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…

 

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.

 

Gamification of life and learning – I’m up in arms

OK – I immediately apologize for the length, but this is a bit of a rant.

I woke up this morning to an article waiting to be read, sent over by a teacher friend @ginrob_pt (Twitter).  The article is titled, “How Video Games are Infiltrating – and Improving – Every Part of Our Lives” by Adam L. Peneberg.  The link is here.  Full URL: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/151/everyones-a-player.html?page=0%2C0

Of course we can talk about the organization and perspective of the author, his choice of examples and details… but I just want to get into my rant here.

The article goes for 6 pages, discussing different ways “games” are part of our culture.  Peneberg typically discusses reward systems – credit cards, purchases, painting the picture that consumers spend and go on in life for the sole purpose of racking up points.

The article indeed mentions a type of gaming training we’ve discussed for learning.  Simulations for surgery or online meetings are a bit more “serious”.

The article’s title claims there is something positive to come out of this gamification of life, and I didn’t get that impression at all.  While reading, I was a bit appalled by the notion of humans being completely and blindly participating in these life “games”.  Does life need to be such a novelty?  I’m not convinced this is the norm NOR will be it the way of the future.  As many of you know, I am already against the notion that LEARNING always has to be flashy and externally rewarding in order to be engaging.  Are we becoming more and more convinced by stimuli? We have a brain for a reason.

If you want to see possible alternative opinions in this article, you’ll need to go to page 6 and 7.  I want to just mention two alternatives worth mentioning – and worth critique.

One quotation:

“We humans are pretty susceptible to addictive tricks, so surely people trying to make money will exploit that to the fullest. In fact, they already do,” says David Sirlin, an independent game designer. “The best defense is to raise awareness about the dangers of being manipulated by external reward systems.” But he isn’t hopeful. There’s too much money to be made.

Commercialization is embedded in the “games” listed in the article – that’s an obvious area of concern.  What really concerns me are the different training and work gaming systems.  At first glance, training or simulation games can help disperse relevant company information and develop necessary skills/attitudes.  But the more I think about it, the more it seems to merely to assist company efficiency and profit.  Are humans mere workers who are entertained and satisfied with winning a pre-determined, developed game by our employer – a game with the sole intentions on keeping us happy to keep us working? Come on, if this becomes the case, I’ll be one of those up in arms.

Another quotation:

Where Priebatsch sees economic opportunity, McGonigal of the Institute for the Future sees nothing less than a way to save the     human race. She believes that if  we want to conquer problems such as climate change, hunger, obesity, poverty, and war, we need to play at least 21 billion hours of video games a week.

Say what? McGonigal would like to see roughly half the planet play an hour a day, which is a low-end estimate of the time spent by gamers now — that’s how she gets to 21 billion hours a week. “I reckon that roughly six hours a week should be spent playing games we love, to develop our gamer skills,” McGonigal says, “and one hour a week should be spent playing serious, world-changing, life-changing, or reality-changing games.” For example, she prescribes Evoke, a game she designed with the World Bank Institute that takes place in Africa and has users undertake 10 missions in 10 weeks involving water sustainability, disaster relief, and human rights. A game called World Without Oil simulates how we could survive without nonrenewable resources, while Lost Joules encourages players to save energy by awarding points for turning down thermostats, or for using appliances like washers and dryers during off-peak hours.

So how will playing these games save the world? I didn’t really get a clear answer from that quotation.  If anything, they are merely simulations… they can help us deal with possible scenarios that occur in real life.  I can understand how this may help with military  initiatives and training.  But for saving the world? Unless you’re in a field in which these games directly mimic and relate to your actual work, I’d say this claim is outrageous.   I’m sorry, but merely playing a game about environmental initiatives or human rights is no guarantee I’ll apply it to my real life.  There is no guarantee that I’ll then allocate real money to the causes or that I’ll actively participate in these worthwhile initiatives.

I think I am very against this gamification, this notion that gaming is the way of future learning and living.  It seems to remove any type of human interaction and expanded thinking (as in, stepping out from this gaming box and looking in).  What occurs virtually in a static, isolated game (however high movement or “global” it may appear, it’s still a closed game) is still disconnected to reality.  To claim they are interconnected is to assume humans can’t note the difference between what they experience on-screen (albeit,3D) and what they experience in the tangible, REAL, reality.

Am I being too harsh?  Jumping the gun?  Am I being reactive to a trend that’s already starting to take shape? Am I not giving humans enough credit? I don’t know…

I guess I’m just more and more appalled by blind promotion of this gamification, game-based learning, and any type of teaching/learning approach in general.  We need to think long and hard about what’s out there, if and how we choose to participate with/in/against it, and the implications on other people who don’t actively think before engaging in or promoting the processes.

[P.S. If anyone can tell me how to indent on this WordPress blog, I’ll be forever grateful.]

Game-based learning in the workforce – personal response to article

I’ve been thinking about game-based learning quite a bit.  A classmate of mine posted this article and it has definitely got me thinking.

The article under review is Marjo Johne’s “Making a game of work“, from the Globe and Mail (May 13, 2011). Full link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/managing/on-the-job/making-a-game-of-work/article2021725/

Basically, the article discusses the use of video games for training purposes.  It advocates it for multiple reasons, some of which I find very problematic or one-sided.  I make explicit connections to teaching, as I think my considerations apply to both corporate and public schooling agendas.  I’ll get right into it.

A person from an e-learning firm states, “Well-designed games surpass all other modes of instruction…The reason for this is that no self-discipline is required by the learner to stick to the training. Rather, the learner engages with the content in a way that triggers the brain’s reward centres.”  I find the sole promotion that “learning is easyvery problematic. Are we trying to raise impressionable learners who can only learn if engaged in a very flashy, fun, entertaining way?  What about making learning itself fun?

The article also discusses immediate feedback as a key benefit to this game-based learning: “Most game-based training systems are designed to give workers immediate feedback on their performance, either by letting them know what they did correctly and why it was the right thing to do, or explaining why they failed and providing the right answer.” Formative assessment is helpful for both teaching and learning, in the classroom or the workplace.  I don’t know why some people think there needs to be a set time to assess and assist students or workers – at report card time, after a project is handed in, when yearly evaluations are due, on training day.  Can’t teachers or supervisors take a few minutes to observe and immediately comment on their students/workers’ skills and performance?  This can also help teachers/trainers refine and adapt their lessons/training.

Page two of the article states “Game-based training makes learning the ropes less stressful for new employees, or for workers who are being retrained for new duties, because they can make mistakes without the risk of being embarrassed in front of colleagues or worrying about real-life consequences.”  As a teacher… I find it problematic that some companies, training educators, or even teachers do not take the time to establish a collaborative and inclusive training/work environment.  Rather, they isolate workers by getting them to do these simulations.  They miss out on critical dialogue that can help their workers with comprehending/engaging with training information, as well as establishing a peer-supportive work culture.

The article also discusses how it is cheaper than traditional forms of training.  Are we simply trying to be cost-effective?  This is an interesting dimension to training/education – but I won’t get into this in depth (let’s save the issues about money, funding, and spending for another post).

I’m not saying I disagree with game-based learning. I’m still fairly open to the idea.  But for sure, I know that I do not like the idea of only using game-based learning/training.  It can be one possible activity or tool, but for me, I would never make it the primary mode.

Thoughts? Comments? Send off a blog comment or Tweet me!

[If you’re interested, here is the link to my Twitter colleague’s post on game-based learning: http://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/educational-video-games-what-do-they-undo/ ]

A personal response to Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”

This is my personal response to Marc Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” (Part 1).  I wrote this for my Computers in the Curriculum class.  The intention is to be reflective of my own experiences with technology, so I guess, take it for what it is!

You can access this article here, full URL: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

I have many, many, MANY other comments to make on this article… will post on the blog soon.

_______

In reading and reflecting on “Digital Natives, Ditigal Immigrants” by Marc Prensky (2001), I have been thinking about the dominance and pervasion of technology in the world today.  Prensky argues that the singular “arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century”(1) has forever altered education, including students’ ways of learning, their brains, and society’s valued skills.  I agree wholeheartedly with Prensky in that technology is a primary and influential part of students’ lives and general society, and that our classroom content and practices must reflect and incorporate this.  Yet rather than a single event, I see the emergence of technology as an ever-evolving and multi-faceted phenomena.  Understanding phenomena involves a holistic understanding of observable and unobservable things on the micro and macro level, a multitude of connections in a changing web.

I think I view technology more of an evolution because my own experience with it has been one of constant and non-linear development.  My earliest elementary experience was using a big, black tracking ball – learning how to manipulate and control what I saw on a computer screen.  I learned the basics of typing through practice with drill programs.  As well, I had opportunities to type my writing and create multi-modal stories with different software (pictures, sounds, text).  I received a strong foundation from which I can approach and use technology – I now have strong hand-eye coordination and the ability to maintain parallel thinking processes and tasks.

In junior and intermediate grades, I began to learn more “academic” software (think Microsoft Office-type applications).  As well I had teachers who taught me how to create websites and other media texts, and use the Internet.  I developed a personal interest and desire to learn about these technologies and thus began to adopt these practices at home.  My experiences have been in the school as well as self-directed.  In both cases, I was given quite a bit of freedom.  I had a high level of self-control and creativity in how I came to learn and use these technologies: some direction, some self-exploration.  Technology not only helped me learn subject content, but other digital learning and literacy skills so relevant in today’s world – how to navigate and evaluate what I come across on the Web, how to find appropriate research for particular purposes, how to express ideas in multiple ways (digital and otherwise).  I was and am still an active learner and participant of technology.

I think about my experiences and I wish everyone could experience this fine balance between scaffolding/support and independence in learning and using technology. I love all of the opportunities technology affords.  On a personal level, I am able to express and share myself – my interests, my ideas, my emotions – with the world at large, in many different modes.  It also opens many doors for me.  I am able to meet many people for any reason I would like (academic, professional, personal interests, even dating).  I can build multiple relationships – I have met many of my online “friends”, colleagues, and communities in person. I grew up valuing collaboration and critical dialogue – it is my primary way of growth (in all respects of my life).  I see participation, collaboration, and dialogue as the three most exciting things about technology – as an individual, a participant, and a teacher.

One very real fear is the complexity of online participation, collaboration and dialogue.  For instance, I use technology in ways that are very fun for me – blogging, Tweeting, commenting on other blogs/articles, creating Youtube videos, and so on. I try to be sensitive and diplomatic in my contributions, as I am aware that people may understand things much different from my original intentions.  I am also very open in dialogue; I am willing to learn from others.  I consider myself a very responsible and professional participant.  Yet I come in contact with people with very different attitudes about what it means to use and participate with the technologies I find so liberating and accepting.  Instead, some use technology to propagate and maintain rigid ideas and viewpoints.  Some use it in insulting and offensive ways.  But I also see this in real life.  Bullies, racists, and ignorant people are found online and in person.  Do I opt out and choose to stay indoors?  It is easy to remove myself from these sticky technology-mediated and created situations.  But I choose to participate, fully aware of all of the possibilities and complexities –positive and negative.  As a teacher, I want to teach my students also how to navigate through this tricky terrain (skills), teaching them how to choose their own routes (how they want to use technology, for what purposes) and pack their own backpacks (different technologies they want to use).

Reference:

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), October 2001. Accessed:

http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/default.asp (Part I of II)

Regularity and use of computers = no guarantee! Response to Larry Cuban and Steve Hardagon interview

For Week 1 of my online class, I listened to Steve Hardagon’s (@stevehargadon) 2006 interview with Larry Cuban on “Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom” http://bit.ly/lXvvsH.

(full URL: http://audio.edtechlive.com/LarryCuban.mp3)

Cuban says, “Abundant access does not guarantee regularity and use, and certainly there is no guarantee that regularity and use produce the desired outcomes.”

What are the desired outcomes? Cuban mentions job skills, civic engagement, and socialization as some possibilities. I see the direct connection between computer use and these outcomes… but it requires quite a bit of work and dedication from the teacher.  What does our “regularity and use” look like? Are our interactions with and use of computers helping us move towards these goals?

Some teachers and administration say that educational technology is so expensive and difficult to maintain- from the purchasing of equipment to professional development.  Yet Cuban and Hargadon both point out that there are school boards/districts that literally pour money into educational technology.  I must ask – it is effectively utilized?

Sometimes, computers are merely used by teachers for administrative/logistical purposes (emails, research, lesson plans). Sometimes, it is used for Powerpoint/videos – sort of like a technological add-on or pseudo-replacement to direct teaching.  At times, teachers will have students use computers for what would be typically done with a pencil and paper (word processing/editing/blog instead of handwritten response journal).  Then there are the few cases where teachers will embrace what computers for online interactivity –  dialogue with the class/community/school/globally.  They will teach how to navigate and participate online thoughtfully and responsibly, ever aware of the complex nature of the internet.  It’s a complex endeavour; I think this is why teachers often shy away from it.  It’s easier to abandon computers, use it on an ad-hoc basis, or for superficial uses than embrace computers’ possibilities in the classroom.

Cuban does mention there is a small minority of teachers who embrace and incorporate computers effectively for teaching and learning. I find it quite a shame – the possibilities are so rich and endless!

P.S.  I am now going to read Cuban’s book!