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Archive for the ‘Web2.0’ Category

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to some former students who are now seniors in high school.   After the ceremony honoring them (that’s another story), the young men came into the library to talk to me, and a simple conversation about school evolved into an educational policy discussion.

First, they told me about their “silent” library.  They laughed as they told me how they can’t talk in the library, and are threatened with demerits if they do.  “It’s different than here,”  they said.  (I never was known for a quiet library).  I have always tried to encourage discussion and sharing, and have tried to make the library a fun space that students would be happy to come to and stay in.  After all, in a student’s world where social learning and exchange is commonplace and constant, imposing silence seems not only artificial but stifling. We have to encourage enthusiasm and collaboration. And that sometimes results in more noise than most find acceptable, and may look a little chaotic, but it seems to work.  

We talked about past lessons and research, and how I had changed things to incorporate some newer tools like our class wikis, twitter, googledocs, and wallwisher.  All our middle school students have gmail accounts that they use to login to other sites and to communicate with the faculty.  I don’t think of any of these things as revolutionary; conversely, I think they’re a pretty basic step into web 2.0 tools appropriate for students this age.  If anything, I think we could be more progressive than this, and I’m working on incorporating more collaborative tools into their lessons.  I thought my former students would laugh at their simplicity, but the reaction I got was quite different.  My high schoolers look at each other in astonishment.  It seems that social media tools and most types of communication are being blocked at their school.  “They don’t trust us,”  they said.  They laughed as they told me that the school has a twitter account, but they’re blocked from reading the feed at school.  “We can’t use any of that stuff” was the general comment.

That got me thinking — how are schools preparing students for the 21st century, if policy becomes more restrictive as the students get older?  I always thought with maturity comes increased responsibility.  Where have the benefits of social media gotten lost?  Or perhaps, more scarily,  why have they yet to be recognized?  Who is driving the policy that is preventing young adults from using the tools they use now in every other facet of their lives, and will continue to use in the years ahead?  It’s a little scary when middle school curriculum and policy is more progressive than high school policy.  When 18-year-olds recognize the absurdity of a school’s blocking and filtering policy, what does that say about the educators who are perpetrating it?  Out of the mouths of babes —

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It has been a difficult week.  Due to a death in the family, I had to be out of town, and out of school for three days.  Those of you who teach know what that means — making detailed lesson plans for substitutes you’ve never met, hoping the students grasp the concepts and understand the assignments, and worrying about behavior.  But thanks to technology, things have been much easier than I anticipated.  Once I received the news and knew I would be out of town, I converted all my PowerPoint presentations and accompanying lectures into slideshares.  These I posted on our Middle School wiki.  I scanned the primary documents they were to evaluate, and posted them there as well.  I used GoogleDocs to create a form for feedback on analysis.  And then, I crossed my fingers and hoped all would be well.  Even though I’m halfway across the country, I could check in with the wiki and answer their questions and concerns.  I could clarify the assignment that may have been a little blurry coming from a substitute.  Being in constant communication and demand 24-7 can sometimes be exhausting.  But this week, thanks to technology, I can relax.

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Sometimes just when you’re at your lowest energy level and discouragement and frustration have snuck in, events coincide to turn everything around.  Yesterday, after pleading with faculty members to take advantage of our faculty wiki to share information and resources, one member inadvertently deleted the entire page.  This I discovered after a long day of helping students establish e-mail accounts, respond to invitations to join class wikis, and set-up Turnitin accounts.  It was not a good day, and I was exhausted.  But last night, I joined the #edchat on the use of social media in the classroom, and was invigorated by the passionate and knowledgeable discussion.  After an hour, I was feeling much more hopeful.  It was then that I ventured into our middle school wikis to see great discussions going on about literature and math.  Students were responding to essays, answering homework questions, and helping each other with technical issues.  It was just as I had envisioned.  It was as if all the stars had aligned to completely change my perspective.  I guess the old adage holds — timing is everything.

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Technology is supposed to be the ultimate time-saving tool, yet did you ever feel that the more technology you become familiar with, the more time you’re spending developing lessons and projects to take advantage of those technologies?  Preparing lesson plans has become an exercise of constant revision.  This is for the best, I know, presenting  more collaborative learning projects for students.  They’re discussing assignments amongst themselves and with me online through our class wiki, and using GoogleDocs for group projects.  The library web page is being updated constantly.  The lines have blurred between the classroom and home, as assignments are completed and submitted from any location at any time.  Is this ultimately better for the students? Yes.  It allows for reflective thought, reaction to peer work, and work at one’s own pace.  Different learning styles are accommodated.  They’re taking ownership of the education process.  But is it more diffcult for the instructor?  Sometimes.  I’m reticent to stop checking my e-mail or our wikis until late into the evening, in case questions or problems arise.  Would it have been simpler to have an assignment completed in a class period and collected? Yes. I sometimes wish for those days when I would be incommunicado and have my evenings to myself.  But increased communication requires more time, even if that communication is simpler.  The creation of the projects, their follow-up and assessment are more time intensive.  Will it get better?  I hope so.  But until then, I’ll have to catch up on my sleep on the weekends.

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Like all teachers, I look forward to summer as a time of rest and relaxation.  But, like my peers, I feel guilty when I don’t use the time to work to improve my teaching.  This summer, I took a grad class in Educational Diagnosis. This class, though it doesn’t pertain directly to my particular job description, provided so much insight into children’s learning difficulties and the testing for diagnosis.  My classmates, mostly special ed teachers, shared knowledge and experience that I would never have been exposed to.  As a result, I think I’ll be far more sensitive to student’s learning styles and more willing to explore more differentiated learning.

The second place where I continue to learn so much is Twitter.  I know, it has a reputation of a site with millions of followers providing useless information, but this is far from the truth.  For educators, it provides a wealth of information.  I’m currently following librarians, teachers, information technology directors, and more to learn more about the latest in the field.  A day does not go by when I don’t learn something new that I can incorporate into my library.  So laugh if you will, but my students will be better off because of Twitter.

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