Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sabbatical Over ... Back to Teaching

 So, the end of December marked the end of my half year sabbatical and return to the classroom. While the sabbatical was a good one - even if only half a year (I confess I certainly enjoyed the previous full year one more). I only took a half year since I am retiring in July and when taking a sabbatical, our CA states that you must come back for at least as long as the sabbatical, or pay back the salary earned. I did manage to finish some things up, have an article under review (on coding), and started a few other projects. One with a colleague who I have done collaborative work with often looking at educator use of social media during the covid school shut down last spring. Some interesting data, that is currently being analyzed so an article can be written before I retire! It was nice to do something on social media - it was the topic of my dissertation and other work I have done. Another project with 3 other colleagues is also going - I am the lead for now, but will hand it off when I leave. 

So, back to the classroom, I started in this profession in 1978, every year I had a course to teach - 27 years in a high school classroom, then as a Principal I taught a course as a sessional at BU. The only year without teaching was my full year sabbatical. This year, of course, is different. While I have taught several graduate courses online, all of our course are now online, including the undergrad courses. This winter I teach 2 sections of Using ICT in Ed for senior years and Internet for Educators. I am going to use an approach with synchronous classes using zoom and asynchronous 'classes'. I am so used to being in the classroom to demonstrate, have group work and discussions that this will be different. Even after 42 years, there is always something to learn ... in fact, I often tell my students that as a Principal I did not want teachers who thought they knew it all and nothing to learn about teaching/learning. I digress - I think 4 hours/ week on zoom (especially for all their courses) is mind numbing, so I will, for the mist part, go 2 hours on zoom and the rest asynchronous activities, with me available for individual meetings. To help demonstrate some ideas and apps I have been creating screencasts (Using Camtasia - it works very well - I should have been doing this for years and not waiting until my final 3 courses!).

In Internet for Ed I have always had guest speakers almost weekly, and this year is the same. I love the various voices and experience brought into the class, and the students blogs are always interesting as they reflect on each speaker's message. In the course we examine issues such as Internet (And issues - privacy etc.), literacy, identity, and citizenship, social media, online learning, and so on. 

In my ICT in Ed classes, I have a few projects that students can work on asynchronously. I will describe them in a later post, but one is a book club, and the other a 'passion project'. I hope that this will allow them to dig into topics of interest and allow some time off of zoom. Adapting and changing a course for online does pose challenges, luckily I have, as stated earlier, taught online before, but I am sure it is a lot of work for those new to it, especially for an audience not used to this mode of learning. It does requires more motivation and independence on the students part. This recent short article about a study of teachers about online learning points out what happens in many instances, and this is true not only of K-12, but also post-secondary, a tough thing to do when thrust into the situation with no previous experience, to be sure:

The report cites evidence that many teachers have tried to re-create the physical classroom experience for students by hosting long whole-group videoconference calls and sharing documents in the learning management system, approaches that are contrary to the advice of online learning experts.   (article on Education Week)

In a future post, I will describe some of the major projects mentioned above in a bit more detail. That is if I feel the urge to blog, something I have not been very good at doing, although I ask my students to do it in #I4Ed class ;-)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Things I Have Been Reading

OK - small disclaimer - I have been reading lots more than this, but a few posts that have come across my screen I have found particularly interesting. I am also reading a eBook on a hobby I am into, a novel, a book on McLuhan and a few dozen research articles on computational thinking/coding for a research article I am wiring.  So these are of particular interest as I am conducting a new research project and as we contemplate moving our teaching online in the coming term. Lucky for me, my colleagues can do the work while i am on a half year sabbatical before teaching again in January. Saying that, my faculty is on pretty good condition since many of us (myself included) have been teaching online for some time - many of our graduate program courses are delivered this way. 

So ...

The first post is by Jesse Stommel ( I have been following his work for several years) and find his ideas interesting and agreeable to my own way of thinking, yet they also push my thinking as well. The post is here, and is about pedagogical models - and the problems with them.  This particular passage (among others) stood out to me:


Pedagogy is praxis, the intersection between the philosophy and practice of teaching. Best practices, which aim to standardize teaching and flatten the differences between students, are anathema to pedagogy.

and later,


There is no one-size-fits-all set of best practices for building a learning community, whether on-ground or online. And there is no secret mix of ingredients that create the perfect hybrid strategy.

The second post, related to the first, is by Maha Bali and is about the use of frameworks (especially for research - but more widely applicable than that). That post is here. The post is mainly about being critical when examining or using a framework, that context varies and we should really just develop our own framework - and be ready to change or discard it as well. Again, several passages leapt out at me, one is here,
... we should not assume that any set of practices have universal application, that each context is different and that we should not let the language of best practices make us forget the nuances of our own contexts.
I say the same for frameworks — as researchers, let’s challenge, mess up, allow emergence and ignore when appropriate; as educators, let’s make sure our students do not treat them as something to “follow” but something to look at occasionally and maybe get inspired by, but never get bogged down by.
Both of these are good reading.

Also noted is that a new text of articles from Hybrid Pedagogy is out - I'm going to order it - always thought provoking reading - even for an old guy nearing the end of a long career like me.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

New Research Project ~ Manitoba Educators Wanted!

A colleague (Dr. J. Kirk) and I were going to examine how school administrators make use of social media, but put that off once the Covid-19 pandemic took hold of all of our lives. So we decided to re-focus on how certain Manitoba educators (K-12 teachers, school administrators, and division technology coordinators have used social media (in their professional lives) during the school shutdowns due to the pandemic. In order to make it quick and easy for stressed and overworked educators, we are using a simple survey approach. We feel the information will not only be interesting, but informative as the crisis persists.

If you are a MANITOBA educator in one of these groups - K-12 teacher (also including resource teacher, teacher-librarian, counsellor, etc), a school Principal or Vice-Principal, or a School Division Technology coordinator/leader. Please take a few minutes to complete our survey! 

https://bit.ly/BUsocialmedia_educator_survey

Thanks!

(PS - this research has been approved by the Brandon University Research Ethics Committee)

Friday, May 8, 2020

Curriculum & Pedagogy in the Pandemic

One thing this pandemic of school closures and learning at home has done is prompting a lot of thinking about pedagogy and curriculum. This was a point of a wide ranging discussion at a faculty council and department meeting recently. Such discussions are important at all levels as we move forward into these challenging times.

While parents and teachers are stressed, there are many comments on social media of kids pursuing passions, learning with families, and learning by doing. Many on various media talked about relaxing expectations a bit, assessing differently, using different tasks, and taking time to connect and slow down. Much of this was a way of coping and trying to keep stress levels for everyone manageable, but it does make us think about how we "do" education, to reflect on our pedagogy. How do we move forward? One thing that has certainly come to the fore is the use of various technologies - questions of platforms and apps and access are all important. This has highlighted the inequities in terms of access to the Internet, devices, and so on. It is important to improve connectivity across the land. This time also helps us realize the importance of humanity - the relationships, those things that really matter.

Hopefully it will help us all to take some time to contemplate the idea of curriculum - and the idea that we have to "cover" it all. I know I have already been considering my own courses and approaches (and I don't teach again until next January - sabbatical!
). While certain skills and knowledge are important, there are other things that deserve attention as well. We need to examine our conception of curriculum. As teachers at all levels struggle to enable learning without being 'together', our pedagogies are being taxed and hopefully we are reflecting on the strategies we use. When this is all over, we should take lessons learned and make positive changes to meet the challenges of the future.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

New eBook on Digital Literacy/Citizenship and Sustainability - Call for Proposals!

My friend and colleague, Dr. Rennie Redekopp, have decided to try to co-edit and publish a third eBook in our series looking at educational technology in Manitoba schools. Volumes 1 and 2 of our eBook series can be downloaded FREE here!

This one will tackle the broad topics of Digital Literacy, Citizenship, and sustainability.  As with our last book, the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) is supporting this endeavour. 

Here is the call from the ManACE newsletter:
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Are you a Manitoba teacher who addresses digital issues, sustainability, and/or global citizenship in your classroom/school? 
Want to share the good things you are doing and be an inspiration to others?

If so, consider sharing your work by contributing a chapter to an ebook of exemplary ideas and thinking from Manitoba schools. This purpose of this ebook is to share ideas of how concepts of digital/media literacy and/or digital citizenship are addressed in Manitoba schools and classrooms. For example, do you have any favorite lessons to address these topics? Do you use social media in a way to address issues of digital literacy, citizenship, sustainability, or social justice? When you have students do research online do you have mini lessons on evaluating sources? Do you infuse these concepts into your curriculum? How? Do you have any particularly good resources you use and are willing to share? Maybe you have been doing some deep thinking about these topics and have thoughts to share?

Due date for the proposal only: asap - submissions accepted until we receive a sufficient number to move ahead  
Please send a short description of your idea for submission. 
Include your name, school, and grade level(s). Note: collaborative pieces are also accepted!

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If you are a Manitoba educator and you tackle any of these topics in your classroom/school/division - then consider contributing a piece - they do not have to be long! Let's share all the great things going on in Manitoba schools and help inspire others!

Friday, April 17, 2020

To err is human!

I have students in some of my courses blog and find it a great reflective tool for them - we both learn a lot. Saying that, I am not very good at blogging myself. I started strong when this blog was created for a course in my doctoral program, but have certainly not been consistent. I will post more about the blogging assignment in a later post though. I often find ideas I have had have been expressed so well by others, or some other reason, usually procrastination, keeps me from posting. I hope to change that a bit, this particular post I was going to write about one year ago. At the end of last May, ManACE (Manitoba Association for Computing Educators - a group of educators I belong to) held our annual general meeting. To add a twist we had a number of people present short narratives of times in our careers that we screwed up (read: f***ed up) and what we learned as a result. I was one of those presenters and I thought I would share that story here.

So this story goes way back, back to my first student teaching experience. I have learned a lot in my long career as an educator. If I retire when I hope to, it will be 43 years in classrooms, including grades K to 12 and post-secondary. 

35 mm film projector
Photo by 
Noom Peerapong on Unsplash
This lesson came early in my career, and was an important one for a not yet certified teacher. This took place in my first student teaching session, in November of 1977  (yes, 1977 - Star Wars: A New Hope Came to theatres, the Apple II just came out, the Concorde flew its first commercial flight, the space shuttle had its first test flight, Voyagers 1 and 2 launched, and Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister) this was a lesson I learned early that carried throughout my career. I was young - 22 years old - and pretty shy, introverted, and lacking self-confidence.


 I just finished my first term of teacher education, at that time a 1-year program, I knew how to use a 35 mm film projector and how to use an overhead projector - properly! I planned my lessons carefully, so I was set, or so I thought.


Time came for my first-ever lesson, it was grade 11 chemistry, and it went …  badly.  I was nervous beyond belief and totally f***** up, I was very embarrassed and disappointed with myself, so much so that I was ready to quit then and there.


Luckily, I had a great, caring, cooperating teacher.  He took me aside and settled me down. He offered support and encouragement, with a touch of firmness, and gave me some great advice. Don't be afraid to apologize and admit you screwed up, learn and grow from your mistakes. So I did just that. The next day, I talked to the class and apologized to my students, explaining my nervousness and suggested we just start again. The kids were very accepting, and they too were very supportive - another life lesson, ‘kids’ (teenagers) are generally great people if you treat them with respect. I restarted my lesson, which I had spent a lot of time planning with great demonstrations and so on, this time it went pretty well and I never looked back for the rest of that placement.


 So, the lessons learned:
 The main one is that teachers are human, we all make mistakes and screw up, it is important to realize this. We make the point often to our students, that we learn from mistakes and that is how we grow and learn. We try to get that message across to students, so we also need to learn to own up to our own mistakes, use them to model that it happens to everyone and it is okay to be vulnerable and admit those errors to our students, no matter their age.


 This experience also illustrates (as a teacher educator it is even more clear) the power of being a good mentor to students and beginning teachers. Without the support and guidance of that cooperating teacher long ago, I might have quit the profession and I believe that I have had a positive impact on many students as a classroom teacher, coach, school administrator, and now, as a teacher educator. So if we show patience and offer support our students may just stay on the path that makes the world a better place. 


Of course, as mentioned, over 42+ years I have made many mistakes. I have learned a lot and I've grown a lot - as a professional and as person. This lesson occurred early in my career and it's something I never forgotten. In future posts I will try to share some of the other things I have learned over my career. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Apollo 13 ~ 50 years on

Well -  it was the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 and tomorrow (April 17) 50 years ago the crew returned safely to Earth. Although I am feeling my age a bit, it is still cool to have lived through many great events - both tragic and inspirational (my last post - almost a year ago - umm - was about Apollo 11). Of course, the saga of Apollo 13 was both tragic - the danger and loss of one moon landing, but inspirational in how the astronauts were brought back safely to Earth due to cool heads, never give up attitude, collaborative work, and smart people (ie science!). I recall those events, I was a space nerd and followed manned - and unmanned - space flight closely, and the suspense of this mission was certainly memorable. Last weekend, I celebrated this mission by watching the fantastic Tom Hanks movie - Apollo 13, and following some sites about the event. A few great links: https://apolloinrealtime.org/13/ and the BBC podcast, 13 minutes to the moon: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2/episodes/downloads

Here is a NASA video about the Apollo 13 mission.