Educating With Technology: Changes for the Better

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After 60 years in the classroom as a student, teacher, and K-12 Educational Technology Consultant, I have seen many changes. I maintain that the changes, particularly as they relate to the infusion of technology into K-12 classrooms, have improved the lives of both students and teachers.

I plan to address how technology has changed and improved education over the years. First, I want to make sure that the reader is aware of what drives educators. Regardless of whether a teacher uses the latest technology or the more traditional blackboard, I believe that what matters most, can best be described in Kathy Davis’ quotation:

Teacher Feature #3 - Kathy Davis 300 x 225

Since the child is the most important ingredient in the educational process, I thought that I would use the letters in the word “child” as an acrostic technique to frame my thoughts regarding educational change.

C is for: Computer Science & Change

I began my teaching career in 1967 teaching Grade 7 & 8 students Mathematics. In those days, my only form of technology was a spirit duplicator, a hand-cranked calculator, and my slide rule that I used to determine report card marks. I must admit that when I taught Mathematics, I assumed that all students solved problems using the same strategies and algorithms that I used and taught.

A few years later, I proposed teaching Computer Science to Grade 11 & 12 students. In those days, my Grade 11 & 12 students either used a school keypunch or pencil-marked optical cards to create a program on a deck of cards. I maintain that they were better programmers than today’s student because they only had “one run per day”. In other words, they flow-charted, traced their code extremely thoroughly, and assembled their program(s) into elastic-enclosed decks of cards which I drove out to the university each evening and ran through the U of M mainframe. The next day my Computer Science students would be waiting eagerly at my classroom door at 8:00 a.m. when I arrived. I would distribute their print-outs wrapped around each program deck of cards. There would be those who whooped with delight if their program ran successfully and printed out the correct answers. Others would frown as they carefully searched their print-out for the easy-to-spot syntax errors or the more challenging coding flaws in logic. It was while teaching programming to high school students that I had a real epiphany or change.

Teaching students Computer Science ... brought about four important changes in my teaching:

I remember reviewing an assignment and noting that while most students solved this one particular problem using the same logic that I would use, there was one student who tried a different approach. Although his print-out provided the correct answer, he took a rather unique approach in his logic. Perhaps it wasn’t the most efficient program because he used more lines of code but the important thing was that his coding showcased for me that not everyone thinks the same. In teaching junior high Mathematics, I had always assumed that all of my students would problem solve using the same algorithms or steps that I demonstrated and taught. Furthermore, I was quite proud that no Mathematics students could ever stump me and that I could solve every problem in the textbook to arrive at the correct result displayed in the answer key.

Teaching students Computer Science, and how to program computers, brought about four important changes in my teaching:

  1. The revelation that not everyone solved problems using the same methods or steps that I used;
  2. No longer did I feel as confident in always being able to solve all programming problems using the framework or existing coding proposed by each, and every student;
  3. Teaching programming helped me realize that I was no longer the “gatekeeper of knowledge” and that students often learned so much from their friends; and
  4. I learned how important it was for me to be able to say “I don’t know …”, but I always quickly followed this remark by stating “… but, when you figure it out, please show me.”

I have to agree with Steve Jobs who stated “Everybody should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think”.

 

H is for: Help, Hand-outs & Hardware

Teaching a brand-new school initiated Computer Science course in the early 1970’s had its challenges. Unfortunately there was no one from your own school to mentor you in computer-related problems. Rather, you had to search out others who were, like you, introducing Computer Science to their Grade 11 and 12 students. Long before the Internet, we had to phone one another or meet face-to-face to gain help and share resources. Whenever I used the school’s ditto machine to duplicate Computer Science hand-outs, tests, or resource pages, I always ran off 10 extra copies. Each of these copies was carefully filed into a large manila envelope addressed to another educator in our city or province that was also teaching Computer Science. When the envelopes were filled, I would “snail mail” my resources out to my 10 Computer Science colleagues. I eagerly looked forward to the arrival of similar “hard copy” resources that I could modify and share with my students. Long before the acronym “PLN” became popular, we thrived and survived thanks to a willingness to support and share with one another.

In the late 70’s, the Apple II, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputers entered the market place. I bought my own Commodore PET 4032 with its cassette tape drive on which I stored programs. Within a year, I purchased a Commodore dual floppy disk drive to speed up access and to improve reliability. Undoubtedly, lower prices and increased storage capacity have dramatically changed over the past 30 years. For example, my first package of 10 Dysan 5.25” diskettes cost me $70. In other words, in those days, I had to pay $7 for a mere 170 KB of diskette storage space. Today by comparison, one can buy an 8 GB USB flash drive for the same $7 which can store the equivalent of 49,344 of my old Dysan floppy diskettes. Furthermore, today’s cloud storage has become very inexpensive with Flickr, for example, offering new users one free terrabyte of data storage. To put this in perspective, this free offer of storage capacity compares to the equivalent of 6,316,128 of my Commodore PET diskettes. Storage capacity and hardware improvements have definitely improved immeasurably over the past 30 years and with it improved ease of use for today’s educators and students.

 

I is for: Internet, Initiatives & Innovation

During the 80’s and early 90’s, my home and work computers were used in isolation. During those years, most of my computer use consisted of exploring computer assisted learning software, creating word-processed documents, managing databases, and manipulating spreadsheets. With the Internet came connection to other like-minded individuals and the excitement in education exploded as we learned and shared electronically. As access speeds increased, so did our capabilities.

When I first became the Educational Technology Consultant for the Winnipeg School Division in September 1981, I realized that I would be challenged to keep current with this technological explosion and to inform educators and students in our 80+ schools. To facilitate such sharing, in October 1984, I created a monthly educational newsletter called Bits and Bytes. In October 95, I started sharing my newsletter on the Internet as well as continuing to distribute it to each school through a limited number of printed copies. Teachers were delighted when this newsletter appeared on the world-wide-web as now many more readers could gain access to this resource. Furthermore, many teachers liked the fact that they now could quickly search my “Bits and Bytes” web site to find information rather than have to visit their school’s library and flip through past archived hard copies. Although “Bits and Bytes” is no longer available on our school division server, the Internet distribution undoubtedly facilitated the ease of sharing of information and resources during the majority of this newsletter’s 23 year existence.

In the fall of 1995, as the Internet and the Netscape web browser were evolving, Rod Brown and I came up with an innovative plan to run a “Let’s Get Connected” contest in the Winnipeg School Division. Schools were challenged to demonstrate how their staff and students were collaborating as they used technology to enhance learning. This innovative contest was scheduled in May 1996 and I asked other Computer Education Consultants, from nearby school divisions, to help judge the creative applications. These adjudicators were so impressed with the concept, that Richard Burkett, a Computer Education Consultant from the River East School Division, and I teamed up to expand this initiative to schools throughout our entire province. The goal of all “Let’s Get Connected” activities was to “connect” teachers and students in learning opportunities using technology. Not only did the Minister of Education declare May 12-16, 1997 as “Let’s Get Connected Week”, we also encouraged educators to design 32 innovative technology-related activities that engaged students. Through Internet connectivity with other innovative educators, we were proud to be able to facilitate a “Let’s Get Connected” learning adventure for four years in succession.

Without the Internet, the following powerful and inspirational initiative would not have blossomed.  Laura Stockman, a ten year old girl, decided to save her December’s daily allowance of $1.00 to donate to a worthy charity on Christmas day in honour of her recently deceased grandfather. I (@bkmetcalfe) shared Laura’s story in a blog post entitled How to Make a Difference in December. Chris Harbeck (@charbeck), a dedicated middle school colleague in the Winnipeg School Division, shared this idea with his students and challenged other educators and students to do the same. Chris’ UnPlug’d 2011 video entitled Why Digital Citizenship Matters celebrates how Laura’s initial idea caught on with his students. Three years later, thanks to Internet connectivity, I was enrolled in an innovative Digital Storytelling (DS106) open, online course. Our instructor, Alan Levine (@cogdog), challenged us to create a video describing an unexpected positive outcome after sharing something openly online. My Sharing is Caring video describes Laura’s inspirational story and how Internet connectivity facilitated the sharing of this inspiring initiative.

Clarence Fisher (@glassbeed) of Snow Lake, Manitoba and Heather Durnin (@hdurnin) of Wingham, Ontario have embraced the Internet and demonstrated innovative teaching with technology. Although these two middle school teachers and their classes live in two different provinces and are separated by 2700 kilometers, they have effectively used the Internet and social media tools such as Google Docs, Twitter, Skype, virtual bulletin boards and WordPress blogs to build a caring community of learners. The Idea Hive is where the collaboration between the students in the two different schools occurs and their powerful online learning takes place. Using different technologies, these two educators continue to explore innovative ideas and exciting ways to engage their students.

Undoubtedly the Internet has facilitated easy communication, so that educators and their students can benefit from the innovative ideas and resources that are shared by both master teachers and master learners.

 

L is for: Literacy with ICT & Leveraged Learning

In 2006, after much research and working closely with educators throughout the province, the Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth produced a state-of-the-art model entitled Literacy with ICT Across the Curriculum.

“Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) means thinking critically and creatively, about information and about communication, as citizens of the global community, while using ICT responsibly and ethically.”

The inquiry-based LwICT developmental continuum continues to be updated with many resources including the LwICT teacher handbook, parent handbook, posters, and web-based support.

This remarkable initiative continues to foster dramatic learning opportunities in Manitoba classrooms as teachers infuse technology to engage students on their journey to becoming responsible digital citizens.

Today, “just in time”, real-world, learning is the key. The Internet, together with its various social media applications makes learning so much easier. Not only can teachers search for and share engaging lesson activities but educators can also get inspired. No longer does one need to travel to expensive conferences to hear well-respected individuals.  Rather, one can stay at home in one’s pyjamas and become inspired by watching TED Talks presentations. Certainly one can learn from amazing presentations like Sir Ken Robinson’s How schools kill creativity. Similarly, Matt Henderson (@Henderson204), a high school teacher in Winnipeg, also presents his inquiry-based teaching model at the TEDxManitoba. Matt’s passion for inspiring and engaging his students is aptly shared through his powerful Teaching Ourselves to Last Forever presentation. Educators are encouraged to examine the powerful and creative conversations of the learning communities that Matt facilitates by visiting his Henderson Hallway blog.

Andy McKiel (@amckiel) has been an amazing catalyst to foster learning. As an active executive member of the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) and the provincial BYTE Conference, Andy has created and archived a multitude of online learning resources. Undoubtedly, one of his most exciting learning opportunities was the week he spent in Churchill, Manitoba studying polar bears. Working with scientists, Andy learned many important aspects about polar bears and their habitat which he shared with students and teachers world-wide via his blog Chilling with Nanuq.

Moving from bears to birds, we find Andy active tweeting (@amckiel). To facilitate learning amongst Manitoba educators, Andy has been collecting the Twitter “handles” of Manitoba teachers. He then uses the Paper.li content curation service to collect daily tweets of Manitoba educators and display them in The Manitoba-educators Daily. If you want to find out what Manitoba educators are tweeting, you need to investigate Andy’s online newspaper.

With Twitter becoming so popular, three Manitoba teachers, decided to create a process by which educators could use this social networking tool to connect and chat about topics of interest. Zoe Bettess (@ZBettess) from Thompson teamed up with Winnipeg educators Georgette Nairn (@GeorgetteNairn) and Tanis Thiessen (@tjthiessen) to organize the “Manitoba Education Chat” (#MBedchat).  Every Wednesday night from 9:00 – 10:00 CST, interested educators filter tweets using the hashtag #MBedchat and provide answers to five questions related to the evening’s topic. Past chats have focused on our provincial SAGE Conference, the new Manitoba report card, the connected classroom, picture book month, and sharing strategies to support EAL students. All tweets are archived on the Manitoba Ed Chat blog so that others may learn. This #MBedchat educational chat provides great learning opportunities as ideas are shared and connections are made between like-minded educators. I encourage readers to sign up for Twitter, explore tutorials, utilize an interface like HootSuite, TweetChat, TweetDeck or another client which allows tweets to be displayed in columns, and join in the learning and fun.

For years, John Evans (@joevans) has been a prominent sharer of educational ideas and resources. In fact, his Why Sharing Matters video, in which he uses an apple basket metaphor as a measure of teacher wellness, imparts a powerful message to us all. John starts each weekday by rising early and sharing a wealth of educational ideas and resources through Twitter. Not only does he distribute educational information through his The Tech News Daily online newspaper, he also uses the Scoop-it online publishing tool to curate news, reviews, and resources which he shares through his online iPads in Education. However, John is perhaps known by more educators as the champion behind MAPLE – the MAnitoba Professional Learning Environment (MAPLE). This new Manitoba Education social networking service can be used to connect Manitoba educators to each other, to curriculum content, and to a variety of professional learning opportunities. This unique endeavour will provide Manitoba educators with new ways to connect with their curriculum, communicate, collaborate and learn.

 

D is for: Devices & Dedicated Dynamos

Lately there has been much discussion over the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) initiative. Starting in 2010, Dakota Collegiate, in the Louis Riel School Division, was one of the first schools in Winnipeg to facilitate this endeavour. As one of the school leaders, Roy Norris (@Roy_Norris) teaches English in a 1:1 environment where each student brings his/her own technological device to school to enhance his/her learning. When visiting Roy’s class, I was astounded by the variety of devices that the students in the classroom were using. Some had Mac laptops, other classmates were using Windows netbooks, while others were connecting wirelessly using smart phones or tablets. My initial two thoughts were …Wouldn’t it be simpler, if all students in the class had the exact same device; and, as a teacher, is Roy expected to know everything about how each of these different devices work? From observation and discussion, it was clear that Roy empowered his students and encouraged them to collaborate to find solutions to both technical as well as subject-related problems. Furthermore, despite the variety of technology employed by his students, it was evident that they were all engaged in the learning process.

Some of you might wonder “what changes when every student has a computer in class?” To investigate such opportunities and challenges, I invite you to explore Roy’s wiki where he reflects and shares his thoughtful insights into his teaching in a dynamic BYOD classroom.

The leadership team in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division implemented a division-wide initiative to place devices into the hands of all K-12 students. The school division purchased about 3000 iPads which were distributed to every student in grades 6, 7 and 8. Students in lower grades will share 6 – 8 iPads in each classroom, while the senior high students will be encouraged to bring their own device from home. Undoubtedly the digital learning team of Andy McKiel (@amckiel), Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa), and Joan Badger (@jbadger) were extremely busy implementing this well thought-out plan.

As one would expect, the leadership team conducted a number of workshops and one-on-one mentoring to help teachers implement their school division’s Digital Learning Project’s 5C’s of: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Citizenship. However, I was impressed with the attention to detail with other tasks that needed to be addressed. Right from the start, the middle school parents were informed of this iPad 1-to-1 initiative through a Learning in the Digital World presentation. Additionally, a Parent Information Page was created on the divisional web site to further inform parents about Technology Acceptable Use Policies, Creating an Apple ID, the iPad Take Home Agreement, and Caution Fees.

Other school divisions in Winnipeg, and throughout the province, are watching to see how this Learning with an iPad endeavour progresses and the benefits that these devices bring to the domain of learning.

The previous two references demonstrate what can be accomplished on both a school-wide and a division-wide basis when devices are introduced to each student. With such wide-spread support and effort, one would expect success. However, it is equally important to showcase the work and effort of individual teachers who encourage their students to learn in new and exciting ways. I have selected innovative ideas from Early, Middle and Senior Years environments to demonstrate how dedicated and dynamic educators can inspire and engage students.

What innovative learning can be implemented in two Early Years’ classrooms with the acquisition of two iPod Touches? Erin Clarke (@erinbrie) and Jeff Hoeppner (@bluebomber6), of the River East Transcona School Division, applied to the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) for a grant. Their application was supported with a rather creative Haiku video. These two teachers created a monthly Instagram challenge which presented a different word or theme each day. Teachers, students, and classrooms from across Manitoba (and beyond) shared their creative photos based on the theme of the day. Their #eduphotoaday blog traces their innovative journey as well as shares useful tips on photo apps, or important considerations such as Public vs. Private Instagram. Their November challenge was particularly interesting as they attempted to improve students’ picture taking by using daily prompts associated with photography such as “rule of thirds”, “birds-eye view”, and “reflection”. Erin and Herb, together with their students, demonstrate how technological devices used with dedicated dynamos can bring about engaged learning.

At the Middle Years level, Miles MacFarlane (@milesmac), from the Seven Oaks School Division, encourages his students through innovative ideas and projects. His students are engaged learning History as they create ancient civilizations using the Minecraft program. Furthermore, Miles’ blog entries and comment conversations are a powerful learning resource. Miles is the consummate blogger. Regardless of whether he is sharing his parenting thoughts in TeacherDad or his teaching journey through his Miles’ Tomes blog, his learning is transparent and genuine. How many educators do you know who would risk sharing online their Annual Reflection on Learning for all to see and comment upon?

This past June, Miles organized the first EduCamp – Winnipeg which was an “un-conference” where participants planned their day and learned and shared ideas and resources in an open environment. Not only does he have a busy teaching day, Miles is also engaged in online graduate work at George Washington University. Sharing his instructional workshop package for delivering a Creating a Twitter PLN definitely helps other educators “make connections with a global professional community using Twitter”. Although Miles and his family will be shortly leaving our province for a teacher exchange in Australia, we know he will continue to share with us through his Teacher Exchange blog. With Internet access, educators like Miles, can connect and share world-wide.

Phil Taylor (@ptaylorsjr), a Senior Years’ teacher at St. John’s-Ravencourt School, has always been one to share. Not content to only focus on sharing through his Learning Technologies blog, Phil is passionate about micro-blogging through Twitter. He uses a variety of applications to curate and distribute resources through such channels as Phil’s Learning Technology News, Trending Ed Tech News or his RebelMouse feed.

To facilitate and share learning, Phil created the SJR Learners wiki. For the past two years, Phil has been exploring Google’s 20% time concept with his students. Others may know this initiative as Genius Hour where students are given a portion of school time to explore, with the help of technology, any area of interest to themselves. As Phil states, it is remarkable to witness the time and effort that students will invest when focusing on an area in which they are passionate.

Like his students, Phil is passionate about sharing with fellow educators. As an early adopter of the Diigo personal information management system, Phil maintains and publically shares nine Diigo lists ranging from Android, Google Drive/Docs – Resources, Student Digital Footprint Guidelines, to Tablets in Education. However, the one which resonates most for me is his list of bookmarks shared in Building a PLN. I believe the key to survival in today’s fast-paced teaching environment is for educators to get connected and share through a Personal Learning Network or PLN. I have attempted to address the power and potential of a PLN in my own blog post entitled My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure.

PLN-Get Connected

Having showcased dedicated Manitoba teachers in the Early, Middle and Senior Years areas, I thought I should finish with a brief look at the contributions of a Manitoba educational curriculum coordinator. Knowing that this last section focuses on the acrostic “D-words”, many readers might suggest that it would be a true oversight, if I did not include “Darren”.

Over the years, Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa) has been an inspiration for many educators looking for ways to integrate technology and improve student engagement and learning. Undoubtedly his scribe post, which he developed with his high school Mathematics students, continues to be an innovative learning process. Those unfamiliar with the background and benefits of this endeavour are encouraged to listen to Alan November’s interview of Darren about the specifics in Student Scribes 1, Student Scribes 2, and Student Scribes 3.

As a founding convener of the K12 Online Conference, Darren has provided educators world-wide with an opportunity to participate, share, and learn together. Darren is a well-respected international keynote speaker who is a dedicated, sharing, professional. Not content to research and keep his learning private, he shares his creativity and new-found knowledge with everyone. With more than 1000 slides displayed through Slideshare, Darren continues to enlighten educators with the wealth of powerful ideas and resources. For example, some of his creativity includes:

Lately Darren has shifted sharing his thoughts and ideas on his A Difference blog to a new video blog mechanism. He has now uploaded and shared more than 100 #WhileWalking YouTube videos where he poses questions and shares his thoughts about improving education in short, articulate video messages.

Clay Shirky states that “The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor, and it isn’t optional.”  Darren realizes this and does everything in his power to help educators adapt to this change.

In closing, it is obvious that changes in education have increased dramatically in my 40 year educational career. However, teachers today have so many more ways of connecting and sharing resources with other like-minded educators.

The key, I believe, is connectivity! Teachers today, who want to connect effectively with their students, must connect with other educators.

Connect or be Side-lined

One way that educators can improve is to examine the wealth of information that is being shared by these Manitoba educators. Take time to learn about your colleagues and investigate the related hyperlinks that I have identified. I purposely have listed each one’s Twitter “handle” in brackets following their names. For example, if you were to enter into a Google search field “Twitter @bkmetcalfe” (without quotes), regardless of whether you subscribed to Twitter or not, you would be presented with the particular educator’s real name and Twitter profile. In many cases, you would learn a bit about the educator and possibly gain access through a hyperlink to his/her blog. Below this information, one can see the number of tweets s/he has generated, the number of individuals s/he follows, together with the number of individuals following the particular educator. In addition, you would be able to scan the past tweets shared by this educator and gain a sense as to whether you might benefit from the information s/he was sharing.

Regardless of where you are in your journey to use of technology to enhance learning, it is important to remember that it is the “Child” that should always be your focus. Perhaps this final acrostic might summarize this post:

C onnections

H elp

I ndividuals

L earn

D ifferently

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits:

- Flickr – Creative Commons image “A hundred years from now …”  by Brian Metcalfe
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/5200425803/

- Flickr – Creative Commons image “Get Connected!” by Paco Paco
http://www.flickr.com/photos/metaweb/4345676181/

- Flickr – Creative Commons image “Expand your Global Connections” by Langwitches
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/5119205490/

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6 Responses to “Educating With Technology: Changes for the Better”

  1. Phil Taylor Says:

    Fantastic reflection piece Brian! Thank you for being my muse and mentor all these years. You are a true life long learner and continue to inspire.

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks Phil for your kind words. We are indeed lucky to be part of a dedicated sharing community of learners. I really appreciate your nudge to include our provincial “Let’s Get Connected” learning opportunity. We had some good times and many students and staff really became engaged in the learning process.

    Hopefully, the Twitter “handles” and links in my rather long post will be useful to “newbies” who will benefit from connecting with this wealth of Manitoba educational talent. It’s a good thing that our winter holiday starts at the end of this week, so that other Manitoba educators will have ample time to read and explore this rather lengthy blog post. ;-)

    Take care & keep smiling :-) Brian

  3. Mr G's Idle Musings » Blog Archive » My Diigo 12/18/2013 Says:

    […] Life-Long-Learners – Educating with Technology […]

  4. Miles MacFarlane Says:

    Brian – I really enjoyed the walk down computing memory lane (snicker) then your personal and insightful reflections on some of the great things that are happening in Manitoba. So appreciate your support and enthusiasm.

  5. admin Says:

    Thanks Miles for your comment as well as your insightful sharing of ideas and resources with educators in Manitoba and throughout the world. With BYOD so popular today, I was just thinking that in our trips down memory lane, we have certainly shared some common “devices”, as witnessed by your reflective post “20+ years of EdTech”. All the best to you and your family as you start your 2014 Teacher Exchange in Australia. I know many of our colleagues will continue to learn of your adventures in the upcoming year by following your “Teacher Exchange” blog. Always remember … Manitoba’s loss is New South Wales’ gain!

    Take care & keep smiling :-) Brian

  6. Update: Diigo in Education group (weekly) | ChalkTech Says:

    […] Life-Long-Learners – Educating with Technology […]

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