My experience with using online tools

This past spring, I completed my first online course with Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt. Before then, I had very little experience with technology and online tools used for learning. Google and Facebook were pretty much the only reasons I relied on the internet. However, with help from Alec, Katia and my classmates, my experience with using technology has drastically improved. In fact, I am still discovering new ways to use online learning tools that are engaging and beneficial. Last semester, I was exposed to the Blogging process for the first time. I was also introduced to Zoom, Twitter and Google+. Luckily, these are the same online learning tools we are currently using in EC&I 833. However, I have also discovered new tools which prove to be user friendly and are appealing to both teachers and students.

I truly enjoy using WordPress and find the blogging process quite simple and fun. Blogging allows people to demonstrate their understanding of content as well as share their thoughts and opinions about particular things. Furthermore, blogging has played a major role in education. It is used within the high school and university level and provides an effective way of sharing information and discussions. Blogging presents people with the opportunity to become storytellers in a creative yet professional manner. The most attractive feature about writing a blog post is the ability to include additional research as well as media sources within your writing. By doing this, you are demonstrating a deeper level of understanding as well as providing insight to support both your thinking and learning. Blogging is definitely an online tool I would use if I taught an online class. It presents an effective way of displaying information and allows the students to keep track of their learning as each post is automatically saved and easy to retrieve.

Twitter is another online tool which I have found to be effective. At first, the “tweeting” process seemed difficult to do. Turns out, it is simple and very engaging. I enjoy following my classmates, instructors, co-workers and other people within my profession and appreciate the information they tweet. Twitter allows people to share information, take part in discussions, collaborate ideas and is a productive tool for building your PLN. Twitter is not an online tool I’d like to specifically use within my classroom as my students are too young to benefit from it. However, if I taught an online course to adults I would definitely recommend using this tool. Some instructors may view Twitter as ineffective when it comes to the evaluation process, yet it still remains an effective tool for a person to grow professionally.

Zoom is an online tool which I am now familiar with as I have had the opportunity to use it within both of my online courses. I find Zoom to be a beneficial tool as it allows people to connect visually and learn together in a small or large group setting. While using Zoom, a sense of community exists and I appreciate this aspect. People logged into Zoom are presented with the opportunity to listen and share information. I also find the chat to be a wonderful feature of Zoom as many people are not comfortable sharing aloud, therefore they can share information in the chat and still remain an active member of the community. If I taught an online course, I would definitely use Zoom as an online tool as it user friendly and affordable. Moreover, evaluating student learning may be evident as the instructor is able to see, hear, and read topic information being shared.

Google+ is definitely one of my favorite online tools. This tool has many positive features which may be used within the work place or for school. I rely on Google+ to communicate information and keep me up to date within my professional practice and my educational network. Google+ is great for collaboration, sharing and storing information and projects, keeping track of information and deadlines, as well as organizing student work. Many teachers can benefit from using Google+ as it saves content automatically and provides storage space. Google+ is a tool I’d use if I taught an online course as it offers a sense of community for my students and would allow them to communicate questions or concerns.

Screencast-O-Matic is an online tool that I have recently learned to use. I found this tool to be user friendly as well as beneficial in terms of sharing information. It is a recording software program that can assist people who are not comfortable verbalizing within a public setting. Instead, this recording program can provide people with the confidence they need to share information while presenting visual media sources. As I learned from my group’s presentation, Screencast-O-Matic is also effective for managing time.

Overall, there are many online tools that are engaging and contribute different learning experiences. However, it is important to consider whether or not the tools you decide to use are beneficial to the task at hand. Before taking online courses, I always considered myself to be a “hands on” learner or at least needed to be within a classroom setting in order to comprehend information. I soon realized that I can learn in any setting really, just as long as I am engaged. But I supposed it depends on the person as not everyone obtains information the same. For some, face-to-face interaction provides a better learning experience as having a teacher present provides comfort and peace of mind in terms of being able to ask questions and gain a better understanding about assignments or projects. However, I have found the online experience to be just as helpful as when I have questions or concerns, I am able to contact my instructor or post questions on Google+ and receive assistance from my classmates. Although there may not be an immediate response, I have never had to wait long before someone does respond. In terms of people’s schedules, sometimes online courses are convenient and allows people to learn at their own pace and on their own time. Therefore, I suppose there are both pros and cons to online interaction. What online tools do you use? In your experience, which tools have you found to be effective?

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Multitasking…Are we wired for it?

On Tuesday evening, Ashley, Andrew, Nancy, Jayme and my-self presented information about productivity and presentation tools. As we began to brainstorm tools to focus on for our presentation, we were all in agreement that the internet could not be left out. It comes as no surprise that the internet is one of the leading productivity tools currently being used within society. Moreover, the internet provides people with the opportunity to accomplish many tasks; such as paying bills online, accessing information, staying connected to family and friends, shopping, distance education, and watching educational videos. With all of the wonderful opportunities the internet provides us with, it seems almost impossible to function in today’s society without it. With that being said, have we become dependent on the internet? Can we function in today’s society without the internet? 

When I watched the video “Single-tasking is the New Multitasking”, I could not help but to laugh! Not only did I find the video hilarious but incredibly accurate and relatable, specifically in both of my personal and professional life. In fact, while watching/listening to the video, I was checking my work email and Google Docs. I also found myself glancing up at the television, Modern Family was on. I was quite impressed with my multitasking skills. However once the video was over, I sat for a moment and realized that my mind was so pre-occupied by everything I was doing that I might not of fully appreciated the video’s true message. Then I realized, it is extremely difficult for me to simply focus on only one specific task at a time. In fact, I am constantly multitasking in my life. Multitasking allows us to accomplish numerous tasks simultaneously and for many of us, it is often how we get through our busy day. James Hamblin states, “Tabs are a metaphor for life”. I believe this to be true as it is often difficult to be mindfully present on one thing at a time. People’s busy lives are moving at such a fast pace that slowing down to be mindful in the moment may seem challenging to some. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important for everyone to take a few minutes in a day to model a Tabless Thursday, despite how difficult it may be. Furthermore, we all have the opportunity to make changes in our lives. Perhaps limiting our internet use while at work or at home could be a starting point.

Therefore, is the internet really a productivity tool or merely an endless series of distractions? I believe the answer to this question is yes and no. It is clear the internet is a productivity tool as it offers a wide range of use and enhances learning. However, the internet may only be considered a productive tool depending on the task at hand and how it is utilized. I also believe moderation is key. Many people use the internet for a specific task, whether it be productive or not. The internet has proven to be a productive tool within my life. I am able to search for lesson plans and resources, educational software programs, and activities to support my teaching. However, I am guilty of using the internet for personal pleasure while at home. Focusing more of my attention on the process of single-tasking while on my computer or cell phone may be beneficial in order to manage my time and energy more efficiently as well as improve my work quality. Research has shown us that multitasking “creates and encourages bad brain habits as our brains are not wired to multitask well”. Therefore, changing our wiring by focusing on one tab/task at a time may prove to be worth a try if it will better our health and brain function.

Educational software…Which programs are effective for learning?

On Tuesday evening, Luke Braun, Rochelle Rugg, Krista Gates, Elizabeth Therrien, and Amy Singh spoke about educational software and media. I found their presentation to be insightful and informational as they explained the learning theories and ideologies behind many of the software programs that are currently being used within schools and in the work place. So, I would like to start off this week’s blog by saying thank you and well done to Luke, Rochelle, Krista, Elizabeth, and Amy on their delightful presentation!

During the presentation, we learned not all software programs are designed specifically with education in mind. Although, we may choose to use these programs depending on whether or not it may be used according to the task at hand. Educational software programs are usually created through a process of scaffolding, investigation, interaction as well as learning by design. Therefore, before we begin using software or media tools, it is essential to take the time to educate ourselves about the program and truly understand its purpose. By doing this, we can be confident that the tool chosen is valuable. Moreover, we must consider our audience when using educational software and media tools. Although many children engage face-to-face confidently and are visual learners, there are many children who do not engage confidently and are not visual learners, therefore using online software may prove to be constructive. We must also consider the privileged and disadvantaged students when using educational software. Factors such as policy, funding, socio-economic status and geographical location determine the accessibility of educational software and media tools. Therefore, not every child may benefit from its use.

Within my professional practice, I have always made an attempt to stay up to date with the most recent software programs and apps. As a teacher who uses technology often within my daily life and teaching, I am always searching for programs that may be useful within my classroom and for my students. Kahoot is an online program I have grown accustomed to. Although it creates somewhat of a competitive environment, I’ve always found it to be fun, encouraging as well as engaging for my students. It is also a wonderful tool that may be used at the beginning of a new unit (to test the students previous knowledge about the topic) or for reviewing learned content. Kahoot can also help the teacher identify the students who have grasped concepts and the students who have not.

I have recently learned how to use Screencast-O-Matic. Although this recording software program appeared to be intimidating at first, I have to admit I rather enjoyed using it after I learned how to use it appropriately. In fact, after using this program I began to brainstorm many ways which it could be incorporated into my daily lessons. This program would also serve well to children who fear publicly speaking. Perhaps, it may provide them with the confidence they need so they may speak in a more comfortable and private setting while recording themselves.

PowerSchool is an educational software tool used often within my professional practice. PowerSchool provides an online environment where I can store my marking/final grades as well as record attendance. Parents and their children now have access to PowerSchool, they may view their grades as well as their attendance record. Furthermore, this program provides an opportunity for both teacher and parents to be informed about their child’s progress and learning experience.

Google Classroom is a program I am interested in learning how to use. Although I feel this program may be too advanced for my students, I can definitely see how it may be useful within older classrooms. During the presentation, Elizabeth spoke about her love for using Google Classroom. She appreciates how effective the program is for organizing assignments as well as keeping students on track with their assignments.

Overall, there are many educational software programs and media tools available for use within schools and in the workplace. However, we must select programs that work best for our students. Educational software programs can provide an exciting and enhancing learning experience when they are use appropriately and in moderation. So, take the time that is needed in order to determine whether it is valuable to the task at hand. Remember, not all software programs were designed with education in mind. Find the ones that are beneficial to you and your students.

Educational technology vs. Teachers…Who is more entertaining?

On Tuesday, we discussed the history of audio/visual technology and its impact on education. From blackboards to overhead projectors, technology has advance greatly within schools. Currently, teachers have access to technological devices such as Smart Boards, IPads, and laptop computers to assist with their day to day lessons. However, before the advancement of technology within schools and in the work place, many children were learning through watching educational television programs. The purpose of watching educational programs was so children could learn while being entertained. In many cases, educational programs are still used today as a support to learning in the classroom but it is not intended to replace formal education in school. Therefore, the questions in my blog this week are: Have educational television programs encouraged students to obtain information only if they are motivated to do so? Have educational television programs created specific standards for learning?

As a child, I can remember watching educational television programs such a Bill Nye, Magic School Bus and Sesame Street. I can recall these programs as being quite entertaining but I realize now that they do not embody a realistic school setting. These programs demonstrate culturally diverse classrooms which is refreshing but portrays unrealistic events. For instance, it would be nice to go on a field trip every day in a magic school bus, but are we to ignore the fact that Ms. Frizzle is putting her students in dangerous situations? In regards to Sesame Street, Postman states “We now know that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like Sesame Street”. Furthermore, “If you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them”. Although I agree with this quote, I feel it is becoming more and more difficult to inspire and motivate children to learn with all of the new technologies they are exposed to outside of school, such as cell phones, video games, social media and television. Teachers are constantly searching for new strategies and tools to capture the attention of their students but even these ideas expire before we find ourselves searching all over again. This process can be exhausting when we see ourselves in constant competition with new forms of technology. With this being said, I do not believe Postman would agree with the push towards BYOD and the integration of smartphones in the classroom. Sure smartphones can be productive tools if they are used appropriately and while under supervision. However, smartphones have also proven to be a distraction within schools and in the work place. If we are to integrate technology within the classroom, we need to be assured that its use will be successful according to the task it is being used for.

Although technology is a helpful tool for learning, it is important for teachers to adapt their teaching practices and to remember that we don’t have to use tech all the time, children learn in many ways and we need to provide many ways for them to learn. We need to be mindful of the ways in which technology may be useful but also how we can be productive in our teachings without relying on technology. As a child, I copied notes from a black board every day and although I was not completely entertained, I still obtained the information I needed to know. To this day, I do not believe I had a bad or boring school experience. Technology was minimal and I do not feel I lacked experiences. In fact, I had a great appreciation for technology because it was insignificant.

Theories of knowledge…Which one is best for learning?

During last week’s class, we discussed the term knowledge and reviewed different theories in regards to learning. These theories are Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism. According to theorists, researchers and educational practitioners, successful learning takes place through the practice of experimentation as learning can take place in numerous ways. Although theorists may not always agree with one another’s epistemology of learning, they all understand that specific instruction needs to be designed and facilitated in order for learning to take place.

As I reviewed these theories, I found it interesting because I could relate my teaching practices to each theory. When I first began teaching in 2007, I am convinced that my teaching practices followed the Behaviorism model. I began teaching straight out of university and my methods for teaching were very structured. Each lesson of each day encompassed a very specific process which included instructional time, a designated activity and a comprehension check. Basically, my day to day teaching followed a very traditional practice. This practice did not prove to be effective for all of my students. However, as I grew as a professional I adopted new and interesting teaching styles which allowed me to see that my teaching had transitioned from Behaviorism to Cognitivism. I was beginning to understand the many ways my students were comprehending information as well as being aware of the environment in which learning was taking place. I would purposely design my lessons to suit each topic and began to offer my students a variety of learning opportunities, rather than just one. Currently, I am in my ninth year of teaching and I often have to wonder, where did the time go? What have I accomplished? I now realize that my current teaching style follows the Constructivist theory and I am proud of this. I understand that for learning to take place, I need to design my instruction around ways in which students can experience specific things within their environment rather than simply be “told” about them. Moreover, “both learner and environmental factors are critical to the constructivist, as it is the specific interaction between these two variables that creates knowledge” (p. 55). The Constructivist theory implies that for meaning to take place, one must first experience it. I believe this theory to be true and most accurate as I’ve witness throughout my years of teaching that not every child obtains information the same.

Within my professional practice, I am privileged to say that I have worked with many students who are all very unique. Many of our students come from different backgrounds and have wonderful experiences to share which we can all learn from. We must not limit our teaching abilities as we must first take the time to determine each students learning needs and structure our teaching around this. The same goes for teachers as teachers are learners too. Every teacher has a specific style of teaching which they will discover to be effective or not. Although I’ve previously stated the Constructivist theory suits my teaching ability, who’s to say that my belief is most accurate. When we think about learning, we must be open to the idea that one specific theory may not be the answer and perhaps theories may be combined in order to effectively meet the needs of our students.