With this week's content focusing on Web 1.0 and 2.0, it was very interesting to explore how our use of the internet and technology has evolved. While Web 1.0 was primarily utilized to access and read information, Web 2.0 was designed as a place for people to communicate, create and share. At the time this was viewed as a largely positive step forward and something that would set off a chain event of innovation and creation within the technology world. However, as it was highlighted in the documentary, "The Social Dilemma" - many of these Web 2.0 technologies started out with admirable and positive attributes, but over time eroded and were replaced by capitalist goals that consumed them. Unfortunately, this has had a direct impact on their use (and reliance) within our society and leaves us wondering if we were better off without them.
While I was warned by others about the effect "The Social Dilemma" would have on my technology perspective, I decided to view it anyway as I was quite intrigued by the buzz around the film. Initially, I thought people were overreacting when they explained that after the film they disconnected from many of their social media accounts, however, as I sit here a few days removed - I definitely get it. Although there were certain aspects of the film I wasn't entirely sold on, it was eye-opening to learn about some of the ethical and moral issues surrounding my favourite apps from previous leaders in the Technology Industry. Even though I've heard about so many of these issues before (like the Facebook-FTC Settlement), I never put much effort into learning more about them - most likely because I would have rather kept my head in the sand and continue to blindly enjoy the technology. However, now that I have taken (if only a little time) to learn more about this issue, I wonder if the positives outweigh the negative implications in our society.
Positive Implications of Web 2.0
If we were to look back to the inception of many Web 2.0 technologies, this would have certainly been the driving force behind them. The notion that technology would provide a way to connect humans in ways that were previously impossible was amazing. To this day, many of these technologies continue to do just that and have become an integral part of our society. If one were to look at the positive outcomes from Web 2.0, there is no better example than the COVID-19 Pandemic. During the onset of the virus, the entire world essentially went into lockdown and people were no longer able to gather and communicate with one another in person. However, due to the advancement of Web 2.0 technologies, people were able to communicate and socialize with one another - even if it wasn't face-to-face. I think back to my own experience during the lockdown and while I certainly missed seeing friends and family, I was still able to connect with them through technology. We used apps like Houseparty to play games together, Facetime and Zoom for family suppers, Poker Stars and Zoom for poker nights, just to name a few. While the social aspect was important during the pandemic, it is also important to note the vital role that Web 2.0 technologies played in education as well. If this pandemic would have hit 20 years prior, it would have been incredibly difficult to continue educating our students while they were at home. However, with so many useful tools at our fingertips, educators were able to continue delivering lessons through distance learning. Utilizing technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Classroom, SeeSaw and OneNote (to name a few) had a positive impact on the ability to educate our students during the onset of the pandemic and continue to do so today.
While I mentioned above the impact that Web 2.0 had on education during the pandemic, it's also important to note the implications it's had on the education of our society as a whole. With information so easily available online, people from all around the world can learn about important events occurring in places outside their communities at the click of a button. Although there is certainly lots of false and biased information out there, I would argue that these tools have helped spread awareness about crucial issues that we may not have heard about 20 years ago. Just think to the impact that the social media has had on providing awareness to important issues in our world: the Black Lives Matter Movement, the role a Tik Tok creator played in informing the world about the Muslim camps in China, or even closer to home with an Indigenous Edmonton man utilizing Tik Tok to educate people on Indigenous culture. While there is certainly a flip side with all the misinformation out there, it is definitely important to acknowledge that there are still many positive educational opportunities afforded with Web 2.0 technology.
Negative Implications of Web 2.0
Driving Force Behind the Technology
As was mentioned in the opening paragraph, at the onset of Web 2.0, many of the technologies that were being created were designed to positively impact humans around the world. Unfortunately, as time has progressed, it has become less about positively impacting users and more about making money - which was a focal point of The Social Dilemma, as they explained, "If you're not paying for the product, then you're the product." This is something that I've heard about for a long time but really didn't question - probably because I didn't want to know the answer. Learning about the algorithms used by many social media companies to control users with targeted advertisements as well as the amount of information they have is incredibly scary.
Initially I hadn't thought much about why I was seeing certain posts, why certain notifications would pop up or why it was recommending various videos for me to watch. However, now that I have a little insight into this world, it's not only scary but downright terrifying. Shortly after viewing the video, I wanted to test this out and take a look at what would pop up in my Facebook feed and I was horrified to see that what I hadn't noticed before. Out of the first 20 posts to pop up on my wall, 4 were targeted advertisements and videos - 20% of what I'm consuming on what is supposed to be a social networking platform are advertisements that I'm unknowingly viewing, which is generating even more revenue for Facebook. This is certainly scary - and what's scarier is how specific the videos and advertisements are to my interests, likes and conversations I've had with friends. This really made me think about my privacy and how much of what I do and say online is no longer private, and instead of being used against me for the financial gain of a billion-dollar company.
The Echo Chamber Effect
While privacy concerns and the monetization of the software are certainly an unsettling issue, perhaps even worse than these are the algorithms used to deliver information. As the documentary pointed out when people get upset and others for spreading fake news, propaganda and conspiracy theories online, the typical response is "they should know better!". Unfortunately, what these people are failing to realize, is that they probably don't know any better due to the types of information that are being pushed out or recommended to them online. With these online algorithms, when something is searched or liked, Facebook (and other software) will try to find similar videos, groups and posts to recommend to users. Unfortunately, this essentially creates an echo chamber online where people are continually being fed information that ties into their current beliefs and makes it next to impossible for these types of people to see both sides of an issue - or even the truth in many cases. An example highlighted in the film was the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that spread like wildfire online and convinced many people that there was a human trafficking ring tied to pizza restaurants, some to the point that they armed themselves and tried to liberate the fictitious victims and were ultimately arrested.
If Pizzagate wasn't a strong enough example of this, we need to look no further than 2020 and the more recent conspiracy theories online about QAnon and how Facebook was forced to change its algorithms to limit the theories spread. Or even closer to home with the No Mask Movement here in our home province of Saskatchewan. Many of us question how people could refute Science (and common sense) when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and blatantly disregard their safety and the safety of others. However, one peak in the No Mask Saskatchewan Facebook group paints a pretty clear picture as the amount of fake news and conspiracy theories posted by the 4.5k users is astounding. With the combination of this group and numerous`videos and posts recommended for them online - it's not hard to see where these steadfast beliefs come from.
Ultimately, when looking at the issues surrounding Web 2.0 technologies it's easy to look at these negative consequences and decide to write them off as many people have after viewing The Social Dilemma. While I agree there is a lot wrong with so many of the social media applications that we use today - especially the two areas highlighted in this blog post. I do, however, believe that we still need to focus on the benefits that these technologies have had on our lives, especially during the hard times of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, the answer to this argument could be summarized by Neil Postman when explained that "for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage". As the consumers of these technologies, we need to ensure that advantages still outweigh the disadvantages because if they don't, and we continue using them - we have no one to blame but ourselves.
I think it goes without saying, but 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year for teachers. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world last winter, educators everywhere were forced to adjust to a different way of teaching to ensure their students were able to continue learning. While there were certainly many speed bumps and roadblocks along the way, teachers displayed resilience and persevered into the relatively uncharted waters of distance learning. This was a particularly steep learning curve for most teachers as this form of instruction wasn't that prevalent in our education system - especially at the elementary level.
Looking back on my experience, I feel very blessed to be a part of the Connected Educator program within my division, as the shift to distance learning (while not ideal) was a relatively smooth transition. Teaching in a one-to-one environment allowed me to utilize a plethora of learning tools that - while great in my situation - would be much more difficult without a class set of devices. As a result, when we shifted to online learning, my students were already familiar with the majority of tools we would be utilizing, so the learning curve for new tools was relatively low. Here are a few of the tools that I found to be the most beneficial during my time delivering instruction online, that could be utilized within a face-to-face class as well:
When it came to communicating with my students, email was still one way that many of them choose to communicate with me as it was something that they were familiar with before shifting to distance learning. However, one tool that I found very helpful for student communication was Microsoft Teams. While I was hesitant to use this tool in the past, Microsoft certainly did its part in beefing up this once inferior program, to one that I felt confident in using with my students and recommending to other educators. The built-in chat function in Teams had been the primary way (outside of email) that my students and I were able to communicate regarding questions about their supplemental learning. Typically if a student had a question about an assignment, they sent me a quick message and I was able to provide an answer far quicker than before. I also found that students responded far quicker than they would through email because many of them already using the app to complete their learning - rather than having to use a separate app to respond to emails. Unfortunately, this feature was short-lived as my division decided to block it as a result of some inappropriate use from students at other schools. While this was disappointing for me at the time, I was very happy to hear that it has now been turned back on and can be utilized once again by teachers and students.
When it came to face-to-face (well kind of) interaction - something that was sorely missed during those long months at home - my students and I utilized the video chat function in Teams. This was probably the biggest reason that I had for using Teams as it allowed my students and I to meet multiple times per week and talk with one another. While the structure of the meetings started as a way to review the expectations each week, check-in with students and teach the odd lesson, these Teams meetings evolved into fun and engaging ways to connect. Throughout our time in supplementary learning, we used Teams video chats for Quizizz and Kahoot games, BINGO, SINGO, Scavenger Hunts, Mini Mystery Skypes and so much more. I am so grateful for my experience using Teams as it allowed my students and I to connect in fun and engaging ways that may not have been possible otherwise.
Out of all the tools I utilized last year, OneNote has probably been the one that I'm the most familiar with as I have been using it regularly within the classroom for the past five years. For anyone who is not familiar with OneNote, it is essentially a digital binder for your students, where they can take notes, complete work and view assessment feedback. Personally, I utilized OneNote a lot for housing written content and assignments as they were easily distributed to students and curated in the different sections of their OneNote. Students also could complete the assignments right in the OneNote app using the typing tool or draw tool if they had a stylus or a mouse. As Math was one of the main subjects taught during supplemental learning, OneNote became the primary tool I used to provide students with their assignments. Below you can see two examples of how students have used this tool to complete and submit their work:
Speaking of Math, this was also a relatively seamless transition into distance learning as my students and I were already utilizing a Flipped Learning approach in our regular classroom. With Flipped Math being the norm in my class before Covid-19 hit, I was very fortunate, as all of my lessons for Grade 8 Math had already been recorded and posted on my Flipped Math Website. This enabled me to continue teaching in a flipped environment - albeit without the same amount of one-on-one time we would have had in a physical classroom. With the lessons already recorded online using Explain Everything or PowerPoint, I would typically assign two videos for students to watch each week, along with an accompanying assignment for them to work on in their OneNote.
Below is a sample of what a typical Flipped Math lesson would look like:
Flipgrid & Kidblog
While OneNote was very useful for students to share their learning with me, it did have its limitations for sharing with others. The collaboration space within OneNote definitely could serve this purpose, but I found other tools such as Flipgrid and Kidblog to be far superior options. I really enjoyed using Flipgrid during Distance Learning as it allowed students to connect through conversation instead of written expression. Students had the opportunity to talk about their learning and then comment on their classmate's videos to begin a conversation.
I also continued using Kidblog as a means for students to share their written work with the class - which came in handy as we finished up our Book Clubs at the end of April. Kidblog is definitely one of my favourite tools to use as it allows my students to create engaging and interactive writing pieces that include videos, images and sometimes audio recordings. While most of the tools I've discussed today were free for me to use, I should warn you that this tool does come with a yearly subscription of 75 USD. However, with the purchase of one subscription, you can make multiple classrooms which could drastically reduce the cost if shared amongst several rooms in your school. If you would like to get a better idea of what a Kidblog post would look like, feel free to check out a student sample from my classroom blog from last year.
While (fingers crossed) I have not been required to shift to distance learning so far this year - I do feel that if it happened again - the transition would be relatively seamless for my students and I. So far this year we have utilized all the tools mentioned above on a daily or weekly basis within the classroom - which has allowed my students to become quite comfortable with these technology tools. If we were to shift online, I feel that my students would be able to continue using these tools on their own at home and be successful. While I am in no way hoping to test this theory out any time soon, I do recognize that there is a very real possibility of this occurring - especially with the uptick of cases in our province. If this does occur, I feel confident that my students and I will be able to draw on the learning experiences from last winter/spring as well as the preparation we have done so far this year to successfully transition to distance learning.
After this week's awesome presentation, we were left the task of viewing the video "Single-tasking is the new multi-tasking" before beginning our blog posts. As I'm sure was the case with many of my classmates, as I sat down to view the video, my attention only lasted a few short seconds before I tried to do other things while I watched. Instead of just sitting and focusing on the one task at hand, I also had time to put my dishes in the dishwasher, check my fantasy football scores on my phone and grab a drink from the fridge. While I could argue that I was more productive because I was able to accomplish four things instead of the single thing I started with, it became apparent that through trying to multi-task, I was unable to complete the most important task that I started with. Once I sat back down to view the end of the video, I had to zip back to the beginning of the video and watch it again, which meant that instead of taking four minutes to complete the task, it actually took eight. This in itself highlights the problem explained in the video - it is probably more productive to focus on only thing rather than trying to multi-task many at the same time.
With this in mind, I've made a conscious effort to focus only on this task today and see if my work time improves. To help with this I've placed my phone in a separate room, taken my Apple Watch off, closed all but two of my active tabs (I kept our Weekly Plan one open for reference) and ensured all other applications on my computer are closed. I'm not going to lie though, just 15 minutes in and I'm already struggling. My brain is so used to needing to focus for a short amount of time before I would switch to something else that it's been hard so far to keep myself on task. I find that every time a different thought comes to my mind I instinctively reach for my phone only to find it not there. It's crazy (and a little scary) that I have conditioned my brain to work this way each week. I wonder how long it will take me to get to a point where I'm able to fully concentrate on a task at hand without the urge to multi-task?
So, this naturally leads to the question posed to us in our blog prompt: Is the Internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions?
The more I thought about this question, the more I realized that the answer isn't a simple yes or no as there could be great arguments to be made on both sides. While my experience writing these posts would surely support the "endless distraction" side of technology, I also believe there are many tools online that aid in helping people become more productive. As many of my classmates have pointed out, there are many apps and tools online that can help us to be more productive when we are working on a task. Whether that be planning tools like Planboard or Planbook, self-control apps such as App Limits or SelfControl, or even hubs like OneNote or Google Classroom, if used the right way, could yield many benefits for productivity. However, like so many debates about technology, it has less to do with the technology itself, and more with how we use it. When utilized correctly, the internet (and technology) can help us to be far more productive than we were in the past.
Now, just bear with me for a second here - imagine having to write a term paper 30-40 years ago. What did this look like? Well for starters, the amount of time spent on finding resources would be immensely longer than it is today. Instead of utilizing the plethora of online databases to find articles or academic journals to cite in your paper, you would need to head to the library and spend time finding the physical copies to get your hands on. If that wasn't bad enough, you couldn't just use a simple keyword search (along with various filters) to find the exact articles you were looking for - which would exponentially increase the time spent to locate these resources. Then to make matters worse, you wouldn't have access to tools such as RefWorks or EasyBib to compile your references, which for a large paper, could be quite time-consuming. All in all, when comparing life with the technology we have today from those of the past, it's obvious that we have the potential to be far more productive today - but again it just comes down to how we use it.
As Neil Postman said in his article, Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change, "for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage." When comparing these words to the prompt for this post, it's clear that this is exactly the case for technology vs. productivity. As I've highlighted above, technology offers us many ways to achieve levels of productivity that people of the past could have only dreamed of. However, while there are certainly benefits with this technology, there is also the added disadvantage of being over-stimulated with things that could distract us from our tasks. As capable human beings, we can't blame the technology for these issues, but rather we need to hold ourselves accountable when we become distracted. Technology is only a tool (for good or bad), but people themselves ultimately harness the power in how to use it. If we take more responsibility for our use of technology, the issues discussed in this post would dissipate dramatically. As we move into the future, this is something that needs to be recognized as technology isn't going anywhere.
This week we were treated to a great presentation on how AV technology has evolved in education, and how educators are using it in today's classroom. We also ended the night with a short lecture by Alec, who showed us a short clip from Sesame Street and left us with the following quote to ponder:
"We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” - Neil Postman
If kids are used to this high production value entertainment for learning, anything else would seem boring and not very exciting - and I totally get that. Trying to replicate this level of entertainment in the classroom would be next to impossible due to budget and time constraints and also incredibly draining on the teacher. As Lisa expertly explained in her blog, this type of teaching would essentially be "6 hours every day of that high energy entertainment, it would be exhausting and tiresome, for both the student and the parent". So, if you thought teacher burnout rates were bad now...imagine if this was the expectation for all of us! In this regard, I definitely see where Postman was coming from, however, I do believe we need to explore his quote a little further as it was written in 1985, which was quite a long time ago.
When Postman mentioned that Sesame Street would undermine the "traditional idea of schooling", my first thought was "Okay, fair enough, but what is traditional teaching?". If we were to look at a "traditional classroom" for 1985, I would imagine this took the shape of lecture-based lesson delivery, blackboard, pencil/paper type of learning environment. As educators now, how many of us would be okay with this type of schooling? I'm going out on a limb here and guessing the number would be quite low. So my question would be, was it really so bad to "undermine" the traditional model, if (looking back) this model needed to be updated anyway? When we look at the types of learning that are happening in shows like Sesame Street, they may have been ahead of the game with some of the ways they were delivering education. I also wonder if it's possible that educational TV shows like Sesame Street, Magic School Bus or even Bill Nye had a positive ripple effect on shaping education today? We know that education does not look very similar to what it did 30, 40 or 50 years ago and while the advancement of technology and our understanding of education have certainly improved, I still wonder if some of the engagement strategies we use within the classroom, could have been inspired (at least in part) by educational entertainment?
While I went off on a little bit of a tangent there, I'll try to regroup and get back on topic! When exploring AV technology within classrooms today, I firmly believe that they have led to a higher quality of education due to the capabilities of each, and the enhancement of learning that wasn't possible before. When exploring some of the most common forms of AV we have in our classrooms such as data projectors and computers - they have allowed educators to significantly enhance their lessons to not only engage their students but also deliver higher quality education. As I thought about this, it reminded me of a colleague, who just last week used her projector and computer to skype with a Marine Biologist. Her students were able to learn first hand what a Marine Biologist does, and also ask questions about her job. This was something that was not possible without the technology and an experience that students may only have received in the past if they watched an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy (ripple affect anyone?).
However, like any tool in education, if we're not using the technology properly it's not going to be effective for our students. While educational technology is certainly very popular right now (as it should be), we need to be careful with how this technology is being utilized in a classroom. The emphasis should not be to make sure educators are using technology in a classroom, but rather ensuring its use enhances student learning. As Lisa also said in her blog," Like any sort of AV, it was a tool to help with instruction, not to take the place of instruction". This is a powerful quote as it really hits the point across that technology is a tool that educators can use to enhance their teaching practices - but should not be the basis of education. A poorly planned lesson is not magically fixed through the addition of technology, but an already great lesson can sometimes be enhanced with the addition of technology.
To conclude, as Shelby mentioned in her post, the SAMR model is such an important tool that educators can use to assess their level of technology integration in their teaching. Not every lesson needs to be at the Modification or Redefinition level, but simply using technology as a substitution for every lesson isn't effective teaching either as it may not be enhancing anything. As educators, we need to be cognizant of how and why we are using technology within our classrooms. We also need to remember that not every lesson or activity needs to include technology - and actually may be better off without it.
Really, these games were the only things we would do in 1999 and 2000 when we had access to our bulky IMB computers - which is a stark comparison to today where educational technology is used more often and for so many different outcomes. However, while games still exist today to help teach students concepts like typing or coding, we use technology more as a practical teaching tool to educate students in these skills because most educators have a far firmer grasp on technology than teachers did 20-30 years ago.
My Experience with Logo
While Logo was not a program that I was familiar with before this class, it was something that I enjoyed and something I know the younger version of me would also have spent a copious amount of time playing. I liked the problem-solving aspect of the program as it wasn't easy to get right on the first try. Often it took me five to ten trials to finally get the shape or design right, which was definitely frustrating, However, this also provided me with a great sense of accomplishment and I'm sure if anyone was perusing through the Zoom camera's during this time, they would have witnessed over-the-top celebrations that would have certainly drawn unsportsmanlike penalties in an NFL game. My experience with Logo reminded me of my experiences learning to code an Arduino this summer, albeit, with fewer celebrations.
Years ago I had bought an Arduino for my classroom as I figured coding couldn't that hard and my students would easily be able to figure it out. Well, what a mistake that was! As I learned more about coding, I understood that there was a major difference between using programs like Hour of Code or Microbit and programming a text-based Arduino. This led to some new experiences and many moments of frustration over the summer while learning to program this little computer. However, just as I felt accomplished when I was able to make a square on Logo, I felt the same sense of pride when I was able to make an LED blink on the Arduino breadboard. Both of these programs allowed me to problem solve, visualize my learning and gain a sense of accomplishment once I got it right - which are the main reasons why I believe Logo (and other programs similar to it) are still valuable in classrooms.
Coding in the Classroom
As I mentioned above, I think Logo (and other coding programs) are beneficial because they allow students to develop problem-solving skills and gain a sense of accomplishment when they complete each of the activities. In addition to these benefits, the article "5 Reasons Why Coding is Important for Young Minds", also outlines five important ways coding can help students:
When exploring Logo through the five points made in the article, it's not hard to see how each of these aspects could be achieved by using Logo with our students. Personally, aside from the problem-solving aspect, the first thing that came to mind was how beneficial a program like Logo would be to reinforce Math concepts - specifically angles, shapes and tesselations in the Grade 7/8 level.
Connection to Constructionism
As Tracy emphasized in her blog post, Constructionism is "When learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructionism advocates student-centred, discovery learning where students use the information they already know to acquire more knowledge". When comparing this definition to Logo (and most coding programs), it couldn't apply any better. As I discussed above one of the major benefits of Logo was the notion that students would have to utilize problem-solving in order to achieve their goal. This would directly relate to the notion of discovery learning as students are learning skills in each of the mini-lessons that can be applied to further tasks, thus building on prior knowledge to achieve their goal. It also directly relates to the construction of mental models as the entire goal of the software is for students to build shapes on the screen, however, in order to do so, they need to first construct them mentally to figure out the process they will utilize to build the shape.
Overall, while I have utilized coding in the classroom in previous years I don't believe I've explored the benefits as deeply as I could have. The experience of using Logo, as well as expressing my thoughts through this blog post, have provided me with new insights into coding and given me fresh ideas into how I can integrate coding into my teaching in settings outside of Genius Hour or Makerspaces. I can't wait to explore Logo (and other coding programs) further throughout the year and finding new ways to engage my students through coding that I didn't know were possible before.