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.

Media coverage #2 – campaign

Ontario educator and blogger Doug Peterson wrote this article on me, entitled “Yoga and Politics.”  Some of the things he highlights: how we met, my experiences and perspectives, my social media and technology use, and what I bring to the table as Trustee for Scarborough-Agincourt.

Excerpt:

The use of social media just at election time is disingenuous.  I know that it’s a relatively new phenomenon to some but I think that I would really have a great deal of respect for someone who promises during her/his campaign to stay connected after the election to provide information directly to we taxpayers.  In fact, anyone who promises to live-tweet or live-blog during debates on bills would be guaranteed to get me to look strongly at their candidancy.

Even more impressive would be someone who is a known user of social media to spur conversations, debate issues, take a stand, etc. BEFORE the election.  For them to have a position already established and then to slide over to election mode would be the best possible scenario.

Voters in Scarborough-Agincourt have that opportunity in candidate for board of trustees, Monica Batac.  Monica is a an established social media user.  I first met her at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia where she was just another Ontario Educator in the pack of us that learned and dined together.  At the time, she was going to school to get her Master’s Degree in Teaching.  We met up again at the ECOO Conference in Toronto.  What I particularly like about these events and the Ontario Educators that went to these two events is that the conversation is certainly not an echo chamber.  In our discussions, we talk and push each other to think about the WHYs that go with what we’re doing.  That is so helpful.

It was with a smile that I read that Monica was planning to run in Scarborough-Agincourt.  Monica has strong ideas and opinions about education and isn’t happy with the status quo.  I think that she’s perfectly placed to take on the challenge of representing people in that huge school district.

Many who head into political office do so with a machine behind them.  Monica’s working to build a social machine.  Whether it’s through her Facebook fan pageTwitter account, orpersonal website, she’s doing her best to build community to help spread her message.  Reading the content recently, she does have friends and followers, but not necessarily in Scarborough-Agincourt.  Hopefully, that grows as she heads towards the February 27th election date.  She did get a little bit of traditional media coverage which can be a challenge in a by-election.

So, how does a first time politician get money to run?  There have been a lot of fund raisers that I’ve heard of before but how about attending a Yoga Class together?  Is this a sign of new thinking to come?  Her friend Colin Harris already has blogged about her thoughts of planning and expecting excellence.  These are the sorts of things that we need driving education towards the future.

It would be terrific and a positive sign for the future that candidates who know and use the technology are taking the time to get elected and move the educational system forward.  I just wish that I could vote for her.

See full article, click here.

Social Media and Parental Involvement

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how we engage with parents at classroom and board levels.  I recently posted about how I seek to make a clear, direct path and link between parents and myself as Trustee.

I know many educators who use email, Twitter, class blogs, websites, Facebook, and other on-line platforms to share information with parents.  I must make clear the distinction between using social media to merely transmit knowledge and using it to create, develop, and maintain dialogue.  Colleague Lorna Costantini discusses this distinction:

Are teachers using SM to ask parents what they think? Is it being used to seek advice from parents? Are we using Facebook and twitter to maintain two-way communications? Are we providing training for parents on how to respond and engage using these tools? Is it the already engaged parents who are engaging now using SM? How many parents are connected with smart phones, computers the Internet? Is there any data to support how many parents know how to use these tools. I want to hear overwhelming that SM is being used successfully to engage parents but in general I don’t think it is. I need to be bang on in writing about tools for parents of teens so can you share your thoughts on how best to do it?

I believe we must

  1. Share information with parents using social media
  2. Train parents how to use social media
  3. Develop collaborative and transparent dialogue with parents using social media

Full article by Lorna Costantini can be found here.

Social media & digital literacy – what to do?

I’ve heard mixed reviews about teachers’ on-line participation and communication with students.  Specifically, a concern I often hear is that this treads into cyber surveillance. Some think becoming Facebook friends or a Twitter follower of students will require you to be hyper-vigilant in terms of monitoring their after-school or out-of-classroom activity.

However, what are the consequences of simply disregarding and ignoring the realities of the ubiquity of technology and digital media in our students’ lives?  I’ve thought about this quite a bit… who teaches students how to participate in responsible ways on-line?  We may choose to ignore their Facebook requests, but are we guiding them in navigating through and participating in the on-line world?

How do we support our students?

At Edcamp Toronto, I facilitated a conversation regarding this issue. Here was my written prompt:

Social Media use – who teaches our students? Who teaches our teachers? We all saw the Ontario College of Teachers’ advisory on Social Media. With no mandated curriculum for reference, teaching internet safety and social media use aren’t set priorities in our elementary classrooms. Some of us choose to expose, encourage, and teach students about responsible use. Others do not with their own sets of reasons.
Why? Why not? How?
Do teachers even know how to do this? How can we teach this to students when our own personal and professional use is so varied?
Is it up to the parents? Do students learn by trial and error? By experience – by error and consequence?

Is it enough to do a small unit on internet safety? Is it enough to leave it up to the the Teacher Librarian to model responsible use? Do we assume parents are going to do this during evenings/weekends?  Where do teachers fit?

Thoughts?  Let’s continue the conversation.