What’s So Hard About the Digital Classroom?

Our lives are digital. The interwebs have changed everything, which sounds like the tagline for a really cheesy film. But in all seriousness, it’s amazing how we are using the applications and tools out there. The podcast “Spark” from CBC recently talked to people who are vision impaired about how the Amazon Echo is making a huge difference to accessibility and speed for them. I was up at a friend’s cottage and watched him set up dimmer switches for lights for his fire pit that can be controlled by an app on his smartphone (that was cool).

So what’s happening in our schools and classrooms? I’m considering how educators are using digital tools across our district. We are entering the fifth year of a 1:1 pilot in seven elementary schools and also in all of our secondary schools. In addition, the vast majority of teachers and all administrators have one to one access to a device. While change is exciting, and we have seen teachers, principals and vice principals embrace digital tech in many ways, there are still many barriers. Educators struggle to figure out how to use tools for more than handing assignments in through Dropbox and Google Drive, simple substitution with worksheets or games or posting the weekly memo on School Sites.

I’ve seen staff meetings where everyone brings a device, and I’ve seen others where almost no one does. I’ve talked to grade 9 and 10 students whose teacher expects the device at every class and uses it, and others where they don’t bother bringing it because the teacher never asks.

I’m left scratching my head. When people post all kinds of updates on social media, send e-transfer funds zipping around and book their vacations through online sites, what’s so hard about using the tools for workflow and to learn? I know we have amazing resources in our district to teach and help, but these seem to go largely untapped.

Please comment or engage in this conversation on Twitter. I’d love to know more about perspectives out there.

 

Andrew Kelly – #HWDSBaccelerate

I first met Andrew Kelly as a classroom teacher. His curiosity, questioning and deep thinking stood out then and are even more evident now. Andrew embraces learning and always welcomes others’ viewpoints as he seeks to understand. Andrew’s blog Stop Start Continue showcases his thinking and provides entry points for any educator and parent. He talks below more about why he loves to blog. You’ll find his ideas fascinating!

What is your role in HWDSB?IMG_20160517_194834 (1)

Currently I am a Character Networks Pathways Teacher.  Using the CPS approach, I work with teachers, EAs and administrators to figure out how to best support students who display challenging behaviour. Beginning in September, I’ll be working with the 21CL team supporting the TLE project in Special Education classes.

What led you into education?

I got into teaching for two reasons: my interest in History and a desire to positively impact others. I figured I was signing up for a job where I’d be delivering Chomsky-influenced lectures on U.S. foreign policy during the day (probably wearing a tweed vest) and editing lengthy essays in the evenings.  Although my job doesn’t resemble my initial vision of how my career would play out, I feel fortunate to be in an occupation devoted to removing barriers and empowering young people.

What are you go-to pieces of tech?

My Lenovo ThinkPad R500 is my work laptop.  Originally designed in 2008, it weighs a ton and doesn’t have any bells or whistles but the extended battery pack helps with longer meetings.  Because I travel between 15 schools, I use web-based tools to collaborate on plans with staff on a regular basis.  The R500, although almost a decade old, is fast enough to access web-based applications such as GAFE, WordPress, and Piktochart.  Proof you can be connected without having the newest tech.

Last year I got rid of my iPhone and switched to Android.  The customization options, innovative apps and relative low-cost of the device made it an easy decision.  My Moto X phone is my go-to piece of tech.  Main uses: Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, podcasts.

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Twitter or something else?

Twitter really is a game-changer for professional development.  The staff room, hallways, structured PD, AQs…all of these places where PD traditionally occurs have their value, but they’re limited in the audience and the ideas to which you have access.  Twitter allows you to connect with (or even silently observe) educators in your district and beyond.  One hashtag that broadens my perspective and enriches my professional learning is #educolor.  Equity and anti-oppressive practices are foundational parts of my pedagogical stance (and Twitter feed) and #educolor is an easy way to stay current and keep these things in the front of my mind. Checking out these hashtags and following some of the active contributors is a must (@RusulAlrubail and @ChrisEmdin are good places to start).

Other hashtags I frequent:

#criticalpedagogy

#selfreg

#TMCtalks

My next steps on Twitter are to explore #MakerEd, #MakerSpaces, and to participate in one weekly chat session.

In addition to Twitter, I listen to education-based podcasts and find them a great tool for accelerating my learning.  I regularly listen to Ross Greene’s parenting podcast, his school-related podcast, and to the House of #EdTech podcast.  Since I drive between schools, podcasts really work for me and my schedule.

How has technology shifted the way you learn?

Being a connected educator allows for quick access to a wide range of sources allowing for professional learning that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. It’s not just about learning new concepts or ideas but also about finding inspiration.  Twitter extends the reach beyond your in-person PLN. For example, I follow Dan Scratch, a progressive educator who is truly empowering students at Inner-City High School in Edmonton.  Inspiration also comes from inside the HWDSB and the group of educators that contribute to the online community by tweeting or blogging their ideas and experiences.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?

Start blogging.  No other tech-supported learning compares to it.  It feels risky to put your ideas into public space, but educator generated content is what drives the learning for everyone else. Additionally, an enormous amount of thought goes into one blog post, causing personal reflection while challenging you to both articulate and justify your pedagogy. Simply put, blogging connects you in a way that “lurking” doesn’t.  So fire up the WordPress and give it a try!

Behind this series: Inspired by the innovative and trailblazing Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning BlogI’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning.  In HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. I’m hopeful that educators’ insights and experiences will kickstart a conversation and even spark some action.

Bill Torrens – #HWDSBaccelerate

Bill Torrens embraces learning. When faced with a new digital tool his thoughtful and creative approach finds a way to incorporate it into his practice. Bill is always looking for ways to extend and even push educators’ and colleagues’ thinking, and technology helps him do that. When you talk to Bill, you leave with new ideas. I was delighted to read his answers and surprised to see the word “potato” show up. Have I piqued your interest? Read on!

What is your role in HWDSB?Bill Torrens

I’m a System Principal in the Leadership and Learning Department with responsibilities regarding ESL/ELD Programming, Equity, Positive School Climate, Leadership Programming, NTIP, TPA and Student Engagement. Sue (Dunlop) once called me the “the Principal of Lots of Stuff” to a group of teachers but we’re all principals of that in some ways.

What led you into education?

There was no one thing that led me to education. Teaching was in my family: my mother taught in our system at Memorial City, Tweedsmuir, Parkview and Ainsley Wood, so that was a strong influence. However, my thinking as a young person was that teaching was an avenue to explore the world and to learn about myself, so I taught in England and Turkey. I ended up back in Hamilton, but I still believe that an important part of education is about exploring the world and finding your place in it. As an ESL teacher, I was helping students try to make sense of their new life in Canada. I have always had a desire to serve and to contribute, and my way to contribute to a more just society is by being an educator and helping to build a strong public education system.

What are your go-to pieces of tech?

I love the iPad for its versatility. It’s the swiss army knife of technology and it has awesome aesthetics. It’s my professional and personal tool of choice for everything but word processing (the laptop is tough to beat when you need to type up a memo or long email). I take notes and annotate documents in Notability with a stylus; document and share learning via Twitter; watch the Jays on the MLB Network; and read books for pleasure… all on the iPad.

Twitter or something else?

I love Twitter and have to thank Sue for pushing me to adopt it as a learning tool. Twitter is a like gigantic 18th century, Enlightenment, coffee house or salon where ideas are shared and debated freely. An hour on Twitter is like going to a multi-day conference. I use Pocket to capture and curate interesting tweets and readings for later use. I also use it to capture and share my learning later. I haven’t blogged much but I may try a “Twitter essay”, a new text form popularized by Jeet Heer (@heetjeet). Basically, it’s a numbered series of tweets that lays out a brief essay on a topic. Heer’s a left-ish Canadian journalist who edits the New Republic magazine. He’s trying to be a public intellectual who tweets his ideas. He also engages in extended debates on political and cultural topics via Twitter. @bill_torrens

How has technology shifted the way you learn?

I finished university just as the face of learning was changing due to technology. I remember in 1994 when my friend somehow rigged his computer to the TelNet at Western and reserved books from home. I was stunned.

20 years ago it was you, a text, and a highlighter in a cubicle at a library; or, you sat in a lecture hall/seminar and listened to the “sage on the stage” and furiously wrote notes.  Now, my iPad provides access to more knowledge/information than the entire holdings at D.B. Weldon Library at Western. So, my learning is now more multi-media and more democratic than 20 years ago.

Why read (Michael) Fullan deeply when he’s on YouTube and, I think,  being far more clear orally than on paper? Why listen to an “expert” at a conference when the teacher or principal in Iowa with a blog may have more insight into what I’m working on than the Harvard Professor? Why not join a #edchat and engage in a conversation with other educators. Like Paolo Freire believed, knowledge resides in “the people”, and frankly, tech lets us, “the people” share knowledge amongst ourselves freely.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wondering how to use tech to accelerate their learning?

Don’t teach like you were taught and don’t learn how you learned. My Granny was born on a potato farm in 1898 and the classrooms I learned in in the 1970’s were only slightly different than that one room school house. Ask yourself:  are you teaching and learning for yesterday or tomorrow?  So, my advice is to democratise your practice: be curious; be fearless, take risks, co-learn; learn with and from your students. If you teach FDK, sit in on a middle school classroom that is BYOD and watch how kids use tech to learn, or put an iPad on a table in the classroom and watch how the kids use it for inquiry.  If your classroom is not BYOD, see what happens when you let the kids use the tools of their choice. Our students are showing us the way forward and what we learn from them, we can leverage for our own learning and growth.

Behind this series: Inspired by the innovative and trailblazing Royan Lee and the #workflow series on his Spicy Learning BlogI’m asking connected educators around our district how they use technology to accelerate their learning.  In HWDSB, we’ve been talking about how to transform relationships, environments and learning opportunities. The driver is pedagogy, but the accelerator is technology. I’m hopeful that educators’ insights and experiences will kickstart a conversation and even spark some action.