Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Digital Storytelling

Whenever we learn something, it is all about us applying theories to real life, right?

I do now see the theories and the tools’ applications for education and my own educating.  For example, for my Methods of Teaching English course, I had to plan a unit as part of a curriculum for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and the standard I address is how the author transforms source material in the given work.  I thought long and hard on how to meet the standard objective because the characters in the novel are not exactly quoting Shakespeare—there were not many allusions, nor could I think of any materials that make reference to To Kill a Mockingbird that could constitute a week’s worth of lessons. 

My solution was to address various other works that, along with Mockingbird, transform their knowledge of the 1960s, as well as studying influential events and figures that influenced Harper Lee in writing the book.

But who wants to write boring, monotonous lesson plans, right?  I wanted to do something unique and to integrate the methods and tools we were learning in order to engage my imaginary students.  And last class it hit me: digital storytelling would be the perfect vessel for the students being taught my unit to engage with the time period and literature as well as work on a fun project.

Ironically, we had to write instructions for how we would teach and direct students in making a digital storybook including samples and a photo bank.  Multitask, right? Two birds with one stone, right? Well I suppose that my attempt at making my homework work for me did succeed, however, it caused me to think a lot about real life possibilities of technology for educators: taking the theories and tools that we learn and creating real applications.

I could have actually taught that lesson! And I would have been okay with it, which is odd for me.  I believe that it takes much for me to be confident in the use of a newly acquired technology: in my eyes there are many things that can go wrong and it is difficult to risk those possibilities when student teachers are being observed, documented, and evaluated.  Therefore, for me to admit that I’d be comfortable (not entirely, but comfortable enough to execute it) digital storytelling in a real classroom.

I know that the students would find it fun, and at the level that I teach (12th grade English) it would be easy to amplify the difficulty for older students.  The lesson plan I wrote for my Methods of Teaching English course was for 9th grade—another easy adaptation. Digital storytelling: who knew?!

All's Well that Ends Well

In reflection of all that I learned and accomplished this semester in technology, I wonder if I will actually apply all of this is my own classroom.  I wonder if I can meet the growing demands for technology in today’s classrooms as they evolve into tomorrow’s classrooms.  How does a teacher adapt, as they grow older yet their students stay the same age and are constantly up to date on technological advances as applied to everyday living.

The answer:  I do not believe that I have any option but to grow and change with the times.

It has certainly been interesting.  I found an algorithm that through a computer program can detect the gender of an author of a piece of writing with 80% accuracy when I copy and paste text into a program called Gender Genie.  I used that technology combined with feminist and literary criticism to predict the authors of an anonymous collection of flash fiction within my 30 page senior thesis.

I’ve taught lessons that all incorporated some sort of technology at Pinelands Regional High School that integrated what I’ve been learning about engaging students while teaching content literacy.

And I have continued to quasi-successfully operate Blackboard 9, Twitter, and my email to communicate with teachers.  I’ve created Prezi’s and other presentations using technology for exciting visuals as opposed to a dull PowerPoint.

And then there’s this course.  I feel like it was certainly a lot of work, however, I have much to show for it.  I created my own portfolio, presented about Google Earth from sitting in my bedroom on Wimba, fumbled around and became acquainted with a Smartboard and SmartNotebook Software, and have come to terms with my ‘black cloud of technology’ which may follow me around at times.
That black cloud is what caused me to hesitate to use technology in the classroom.  

For fear of messing up or embarrassing myself, I never thought to integrate technology into what I plan to do for a living.
But I did learn and I did succeed and I did mess up. All the more, I learned that technological hiccups and pitfalls are greatly outweighed by the benefits of technology in today’s classrooms.  In the end, I realize that it is not about me and what I am comfortable doing: it is about the students and how they best learn, stay engaged with content material, and retain information presented to them.  

We are educators for the next generation because we care about kids (teenagers in my case) and we want what is best for them.  Consequentially, technology is the mode through which this population of students will best learn (when used properly and as integrated with other more traditional techniques as well).

I am a traditionalist, which I have asserted previously in this Blogger.  Yet I plan to use technology in my classroom to best serve my students for lessons to come.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Scoop It is the Academic Pinterest

In completing the Wimba project with Matt, one of the components of the assignment was to create a Scoop It curating articles and information that related to our topic, which was Google Earth.  Matt was responsible for the Screencasts for the project; therefore, I chose to tackle this thing called Scoop It.  After thinking about it and exploring it, it's pretty much an academic Pinterest!

When we waste away hours upon hours on social media websites in order to connect with those and the world around us, it is odd to see them as useful academically.  However, it seems as though Scoop It got it right.  Having more academic forums, rather than the latest recipes or fashions.  It still has the social media component, being able to follow other users and "Rescoop" articles.

Talk about multitasking.

Scoop It does a lot: it's academic, up to date, social, and very user friendly.  It even offers suggests on articles and websites you may be interested in based off of your usage.  It's nice that it has free options as well as opportunities for paid subscriptions at an additional cost.

You can also share to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, or a Wordpress as well as export your curated pages.  This FAQ page is very helpful in answering most of my questions about usage and capabilities.

In the end, I hope that if you're reading this, you try checking out Scoop It.  After learning about it in this course, I really feel that it'd be great to add to any educator or curious individual's toolkit because it truly combines everything an educator would want with what a student enjoys.

Why I love the Smell of Books versus Nooks

With Christmas season coming quickly, I have been thinking about what I may ask Santa Claus for the holidays. I pondered clothing, jewelry, and other typical choices.  Consequentially, I thought about what I have received in years’ past, specifically last year.  I am a book person, a reading person, a word person.  Last Christmas, Santa brought me a Nook Color under my tree.

I am a girl that enjoys physical books: the smell of the pages, how it feels to read a well-made book.  Professor Tom Kinsella taught me to appreciate books, not only in the content that the pages contained, but the binding, the quality of the color, the font, the feel of the actual pages: not to experience reading necessarily, but experiencing books.  I couldn’t wait to tell him when organizing my deceased grandparents’ belongings and finding a hard cover, fourth edition of Dante’s Devine Comedies in Italian from the 1700s.  I was never going to use and E-Reader.

One day, I would like to have a library in my home: one with a copper tile ceiling, mahogany furniture, a big soft leather chair in jewel tones, vintage book lamp, dusty volume after volume of books.  So many people tell me that book collecting is archaic and unnecessary but I honestly thoroughly enjoy having a book for the sake of having a book.  I often search Abe Books and similar sites for their antique or rare books collections so I could see if I could find a worthwhile addition to my collection that won’t break my piggy bank.

My parents knew my book budget and how my shelves are quickly running out of space to contain my findings.  They thought that it would be beneficial for me as a college student to have an E-Reader for course materials, an organizer, magazines, and for my countless extra-curricular reads.  A Nook tablet was sitting under my tree, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.

It took me no time to figure out how to operate the foreign technology: I surprised myself. It is really user friendly; the ease of access was incredible.  I soon learned how to navigate, purchase a book or application, and turn the virtual pages of my new present.  I couldn’t smell the paper, I couldn’t check out the binding, yet I suppose I could see it on my shelf: but I’d worry about ruining the screen, squished between Jane Austen’s novels and my latest philosophy text.

I purchased some college course materials on my Nook: we all know how much we actually are reading those texts.  My schedule was neatly accessible and organized on an organizer application.  Life wasn’t too bad.  I did read a handful of series on it for my leisure.  I liked my Nook.  I soon found myself going back to those rare book collection websites and those used book stores.  I was falling back into old habits.  Bad stuff, right?

I in my newly techno-savy state have come to progressively realize that combining the old and the new isn’t necessarily a bad thing when done well.  E-Readers facilitate reading (which I like) and weighs less than carrying around a physical library (which I like as well).  I still find myself buying hard covered, first edition, or signed books that I’ve enjoyed reading over the past year.  Not for purpose but for nostalgia, collection, and antiquity.  I can be a modern literary person as well as a lover of old, dusty books.

I wonder what I will get for Christmas this year. If my parents are reading this, check out the artists renditions of books from the rare books’ section of Abe Books. Or minimalist movie or superhero posters.  Or money for my last semester at college. 

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Post-Wimba Thoughts

In reflecting on my Wimba experience, I feel as though that was the hardest presentation I have ever done.  As the black cloud of technology hovered over my head, I had problems loading Wimba…again.  I had to restart, reinstall and go through the Wizard. Then it STILL would not let me into the program.  And I was supposed to be doing a presentation.  It took me 20 minutes to finally get onto Wimba.  Sitting again in my room, sweating while snow fell violently outside, I was really nervous because everyone waited on my virtual arrival.

The presentation went well—I guess. However, between nerves, technological issues, and the snowstorm that cancelled classes on campus, I was praying for us to lose electricity right in the middle of my speech. 

Working Wimba (I forgot how to set the “talk” button to lock in place therefore I had to hold down the control key the whole time), sharing my screen for the whole class to see, going through the presentation itself, and speaking to the class.

As much as I know Google Earth rather well, and my partner for the project was also quite knowledgeable so I am aware that I was not worried about the presentation material.  I just was worried about what could go wrong next.

Would the presentation slides work? Would the links be valid?

Naturally, because I used a program that not many have, half of the class could not open my document containing information how to create a Google Earth account, log in, etc. I was so panicked!
Ultimately, I survived Wimba but I would not recommend it for a classroom if it can be avoided.  I realize my fear that the virtual classroom is the education of the future and that worries me a lot because I enjoy personal interaction—and because I feel as though many virtual classrooms would be similar to Wimba.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How I was Raised


I do consider myself a bit of a traditionalist. We've established that in these ramblings. Now, moving on, here is something that bugs me about Wimba.  I have been thinking about it for awhile and it finally hit me why I despise the system.

When I was growing up, my parents always told me to look them in the eyes when I was speaking to them. Same thing went with my grandparents, other relatives, or anyone that I respected.  Fast forward to my school years: my teachers always told me to turn around in my seat to face the person that was answering a question, discussing, or speaking at any point during class.  I was conditioned to have face-to-face conversations with people. Social interaction is another term for it.  Personal contact is another.

So now, we have Wimba.  It isn't even like Skyping or video chatting a class: you only hear them.  Someone can argue that because you are speaking or typing to another person or a whole class that you are interacting with them and learning with them; however, this goes against everything I have ever been taught about talking to someone you respect.  You look them in the eyes.

Wimba doesn't allow us to do that.

I feel such a disconnect with my classmates in Wimba, and as much as I loved having class while in bed, I foud myself still showing up to the physical classroom to have the Wimba period.  It is unbelievably difficult to have a discussion about anything. It is perpetually tempting to not pay attention.  You be virtual in a classroom? Well then I could potentially only virtually pay attention to what is being said. 

Despite our "black cloud of technology" following us to the virtual classroom and people having issues with connections, we still are able to give our presentations.  Tonight: I am honestly terrified.  I am terrified not because I am not prepared, do not know the material I am presenting--whatever-- I am concerned about the plethora of things that could go wrong during this.  I despise leaving voice mails to people: what makes me think that I'd like to present through one (I see those situations all too similar).

I'd like to say that I'll write again soon about how it wasn't so bad and now I'm comfortable with Wimba, but honestly, I am doubtful.  I was taught to look people in the eyes and communicate face-to-face.  I am not saying that I'd like to Skype the entire class from the comfort of my bed.  But when I give a presentation, I'd like my classmates to SEE that I'm nervous: not just hear it in my voice.

In Reaction to the Hurricane

We as human being take a lot for granted.  It happens.  We get caught up in our lives, deadlines, daily routines and problems: I understand that.  What I don't understand is why it always has to take something tragic for me to really realize what I have.
I thought about the home I rent by school, I thought about my summer home in Mystic Island, I thought about my parents' home in Clifton as I heard a decades-old tree crashing onto our shed...
I never really thought about not having technology.  It's something that I always saw as unavoidable, an obligation, or complication: I never saw myself worrying about it or (gasp!) even missing it.  But as I said, sometimes it takes a major disaster for some reflection.  Not having electricity for four days gave me time to think, now I have time to blog about it.

I never really thought of electricity as a technology: it is.  It was new age, radical--whatever--at some point throughout history.  I don't appreciate things like that, until they're taken away from me.  Sitting in the dark, in the quiet, in the cold, with my dog on my lap, in silence, I couldn't believe how much I rely on technology to communicate, to learn, and to live.

Maybe I'll be more meta-cognitive of it these days.