Thursday, February 21, 2013

Apparently Google doesn't think much of me...

So Googling myself yields some somewhat surprising results...
All of the above are actually about me -  Source
I'm glad to see that employers and scholarships committees that might potentially research me in the near future will see that I won a National Achievement award and graduated from Monroe High School, but I do wish I had more recent results. My blog and Glogster accounts don't appear until halfway down the second page, and Google images is even worse, yielding only one picture of me. Considering that I don't have a Facebook or (active) Twitter, I'm genuinely surprised that anything popped up.

One one hand, I'm glad to lack an internet presence, because I don't have to worry about drunken regrets or vengeful friends wrecking havoc; on the other hand, I have to wonder if my near invisibility on the internet is detrimental. Articles such as this and this leave me wondering if I look suspicious or like a social deviant because people can't search me on Facebook.  Personally, I think it's favorable to have less information online, because it limits the amount of stupidity that can be (correctly or incorrectly) traced back to you. As much as I love my friends and family, some of them are the driving force behind why I feel uncomfortable with my name and information plastered across the web. One small comment out of context or one friend who is a little too passionate about a particular issue and my career might be in jeopardy like this teacher from Wake County. Furthermore, it seems that the Internet often amplifies people's natural stupidity and drowns out reason, leading to numerous stories about teacher transgressions online.

That being said, I believe that as teachers in a digital age, we need to have some sort of Internet presence, lest we appear imposters. As disquieting as it is to find scantily clad photos and racist remarks on a teacher's Facebook, it's equally as worrisome to find nothing at all. A good way to strike a balance between these two is being keeping a blog (ahem) and following guidelines and tips such as the ones posted by veteran teacher and global collaborator Vicki Davis at Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

Video courtesy of CNN on YouTube

Do Digital Natives Really Exist?

Though relatively new to me, the idea of Marc Prensky's digital natives - that is, the belief that those born after 1980 are fully immersed in and accepting of technology - has powerful implications for educators, many of whom are labeled digital immigrants because of their retroactive adoption of technology.  If the concept accurately describes today's students, then education must be tailored to their parallel processing, multitasking, video game obsessed minds lest it fail to account for a major impact on their learning (Digital Natives).
The difference between digital natives and immigrants. 
Image courtesy of Technology for Young Children
I, however, find fault with the idea of a digital native, because I know that I myself fail to fit the criteria. I didn't get a laptop until this past August and I still lack a Facebook. Ask me how to code a webpage or even how to use Twitter and I'll look at you like you're a two-headed gargoyle from Mongolia. Still, according to Prensky my birth date places me squarely in the category of digital native. Surely, this cannot be true.

This past week, I couldn't take the side I believed in because there is no qualifying middle ground in a debate. I do agree that some of my generation embodies the technophile web savvy digital native, but the same can be said for my parents' or even my grandparents' generations. Digital native is not a concept determined solely, or even largely by age; rather, the interest of a person in learning and adapting to technology is the defining factor. 

Apparently, I'm not the only one who believes this. As the video shows, many so-called digital natives don't even know the tools they are supposedly masters of. Other much more educated people, such as e-learning developer Steve Howard and La Trobe University professor Dr. Christopher Scanlon, hold my same views. In an article in Learning Solution Magazine, Howard argues that true digital natives are "geeks"and that "geeks come in all shapes and sizes – and ages"  He goes on to say that, "Being a digital native is not about age, but about technological comfort and usage.Non-geeks who use technology, but are not truly comfortable with it, are the digital immigrants....Everyone else is a digital alien, regardless of age." Though I never imagined that digital natives would to boil down to geeks, it makes sense when I consider that geeks are typically the most committed to learning and utilizing whatever new innovations arise. Dr.Scanlon raises related points when he notes that though most of his students are familiar with email, cell phones, and Facebook, "very few have blogs...[and] many are still learning how to construct effective web searches using Google. One comment that really caught my eye was his belief that,  "Far from helping so-called digital natives, we may be creating large numbers of digital refugees: people who are lost when it comes to using technology simply because nobody sat down and showed them how to use technology, or use it effectively." 

As someone who struggles with Twitter and even defining a Web 2.0 tool, I completely agree.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My First Brushes With Technology

"Mom, what are you doing?"
"Trying to crack the password on this computer. Your aunt gave it to us."
"Won't you need a hammer then?"
 And thus began my acquaintance with technology.
Remember these?
When I was about five, my family was blessed with a tan-colored monstrosity that seemed like the coolest thing ever at the time. My mom tried to bestow her limited knowledge on me, but from what I recall, I was at that happy age where I was more interested in books than flashing lights on a computer screen. Still, I loved the games and would spend hours wearing out my library-rented copy of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?".

It wasn't until second grade forced the dreaded computer class upon me that I began to see computers as more than game machines. Even at that age, I knew that what I was learning was outdated, but the teachers gave candy for right answers, so I kept my revelation to myself. Instead, what really changed my view of computers was Accelerated Reader. I'm not sure if it's still used today, but starting in second grade, my teachers stressed (and perhaps relied on) Accelerated Reader to encourage kids to read. The program worked by cataloging books into certain grade levels so our teachers had an idea of what level we could read on and how proficient we were at comprehension. Every week or two, we'd choose a book to read and then take a quiz on it using the program. We received points based off of the number of and accuracy of each quiz, and if we earned enough, we got the pleasure of skipping a day of school to walk to the skating rink and fill our bellies with candy.  Because I was already an avid reader, Accelerated Reader seemed like a godsend encouraging me to consume more and more books. (Eventually my teachers had to limit my reading because my other core skills - namely math - were suffering as a result of my near obsession.)

In any case, using Accelerated Reader was my first indication that technology could be used educationally and still be fun. Time has taught me that that's not always true (not even a computer can make calculus interesting), but it opened my eyes up to the immense potential of technology. From elementary to middle school, I slowly transitioned from books to Google, until high school forced books back upon me. Now in college, I'm all but tied to my trusty HP. Without it, I couldn't check calculus problems on WebWork, or look videos on YouTube about calculus topics, or email my friends stressing about our calculus homework...


..and I can't help but think that I'd be a lot more reluctant to use my computer if my early experiences hadn't showed me what it could do for me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Technology Integration in Schools: The Good, The Bad, and The Boring

The scene: A classroom
The players: A teacher and technology
The question: Why (and how) should these two become acquainted with each other?
It's no question that in our age, technology has earned as vital a place in the classroom as reading comprehension or multiplication. The question on educators' minds now is what to do with it?


Integrating technology in the classroom is more than simply installing a shiny new piece of equipment or organizing lecture notes into a PowerPoint. I (unfortunately) have had teachers who thought the repository of technological teaching tools existed only to support their lectures, and I know that these methods do nothing but give students another thing to ignore before returning to their smartphones. My high school, like many others throughout the country, had fallen into a trap described by English department head and edtech integrator Ammar Elhassan ElMerhbi in his blog Edutechalogy; that is, it focused more on having the technology present than it did on requiring the teachers to use it in an effective way.

Part of the problem was that the teachers were digital immigrants (people who have had to adapt to technology) trying to instruct digital natives by using new technology to support antiquated methods.  While I don't agree with every aspect of Marc Prensky's "digital native" concept, I do agree with the idea that "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors" (Source). To integrate technology effectively, teachers must recognize their students' learning styles and adjust their approach accordingly. However, teachers must not commit any of the mistakes detailed in history teacher Shawn McCusker's blog, because while technology in schools can be helpful, it should not come before or overshadow content.

When done correctly, technology integration in the classroom can result in wikis like this one created by sophomore students at Beaver Country Day. After reading Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, English teacher Robin Neal and his students used Google docs and wikis to create a project that eventually included other classes both at the school and around the world. What I find personally impressive about the project was how neatly it fulfilled both the NETS-S and NETS-T standards while still engaging the students and creating a digital artifact that can be useful to others on the Internet. Speaking of engaging, check out this video showing the versatility of Google docs:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why have technology in schools? What's the point?

Glad we're not still in this stage Abacus
Most of us have grown up and attended schools that utilized at least some form of technology, no matter how primitive. From middle school on, I've been all but reliant on my rusty, dusty TI-84 Plus and I, like many of my peers, shudder to think what I would do without it in calculus. I remember being annoyed with my mom for claiming that no one really "needs" a $100 calculator, but in retrospect, she was right. In theory, I didn't absolutely need a calculator, because I had my fingers and graph paper, and in theory, students could learn without any use of technology. Then why bother?

The simple answer is that technology makes everything easier. My calculator made graphing easier, just like a laptop makes research easier and a phone makes communicating easier. When a teacher allows students to upload papers into Google docs, she makes the lives of her students (who no longer have to buy a printer, ink and paper) and her own life much easier. As this blogger notes, technology tools such as YouTube and drop boxes have lessened the burden on students and teachers and increased the degree to which teachers can incorporate technology into their classrooms.  Having the option to email an assignment or upload it into Moodle in high school certainly decreased some of my stress. However, I think the presence of technology in education has a much grander purpose than just simplifying the process. By incorporating technology into the classroom, teachers provide the much needed link between what students learn and how they will use it.

A video like this can be an effective way to pique a third grader's interest in math and makes sure that he or she actually listens to the lesson. Math Video

Educators can also use technology to promote collaborative learning and allow students and teachers a forum to openly and easily communicate. I had a few online classes in high school, and a common thread among all of them were the discussion forums. Responding to a weekly prompt and having to leave a minimum number of comments could grow tedious, but oftentimes, it was interesting to see the perspectives from which my classmates and I viewed the same topic. One aspect of the class that I enjoyed was its ability to connect me with peers and ideas that 20 years ago were only accessible by planes or books. Unfortunately, I've also had those teachers for whom PowerPoint was the pinnacle of technology. Needless to say, their inability to engage the class resulted in more than a few people missing the importance of biodiversity or the causes of the Civil War. Had I the choice, I would have kindly directed certain teachers to this article and banned slideshows in my school.