article is to explore and share my thoughts about: the evolution of text communication, why abbreviated messages are hardly a threat to the integrity of language, and finally, why I think there seems to be a lack of good writers.

Communication Evolution

People learned to send messages even before language became text. When messages became text, they always had to be physically delivered. These messages would have to flow through a long chain of land transport, over a body of water (if need be), to yet another chain of land transport, and finally into the hands of the addressee.  If I had to write a letter that might not be seen for months, and require many more months to be responded to, I would take great care in crafting a message saying exactly what I meant it to. It would be absolutely necessary for proper grammar, spelling, and articulate and descriptive language.

It’s obvious to anyone that communication has evolved.

Like never before in history, everyday people now have the ability to send messages instantaneously across the globe. These messages could be a text with a simple 🙂 emoticon, a Facebook wall post asking how someone is doing, or a detailed business email. We no longer have to painstakingly edit and write what we want to communicate…if we even have to write it at all!

Why should I text, “Hello John Smith. How are you doing today? Would you like to arrange a time to meet up?” When I can just say, “sup?” and await a quick response. 

Communication has evolved to the point that there is not a serious consequence if we make a spelling or grammar error. People get the idea behind the message anyway, and if they don’t, it only takes seconds to rectify.

Texting and Abbreviations Are No Threat

When we text, we aren’t working through a long writing process like we would if we were writing for a larger audience (like say, this blog post). When texting, we are likely going through 2 processes: draft and publish (send). This is done because it’s efficient.

Novels, instructions, essays, and reports must still be written in a manner that reduces errors and clearly conveys meaning; it needs to be effective. There’s a writing process required to produce a polished piece of writing; draft, proofread, revise, edit, publish. This process reduces the errors and makes sure the author gets their message across in a manner that is concise and accurate. Readers do not want to stumble through an essay guessing what the author is trying to say. As long as there are novels and reports, there will be a place for technical writing. So don’t freak out, abbreviations aren’t going to be the downfall of language.

If I sent a text saying “C u thr” instead of “See you there”, the recipient still gets the point! It’s like when we used to actually handwrite notes in university. You were in trouble of falling dangerously behind in a lecture if you didn’t know how to shorthand your notes. Although abbreviated, the meaning in my notes was retained, I wasn’t “linguistically doomed” there.

Abbreviated words and messages are efficient, that’s why we use them. When we text using abbreviated messages, emoticons, or “ur” instead of “you are”, we ARE NOT removing anything from the sphere of text and language, we are only adding to it. In fact, we’ve been doing this long before texting, like in my university notes example.

Another example is from when I used to be a server. When recording an order from a table, I had to keep up and make sure I got the details. Therefore, I had to make up abbreviations for things to make sure I recorded the message efficiently. Can you guess what “Stk, mdr, mash, grvy” means? If you guessed “Stakes, murder, Monster Mash, and gravity” you are very wrong.

Abbreviated messges, like texts, are efficient. When we write technically for novels and reports the goal is not to be efficient, it’s to be effective, and that takes time and care.

Why the Fuss?

I can understand the reasoning behind the perception that so many people “can’t write properly”. People in general have less reason than before for the need to pay attention to the mechanics and conventions of writing.  Nowadays, anybody can log-in online and rant on Facebook, troll comment threads, or offer opinions on online forums without punctuation or tact. This is technology in action. It’s made something hard, easier. In earlier days, if someone wanted to have their writing seen publicly, it would certainly have to make it past an editor. This editor was not likely to publish a piece of writing riddled with errors. Technology has essentially eliminated the middle-man, but that middle-man was the one who made sure writing was up to par before seen publicly.

In my opinion, the gap in writing ability is simply more publicly recognizable. There are still fantastics writers, I see them in my classrooms, but there’s this huge gap between good writers and poor writers. Has it always been this way? Can we expect everyone to be proficient writers? Can we expect everyone to be proficient basketball players? I don’t think that’s fair. At least more people now have at least some functional level of literacy because of the pervasive use of texting and social media (even though improper spelling and grammar drive me nuts).

There isn’t more poor writing, it’s that this poor writing is more publicly obvious.

Final Thoughts

 This article is heavy on speculation and opinion. These are not facts, just my interpretations of how it is. This article is not meant to stop the conversation or placate the hostility towards texting. I wanted to add my voice to the conversation, so I hope you do as well.

A lot more can be said, but I’ll just end with this. We need to teach students to discern when to write efficiently and when to write effectively. They will need both.

 

The New Learning: Authentic Information Experiences

Student engagement has been a hot topic in education recently. It appears that an increasing number of students are not active participants in their learning despite new technologies, teaching methods, and the best efforts of educators. It is my opinion that students are not as engaged because they are not getting authentic information experiences.

I define an authentic information experience as: an experience whereby an individual or group is actively engaged in collecting, creating, and sharing information – photos, video, text, or ideas – in a real world context. These experiences happen when people instrinsically want to learn and create something; not because they’re being told to, because they want to.

I believe the youth of today are learning in two worlds.

In one world, youth have dynamic and engrossing information experiences. They exchange, create, and publish information with just a tablet or smarthphone and an Internet connection.   With these tools they can:

  • find out an answer to almost any question through a Google search
  • learn almost any skill from YouTube
  • create a viral meme in a matter of minutes
  • share thoughts and experiences through Twitter and Instagram
  • find joy in random stuff on Tumblr
  • critical think and problem-solve in video games

In the other world, youth are told what to learn, how to learn it, and why they ought to.

I am not against curriculum, or teaching in traditional ways, but times have changed. Information is ridiculously abundant and the youth of today want it more than ever before. They don’t just want to take it in, they want to help create and share it! If educators want their students to be engaged, the students need to be made an important part of the process, not just the recipients of information.

I’ll use a quote from David Warlick’s article entitled Information Ethics that I think articulates the “two worlds” idea that I was describing.

Preparing children for an information-driven, technology-rich future requires us to redefine literacy in a way that reflects the changing nature of information. You and I were taught to read what some body handed to us. Our students will read from a global digital library that anyone can publish to, just about anything they want, and for just about any reason.

The bottom line is that participating in an informatoin experience is learning. Students are yearning to share their experiences on a grander scale. I like to use technology and social media to provide my classroom, not only a window to the real world, but a communication line where ideas can be shared, heard, viewed, and discussed. This is the way I’ve chosen to engage students. How will you?

Learning Something New

I have taught for 3 years in various capacities, not yet finding a permanent resting place. I’ve had quite a journey already, in my short 3 years of teaching. I have had to learn and adapt to new curriculum, schools, staff, and demographics. But my most recent job is leading me to places I didn’t expect to be.

When I got a term position to teach Graphic Technology at Westwood Collegiate from April to June of this year, I was excited at the prospect of working in an art program. Since I can remember, I have always enjoyed drawing, painting, building, improvising, and most of all, creating. And now I would get to teach that along with my passion for using technology.

Before the term started I visited the Graphic Tech Lab and met Zbigniew Cichosz. Right away I could see he had a exciting and well-structured program running. Under his direction and knowledge, students were motivated and creating unique pieces of digital art with the latest technology. Since taking over his class, I have done tutorials; read websites, blogs and magazines about techniques; and put in hours of work into learning Graphic Technology and Digital Photography. Although I am new to this vocation, learning something new for me is nothing new.

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My dad bought our family’s first home computer in 1995, when I was starting grade seven, and I was ecstatic. I eagerly helped setting up all the cords and hardware, wanting to know everything I could about this “futuristic” machine (it even had a CD-ROM!). After the initial setup, my dad and I set to exploring every bit of operating system.

This introduction of mine to the PC coincided with the boom of the Internet. I was part of, what I consider, the first generation of the Networking Age. The generation that got exposed, from a young age, to the Internet at its coming-out party. I got a pen-pal, read about computer games, and researched (kind of) and word processed my first essay.

All through high school and university I saw technology rapidly evolve, and I was there at the fronts to make the most of it. Whether it be gaming, information gathering, writing, social networking, banking, or creating; I was using technology as my preferred medium.

When I began the Faculty of Education, I quickly came to understand that the ability to use technology productively and creatively was an essential skill for the future. I became interested in how to use ICT in the classroom in new and interesting ways. I had a simple philosophy: technology I grew up with advanced quickly, and it seemed it would only continue to do so. Therefore, I and my students must advance with, and learn, new technologies or we would miss fantastic opportunities.

While student teaching at my first placement, I created interactive presentations, quiz games, and videos. Students would do web quests, online research, and produce some original work. It was good start, but I had a vision of something more interactive.

My vision of using ICT for interaction was realized when I met teacher Chris Harbeck. It was during my second teaching placement at Sargent Park. He wasn’t my cooperating teacher, but I still got to see his class, read his blog, and get introduced to a network of technology teachers.

What impressed me wasn’t just the technology he used, it was how he embedded technology into the classroom. Technology was the medium that students used for learning and reflection, and technology was the medium for assessment and evaluation. His use of technology in the class was exactly what I wanted to emulate.

Since that time I have been pursuing how to use ICT as a learning and assessment tool in interactive, creative, and authentic ways. I’ve had many successes with ICT in my classes whether it be a four-five split or grade eights, EAL or special needs students, all can use technology to some degree. My students over the years have created: photographs that explain human rights; blogs that track their learning about ancient Egypt; videos to relay a message about safe transport; online posters to explain culture; and different forms of poetry using online fridge magnets. The opportunities are boundless when you dig and explore ICT.

And now here I am, teaching Graphic Technology.  I have enthusiastically jumped into learning this fantastic, digital medium and I have come to develop a genuine respect, interest, and enthusiasm for digital art, graphic design, and photography. Graphic Tech is just another new horizon on the technological landscape that I want to learn, explore, and share.

Moving forward I have a new vision, and this is where a great opportunity lies. I want to infuse and develop my use of ICT in the classroom along with my budding knowledge of Graphic Tech and Digital Photography. With access to computers, mobile devices and an email address, students will be able to take their work  one step further into the digital age. They can learn, explore, upload, share, discuss, and reflect on their learning, all online. My students could use online photo sites to store and share photos; upload previously made art into a digital poster to make it interactive; create their own video tutorials; publish and contribute to blogs to document their learning, creations, and reflections; and ultimately learn to use ICT and social media as a powerful learning tool in a safe and ethical way.