To Unplug or Not to Unplug… is that the question?

In a world so digitally dependent, where our entertainment, work and social relationships are deeply intertwined with technology, the concept of unplugging and walking away from social media and digital technology seems difficult, if not impossible.

Unplug Source

Even so, there are many that are concerned about this dependence — this need that we as a society have developed to be connected 24/7.   Many advocate for unplugging, suggesting that digital technology is bad for our brains, our productivity, our real-life relationships and that it causes anxiety and increases work-related stress.  Many suggest that social networks actually make us lonely and provide compelling arguments about why everyone should unplug more often. 

The Forbes article, Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely, expresses the concern that people use the internet to avoid our realities and “whether loneliness leads people to the Internet, or the internet to loneliness, it seems that many of us turn to the internet to avoid simply being with ourselves.”   It advocates for turning off our devices and spending time focused on real life relationships.  This is supported by the other article, Why Everyone Should Unplug More Often, which tells us that “scheduling regular “rest time” in the form of unplugging makes sense—like a muscle, the brain needs recovery time in order to develop and grow”

Brain Recovery Source

On the flipside, we have others arguing that unplugging is pointless, that technology is empowering and we should just use technology to relieve anxiety and stress.  To me, this seems dangerous.  I do not believe that increasing our use of digital technology, social networks and the internet are the solution to the social and personal ills that these things cause.

But I also do not believe that that everyone unplugging is the answer.  We cannot all simply disconnect.  We are too far down the rabbit hole for that.

Rabbit Hole Source

My classmate Steve talked last week about the challenge he does with his class, wherein he and all of his students unplug for a full month.  By the sounds of it, there are mixed levels of success from his students.  Although I see the attempt at doing this for a month as a very difficult challenge indeed, I do believe that there is merit in it.  Our students were born into a digital world, whereas many of us are able to remember a time when we were less digitally connected.  For them, the idea of being without their devices or internet access for a day,  let alone a month, is likely quite the challenge indeed.   A month might be a little extreme, but I do see the benefit of encouraging students to try to spend some time unplugged, interacting with real people, in a real environment.

I do believe that that looking critically at our personal digital technology and internet use, and perhaps curbing it a little might be worthwhile.  We’ve spent a lot of time in this course weighing the pros and cons of aspects of digital tech and seem to often come to the same conclusion — that it is fine in moderation, but can be dangerous.  If your usage is at the point of addiction, maybe it warrants a bit of a break.  Unplugging is rarely permanent, and does not need to be, but remembering that there is a whole real world out there is probably worth something.

 

In the blink of an eye…

… it’s over!

Well, this has been a whirlwind first class.  Not only have I worked to wrap my head around some of the contemporary issues of EdTech, but I’ve also developed many skills along the way.   Can you believe that I’ve never blogged before?

I had wanted to use PowToon to create the opening video for our debate, but the process seemed overwhelming.  We ended up using Prezi for it instead, a program that I am familiar with, but adding the audio layer and recording it with Screencastify added another layer of complexity for me.

But for my Summary of Learning, I decided to take on the challenge of using PowToon.   I haven’t really used much video or sound editing software since I was in high school  (more years ago than I care to admit) making videos in my Communication Production Technology class, so it wasn’t easy (don’t be fooled by PowToon’s claim that you can “get it done in 5 mins!”).  However, after a lot of time–a little more than five minutes– I’m proud to say that I did it!

This class and it’s format have been wonderful and I’m glad that I had this opportunity.

Check out my Summary of Learning (in two parts) below:

Part 1/2:

Part 2/2

 

Are Public Schools Pawns in the Capitalistic Game of Corporate Greed?

Coming from a school with a small student population and staff, tightened budgets negatively impacting our school is a reality.  We have no educational assistants in our school, currently have a half time LRT although many of our students have significant needs and we seem to be constantly threatened with the removal of teaching positions.   Because of the number of staff we have, it is tricky for us to even offer the full gamut of core credits on a consistent basis, which is problematic when working with a transient and inconsistent student body.    Seeing the news this week about the provincial government putting the responsibility on school boards to cover half of teacher’s salary increases really made my heart sink.  We already have had a tightened budget so I cringe thinking about what could come of it.

Budget Cuts   – Photo Credit: Humor Blog via Compfight cc

But we are not alone.  Under funding of public education seems to be the norm for schools in both Canada and the United States.  What can a school do when there are budget cuts and they have needs that require more money than is allotted?  When schools are not getting enough public funding, they are forced to look elsewhere.  For many, corporate sponsorship seems to offer a pretty good bargain.  Funding for laptops, classroom materials, big ticket items like a new gym or scoreboard or maybe even staffing can be found through business and corporate sponsors.

We were reminded during last week’s class that corporations and businesses have been involved in school for a long time.  And why wouldn’t they be?They have a vested interest in education — school is helping to shape the minds of young people that will grow up to be potential employees and consumers of their products, so of course corporations want to be able to influence them in any way they can.

There are many that believe that corporate involvement in schools is a good thing.  As stated by Judah Schiller and Christine Arena’s article, How Corporations are Helping To Solve the Education Crisis, “today’s public schools were designed for 19th-century industrialism, not an era of globalization and interconnectivity,” and corporate sponsorship and involvement in education is the solution to the myriad of problems that come from this outdated system.   Citing statistics about poor national results from students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, and stating that “in the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than that of on-STEM jobs,” while “80% of the jobs created in the next decade will require some mastery of technology, math and science,” this article suggests that many “talent-hungry corporations … view the problem as an opportunity.”

There are many examples of how corporate involvement in schools can be helpful. The case study on schools that have embraced Google provides a list of a number of schools that have benefited.   I myself use Google Apps For Education extensively at my school, both with students and with colleagues — I find it to be extremely useful.

Google in Schools   Image Source

The list of companies that invest in education is vast.  Some provide monetary support, while others lend a hand by giving the school technological supports and devices.  This support, however, is not often without strings attached, restricting other companies’ involvement and marketing to students.   Many great examples can be found in this brief article from the Alberta Teacher’s Association.  It talks about the M&M’s primary math textbook, Colgate’s classroom kits and storybooks, and the McDonald’s Go Active Fitness Challenge (Ironic, no?), while pointing out more resources on the subject, like the documentary Corporations in Classrooms  that suggests that corporate marketing in this way is “designed to create brand-name consumers instead of learners [and that] school districts should fight to keep classrooms free from marketing.

Not all companies are there to advertise, however.  There are other ways to make a buck by playing the education game.   Pearson, for example, has entrenched itself firmly in the education market and its’ involvement in and monetary gains from standardized testing is astounding.  In my opinion, this is an example of a company being allowed to have too much impact on how we do business as schools.

Image Source

I very much understand where the need for corporate sponsorship comes from.  I feel the squeeze of tightened budgets and can understand the appeal of getting money or other forms of support from companies to support school programming.  However, I am  unable to dissociate from the feeling that companies are not doing this for the greater good or the benefit of students.  Even if they are not looking to directly advertise to students, they stand to gain from being involved in education.  Yes, companies may hope to improve education for students, but in the end they exist as part of our capitalist system and are in it for the money.

This being said, I understand the need.   The reality is that we do not receive enough public funding.  Can schools benefit from corporate involvement?  Yes.  Is the education business being looked at as a source of vast potential income by corporations?  Of course.

Does the benefit outweigh the disadvantages of being a pawn in the game of corporate greed?  I hate to say it, but maybe sometimes it does.

Once again, I advocate for balance — if the benefits are there and it is not detrimental to student welfare then perhaps it is something we need to accept.

Kids these days — They’re doing better than you give them credit for!

This seems to be a recurring theme from generation to generation.  Many people look back on their childhood fondly and use this nostalgic lens of what they thought of as normal to scrutinize what is going on with “kids these days.”    As my classmate Andres stated this week:

Although this question is tackling a modern-day issue, we’ve seen many versions of this argument come up in history. Whether it was Elvis being blamed for corrupting the youth of the 50’s with his dance moves, to people pointing the finger at violent videogames and Marilyn Manson for causing the Columbine shootings, we’re always seeking someone or something to blame [for] our kids’ actions.

Often these concerns have to do with the media that children and young adults are consuming and the impact that it may have on them.   Of course, I look back at my childhood with nostalgia, remembering the toys I played with, the shows I watched and the games I played.   However, when I look at some of these things as a critical adult, I would hesitate to suggest that they are great material for a kid.   I loved watching Looney Toons,  the Ninja Turtles and  the  Adventures of Tintin and  I took out every Asterix comic from the library on multiple occasions.  These were all overtly violent, racist, sexist and full of offensive stereotypes — things that I was oblivious to as a child.

tintin-red-indianImage Source

I’m not sure, however, that any of these shows that I watched, or books I read were given all that much attention.   In fact, I think that my mom tried to prevent me from viewing some of the shows that she thought were problematic — The Simpsons (“too offensive! he might get ideas!”) or Beetlejuice (“well, that’s just gross”).   I remember concern from my parents about the potential negative impacts of seeing these shows or playing violent video games, etc.    Regardless, my point here is that some parents had concerns about the media that their children were consuming then, just as they do now.   However, kids, myself included were still exposed to them and turned out ok. 

The concern we discussed this week was social media and whether it is ruining childhood and making kids grow up too fast by exposing them to vulgar, graphic  and pornographic content, lifting the floodgates for offensive ideas and language providing a platform for bullying and manipulation.

The group that argued the agree side of the debate — suggesting that technology is ruining childhood — made a point about the negative impacts of social media on mental health of children and youth, looking at the article “Social Media Affects Child Mental Health Through Increased Stress, Sleep Deprivation, Cyberbullying, Experts Say.”    This got me wondering about the impacts that social media has on the prevalence of self-harm among young people today and led me to look at article such as “Social Media is Redefining ‘Depression’.” It suggests that “exhibitionism of self-harm, suicide, depression, or self-loathing under the pretext that it is beautiful, romantic, or deep is hardly unusual,” and in it’s discussion of online communities based around these ideas suggests that “for a fragile mind, these communities seem to provide the perfect solution: support, understanding, acceptance. To be accepted by this community, they have to advertise their suffering.”  This negative side to social media really worries me.  It definitely is an example of some of the darker sides of the internet.

I also took a look at another resource mentioned in the group chat last week, CBC’s Sext Up Kids, a documentary that discusses the sexualization of teens and young girls in mainstream media and the impacts of readily available pornography on youth.  This too, got me worrying about the impacts of social media and technology on young people.

However, despite some of these strong arguments about the negative impacts of social media on our youth, I am not convinced that it is destroying childhood.

Are these all realities of the internet and social media?  Yes.  Do kids deal with some things that we did not when we were children?  Yes.  But is it ruining childhood? I don’t think that it is.  Students have resilience — they are born into a digital world now. They are exposed it and they learn to deal with it.  This is their reality and they are much more comfortable with it and able to navigate it than many adults assume or give them credit for.  That being said, the teaching of digital literacy and digital citizenship for our students is of utmost importance for helping them navigate this digital world safely — even though there is a lot that they could probably teach us about it.

Is there a place for breaks from technology and social media?   Would there be benefit to kids spending more time offline, face to face and outside?  Maybe — there is plenty of research and writing to indicate this(check out, the Last Child in the Woods and the idea of Nature Deficit Disorder).    Maybe we just need to make sure that there is a balance.

tree   Photo Credit: @bodil via Compfight cc

 

Not a Force for Equity, but Still a Force for Good

 

equity vs equality

equity vs equality  image source 

This past week, I participated in my first debate.  My partner, Ainsley and I argued the point that technology is NOT a force for equity in society.    Feeling nervous about delivering a five minute opening statement (interesting how that works, given that we are all teachers and do this all the time in real life), we decided to make a video to share our initial arguments.

The other team delivered some great arguments about all of the opportunities that technology provides for leveling the playing field in society — robotic healthcare, assistive technology, and online education opportunities.   Improved medical help, technology to assist in overcoming barriers to education, and free access to university level courses are great!  All of these things are positive additions to society and will be amazing assets for many people.  But our argument was that these (and other) technologies do not help EVERYONE and that given the definition of equity, cannot be considered forces for equity in society.

We reinforced our side by arguing that:

  • Technology does not improve access to education for everyone. 
  • Technology does not  make education inclusive for all students with disabilities.
  • Technology does not narrow the achievement gap.

The two most important points from our argument were:

  1. Access to technology is something that falls in the hands of the privileged.  Location, socio-economic status, language, and ability all play a role in creating this access.  Therefore, although there may be technologies that can help work towards equity in education, not all people benefit from them.
  2.   The Digital Matthew Effect, explained here: Open Educational Resources Expand Educational Inequalities  suggests that even though most people are able to benefit from technological advances, it is those that are most privileged in society who tend to benefit the most.   Essentially it is suggesting not that technology does not benefit the disadvantaged — in fact, it DOES for the most part — but the affluent tend to benefit more.  The disadvantaged do benefit, but because the privileged benefit more, the gap only increases.

Also integral to our argument was much of what we found in Ed-Tech’s Inequalities by Audrey Watters — looking forward to having her in as a guest speaker in our class!

We wrapped up the debate with a pre-recorded closing statement.  Here it is:

As a final thought…

Is technology a force for equity in society?

No.   As my classmate Jeremy concluded, “while technology certainly is working towards creating an equity that didn’t exist in the past, we still have a long way to go before assuming that technology is the catch-all solution to all learning challenges in and out of the classroom.”

But does this mean it should be disregarded as a tool for improving education for our students?  

Of course not.  The benefits of using technology in the classroom are huge… and yes, they do help improve education for many.  It cannot solve all injustices and struggles in our society.  But just because it is not a force for equity does not mean that it is not a force for good.  We just need to be careful in touting it as a catch-all solution for societies inequities.

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image source 

 

 

 

Sharing Online Benefits Learning

 This past week’s debate created conversations that garnered support for both sides. Although I agree that there are dangers associated with oversharing online and that we all need to be somewhat wary of the digital tattoos that we are creating and the potential long-term impacts of what we put online, I believe that that the benefits are too great to be disregarded.  Also, as Kathy Cassidy noted in her video, “digital is where the kids are at now.”  Kids are using digital technology and social networks to share with their friends, families and the world.  Is it not our responsibility as Saskatchewan teachers to teach them the importance of digital citizenship?  Is this not why Alec and Katia created this document?

Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship — Source Link

Benefits Overshadow the Risk.  Following are a couple of benefits that I see

Benefit 1 — Improved home-school communication

Online sharing of student work and accomplishment can greatly enhance home-school communication, keeping parents and families in the loop, which can be helpful for student motivation and gives students something to be proud of.   It allows student work to be displayed for parents and families to see, even when it is school work that might not be able to be sent home or shared at a celebration of learning.

My classmate, Steve Boutilier mentioned in his most recent blog post Call in in the Brigade – Debate 4 Response, when advocating for the importance of real-life, face to face interactions without the use of technology that we should, “instead of sending photos of work home, send work home.”  I agree with him that real interaction is important, that perhaps it is too often the case that “many important events in our kids’ lives are being seen through the screen of a phone,” and that sending a real tactile product of work home with students is beneficial.  That being said, however, my response to him was as follows:

“What about work that we (and our students) think should be shared with parents, family or the community that is not in a format that can be sent home?  I feel like a lot of project based and experiential learning could fall into this category.  There are plenty of examples of projects or activities that we could invite parents into the school to see, but not all parents can come.  There are also a lot of examples of learning that we couldn’t bring parents in to witness, even if they were able to come.  Videos or photos documentation of volunteerism, community involvement activities and a variety of hands on experience are a really great way of sharing them.”

I would add to this that digital sharing can lend itself to sharing more of the process as well — where the real learning takes place.  Sure, we can send finished products home to hang on the fridge, but what about the documentation of the path that led the student to that product?  Processes like that of Genius Hour are greatly enhanced by blogging to track the process of researching and exploring student projects.  Being able to share the process of learning with parents and families allows them to have a much greater understanding of how their child is doing in school.

More than just the process and products of students time spent in schools can be shared with families online.  Tools like ClassDojo make it easy to communicate with parents about  behaviours and accomplishments and can also serve to motivate students.   

Some of these benefits are laid out in An Apprehensive Teacher’s Guide to…ClassDojo.  This was a useful tool for me when I taught elementary school, both as a motivational tool with students and for generating communication with parents.  The information is private and safe, the student records are not permanent and are only shared between the teacher, student and parent account.

Benefit 2 — Connection to people and classrooms outside of your school increases authenticity and relevance of school for our students.

Sharing student work online with people outside of your school — other classes, authors, musicians, professionals, etc can have amazing outcomes.  It connects students with the outside world, allowing them to solicit feedback on their work from other students and professionals in the topic, giving them the opportunity to improve their learning based on this feedback.  Sharing allows students to consider different perspectives, understand worldviews other than their own.  Kathy Cassidy argues this in her video, Using Social Media in the Classroom , as do the students in this video that was included in Janelle Bence’s article The Benefits of Sharing Student Work in Online Spaces.

Bence suggests that “being transparent with learning also adds another layer of authenticity to education.  Authentic learning is not demonstrated by a worksheet that’s turned in to a teacher.”  To me this just reiterates my earlier point about using digital technology to share the process of learning not just final products, something that I feel has great value. 

Now, although I see much merit in sharing students work online, I do understand that there are potential risks of doing so, that we need to be aware of the digital footprints that we are shaping for them.  Of course any online sharing of student work and activities needs to be approved through parental consent, as well as that of the student themselves.  If a parent agrees to it, but a student is opposed to their work being shared, I would not share it.

Anyway, the consideration of potential risks lead me to the following:

My personal digital footprint

footprint

footprint

Photo Credit: L.C.Nøttaasen via Compfight cc

When it came up during the class last week, I was compelled to open an extra tab and do a quick Google search of my name (I wasn’t the only one, was I?)  As I expected, I did not find a whole lot — LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts that belong to other Ian Temples, not me.  I felt a little disappointed, but it wasn’t as though I had never done this before. However,  I just never really dug very far.  After the debate, when I was reading Teacher, Take Care of your Digital Footprint, I went a little deeper, using variations of my name and including a few key words that I thought might differentiate me from Ian Temple the actor.  Actually, who am I kidding?  All I did was add “Regina.”  This yielded better results.   The search turned up my professional twitter account, as well as barely used personal one, my school staff directory, a couple of documents linking me to organizations I have been involved in, some news articles about projects that I’ve been a part of and even an article I wrote as an undergraduate (anyone want to learn something about Magic and the Common People In Early Modern Europe?).   Based on what I found, someone could put together a few details about me, but I did not come across anything that I would not be ok with most people seeing.  I post pictures on Facebook, but try to keep my privacy settings up and I’m admittedly not all that active on other social media platforms (hence my last personal tweet being from 2011).  

Based on the point, however, that the article,  Teacher, Take Care of your Digital Footprint, makes that “if you aren’t controlling who you are online, someone else is or will,” I have begun wondering whether I should be making more of a conscious effort to create a positive digital footprint for myself given that searching my name does not bring up much that is actually connected to me.  After all, according to Reputation Management and Social Media, apparently most people “can be identified [online] with only three pieces of information.”  Not that anything I found through Google was negative, but perhaps I need to actively endeavor to increase my positive digital footprint.    As the article suggests, maybe I should be “further solidifying [my]self on the web… control how much information [I} put out there and what information [I] put out there; all in an effort to control [my] identity.”  I’ve since started an About.me page to make me more “googleable,” linking it back to this wordpress blog and my professional twitter account.  I think that this class is a great starting point for me in the development of my own digital footprint!