Tools for Distance and Online Education

I found this post challenging to write this week because in essence we are attempting to challenge traditional forms of schooling as we know it. While many classrooms implement tech integration and try a variety of new tools and activities related to emerging technologies, much of what we continue to do — especially in primary classrooms like my own — is rooted in traditional models of teaching.

In a previous blog post, I discuss how I use a blended learning model in my classroom:

In my classroom, I teach from a blended learning approach, combining digital media with other more traditional teaching methods. Before we start learning with technology, we begin in September by learning how to use technology. Included in this learning is management of time, place and the tools we use when it comes to our devices. In a third grade classroom, this means learning about safety online, privacy, being responsible digital citizens and finding balance. All of these understandings must be in place before we begin learning with technology. In my opinion, this blended approach allows for technology to enhance learning in a meaningful way. Key to this approach is the teacher and as my classmate Wendy argued, “it’s not technology that motivates and engages students, its teachers. Bad tech isn’t good learning”. After all, we live in a digital world and students need the skills that technology is providing for them.

In my classroom we use tools such as but not limited to BrainPopJr., Google apps for Education, Seesaw, Twitter, and other various apps that are available through our school board regulated devices.

In our readings this week, I came across this quote: “There’s an inherent conflict…between a culture that demands learning efficiency and a culture that recognizes learning messiness” (Source). The conflict this blogger is discussing is part of what holds, me (and I believe, many others) back from moving towards a less traditional model of teaching. Alec asked us to consider how our current context would be impacted if we were to shift from online/distance learning vs. face to face learning. In a primary classroom, I find this very difficult to imagine. In my opinion, for young children the face-to-face learning and connection with their teacher is invaluable.

However, once students gain more independence, work ethic and intrinsic motivation (among other skills!), it makes sense that online/distance education can be highly beneficial. In our EC&I833 course, there are many benefits to our synchronous online meetings. For example, as Tony Bates (2014) points out, there is a great deal of learner autonomy in our course in terms of content and learning style. There is “openness, in terms of access to the course, content, activities and methods of assessment”, diversity in terms of “varied content, individual perspectives and multiple tools, especially for networking learners and creating opportunities for dialogue and discussion” (Source). In our course, we use Zoom, Google+ Communities, Twitter and a Feedly Hub but have access to many other modes of communication between teacher-student and student-student. An additional benefit is the interactivity of the course; “communication…and co-operative learning [that] results in emergent knowledge” (Source). Lastly, there is increased access to courses and course content and the course becomes available for distance learning.

Meanwhile, Tony Bates (2014) also points out the following criticisms of the connectivist (online/distance learning) approach to teaching and learning:

  • there is no control of the quality of content, or on contributions from participants;
  • assessment can become more difficult
  • learning may not necessarily be academic
  • students may struggle with a lack of structure and can be overwhelmed by the volume of content generated by other students
  • “this kind of learning requires learners already to have at least some level of more formal or traditional education before they participate if they are to fully benefit from this kind of learning experience”.

So, while I maintain that my practice is a blended learning approach with a slight lean towards the traditional, I see great value in online/distance learning for more mature students.

In my primary classroom, I have been intrigued by the idea of a flipped (or partially flipped classroom) for the purpose of engaging students and parents in a different and potentially more connected way.

With parent engagement as one of our division’s primary goals this year, a flipped classroom could play into the action plan well. While I cannot see myself transitioning to a fully flipped classroom, I can see many benefits to using this type of model in a variety of ways. My hope would be that this type of learning would help bridge the gap between home and school. So, what’s stopping me? Well…like most new approaches to learning, there are also many barriers including student/family access to devices, student/family time (what about extra-curricular activities? family time? a break from “school” learning?), what about families that don’t engage with this model? It seems everyone would have to be on board. This makes it difficult for families with parents who work evening shifts or have other responsibilities. So, while I like many aspects of the flipped classroom model, I also see many barriers and currently, too many barriers to encourage me to switch over to this kind of model.

As I mentioned previously, I found this post difficult to craft because of my conflicting opinions on new models of learning as they have many attached advantages and disadvantages. Coming from a primary classroom plays a big role in my opinion of online/distance learning in my current professional content however as a university student, I really enjoy this type of learning. I am eager to read the posts of other primary teachers in this course to see what they think about online/distance learning in their contexts!



Single-tasking for the Win!

Multitasking with technology
One of my favourite non-fiction books is titled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School by developmental molecular biologist John Medina. In his chapter on Attention, he blatantly points out that “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth…we are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously” (p. 84-85). He goes on to say that “The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes”. You can read more about his ideas in his blog post found here. Our professor Alec asked us to watch this video called Single-tasking is the New Multi-tasking and discuss whether the Internet is really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions and whether the Internet has created a world of ‘multi-taskers’ who don’t accomplish as much as they could have without it? This video provides information that relates directly to the ideas that John Medina shares. The speaker likens open tabs on your computer to tabs as a metaphor for different elements in life suggesting that we are not good at multi-tasking online or offline. The difficult part is that society (including schools and workplaces) position multi-tasking as an optimal skill to have. We are constantly bombarded with messages from society and in the media about the value of multi-tasking. This week, presenters Amy, Amy, Kyle and Colette discussed productivity suites and presentation tools. A productivity suite “is a group of programs for your computer that includes a word processor, a spreadsheet creator and a presentation creator accessible by launching one main application. The suite enables you to share data among the three programs as well as download and use templates from online template providers” (Source). They also shared this video to compare two of the most popular productivity suites Microsoft Office and Google Suites. One of the groups’ recommended readings argued that
“Today, we often take for granted that digital versions of these once-revolutionary technologies come bundled in a single software package many of us use every day. In offices around the world, you’ll find professionals hard at work using the modern productivity suite, which can include word-processing, email, spreadsheet, and presentation software, as well as instant messaging and file-sharing apps. And these powerful office tools empower many millions of office workers to get their jobs done” (Source)
What I find so interesting is that while media/society is pushing for multitasking as an important skill, the research shows that multitasking is ultimately unproductive. Tools like that ones presented this evening (Microsoft Office, Google Suites, etc.) have become an enabler for people to multitask while simultaneously creating a significant distraction. Though as Melanie points out, our reliance on this kind of technology is indisputable. I know that I personally become overwhelmed especially during ed tech courses because I always have so many tabs open. It sometimes becomes difficult to organize my thoughts because I am clicking through tabs or one link leads me to another and down the rabbit hole I go. I would not be able to create my blog posts for this class without the use of technology and presentation tools but I wonder how much time I could save if I only have one tab to focus on! This same problem spills over into many other areas of life including in my workplace and from experiences being a student in the past decade. Technology has created so many possibilities but also so many distractions!
Designer Paolo Cardini questions the efficiency of our multitasking world and makes the case for — gasp — “monotasking (Source)

Learning to Read is as Easy as Eating Some Alphabet Soup


In his 1985 article, Learning in the Age of Television, Neil Postman wrote “…We know how 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”. Postman is discussing the role that television had begun to play in the education of American children and how this audio-visual technology was reshaping parent and educator understanding of what learning could look like if they revamped what the traditional classroom setting looked like. 

For many of us, imagining what the traditional classroom looked like has something like this image imprinted in our minds: 

Related image

As Haiming describes in her blog post, the teacher is placed at the front of the room, students sit in rows of desks and there is little visual stimulation in the surroundings. This classroom is rooted in behaviourist learning theory in which the teacher transmits the knowledge to the student. This image did not align with what Sesame Street taught us to thinking about learning. 

Postman writes “In searching the literature of education, you will find it said by some that children will learn best when they are interested in what they are learning. You will find it said–Plato and Dewey emphasized this–that reason is best cultivated when it is rooted in robust emotional ground. You will even find some who say that learning is best facilitated by a loving and benign teacher. But no one has ever said or implied that significant learning is effectively, durably, and truthfully achieved when education is entertainment”. Postman is arguing that a shift in learning theory needed to occur at this point in history from behaviourist to constructivist and beyond to connectivism as it relates to modern education. The group presenting this week asked some important questions about how our class thought AV technology impacted learning. Some responses were that AV technologies created opportunities for connections with others, that auditory and visual concepts were closer to real life than text and therefore easier to understanding, AV appeals to different styles of learning and can evoke emotion which in turn activates prior knowledge to create meaning (possibly through digital storytelling, songs or podcasts, etc.), and that integrating AV was more engaging that traditional styles of teaching. Many of our class’ ideas aligned with Postman’s arguments. 

The introduction of audio-visual technology began almost a century ago with tape recorders and overhead projectors and has evolved over time to include technologies such as iPads, smart projectors, robots and virtual reality devices being used in classrooms today. The importance of using AV technology in the classroom should not be underestimated and “there are two reasons for this; one, learning via AV creates a stimulating and interactive environment which is more conducive to learning; two, we live in an audio-visual age which means that having the skills to use AV equipment is integral to future employment prospects. Therefore exposure to AV technology in education is imperative”. AV technology has become important in the classroom in “facilitating improved productivity and student engagement, offering flexible applications that can create dynamic learning environments for wide-reaching audiences…technology also allows groups from all over the world to connect and collaborate in real-time” (Source).  In 2018, this information shouldn’t be surprising when we have statistics like these to suggest the relevance of AV technology in our lives. 

Today’s technology capabilities are likely beyond what Postman imagined for education in 1985 but many of the positive implications of AV technology remain relevant. If we think solely of our EC&I 833 course and the opportunities made available through Zoom which allows people to connect from various locations (Alec taught one class from Hong Kong last Winter semester!) for one common goal, it really is quite amazing! Further, if we think about how technology is being integrated into classrooms now through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs that integrate the culture of smartphones, the use of educational programs through Youtube, and the many applications used to connect classrooms globally, the implications for learning are vast. In my own practice, AV technology enhances learning by showing students content rather than simply having them read about it or listen to me teach about it. AV technology provides another lens and context through which students are able to make meaning of the world around them. As previously suggested, students can learn more when they are engaged and interested in what they are learning. Finally, the integration of AV technologies in today’s classrooms allow for 21st century learning to take place. 

The use of AV technologies in the classroom is conducive to understanding new literacies such as digital literacy. Pitts argues 

“all communication is multimodal, that writing alone is not enough for learning, and that all modalities are ‘equally significant for meaning and communication’ …In this context written language, then, is but one part of meaning making. Moreover, it is no longer the dominant part. A literate individual is no longer one who can simply read and write, but one who can place language within a broader context – a multimodal world. As information can be expressed through multiple modes, the ability to interpret and connect the multiple modes through a variety of literacies (e.g., print, digital) becomes essential”.

New epistemoligies in a digital age: Ways of knowing beyond text-based literacy in young adult leaners

In conclusion, AV technologies have the power to revolutionize learning in many contexts and make learning more engaging, empowering and connected. Teachers have a responsibility to use this information to transform their teaching and the role that traditional classroom models continue to play in modern classrooms. After all, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, “Sesame Street was built around a single breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them”. How are you holding your students attention? 

Coding: A New Literacy


In class this week, we practiced coding (for my first time!) We used the program called Logo Interpreter and followed a workbook called Programming in Logo. This was my first experience using computer language and instructing the program to do what I wanted using code. This helped me to understand a bit about how programs complete tasks and how I was able to manipulate the code to meet a certain objective. I was also able to make many connections between coding and the SK math curriculum.

Adding to last week’s discussion about learning theories, Seymour Papert coined the term constructionism which is a learning theory rooted in constructionism where the learner makes meaning of information based on their experience with it but further (in constructionism), the learner is “most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product” (source).  Papert used Logo in his early research which was designed to teach young children about computer programming.

In his 2015 article “Why Kids Should Learn to Code“, Erik Missio explains that coding is being considered a new literacy and that learning to code is directly related to many future job opportunities. (Hint: scroll to the bottom of this article if you’re not sure where to start with coding. There are some great applications to start with! Or checkout this article) Missio argues,

Today, computing is involved in almost all aspects of our lives, from communications and education to social media, banking, information, security and shopping. Networked computers are capable of controlling our homes’ thermostats and lighting, our cars and our health records.

If grade-schoolers are taught biology and mathematics in order to understand the world around them, then knowing the basics of how computers communicate—and how to engage with them—should be a given.

Not only does learning to code help kids explain the world, it also helps them develop problem solving and computational thinking skills (Missio) both of which are listed as Future 2020 Work Skills. This 2012 article “Code Literacy: A 21st Century Requirement” by Douglas Rushkoff explains that kids “are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it — or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with  them instead”.

If you’re not yet convinced, this article, 9 Reasons Why Kids & Teens Should Learn to Code, sums it up nicely:

Finally, check out what some of these leaders and trend-setters have to say about the importance of learning to code in this article.

As you can see, there are many reasons that learning to code is important for young people today. Because technology is impacting nearly every aspect of our lives, it is increasingly important to understand how the programs being used work. In addition, coding can be used to help young people develop new programs and apply what they have learned in creative ways.

There are already many ways in which learning to code can be relevant in the context of the Saskatchewan curriculum. Do you teach coding in your classroom? If so, what programs do you use? What benefits are you seeing? What have your students surprised you with?


An Ever-Shifting Perspective: Examining Learning Theories in a Connected World

This week’s readings presented a variety of popular theories of learning including behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. Ertmer and Newby (1993) provide an in-depth explanation of these learning theories in their article Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective. Ertmer and Newby also include an article update in 2003 to reflect upon the changes in how learning theories can be understood as changes in the social learning environment have reorganized in the decades that follow their original piece. It is important to read an article like Ertmer and Newby’s in order to understand the historical background of these learning theories. This infographic nicely summarizes some of the key features of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism:

But…a shift has been taking place. We spent a lot of time in the Spring session with Alec talking about the stereotypes of different generations. Gen Z has received a lot of flack from its predecessors and in the media. But…it’s not all bad. This fabulous essay, “A Generation Zer’s take of the Social Media Age” (2018) by Elena Quartararo sheds some light on how the current generation is making use of the technological tools at hand. Her message is profound and intends to debunk many stereotypes which label her generation. The social action, connectedness and problem solving she talks about involve a variety of learning theories, including the newer theory: connectivism as presented by George Siemens.

In his 2010 Ted Talk titled “Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able“, Michael Wesch argues many of the same ideas being argued in Siemens’ Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age (2004) article. Both agree that “technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004). Therefore, our understanding of learning theories must also make a shift that accommodates the changes that technology has brought to modern society. We know, from the Future 2020 Work Skills document and all of the readings for this week that the skills required for careers of the future look much different from the previous generation. Teachers are currently preparing students for a world of work in which the landscape will look very different from our own. Therefore, Siemens’ suggests a learning theory called connectives in which knowledge is distributed across a network of connections to people and information — learning consists of the ability of construct and traverse those networks” (defined in a Map of Learning Theories).

This week, Alec asked us to explore which theories of knowledge and learning underpin our own teaching philosophy and classroom practice. To be completely honest, I don’t give much thought to all of the “isms” on a day-to-day basis but reflecting on my readings this week, I see how behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism all fit, to varying degrees, into the current educational system and my own teaching practice.

Behaviourism underpins a lot of what we (as an education system) do in Saskatchewan. Behaviourism is recognized by students producing observable, measurable behaviours that are scored using criterion-referenced assessment. The outcomes and indicators in our curriculum highlight the skills students are expected to know. They are taught in sequential  instruction and are scored using programs that measure student behaviour based on level of mastery. Behaviourism has imprinted itself on much of how we “do” assessment in our province.

In addition, you are likely to find behaviourism in many primary classrooms where (due to student level of mastery), the teacher often guides students to master skills and behaviours. My classmates, Sam and Sage, discuss using behaviourist theories in primary classrooms, especially to teach beginning-of-the-year procedures and establish classroom expectations. I teach third grade and we practice, practice, practice until we learn the the routines of our classroom, much of which is guided by myself and the students present observable behaviours to show a level of understanding of what is expected.

Cognitivism plays out in my classroom in some elements of reading, math and writing instruction where students learn how to learn and focus on a variety of strategies to construct meaning.

Further, constructivism has a role in my classroom as well where knowledge acquisition comes from learners using the experiences they have been given to create meaning. Meaning is content- and context- specific and can be used to support problem solving in a variety of situations. Daily 5 stations, Explore 4 stations, our learning in science, social studies and health can all be connected back to constructivism. Students are presented a variety of opportunities through stations in reading and math to make sense of the information presented. Additionally, I encourage my students to make connections across subject-areas in order to deepen their understanding of the information they are learning rather than the information being discipline-specific. We also take our learning as it relates to the place/context that we are in as people of Saskatchewan and identify how our experience is unique because of the place in which we live.

Finally, connectivism is gaining momentum in classrooms across the province. For me, the newest learning theory has become more relevant through the Master’s program courses I have taken. Due to how technology has changed the lives of our learners and ourselves, we must continuously examine how we help our students gain new understandings of the world. Connectivism allows teachers to use technology in a way that allows students to gain many of the Future 2020 Work Skills mentioned previously. Siemens’ presents a list of questions that are relevant for teachers to consider when selecting learning theories, some of which are listed below:

  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

As Jana discusses in her blog post, it isn’t necessary to choose one learning theory and ascribe solely to that theory but rather utilize the various aspects that each theory has to offer in a balanced approach to understanding teaching and learning. There are so many elements to consider when we craft lessons and learning opportunities for our students and we must select a method of learning that benefits students in the most meaningful way.