Teetering with technology: how I explore my own use, disuse & misuse of 21st century devices and tools

An earlier version of this post was published in the Linden School’s literary journal, House of Girls. A print copy is available for purchase at the school now; an electronic version will come out soon.

Contrary to popular belief, this technology teacher isn’t all that techie. Sure, I have a few of the latest devices, but I also place great value in some of the classic ways of reading, writing and interacting. I probably write just as often with a good, old-fashioned pen and paper than with my laptop, tablet or phone. I still call up my best friends to come over for a gabfest, even though my public social media profiles divulge details of my life. Every day I read and review web articles and videos. But ever fall asleep while reading or watching something on your iPad? Well, a glass screen bonking you on the nose can wake you up quicker than those annoying analog alarm clocks, I tell ya.

Though, I think things are a bit more complicated. You see, I prefer to order my food with a server than through an iPad, but will never step foot in a restaurant without checking its Yelp reviews first. I solicit book recommendations in online forums yet still spend hours browsing used bookstores. I probably have as many books in my library as I have followers on Twitter. I love the printed word, so much so that I chose to lug a luggage full of books home from the UK than housing digital copies of these texts in a tablet. Technically, I had some help with that heavy load of literature, but I’m sure my friends and the airport porters were muttering “Oy vey” under their breath.

In class, I ask my students to critique our learning activities using new technology or paper. Sometimes they submit handwritten reflections; sometimes they post it online. Often, I ask them to evaluate the very software used for our learning tasks. I want them to choose their tools wisely. Do we collaborate on a Google doc or do we talk face-to-face? Do you ask the teacher or do you crowdsource information? In what ways can technology support our tasks and help us meet our goals? In what ways can it complicate this? Sometimes I purposely structure problematic activities so the girls understand it is important to pick the right medium to communicate a message, the right tool to create a product, the right words to bring our ideas to life.

As someone who supports both adults and young people in learning about ‘technology’ and ‘social media’, I have to figure out how to make sense of these tools and practices – however new or old. I suppose some would argue I am light years ahead in my understanding of technology and social media. But some would say I’m quite behind.

Just the other Sunday, I was posting pictures of past travels on Instagram using the hashtag #TBT. I immediately received a WhatsApp message (instant message application on my phone) from a friend asking, “Aren’t you posting that on the wrong day?” These shared moments of nostalgia, tagged with those three key letters, were apparently part of the “Throwback Thursday” trend. I had interpreted it as “Turn back time” (shout out to anyone who knows the Cher song). D’oh. Despite being the Technology Teacher, clearly I’m behind on hashtags and social media trends. All my years of training and experience using social media, there are still more things to learn.

I remember when my mom thought LOL meant Lots of Love. Look who’s laughing now…

 

Morning conversation – Creeping my Instagram

Note: The girls call me by my first name.

SCENE: Computer lab. Thursday morning, about 5 minutes before 1st period starts. I’m answering emails on my computer in the lab, other students are in the room doing work before class.

A Grade 7 girl walks in.

Student: Mooooniiicaaaa…
Me: Yes?
Student: The Grade 8s wanted to ask you if you were married.
Me: What! Why do they want to know?
Student: Uhh ’cause you’re beautiful and we didn’t see a ring on your fingers. [looking at my hands]
[Senior students, in the room working, start to giggle]
Me: Tell the Grade 8s that I said y’all should just mind ya own biznaaass.
Student: [looking embarrassed] We’re just curious!
Me: Why didn’t you Google ‘Monica Batac married’ or…
Student: [interrupts] Well… some of us were looking at your Instagram and we saw a picture of a wedding.
Me: What! [laughs] Okay, well let’s pull up my Instagram then.

[we look at my computer and they point to the picture in question]

Me: Yeah, that’s not me.
[More giggling and jokes]
Me: Wait a sec… you all were worried about ME stalking all of y’all? Glad to know y’all are Googling my name and checking me out online.

Reviving the blog – a little update

Seems like I’ve had quite a long blogging break, but I am very excited and energized to get back into the mood and routine of writing. A little update on me… I’m now teaching at the Linden School here in Toronto. My work here focuses around 4 areas:

  1. Planning and teaching the Computer Studies courses (Grade 7-12)
  2. Revamping the communications strategy and initiatives for the school
  3. Supporting faculty and staff in technology integration and innovations
  4. Working with our IT consultant(s) to improve IT infrastructure and administration processes

It’s been a beautiful start to the school year – looking forward to sharing the stories with you.
-M

A little update [!]

Many people argue the number one factor to a school’s success is the administrative leadership and vision. Teacher friends, can you imagine teaching in a school with a supportive leader who embraces, shares, and supports your philosophy of and approach to education?

Some of you are fortunate to have this already. Some of my mentors are in these leadership roles themselves. & while I’ve struggled with the current reality and difficulty in joining these friends in Ontario schools, a unique opportunity has come up for me.

Last week, I had an amazing interview with a female principal in the UK. The interview felt more like a conversation. I spoke very honestly and openly about my practice, experience and vision. None of those scripted teacher education responses – that’s not me anyway. Very quickly, I recognized that she and I share interests in anti-discriminatory education, collaborative teaching and learning, and working in and with marginalized communities.

I’m sure many of you know how amazing it is to meet and speak with someone who understands and shares your vision for education. On that early Tuesday morning (the time difference in the UK = 7am Skype interview), I got that rush, that adrenaline, those butterflies in my stomach that flutter during such uncanny connections.

During my teacher education days, I emphasized the desire to enter my ideal school culture. My ideal is a collaborative culture – not just with student learning, but between teachers, education staff, and administrators.

I’m happy to share with you all that I am joining a new teaching team and new school in the UK this January 2013. I’ll be teaching Kindergarten and working in a 5-person JK teaching team. This school has been struggling for the past decade & the new year brings new vision, new ideas, and new faces from all across the world. It’s reopening as an Academy [think American charter school]: I can already imagine some of you will be VERY interested in learning more about this system and space… me too, that’s why I took it.

I’ll share more with you as details unfold.

I’m back in the classroom, baby!

 

 

Shoes and ePortfolios

I’ve been reading up on ePortfolios in education [oh yes, I should probably update you all on my new job. That’s an overdue post & a needed update on my web bios]. This shoe analogy made my day, so I wanted to share.

Good thing to keep in mind with any edtech integration, I’d say.

Introducing portfolios is just like buying shoes: the best choice depends on purpose and a really good fit happens over time, with lots of use and the right give and take by the user.

Spandel 1997, p. 573

Van Tartwijk & Driessen (2009) go on to say,

We would like to add that portfolios are like expensive shoes and even during the process of getting used to them, there will inevitably be times when one’s toes are really hurting.

However, for those owners who persist, the portfolio has the potential to become one of their best purchases.

I do find myself approaching ePortfolios similar to the way I shop for shoes at the mall. I take quite a bit of time scoping out the scene beforehand… looking online, looking what’s on the market, looking at tried, true & vetted options. I ask some people here and there for recommendations. I go into stores to try some on. I’ll walk around, imagine it applied to the purpose (every day wear, evening wear, running). Often there isn’t a perfect fit, so I usually continue the search. Sometimes, I purchase the closest fit anyway & cross my fingers hoping the material is as flexible as the retailer says. At the end of the day, I know my lifestyle, comfort level, fashion style, and budget.

I’ll keep you in the loop with my shopping. For now, I’m still window browsing.

 

May 26 PTAC event – photo & reflection

Can you point me out in this sea of Filipino educators? 

Photo credit: Mogi Mogado

I recently joined the Philippine Teachers Association of Canada (PTAC). Sat in on their annual workshop for internationally trained teachers/aspiring educators.

This was my first time meeting a large group of internationally trained, Filipino teachers. I’ve often heard first-hand about the struggles of new Canadians trained in other professions (medicine, engineering, architecture). Before May 26, I can’t say I’ve met many who are educators. The K-12 job market for teachers here in Ontario is arguably grim – imagine the additional challenges in obtaining certification/recognition of one’s credentials plus transitioning to a new country. Amid the optimistic and encouraging panelists, many of the people sitting by me shared their difficult lived experiences and contexts. Learn to teach French when still finessing the art and science of communicating in English? Hunt down previous employers and contact oversea registrar offices while working full-time/overtime to make ends meet? Definitely not easy. I sat in relative silence and was humbled as I recognized my own privilege. Being trained locally, I am a native English speaker with virtually no barriers to certification and arguably employment. I could feel the communal passion for education and love for teaching/learning.

As new graduates from Ontario Faculties of Education, we are often encouraged to remain positive and optimistic in this difficult job market. To me, our challenges seem relatively minor by comparison…

PTAC President Tony  A. San Juan wrote an article on the event here.

 

Building a community and culture of two-way communication: my MT experience & some thoughts for U of T

I recently sat down with Crystal Chin, a Communication Intern in the Office of Student Life, to talk about my experiences with communications at University of Toronto, my program experience, as well as my research and perspectives on technology/social media use in institutions. You can read some of our conversation here. [The selective transcription doesn’t mention my program experience, so I’ve written about it in this post]

Today, University of Toronto is hosting a Student Communications Summit. I anticipate the day will encourage fruitful dialogue and collaborations between different stakeholders here at the university. I won’t be in attendance, but I indeed look forward to what emerges from the day’s conversations.

I wanted to elaborate a bit more on two recent tweets I posted with the #listenUT hashtag.

@monicabatac: How do I share my two cents about my program? Everything from online surveys, focus group, comm committee, chats w/director #OISE #listenUT

@monicabatac: #listenUT: Search of #UofT, diff POVs & voices: acceptance/rejection letters, campus info, ?s, rants/raves, pics. Academics, social, random

The #listenUT hashtag was created to encourage students to share their experiences and recommendations regarding communications with University of Toronto. I recall reading a tweet that questioned how to engage students in Robarts (were they called study “zombies?’ or something?) in sharing/vocalizing their thoughts/perspectives.

My initial reaction is to cringe at any “Robarts” student stereotype, nonetheless my current thinking urges me to ask a fundamental question. Whose voices are represented at this communications summit? When we look to social media or voluntary focus groups to gather information about student experiences, are we only tapping into a particular group of social media/technologically savvy and/or “vocal” student populations?

If you search the #listenUT hashtag, I’d say there are very few responses. If you search #UofT instead, you’ll find a huge range of perspectives and information: everything from high school students sharing their acceptances/rejections, campus food events, students cramming and campus-wide exam anxiety, Instagram photos of Hart House, overheard student conversations, to department/faculty/research news releases.

If you already blog for some department/service for U of T, are heavily involved in campus life/student groups/extra curriculars, or engage with the university via social media, you’d know about this communication summit. You might be in attendance, you may have given your two cents via Twitter, your own blogging, or perhaps in a past focus group. If you hold a staff position where student experience or communications is part of your agenda, then you may have received an invite. What about all the other students? Other staff members? Faculty members? Sessional instructors? The list goes on and on.

I’ve sat in on a few focus groups for my own graduate program (Master of Teaching at OISE) and department, and indeed it has often been voluntary. I know for my colleagues who are single parents, married or have employment commitments, they certainly don’t have the luxury or flexibility in their schedules to come to such initiatives. Does that mean they cannot share their experiences? To counter that, we have often had the option of sending emails or responding to an online/paper survey. Though, I know for myself, a few of these important surveys have slipped through the [virtual or school bag] cracks and I forget to submit them.

For my program in particular, it has been very beneficial for students to feel not only encouraged to share their honest opinions, positive/negative experiences, evaluations and suggestions, but to be actively involved in improving our program. From cohort student representatives, monthly communications meetings, an emerging student association, focus groups, online surveys, open door policies [virtual and actual office doors] with our administrators and instructors, and even the promotion of Pepper and Twitter as collaborative communities, communication has improved drastically within my 2 years there.

I feel like my program is rapidly evolving into a collaborative community and this overall culture is mirrored in our course content and delivery, right to program planning, vision, and administration. While I am set to graduate soon, I have strong ties to the program and look forward to its constant growth and development.

An important lesson to take away from my own experience with communications within my program  – there’s no one way of “communicating.” Indeed, my program is fairly proficient in using technology to communicate and gather student feedback. However, there are also equal, if not further opportunities to meet face-to-face individually or in groups with different faculty, admin, and our program director. Heck, I spent an hour last week chatting with two of my professors [who also hold admin positions for the program] about summer plans and PhD proposals. Part of that was also spent hovering over a laptop to Google something, sharing personal stories, cracking jokes, and having the department chair drop in. Talk about accessibility.

I discussed a possible tension of communication, transparency, and accessibility with Crystal. It’s one thing for students to desire these things & another thing to provide it all together. Coming from a small graduate program, perhaps I have a skewed and biased perspective. Though at the end of the day, the foundations of collaboration, communication, and community have been built and are improving in different ways after each interaction –via email, at a meeting, each week/month/semester/year.

So that’s a small glimpse of my student experience at University of Toronto. I’m one of those social media-tech savvy, vocal students. I’ve posted it on my blog. I’ll post the link to Twitter with the appropriate hashtags. I’ll send the link to my program director and research supervisor. I’m sure another student in the program would prefer to chat over the phone or in person. Another may rather send an email response. Some may even decline the offer to share.

Communication should be two-way. The best communication is collaborative. True communication is accessible with multiple opportunities for interaction and participation. As all students have “the right to pass” (i.e. decline an invitation to the discussions), it is also important to develop and promote a collaborative, inclusive, and transparent culture in numerous ways – small and large scale, embedded and explicit. This can be a challenge for such a large institution, but student blogs, Twitter accounts, and the Student Communications Summit show great promise.

 

Sharing our stories – some thoughts on narratives in research and professional learning/development

Reviving my blog back to my general education interests (for new readers, excuse the campaign coverage!).

I spent a few minutes looking at some of my past posts and just deleted [reposted, thanks, Diana for your comment] an earlier post with an old draft of my Master’s title and abstract. You can read the final(ish) version here. I say final(ish) because derivatives and additional will likely emerge in the next few months. Plus, many of you may be able to relate to this: I found it very difficult to write something set “in stone”. My learning and interpretations constantly evolve. Even as I pressed the official “Submit”, I knew there were different ways of telling the stories, more to add… I know now why it may take some people forever to finish their dissertations! 🙂

Somewhere between my first conference presentation and my final version of my Master’s paper, I began to get a bit too technical and detached from what I was originally seeking to explore through this research. I have always emphasized that I was conducting a narrative study. But really, does “Self-directed teacher inquiry in technology integration: Exploring the dynamics of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative learning” sound like it focuses on teacher experiences? Heck no.

It became quite clear to me that I was losing focus when while one of my Year 1 MT mentees introduced me to her colleagues, she vaguely described my research on “synchronous and asynchronous environments.” At that exact moment, I thought to myself, ” Hmm, that’s not quite right.

Sharing my research explorations and learning along the way has definitely allowed me to see how my ideas, research orientations, and interpretations have developed over the course of the year. Though I will eventually dabble with and delve into different qualitative and quantitative approaches, my initial orientation is towards narrative inquiry. I naturally focus on personal experience, chronology/development, and contexts. I always want to know details about my friends and colleagues. I am all about nuances. I work first and foremost from teacher/faculty’s experiences, pedagogical practices and interests first and foremost when supporting their instruction (with or without technology). I like to ask about before/during/after experiences. I enjoy self and shared reflection.

In my past few presentations, I started off by telling my teacher and researcher stories – how I got involved in instructional technology, my trip to Philadelphia, and the countless mentors who serve as the inspiration to my study. I usually wouldn’t consider myself a storyteller, but I guess, in a way, I am. I prefer conference presentations (attending or presenting them) that are informal and anecdotal. I go so far to call them conversations instead of presentations. If I have one hour to “present”, I want to dedicate a large part of that time to discussion… not just Q&A on my presentation, but rather co-learning with those in attendance….co-constructing knowledge.

I have caught myself actually asking, “What’s your story?” Recently and on numerous occasions, I  have spent hours over lunch and dinner with colleagues (some new, some old) sharing our stories in our own technology use and integration and our current work with teacher/faculty development and support. It is always amazing.

Every day, my natural interactions prove that personal connections and conversations are powerful ways of continuing our learning and professional development.

Teacher learning – W5H

Just starting to wind down after a busy month – paper submission, presentations, conference galore, etc. I just came back from Winnipeg, Manitoba where my co-presenters Alana Callan, Colin Harris, and I talked about teacher learning, reflective practice and instructor/faculty development in technology integration.

[slideshare id=12798861&doc=finalmadlat-120504090005-phpapp02]

 

I’ve been quietly reflecting on the experience on my own. Today, I received a message stating how I’m today’s featured OISE student for Education Week [screen shot below]. The banner sums up one of my passion quite nicely: I’m all about helping “classroom teachers build and develop meaningful professional learning connections in and outside their school environments.”

Re-reading that line a few times has sparked this post.

While in Winnipeg, our session was attended by participants mostly in teacher/faculty development/support roles.  There were 2 teachers joining us.  One continuously nodded her head when we talked about the power of collegial relationships and work environments. The other teacher shook his head when many of us spoke of our shared experience of becoming so engrossed in our own career/teaching development that we learn on our own – even on our “off” time & using personal finances. Why? Improving and sharing our practices, expanding our knowledge about teaching and learning… it’s not only a career investment but intertwined personal/professional goals.

Random questions in my head… Who needs to participate in professional learning/development? How do we invest in our own professional practice? Does our learning need to be dictated or set to particular times/places? What does that learning look like?

We so often talk about promoting “lifelong learning” with our students. As teachers, does our learning only occur when it’s paid, prescribed, or  when we receive more money, a step up the ladder, a certificate of participation? Why should we do it when it has little or no immediate, tangible “benefits” or “outcomes” – however you choose to define the words.

In supporting teachers/faculty in their own teaching practices, how do we support and encourage those who are a bit resistant to “change” and “improvement”?

The teachers I interviewed speak of some of their experiences with colleagues in and outside their school environments. By no means is there one solution. Here’s a glimpse into their experiences.

What are your thoughts?

Update

Hi all,

My apologies with the lack of recent blog posts.

Some updates:

I came 5th of 14 candidates in the February 27th 2012 by-election for TDSB Trustee (Ward 20). Will have all summer to reflect & share!

Two weeks to go then I’m officially finished my Master’s program. Excited to share my research and learning this spring/summer. Will post info on dates/locations.

Check out voicEd.ca, a new project I’m working on with many awesome people.

Website requires updating from campaign site back to general website.  I should get to this by mid-April. Any questions, just email me at monica [at] monicabatac.com

 

*M

Glimpse of my final research paper…

Title: Self-directed teacher inquiry in technology integration: Exploring the dynamics of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative teacher learning

Abstract: There is no one way for a teacher to learn about, implement and use technology in his or her practice.  In a qualitative narrative study, three Ontario teachers were interviewed, chosen for their exemplary use of technology in their classrooms.  Publicly promoted and vetted as model educators, these teachers are at different stages in their careers and have undergone different forms of professional development and training regarding educational technology. Their classroom practices and uses of technology also differ, but all are grounded in Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) (Mishra and Koehler 2006).  In discussing their experiences with technology integration, interesting connections among their practices emerge.  The three teachers emphasize the need for authentic modeling of technology use for students and mentorship/relationship building with other educators.  They highlight the need to build and maintain professional relationships with both face-to-face and on-line peers. In particular, this paper will focus on the teachers’ use of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative learning to support their professional growth and inquiry in technology integration and other areas of instruction.  Despite the tensions and differences between their individual experiences, these teachers’ perspectives shed light onto considerations and possible avenues/models for professional development – for individual teachers, whole school, and board-wide initiatives.

Acknowledgements: I would like to express my gratitude to my research supervisor, Dr. Kim MacKinnon and program director, Dr. Jim Hewitt.  These two professors sparked my interest and passion in educational/instructional technology and have fully supported my multi-faceted teacher inquiry and the exploration of diverse interests, research, and projects in education.  I would also like to thank my research participants for sharing their classrooms, pedagogies and philosophies in education. Most especially, thank you for continuing the dialogue and collaboration beyond the interviews.  You three are my mentor and inspire me to continue to learn with and from others, and share my own learning and experiences.  You three, alongside our educator and education friends in Ontario and abroad, serve as exemplary practitioners of authentic, self-directed teacher inquiry in blended environments.  My research simply serves to share our stories and experiences, to stress the importance of meaningful mentorship, sharing, and continuous growth as educators, life-long learners and professionals.

Feb 26 media – Moira MacDonald (Toronto Sun) on Ward 20 candidates

In today’s Toronto Sun, Moira MacDonald breaks down the School Board by-election top candidates. The link isn’t available yet online, but I will post it once I do receive it.

“And the nominees are…”

Candidates square off in T.O. school board byelections.

Toronto Sun. Sunday, February 26, 2012, page 12

Excerpt:

Monica Batac, meanwhile, is a young, energetic and smart candidate completing a master of teaching degree and sporting refreshing, out-of-the-box thinking, including a Chinese/English/French alternative school concept.

And if you have the right to vote in these elections, you should, since it’s gobbling up close to $500,000 of your tax dollars.