Monday, February 28, 2011

Leading and Sharing

I read a blog post on leading and sharing among teachers on the Thumann Resources blog tonight, and found it interesting because it points to how teachers should take advantage of their colleague's knowledge and skills and share experiences about 'what works' in the classroom.

I thought it related strongly to what we've been discussing in class, especially with respect to how sharing experiences through education blogs can be a great source for personal development.  It also reminds us that as teachers, we're leaders in a variety of ways: we lead our students, but we also lead our own and our coworkers' professional and personal development.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Networking as Teacher Education

I can't express it more: teacher collaboration is an absolute must in education in general, and in the ESL world especially.  It's a field that's constantly adapting because of changes in population, politics, philosophy, and science.  It's also an area where ethics, cultural sensitivity, and larger systems of oppression play a large role.  Without a place to discuss and cope with these rapid changes and myriad challenges, EFL/bilingual teachers can't improve. It's curious, too: we spend so much time studying the value of collaboration and feedback for our students, yet forget sometimes to practice it ourselves.  Why?  Maybe we don't want to bug our coworkers while they're eating lunch.  Maybe we get tired of hearing ourselves talk all day as it is.  Maybe we're afraid of making someone angry, or being rejected.

The ESL Classroom 2.0 group is a great place to engage in collaboration without being hindered by these common social factors.  It's a great resource for me to find materials I can use in my classroom, too: games, reading materials, smartboard exercises.  Beyond that, it gives me some flexibility in seeking out others' opinions and advice:  I can read blogs that discuss important classroom issues, comment on those, or even start my own discussion in the Forums section.  Essentially, I can be as active or passive as I like, and still get great tips, points for reflection, and diverse opinions on teaching emergent bilingual students.

A learner is like a computer: they both have imaginary pipes.

Working in retail computer sales has had a profound impact on the way I conceptualize technology.  When customers ask me to what variables to consider when examining processor speeds, for example, I tell them that there's three things you can consider:

1.  Number of cores in the processor:  How many pipes are there?  (How many channels can information pass through?)
2.  Base model, i3, i5, or i7:  How big are the pipes? (How much information can they hold?)  
3.  Ghz (gigahertz): How fast can those pipes push information to you?

It's not necessarily accurate, in that it's a gross oversimplification of what actually goes on inside of a computer.  It is, however, a nice way to give someone who doesn't know what wireless internet is an idea of what these miraculous machines can do.

While reading George Siemens' article on connectivism, a learning theory that reorients how we view learning in light of recent developments in technology and information sharing, I was reminded of my commonly used metaphor.  Commenting on how learning can be newly conceptualized, Siemens writes, "the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe," i.e., our ability to detect patterns across unrelated concepts, find out how to retrieve new information, and determine which information is valid, is more important than our ability to retain the information itself. The same is true for a computer:  it doesn't matter what it's actually processing; miles of code means nothing until it's been organized and translated into a legible product or tangible action.  It's the same way with information and learners- having a large store of knowledge is pointless when a learner doesn't know what to do with it.  What's so beautiful about this metaphor is it's implication of movement:  in both computers and humans, information is not a pool that accumulates, but rather something that is constantly passing through us.  We're exposed to an enormous amount of information every day, but we retain a small amount of it.  Computers use temporary files, caches, streaming; they retrieve and present information and 'forget' it just as quickly.

What, then, does this mean for instructors of these newly conceived learners? In a video explaining his thoughts on instruction and human nature, Siemens explains that "Our challenge then, as educators, is finding a way to value and to foster that human need that we have to be express about our ideas, and to focus less on trying to bring knowledge into the mind of a person, and more on developing the skills of our learners."  We need to help build good pipes; instruction should be geared toward not the accumulation and/or retention of pieces of information, but evaluation, manipulation, and creation of information.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Video Reaction Post

Though it might be a little bit corny, this video makes an important point: many teachers don't know how to use technology to engage their students.

I'll admit, the admonitions put forth this video are no surprise to me.  One reason our schools are failing our students is that they do not provide them with enough resources for organization, showcasing their work, or critical reflection; technology provides a number of resources that, when applied correctly, can facilitate those important elements of an enriching education.  What was most interesting was the highest rated comments some other users have posted.  I'd like to respond to those, in addition to this video.

  • This concerned parent has a great point:  Technology can often seem isolating.  As a user of Facebook, I often notice the superficiality of conversation and social pressures online communities can cause.  There's a body of literature supporting this point, most notably MIT professor Sherry Turkle's book Alone Together.  There's certainly no question about the value of human interaction between students, their parents, their teachers, and their peers.  
  • However, I don't believe this video is suggesting that technology should be used as a replacement for anything, but rather as an additional resource.  We should not forget that there are students whose parents do not have the ability or time to spend with them reviewing homework assignments or important concepts.  Many students are unable to spend additional time at school with their teachers because they need to be at home, working, helping out around the house, or taking care of other family members.  Technology gives students a way to connect to and reflect on academic material outside of the classroom, and it is a teacher's responsibility to give his/her student as many ways to connect with the class material as possible. This, of course, includes blogs, videos, podcasts, and other sources that provide an interactive, engaging experience beyond their textbook.

  • This comment's author seems to be suggesting two things: 1. Students and teachers need to be reminded that their gifts arise from themselves, not technology, and 2. The experience of using a computer is somehow less 'organic' than taking the time to use pencil and paper.  
  • I'd like to address the second point first.  This video points out that the use of technology is a skill that is extremely 'natural' for our nation's youth.  For myself and other students in the twenty-first century, typing something is less time-consuming and easier than writing with a pencil.  It's a tall order to suggest that using typing as a method of thought-to-word-making does not allow room for "deep personal reflection." One of the students in the video asserts: "I blog," referencing a tool used for deep reflection.  Furthermore, typing allows me to edit my text as I write.  On a piece of paper, I'm much less likely to consider re-wording or re-ordering my sentences because of the format's physical limitations.  By typing I can carefully construct my thoughts on 'the page' (web-based or otherwise), and I have more room to do so.  I stop writing when I feel it is useful to stop, not when I reach the bottom of the page.  Also, let's not forget that the pencil-and-paper method was, at one time, created as a technologically advanced, more efficient, edit-friendly tool for writing.  Do inkwell pens on parchment leave more room for personal reflection than pencil and paper?  Both methods allow room for physical interaction with text and for deep reflection. The purpose of the video, it seems to me, is to emphasize that few have 'forgotten' the utility of pencil and paper, but many have disregarded the utility of computers.
  • To address the author's first concern, I think the video makes it clear that technology is nothing without human creation, and therefore is a lovely way to emphasize human achievement along with technological achievement (which is simply another form of human achievement in engineering and design).  I'd argue that while it's physically powered by electricity, content on the web celebrates humanity and human's ability to create incredible works of literature, digital art, and critical thought.  I find that a common misconception about technology is that it accomplishes something for you instead of you accomplishing something with it.  As described in the video, students want to use technology to create their own great works.