Tech Reflection

Although I have a long way to go in my quest to become sufficiently digitally literate, I feel confident that I have accrued a significant number of technological skills which I’ll use in my classroom next year and in all of the years to come.  I came into this course feeling self-conscious about my lack of fluency with all matters tech, but I realized that implementing ed-tech does not have to be intimidating.  Rather, it is okay to, at times, substitute digital media for paper, as long as you aspire to grow in your understanding and implementation of tech.  I think I’m somewhere between the augmenting and modifying levels (probably closer to the augmentation range, if I’m being honest), but I’m trying hard to use it with more frequency in my classes.  It’s been hard to do so with regularity, as my school site does not have a lot of access to digital media (we share two carts of Chromebooks with several large departments and, thus, they are hard to come by), but I’ve been bookmarking a lot of great ideas to use next year.

Some of my favorite tools which, in this class, we’ve gotten to explore include EDpuzzlePear DeckCanva, and Padlet, each of which is unique and offers students means of creative and collaborative digital expression.  I’ve also enjoyed blogging much more than I thought I would; I’m typically not one who enjoys self-reflective writing, but doing so has shown me that I’m able to learn a great deal more about specific content by verbally and linguistically dissecting it and sharing it with other readers.  Most importantly, it’s essential to use technology in class in order to show our students, who come from a generation of digitally literate individuals, that we can engage them and communicate with them on a level which resonates with them.  Technology opens doors and windows to students by allowing them to share their ideas with their peers, their teachers, and the global community.

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Digital Equity

In my opinion, one of the best ways to demonstrate digital citizenship is to be a vocal and visible advocate for digital equity, or the degree to which members of a community (or a planet) are given fair and equal access to the Internet and technological devices.  In researching this subject, I found that 70% of the world’s population (5 billion people) does not have this much-needed access to information technologies.  This means that 5 billion men, women, and children exist in what activist Aleph Molinari describes in his Ted Talk (see below) as the ‘digital abyss.’  The inability to conduct research on health issues, stay updated on important sociopolitical issues transpiring in a specific geographic location, or communicate with loved ones in another part of the globe handicaps individuals who don’t have computers, phones, or other similar mechanisms.  North America and Europe are, unsurprisingly, the continents boasting the greatest numbers of digitally literate consumers, while Africa, Asia, and South America are vastly underrepresented when it comes to tech proficiency.  While issues pertaining to digital equity are manifold, for the purposes of this assignment, I’m most interested in finding means of closing the digital divide, or the gap which exists between communities equipped with tech and those who lack access to it.  How can we, as educators, ensure that all of our students are given the opportunity to become proficiently digitally literate?

We should, first, realize that not all of our students come from families who have access to the Internet.  Although over 80% of American families do have Internet connections, according to ed-tech blog post “Scoping the Digital Equity Problem (or the Homework Gap)” by Keith R. Krueger, we need to take into account that, especially in low socioeconomic areas and in families with immigrant parents, many households do not have the privilege of being equipped with technological devices (http://www.cosn.org/blog/scoping-digital-equity-problem-or-homework-gap#sthash.s2SKk8RV.dpuf).  This brings me to an important point made by Molinari: Internet access and all it encompasses should be a right, not a privilege.  Still, we need to respect the fact that some of our students will not be able to complete work requiring an Internet connection at home, so we should provide students with ample time to complete online assignments at school (unless we have previously determined that all students have accessible devices at home).

Something that local school boards and public facilities should provide in order to augment community access to and understanding of technology is a series of structured (free) digital literacy classes, in which instructors introduce and explain how to use digital resources.  From teaching them how to utilize tools such as Microsoft Office to social media forums such as Skype (which can help families communicate with loved ones living in other states or countries),  communities can help their members gain leverage in an increasingly tech-based society.  In addition, schools should encourage all students to enter and excel in STEM (though I prefer the STEAM platform, myself, as I think that arts can be integrated beautifully into many, if not all, things STEM).  Movements such as Project Lead the Way help students to learn about and garner enthusiasm for tech fields and industries, and make an ardent effort to engage girls in the process.  By working together as a community and by launching campaigns to provide resources and education to underserved populations, we can help our neighbors and the generations of tomorrow to become, equitably, more digitally literate.

PEOPLE IN AN HOUR (1)

Ted Talk: Molinari on the Digital Divide

ISTE: “7 Things Every Educator Should Know About Digital Equity”

“Scoping the Digital Equity Problem”

Project Lead the Way

Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship is a term used to describe the ways in which an individual can demonstrate integrity, responsibility, and respect through their use of technology.  In a time when the belief that digital devices can cloak an individual in anonymity pervades, cyberbullying and inappropriate online sexual behaviors have become commonplace.  It is essential to teach students how to be proper and kind digital citizens in order for them to learn how to navigate the Internet safely, to practice virtually interacting kindly and compassionately, and to develop an understanding of the serious implications their digital actions have on their communities.  Schools should implement digital citizenship frameworks throughout the duration of students’ educational careers; as we equip learners with tech devices at earlier and earlier ages, it is vital to give them the resources to responsibly handle the vast technological power at their fingertips.

There are numerous helpful resources educators can use to teach digital citizenship.  Sites such as Edutopia and DigitalCitizenship.net offer thoughtful, ISTE-certified suggestions regarding how to tackle the complex issues of Internet safety.  In my opinion, however, no site is as useful as is Common Sense Media, a platform which offers media advocacy and education to students, parents, and teachers, and provides manifold means of strengthening our collective understanding of the appropriate ways to use technology both inside and outside of the classroom.  Not only does it provide handy parent guides and recommendations for appropriate movies, television shows, and virtual games, as well as a dynamic repository of blogs written on topics related to digital citizenship, it offers a wealth of accessible lesson plans which teachers can manipulate and use to help their students become informed digital citizens.

The Common Sense Media lesson I found particularly relevant to my own students is described as follows: “Students learn about the dynamics of online cruelty and how it affects all of the people involved. Students begin by exploring a scenario from the TV show Friday Night Lights, in which a teen girl creates a hate website about another girl. Students take the perspective of different characters and brainstorm alternative decisions each character could have made. Finally, students discuss what actions they can take when they encounter online cruelty in their own lives, including how to be an upstander.”  This lesson not only uses popular culture references to make content relatable to students, but it asks them to adopt an alignment with a character in order to consider a scenario from that character’s perspective.  Encouraging adolescents to take on the perspectives of other people is a smart way to remind them to think outside the box and to think of people other than themselves (as we learned in our psychology classes that adolescent egocentrism is all too real).  I love the term ‘upstander’ — students should feel confident in their ability to defend peers who are being bullied or put down, and should understand that being a bystander makes them complicit in the bullying.

As my school site has been struggling to combat the sinister effects of Ogle (the cyberbullying app that has been wreaking havoc on many of your campuses, as well), I think that it would be helpful to make references to Ogle during this lesson.  After watching the Friday Night Lights clip, I could ask my students to consider a time when they were victims of unkindness, either offline or online.  After thinking of this instance, I would have students consider ways they wish their peers had acted differently.  By having students respond to this prompt in a Padlet forum made public to our class, they will be able to reflect upon the experiences and feelings of their peers, observing the degree to which bullying negatively affects everyone in the community.  This will help students relate the digital citizenship content to their own lives, and hopefully students will be able to collaborate with their peers in order to devise solutions to bullying and cyberbullying problems.

Helpful Tech

Through my investigation of various tech platforms and applications, I’ve become particularly enthusiastic about Padlet.  Padlet, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a communication forum which allows users to post thoughts, opinions, responses to questions, and other blurbs to a class or community-wide page.  The application is extremely user-friendly; even tech neophytes such as myself will likely find it difficult to get too confused.  The site can be accessed on any device which has access to the Internet, and can be downloaded in application form on iOS devices.  Users merely sign in through Google or Facebook, join or create a page, double click to write a new post, and drag over any links, photos, files, or other attachments.  The administrator can control the formatting of said page and can manipulate or respond to users’ posts as needed, and can share the group’s findings via Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, and so on.

I think that Padlet is an ideal means of eliciting candid responses from students as a means of formative assessment: although my Comp/ Lit classes do not have regular access to technological devices, were we to have Chromebooks in the room, we would utilize Padlet with great frequency.  For example, I begin each class with a warmup writing activity which asks students to connect the literature they are reading to their own lives or to contemporary society.  Posing the warmup questions within the context of Padlet would allow students to improve their digital literacy (as a sizeable portion of my class lacks proficiency in typing) and would also, more importantly, allow them to compare their answers and opinions with those of the rest of their peers.  While a Think-Pair-Share activity allows students to practice academic conversation, it gives them an opportunity to hear the perspectives of only one or two other individuals.  A Padlet forum, on the other hand, provides students with instant access to every opinion in the class.  Padlet can also be used a multitude of additional ways: as a class-wide KWL chart, where students devise questions about the content at hand, as a menagerie of images related to the text students are reading, as a means of evaluating students’ opinions about their performance or the degree to which they enjoyed specific assignment, or even as a means of allowing students to affirm each other in order to build classroom rapport.

As with all tech matters, Padlet usage should be handled delicately, as there are ways that students may mishandle the implementation of the application.  A definite drawback to the platform is the total publicity of the posts: it may be difficult to regulate student originality if students have access to what their peers are writing.  Thus, it would likely be most effectively used for informal prompts and activities.  That being said, however, the openness of the application is also, in my opinion, its greatest strength: giving students the chance to grow from the creativity of their peers is a quality which educators should celebrate and utilize often.

Universal Design for Learning

The Universal Design for Learning is a framework which promotes differentiation so that all learners and learning preferences can be accommodated.  UDL is broken into three disparate categories: representation, action and expression, and engagement.  In order to properly support and encourage each student, educators should provide their class with multiple ways to observe, digest, and convey knowledge and understanding.  In my opinion, the salient word in the UDL framework is options; it is critical to offer students numerous choices regarding how they perceive and respond to content.

For example, with regards to representation, a student who achieves best by listening to verbal instructions should be given the opportunity to hear them spoken aloud or, if reading a text, this individual might perform most highly by listening to and analyzing an audiobook narration.  On the other hand, a visual learner cannot be expected to perform dynamically by listening to the words of a text spoken aloud; hard copies of books, themselves, would likely provide this student with the greatest chance to succeed in comprehending it.   Regarding action and expression, it is essential to provide students with multimodal means of demonstrating their understanding of a concept.  By offering students the choice of writing an essay, creating a collage, and composing a rap about a given subject, we give the students agency to respond to a task in a way that gives them confidence of subject mastery.  With regards to engagement, it is important to remember that each student is unique and has a diverse set of interests.  By giving students the chance to work in groups and/ or practice self-regulation, we give students responsibility and agency, and encourage them to tackle problems in a way that works best for them.

There are myriad ways to implement technology into classrooms organized by UDL principles.  With the advent of so many social media platforms and applications (many of which are utterly foreign to me but are used frequently by my tenth-graders), students have more ways than ever to express themselves online.  Certain high-interest websites such as Pinterest have the ability to bring academics to life for students who hold their curated online endeavors in high esteem; by doing something as simple as having groups of students collaborate and come up with Pinterest boards for certain texts or tasks can motivate learners to a) consider social media platforms as having academic (rather than merely interpersonal) merit and b) encourage students to.  Another way to incorporate technology is to give students the opportunity to collaborate by promoting group discourse as encouraged by applications such as Socrative, Padlet, or Google Docs/ Drive.  Allowing students to post their thoughts (either anonymously or by using their names) enables them to become exposed to diverse perspectives and contribute ideas which let them flaunt their creativity and individuality.

Below are some links which provided me with helpful tips and ideas regarding how to infuse differentiated lesson plans with technology.  Enjoy!

http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl

 

Brandi Antonio. “UDL: Reducing Barriers.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTShQyw3m80. YouTube. YouTube, December 27, 2013. Web. Retrieved April 26, 2016.

Kendra Grant. “Multiple Means of Engagement.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTwhcroMAaU. YouTube. YouTube, February 10, 2015. Web. Retrieved April 26, 2016.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl. Universal Design Center. Web site. Accessed April 26, 2016.