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Archive for September, 2009

Are Machines Changing Us?

After watching, “The Machine is Changing Us” on youtube by Michael Wesch, I have mixed feelings about his truths. Personally, I have never felt right about having intimate conversation with my computer screen. I tend to agree that it is a little awkward at first to continue a monologue without some facial cues from my invisible audience as I feel that, we as humans, do feed off body languages and facial expressions which leads our f2f conversations down a certain path of reasoning which is healthy and productive in forming views and opinions about the world around us.

In today’s day and age, it appears that people want to be heard, they want a voice; their voice. It is so important that everyone has an avenue to connect with someone else of similar interests and similar experiences that using youtube as a therapeutic way to release yourself to the world can be a good thing, if used properly.

As an educator, I see this everyday. Students are continuously trying to find out who they are as individuals and where they fit into their surroundings.   The Internet can open up dialogues between students from all over the globe with similar ambitions and interests especially for rural students that feel disconnected from the rest of the world around them.

Information is at our finger tips for anyone to learn everything about anything. What a powerful tool the “machine” is. It has changed how we do business, how we communicate and how we raise our children. Anything that we want to learn about is only a click away.

The Internet and all of its advantages can harvesting life long learners in all of us; however, it can present debilitating effects as cyberbullying is on the rise. “The Internet has taken on a central role in teenage culture, creating a new landscape for social interaction…while most cyber communication is of a positive nature, an increasing number of young people are using interactive technology to harass and bully peers.1 A 2002 British survey found that one quarter of youth, aged 11 to 19, have been harassed via computers or “cell” phones”1. These are issues that we cannot ignore. Bullies have the avenues to hurt others through the use of “machines”. In fact, the machines provide a safe haven for bullies to harvest a plan and manifest those plans into a reality. “Cyber bullies are often more vicious and hurtful than in-person bullies, saying things on line they would never say face to face. The anonymity of on-line harassment gives bullies the power to attack others with little risk of being caught. Using cyber technology to harass also shields bullies from the consequences of their actions. Having no actual physical contact with their victims, the cyber-bully’s feelings of empathy and remorse are minimized”1.

A positive, more uplifting side of using the Internet is that people can perhaps overcome their social anxiety. Look at computer dating, “It has been found from online dating statistics that around 83 millions Americans aged 19 to 45 are interested in online dating services and that consumers spent nearly 302 millions dollars for online dating services; in addition, 44% of American Adults are single, 40% have tried online dating, AND there are more than 120,000 marriages a year that occur as a result of online dating in the U.S” 2

The social anxiety that some student exhibit in the classroom can also be overcome by allowing students creative ways of creating videos or blogs to release there inner voice for class projects. My school has almost 1400 students, which can be quite overwhelming at times. Through the use of blogs and youtube as a media of release students can get to know not only people in their school but students from other schools in their city and of course from around the world.

Unfortunately, the problem that arises is that students develop “narcissitic views” and tend to communicate in “ephemeral discussions”(Wesch). Furthermore, with greater computer usage, kids may not  develop pertinent social skills required when caring out face to face conversation with peers, parents or teaching staff.

Context collapse and deep self reflection occur as a result of using youtube and other video creating sites but the fact that people can form help groups to find others out there in the same situation as they are in is of course a great advantage to using these sites.

Our computer generation can create their own world to live in instead of having it created for us by T.V in the past. The information that is exchanged via blogs and social networking sites is directed by the individual and not by T.V which puts more control into the user’s hands than ever before. It has even been said that the reasons why students love using facebook and myspace is because they are in control and few parents have reign over them while in those sites.

Perhaps this is where context collapse comes into play. If individuals are not taught how to use the Internet effectively be it through searching for information or posting personal information or videos then trouble can exist. Students need to know that any information that is placed on the web can potentially be seen by millions around the globe and that their actions being portrayed must be taken seriously in order to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

These issues surround us today as we learn how to make technology work for us as a comfortable personal tool and a not so comfortable classroom tool.

 

References

1. http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/News/Cyber-Bullying-Part-One.aspx?articleID=7981&categoryID=news-poh5

2. http://www.articlealley.com/article_565008_39.html


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Backchannel

WHOA! What is up with all of the bacon conversations going on in the backchannel (bc)? There I am trying to keep up with the education and technology lingo being discussed and then a conversation about bacon flavoured ice-cream is thrown into the mix. Quite comical and to my relief, a discussion to which I felt that I could add some insight to instead of feeling disengaged while “lurking” in the corner of a social virtual room.

I try to engage thoughtfully with a focused approach but man is there a lot going on in the bc. Most of the time it is about different tools to use or educational practices but I feel that too much is going on to actually make this an effective learning environment for me. I appreciate that it is a lack of experience using the bc but I am getting better equipped at reading every other word and listening for every third word. ADD for sure…kind of goes nicely with my red hair and the need to be constantly moving.

Most days my head hurts after my ECI831 class. Multitasking is the key here but is it the appropriate way to learn? According to a CNN article, multitasking may be counter productive especially with younger, less trained students. This is where I seem to fit in. I try to keep up with the discussions taking place in the bc but ask me to form an opinion…not likely. Unfortunately for me, falling asleep some nights is like trying to fall asleep after playing Tetris for 2 hours straight (as I once did in grade 9)…images are flying all over the place as I try to find where the pieces fit together.

During class time on Tuesdays, I basically spend most of the hour and a half trying to listen to the speakers as they whip through issues surrounding education. I am usually looking up keywords on the Internet without meaning  to me as I try to keep up with the bc conversations taking place. Half of the time, the bc is a distraction. Many non-credit students are in attendance to lend us their ears and to share experiences, to which I am most grateful but I do feel that there are too many discussion going on to comprehend and internalize.

There is definitely no shortage of ideas, advice, tech tools discussion and educational insight in ECI831; in fact, this class rocks as people that I have never met are willing to take time to share their experiences with me. Personally for me as a rookie, I find the collegial chat distracting while more experienced backchannel’ers’ appear to be thirsting for more, perhaps this will just take a bit of time to become acquainted with alien techniques. I feel that this I cannot interact intellectually with the bc yet. Heck I don’t even have time to finish reading most of the posts let alone form an opinion to adequately respond.

A wise man once told me to “dip your cup into the river when you are thirsty” but he neglected to tell me that standing under a waterfall with a paper dixie cup would only get you so far. Since the first week of class, I have thrown away my paper cup and got a new one. My pewter plated stein is ready for next week! As far as chugging to quench my thirst, I thought those days were gone or at least few and far between.

Forming my own thoughts and opinions is crucial for me to internalizing learning. As an example, I am teaching a grade 9 math class with the new curriculum set forth this year. As educators, we are asked to “play” with mathematical concepts and to give students time to think and respond to the issues that are presented. Once meaningful discussions have occurred between students, they are asked to reflect on their experiences. It is definitely not the conventional way of teaching math as statscananda states, “student engagement in mathematics refers to students’ motivation to learn mathematics, their confidence in their ability to succeed in mathematics and their emotional feelings about mathematics. Student engagement in mathematics plays a key role in the acquisition of math skills and knowledge – students who are engaged in the learning process will tend to learn more and be more receptive to further learning”. This, I feel, is not localized to just math class but to all classes of learning.

The solution is to give students time to form their own view of what is presented to them which is done by analyzing the information, allowing students time to categorize their thoughts through presented problems and then giving students time to reflect on their experiences. I do appreciate that a graduate class poses different challenges than a grade 9 class does and I do reflect on the course content within ECI831 but I feel a little too overwhelmed at the moment, with everything going on around me to “sip from the river”. I do appreciate that the course is recorded to view later if need be but with a busy schedule as it is, every minute of the day is accounted for.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the bc can be a powerful tool to use with a small class for gathering links and focussed discussions but for someone who is not an effective virtual room multitasker (yet) I  would prefer that ideas were kept focussed and on the abundance of new issues presented to me. I am quite certain that as time progresses I will learn to sip from the river even though I find that a more productive learning environment could take place with not so much ‘stuff’ going on, deterring us from the importance of what is being discussed.

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Formal versus Non-Formal Learning

After class last Tuesday with Richard Schwier and many others from around the globe, I contemplated what his message meant to me and how these ideas can work for me within my realm of teaching. In my mind I still fight with the differences between formal, informal and non-formal education. I have read Alan Rogers’s article and have interpreted the differences to be that formal education is a teacher centered form of education, non-formal is when learning takes place outside of a formal setting of a classroom and informal education is the experiences that we live through daily to mold our thoughts and way of life.

I teach Chemistry and Math at my school where I deal with 30 + students in each of these classes. Where do I begin to incorporate non-formal learning? How do I pass off the reins of power? Not sure I can. Not sure I want to. I do agree that teacher centered classrooms are tiring and can be counter productive to the learning that could take place if students were placed at the fore front of their own learning but how do I get 30+ students to take responsibility for their own learning and keep them focused on the objectives for each unit. Furthermore, students need to be productive and to share their insights about course content with others without monopolizing the conversations with idle chat about their weekends and social lives? From what I have seen at high schools if teachers are not trained properly, students are not individually motivated and students lack background knowledge in the course content then a non-formal learning environment could not take place.

 “A learning community emerges when people are drawn together to learn, so a learning community is a group of individuals engaged intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge” (Schwier). Perhaps if my students could connect with others from around the world on issues that pertain to their desires or interests then a non-formal education could be a powerful and productive way for learning to take place.  Bringing students together in virtual rooms could lead to a more personalized and productive learning environment; however, I feel that everything in moderation has its benefits. Perhaps a 50:50 split is in order. Alternating between formal and non-formal techniques could ensure that learning takes place and that objectives are being met while students internalize a desire for learning. “Formal educational systems alone cannot respond to the challenges of modern society and therefore welcomes its reinforcement by non-formal educational practices.” (Rogers). I do find that being constrained daily with the amount of content that I must cover in such a short period of time would deter my willingness to employ such techniques. I feel that my content area and educational position in the hierarchy of learning does not easily allow the transition from formal to non-formal styles of learning.

After reading Richard Schwier’s article, (Pursuing the Elusive Metaphor of Community in Virtual Learning Environments)  I stumbled over his statement that “learning communities are not inherently good, desirable or ideal” (all of the time). Even though his strand of thought was based around terrosit groups accessing these types of environments for their benefit, I personally see where this idea fits within the high school setting. High school kids have difficulties staying off their phones for longer than 10 minutes at a time let alone placing them in an environment where few rules, regulations and consequences occur. Most students of this age need guidance and structure. They also need constant reassurance and most importantly they need confidence in the subject material. I do see the benefits in employing a non-formal education learning style but I struggle with where it fits in my realm of teaching.

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Rolling right along…

Just to catch up to speed, the first week was quite the learning experience for me. I struggled with the concepts discussed in class and on the back channel. Twitter, Delicious, Google reader and blogs…what the heck are they? I was so far into the forest that I couldn’t see the trees. I listened attentively for keywords that I could recognize, kind of like I do when the French teachers talk to me in French at school; I basically wait to hear for my name and then smile and nod. 

Key words? Yeah I heard some keywords: Internet, sunshine and Riders but where they fit in the grand scheme of ECI831 I wasn’t too sure. It was quite comical. For a guy who finds himself to be comfortable with Microsoft applications I found out that I was in over my head, heck, I couldn’t even get my microphone to work. Last week the drama continued and to add insult to inury, my keyboard froze up 30 minutes into the onslaught. Since then, I have ordered a new computer and…needless to say, everyday I am gaining confidence in creating and editing blogs, tagging with Delicious, keeping updated with RSS feeds and much, much more. I was always taught to celebrate individual successes regardless of how big or small they were which I did during the Rider’s loss to the Eskimos last week.

Now that I have a bit of confidence, I am off to read some more because I get the impression the majority of people are up to date with the class content (readings and educational terms) and have been able to internalize what it means to them in which I am extremely grateful. The posts and article tagging has benefited me tremendously and I would like to thank everyone for sharing their points of view with me, even if they don’t reflect mine.

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Second Versus Same as the First

Well, I am officially on my way to making sense of my new world…sort of. It is kind of like a baby making sense of their surroundings, only I seem more stressed and conscious of everything that has to fit together to get where I need to be. I did check out some “How To” videos on Youtube and I  feel that I have a clearer understanding of the tools at my disposal, heck I have even remembered my passwords for each of my new websites; nonetheless, I haven’t found how it all fits together in real time for me…yet! I keep getting bogged down with some of lingo (web2.0cloud computing, cloud atlas’, PLN’s, …) and time it takes to navigate myself around from one “cloud” to another. Time is of the essence these days so I must be brief and move on. I guess this post is acting more as a journal entry in a diary than an opinion warranting comment (however, please feel free to do so at anytime) and from what I gather about blogging is that blogs are intended to give a summary of personal experiences with the intent to educate someone interested in reading my point of view. Well, I am not sure when I will be at a point to add anything of earth-shattering relevance that most “social surfers” haven’t already heard but I am off to learn more and with that I shall return so stay tuned 🙂

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Hello all and welcome to my blog created for ECI831.
I am starting my graduate studies at the University of Regina and ECI831 is my first class in achieving a Masters of Education. I am eager to learn how I can make technology work for me (if possible) and networking with experienced teachers around the world.

At the present, I teach I.B. Chemistry in Regina, Saskatchewan where I have been teaching for the past 6 years. My wife Jill and my son Noah are my biggest motivators to complete a Masters. Noah is 18 months old.  Jill, also a teacher, is pregnant with our second child (due in March 2010).

I coach  soccer and badminton at my high school and I try to keep fit by playing hockey and Ultimate frisbee. I am in the middle of a basement renovation which has been going on for a good part of two years now. I have never taken on a task as large as this before and many thanks to my wife for being so patient and reassuring during this project.

As far as my education career is concerned, I finished High School outside of Ottawa and moved to Regina shortly after. I wasn’t too fond of school until I enrolled at the UofR. I am not sure what flicked the switch but I ended up with a Science and Education Degree. I have internalized how important it is for me, to further my studies. I enjoy teaching Chemistry, as it lends itself well to blowing up gummy bears and sending rockets across my room but I feel that I have come to a crossroad in my life where my family is being started and my interests are becoming varied. I have always considered myself computer savvy until I sat through last Tuesday’s class in which I found out that I have so much to learn. What an exciting time it is in my life. Not only do I get to experience the business of family, work and renovations, I also get to tie in a learning component that will hopefully quench my thirst for further educational practices and tools.

I have read over a few blogs and I am absolutely blown away by the clientelle that exists within this ECI831 class. I am definately the young buck of the group and I have come to realize that the more I know, the more I know I know very little. Everyday seems to be a steep learning curve in the world of education, social relationships and the Web 2.0.  I have a lot to learn about with the power of technology and how I can get it working for me in my classroom.

I have created an account with gmail, google reader, delicious, twitter, and here at wordpress. As far as what I am doing in each of those worlds, well that is another story.  In fact I am not sure I can even remember my passwords for each of the sites! Whatever the case is, I am extemely excited to be in such a social network as the one that has been created for me via this class. I get such a positive vibe from those in this class and how knowledgeable they are and how eager they are to share experiences with others. I welcome any and all experiences that people wish to share with me.

Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to share with you.

Noah and Dad

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