I was at a dinner party this weekend at a friend’s place. The usual crowd had assembled, mostly friends of friends and acquaintances. We snacked, we chatted; we drank, we chatted; we ate, we chatted and then we went home. Nothing momentous occurred just a bunch of 40 somethings getting together and talking about their kids, work and the ever so faint light of retirement on the horizon.
One of the individuals there (I will call him Paul) I had met before but never really spoke to other than an obligatory “Hi! Pleased to meet you…” at another one of these little soirees. This time however, I got to have a good 60 minute chat with him over a couple glasses of Shiraz and a GREAT artichoke dip.
As it turns out, we both went to UVic at the same time. We may have even been in some of the same classes, like the PASCAL one I dropped but he managed to complete. In fact so successful was he with learning PASCAL, he went on to get his computer science degree. Now he does (or did) all sorts of programming stuff for a living. He is currently a big wig at a moderately sized tech company and has others do the coding.
As we poured the second glass of a nice little WAYNE GRETZKY OKANAGAN – CABERNET SAUVIGNON SYRAH 2013 (yes we drank Wine Gretzky), I figured I would tell him what I was trying to do with my students in getting them to learn Java Script, and instead of saying “Oh Cool!… Tell me more!” he simply said “Why?”
I was thrown for quite a loop by this response because I had been led to believe that learning how to code was the must know skill for the ages. As important as ones ABC’s or 123’s. That every employer on the face of this earth wanted our young people to learn how to code. That our children’s futures depended on it for virtually every job there could ever be, from the front counter people at McDonald’s to the Rocket Scientists at NASA.
Ok admittedly I am being a bit dramatic, but you get the picture.
But why was a computer science guy, someone who obviously finds coding to be an important skill, saying “why?” to my super amazingly innovative teaching initiative. I was counting on a Prime Minister’s Award of Teaching Excellence for this one. Then again, the way I have been bashing good old Steve on twitter, I’ll be lucky if I don’t get a room without a view in some CISIS hotel someplace, but I digress.
So why did my new good buddy Paul say “why?” when I told him about my little coding initiative? Well upon further discussion I discovered that he has no issue with teaching kids who want to learn, but as a foundational skill that every kid should know? Well lets just say he is not convinced that such a thing is necessary or even a good idea. As he puts it, there are programmers and then there are PROGRAMMERS. “We don’t need huge numbers of mediocre programmers. We need highly skilled people who can do great things with code” He went on to say “I bet the really talented kids in your class are already way beyond learning Java Script and those are the kids who will be getting hired when they get out and start looking for jobs.” He was right.
The way Paul seems to see it, is that not everyone is cut out for programming, so why would we be giving all kids the idea that programming is a career they should pursue. By the end of the last glass of wine and most of the artichoke dip, what I had gotten from the conversation was this. Not everyone can be Wayne Gretzky or even a third string NHL player for that matter, so why would be setting a kid up to be something they do not have the skills or inclination for? Really it makes perfect sense to me. Not every kid is into math or science or literature or geology or or or. That is just the way things are. I would never force my child to pursue coding just because someone says they should.
Regardless of my little conversation with Paul, I will carry on with my coding initiative. Most of the kids in my ICT class have the inclination to at least try coding for a while and who knows, perhaps a few of them will become a super famous programmers that open their own wineries when they retire and sell half-decent bottles of wine.
Lit Reviews, no one told me about these things before I started on this little journey. People only told me about the Thesis or the Project, but never the Lit Review. I think there must be some sort of ritualistic secret pledge you must make, along the lines of the Free Masons or Illuminati, before you get your degree. “Thou shall not speak of the Literature Review to any of the unwashed and unlearned masses!”
I am actually starting to enjoy the silly thing, but it is taking on a life of its own. I just wish I had more time to read and write. I am starting to understand why some people take a year or two off to do their masters.
What I am starting to like most about the whole process, is how the Literature Review is evolving. It took me a great deal of time, energy and thought to get started but things are moving along quite nicely now. The only concern now is that I honestly think it could go on forever. There is just so much out there to read and write about.
To start, the greatest struggle was creating a research question to work with. Then the reading began and that was a bit like sludging though waist deep snow to start but as you read you see new avenues to follow and key words to search. The path to the answer you are looking for, becomes a dendritic maze of possibilities.
As the journal articles stack up and your head becomes cloudy with more information you can possibly summarize, the answers to your research question begin to stack up. Then you begin to realize that you might want to rethink your research question. Is it adequate? did I ask the right question? Are there new questions I should be asking? Did I find answers to questions I should be asking? Fortunately I haven’t had to go back the drawing board, but I have had to tweak my research question.
To start I was doing this work flying by the seat of my pants, but as I continue I am finding myself leaning on the guidance of our text-book Educational Research – Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research by John W. Creswell. In the beginning I was dreading having to wade through this 600 page behemoth, but it has become very handy in trying to figure out what it is I should be doing.
Moving ahead I will need to start enlisting more help from my faculty advisor and all the other people available to help me. It has become abundantly clear that am not a 21 Century Learner and I am not much of a collaborator. I enjoy discussing things with the people in my cohort, but when it comes down to putting word to blog, I like working on my own. I have a feeling that this wont work for too much longer as I enter my last two terms of this degree.
What an embarrassment! My online learning project is a shambles and I have resorted to a book. A real honest to god paper book on learning Java Script. Oh the shame, oh the horror, oh the heresy… Will I , can I ever live this one down? Meh… Who cares. This project is about learning isn’t it and I wanted to use a book so be it.
What find useful about this format, is that I can (as I have in the past) use the information in this book to help me build a course of my own. This is a common trait in teachers I find. You can give them a Course in a Can, all ready to go and they end up tweaking it suit their needs or teaching style.
This is the problem with all packaged curriculum whether in be online or hard copy. Teachers will always dissect it, modify it and repackage for delivery in their classroom and it will not look anything like it did when it came out of the government approved curriculum factory.
I think this trait of compulsive re jigging of curriculum comes from a teacher’s preservice days, when doing a B.Ed., you would swap unit plans amongst the members of your cohort and adapt them to suit your student teaching assignment. This ultimately saved an immense amount of time and energy because you didn’t have to hunt down resources, write out the curriculum word for word and then present it. More time could be spent on the craft of teaching, coming up with creative ways of presenting the materials. With the odd tweak here and there to make the unit plan your own, you were ready to go in a day or two instead of weeks.
Today, I still find hard copy materials useful in planning my units or lessons but with the use of the internet there is a plethora of digital resources I can call on to add to the framework that hard copy materials give you. This book is actually just one of a number of resources I have been gathering to learn Java Script and will use to cobble together my own course.
So far these resources include:
- Code Academy
- Khan Academy
- Visual Quick Start Guide – Java Script
- Sams Teach Yourself Java Script
What this means, is that my learning project has moved on from trying to learn Java Script for the sake of learning Java Script to learning Java Script for the purpose of having a serviceable course to deliver to my students. Don’t worry, I have no delusions about becoming a Java Script Guru through this process. What I suspect or perhaps I should say hope, is that by going through the process of building this course, I will acquire the skills needed to support my students through a beginning level course rather than leaving their learning up to Khan Academy.
As part of a digital citizenship unit I do in my classes, I show a documentary called Digital Nation. It is a 2010 Front Line production that takes a look at the new “connected generation” and how they are faring in this new wired world.
A sign of the times, the February 2, 2010 production is only 5 years old, but it already looks dated. What is interesting however, is that the questions and the concerns this documentary posed in 2010, are still fresh and relevant today. We don’t seem to be working through the issues that the digital era has placed before us, yet advancements in technology soldier on. An ever-widening gap has developed between what we understand about technology and the technology itself, but I wondered if this is just a gap my generation just can’t traverse?
Some of the things we worry about and posed in this documentary include:
- Digital addiction
- Myth of multitasking
- Short attention spans
- Inability to think clearly
- Poor analytical thinking
- Disconnect between real and online worlds
Even as someone who endorses and supports the use of technology, I have my concerns about theses things. As a teacher I see unhealthy behaviors around the use of technology all the time and it isn’t just with the students. The funny thing is, there can be quite the double standard when it comes to tech and who is using it. One minute I can hear an adult complaining about kids and their dependence and misuse, the next minute that same adult is doing the very thing they were complaining about the kid doing.
To get a bit of a measure on what kids thought about their own use of technology in school, I did a bit of a survey after watching Digital Nation. I should have actually given the survey before and after to see if the documentary had some effect on the way they thought about their relationship with technology, but the post view survey yielded some interesting results just the same.
Just so everyone realizes that I realize the survey is not scientifically valid. I declare the data unscientific! Just fun to look at.
First concern any of us have about our digital device use is how much time we spend on these things, so the first question I asked was how much time do you THINK you are spending on a digital device over the course of a week. I thought the responses were quite reasonable until I referenced a recent study of college students published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. It was concluded that.
…college students spent nearly nine hours daily on their cell-phones. As the functionality of cell-phones continues to expand, addiction to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology becomes an increasingly realistic possibility. Roberts, Yaya, & Manolis (2014)
Addiction issues aside, this number dwarfs the number I got in my little survey. What it is suggesting to me that my students are under estimating their time on-screen and that all of us probably spend much of our time blissfully unaware of time we are squandering on our devices.
The other concern, especially with educators, is that kids cannot focus on anything for more than a minute or two without checking their phone or gazing longingly into some type of screen. Again this is not just a student issue, I see plenty of adults who are compulsively checking their phones or sitting down at a computer terminal. “Oh! I am JUST checking my email… be off in a sec” Sustaining focus seems to be an issue and something that is quite important to some tasks in life.
My results seem to suggest that the majority of my students have at least some level of awareness about how their devices affect them and if they are aware of it, then there is hope they can change their behavior should it become problematic. However, if we are talking about addiction issues then changing the behavior won’t be a matter of a simple rational choice.
The next statement played with the idea of banning digital devices in schools all together and as you can see this idea was not all that warmly embraced. This statement got the highest number of NO FLIPPING WAY votes of any of the questions, but there were students who thought that it might be an idea. Why they voted for an outright ban… Who knows but it goes to show there is a segment of the student body who are willing to entertain the idea.
What I found most interesting was how well the next two questions were received. The suggestion of a more moderate stance, where devices were not banned but instead moderated or controlled was much more acceptable to the students. This would be more along the lines of how things play out in class now, but many educators (including myself) still struggle with issues around appropriate time and use of digital devices. It is very difficult to regulate device use in a classroom. You can have all the rules you want around when students can use a device, but there is ALWAYS at least one student in class trying to push those boundaries and this drives some teachers absolutely batty.
What surprised me was the support the students gave to the idea of having some classes where devices are not allowed. I would be curious which classes they would accept a device ban in but alas I didn’t ask that question. I am sure there could be arguments made for digital free zones in all subject areas, but I don’t think we could ever get to a place where one course was digital free and another not. I think time better spent would be working to create a school/classroom culture where appropriate time and use guidelines are respectfully followed by both students and the adults in the building.
Although there is nothing in my little unscientific survey to suggest that we have this digital device thing all figured out in our schools, I think there are more positives in these graphs than negatives. It would appear to me that my students are more than willing to take a critical look at their device use and are willing to accept situations where they don’t use their device for a period of time. It looks to me that they might actually understand that there is a balance to be had between living device free and being digitally dependant.
Life is undoubtedly different today than a scant twenty years ago but we are learning how best to manage this wired world we live in. We will undoubtedly make mistakes but I think we will eventually be able to bridge the gap between the two solitudes of Device free and all wired all the time.
Roberts, J. A., Yaya, L. H. P., & Manolis, C. (2014). The invisible addiction:
Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students.Journal of behavioral addictions
I stumbled upon an app the other day called Instant. It is a nifty little “lifestyle application” that measures your cellphone use by counting the number of unlocks you do through the day, the number of minutes you spend using the device, the number of minutes you spend on each individual application and the number of minutes of walking you do. The purpose of the app is help users achieve more balance between the time they spend on their digital device and the time spent interacting with the “real world”A.
Although not a complex app, in the simplicity of its measures a profound statement is made about our relationship with technology. It is an irony for the times, that we have come to a point where we are now using technology to manage our relationship with technology. The idea of the app stems from a movement called the Quantified Self.
The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical)
The notion of the Quantified Self is nothing new. We have been doing this sort of thing since we had the ability to count, whether it be for fitness, health, finances or other. If we could count it we did it. Where things have changed in recent years however, is with our ability to data mine out daily activities using the technology in our pocket.
Personally I am a big fan of personal data mining apps related to fitness. Apps such as FitBit, Strava and Garmin can harvest an astounding amount of data from my daily activity. With FitBit I can count the number of steps I take, floors I have climbed, nutrition in the food I eat and even my heart rate throughout the day. When I go cycling, my Garmin App collects data on all my rides including kilometers ridden, route taken, average speed, elevation climbed, cadence, heart rate and more. The amount of data I can collect on my physical activity is astounding and has been very useful in managing my health. If I am ignoring my health, (which I do between October 31 and January 1’st) The data makes it glaringly obvious how far in the tank I have gone and if I am training for something, the data is fantastic for helping me prepare.
The other thing I quantify is my spending and again this is nothing new. People have been budgeting for years but today using an app to track your spending, the metrics you can generate on that spending is astounding. By using a spend tracking app I have gotten my Starbucks habit under control, almost eliminated buying my lunch, along with a myriad of other spending ills that tracking with paper and pencil never managed to do.
The obvious question now is, how have we gotten to the point where we need to quantify ourselves in order to lead a balanced life? Well as much as I hate to say it, we are a society that is driven to imbalance through the demands of the jobs we have, the cost of the lives we lead, the crazy family life we create and the technology we use. If you want to be part of the “modern world” you no longer have the luxury to just be; to live in the moment or to live a simple unencumbered life. Sure there are places and situations where this is still possible but it isn’t a practical choice for many of the 7 billion people living in this world.
What I would like to think is that quantifying ourselves using the technology in hand, gives us the opportunity to take back some control of the crazy lives many of us are entrenched in. Instant is a perfect example of an application that helps us break free from our unhealthy, compulsive use of our personal devices. Perhaps it will be the beginning of regaining the balance in our lives we once had, moving away from being used by technology, back toward being a user of technology.
Quantified Self? Count me in!
Well welcome to Week 4 & 5 of my digital learning adventure or perhaps I should call it a misadventure. To tell you the truth, I am not learning much. I start, I stop, I restart, I see something else that looks interesting… This online learning thing is difficult but again it might just be me and my magpie attention span.
This is not to say I have not discovered anything about trying to learn coding and/or game creation by video tutorial. I have already mentioned the need for a learning community you can connect with but I have stumbled upon a few other online learning needs that I didn’t anticipate.
The first of these “needs” is a dual monitor set up. Although I use a dual monitor for graphics work sometimes, I hadn’t used it for doing video tutorials before. Specifically in a learn to code situation. I quickly came to realize just how imperative a dual monitor for something like learning to code, when I tried to do a video tutorial using just my laptop. It was a royal pain flipping between the Unix Interface and the video tutorial. I found it so aggravating, I quit after about 10 minutes. What I realized shortly thereafter was that my students would be suffering from the same frustrations when trying to learn to code using a single monitor set up like they have in our computer lab.
The next thing I came to see as needed for learning by video tutorial, is strong English language skills. Especially in listening and comprehension. I came to see this as my English language learners quickly became disinterested in trying to learn Java Script though Khan Academy or Unix 3D. The video tutorials quickly became meaningless to them as they didn’t have the language comprehension skills to clearly understand what was being said in the videos. I asked them if they could find an equivalent set of video tutorials in their own language but they searched to no avail. I would assume there are video tutorials being made in languages other than English but It would seem there is a significant shortage of such learning resources in languages other than English.
The last need I would like to talk about is money, even though it would seem to be counter to the entire free online learning movement. The reality is that many “Free Courses” will require you the learner, to lay out some money at some point. The FREE course is just the hook to get you to purchase something down the line. Adobe is a fantastic example. They have some of the best online learning opportunities I have ever seen. Their courses are so well put together and presented, you can’t help but want to learn Photoshop online, but to make use of them you need their software, so you end up paying the subscription fee. Some courses will come with FREE SOFTWARE but once you are done the introductory course and are raring to go onto the next, you discover you need to upgrade to the PRO PACKAGE in order to go any further.
These are but two examples of how FREE in online learning isn’t really FREE. There is almost always a cash catch at some point, but that is OK. If an individual or organization has put all this time, money and resources into a course, it only makes sense that they try to recoup some of that money somewhere along the line. The point here is, that learning isn’t as free and easy as we are led to believe. There will always be a cost somewhere along the line. Course fees, software, hardware, subscription fees, internet service, hydro… It all adds up.
And so wraps up this weeks of this installment of Learning on the Web.
Do you ever get so busy that you get nothing done? You look at everything you need to do and choose to do none of it. When you would rather wash dishes, vacuum the floors and scrub toilets then get down to work on the heap of things you should be doing… Well that is where I am right now. Paralyzed by the sheer volume of stuff that needs to get done.
This isn’t to say that the stuff I need to do isn’t interesting or fun, it is just there, looming…
The list consists of Masters work – Report Cards – Fixing Computers for friends – Web Mastering – Learning how to use Unix 3D – Training for a Gran Fodo and… Oh ya! My family. They need some time too I suppose. It would seem I have bitten off more than I can chew but I guess that is life on the cushy West Coast and I need to get over it.
The Literature Review I am “suppose to be doing” is the biggest concern for me. At this point in the game, I should be about 10 – 20 pages in, but I am struggling along at a whopping 6 or 7 pages. I have started off looking at Educational Theory in a digital a digital age and for an #edtech geek like me, it is turning out to be pretty riveting stuff. Far more interesting then back in the day when I was reading this stuff for my undergrad. It is amazing how much perspective one can gain from 18 years in a classroom.
The journal articles I have waded through so far are bringing up some interesting questions about education in a digital age. The two most significant being. (a) How is the digital world-changing how we learn (b) Do existing learning theories adequately address the digitally driven changes we are seeing?
My focus to date has been on question (b) simply because question (a) is just so damn difficult to come to terms with. Question (b) is easy to answer and that answer would seem to be NO! Existing learning theories don’t even come close to explaining how this digital era is affecting learning. The three biggies that teachers have been hanging their hat on over the past 100 years, behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism are falling a bit short.
Essentially, teachers are following a repair manual created for a Studebaker and we have a Tesla sitting in our garage. Sure a car is a car is a car! All the basic elements are the same, but we are definitely not working on the same vehicle. The question now is do we dump the Tesla into the old Salt Chuck and keep the Studebaker running or do we jump in the Telsa and enjoy all the technological advancements it has to offer?
Although my analogy is half-baked at best, you probably get the idea as to the problem we are faced with. We have a choice to make in education and it is an immensely difficult one. We are on the precipice of abandoning 100+ years of teaching practice for something that we have no guide-book for. The technology has changed things so rapidly that there is no theory to guide us into the future or education. We are out in the wilderness and to make matters worse, the next educational theory waiting in the wings, isn’t going to do much to waylay the fears and anxieties those who look upon the future of education with trepidation.
This new upstart educational theory is called Connectivism and what it suggests will send a chill down many a teacher’s slide rule. Essentially connectivisim proposes that learning and knowledge can occur outside of the individual. That the connections an individual makes and maintains within a digital network but outside of themselves, can be considered learning and ultimately represents an individual’s knowledge.
Of course this is the Coles Notes version of connectivisim but you probably get the idea. The digital network is here to stay and has already become an extension of our students and even our own person. Digital consciousness is about life and the living… Digital consciousness is our consciousness. Rothblatt (2014)
Like it or not, for better or worse, we have become dependant if not one with technology. The question is now, as educators, do we keep working on the Studebaker or do we conceded that the Tesla has some pretty impressive features to offer and perhaps we should give them a go? Remember… the basic elements of the two cars remain the same, but the Tesla has the potential to revolutionize the entire automobile industry. It might be fun to be along for the ride.
Rothblatt, M. (2014). The Me In The Machine. In Virtually human: The promise—and the peril—of digital immortality (1st ed., p. 9). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Well that didn’t take long. My ADD has kicked in and I am looking for something else to do for my learning project. This is not unusual for me. My interest wains very quickly with things and I am off looking for something else to peak my interest.
I will continue with the Khan Academy Java Script tutorials but I have also added another learn to code platform into the mix called Unity3D. But first, lets look at some of the reasons why I lost interest in the Khan Academy tutorials so quickly. Other than the fact I have the attention span of a gnat.
I mentioned in last weeks post, that one of the significant drawbacks I found about the Khan Academy Java Script tutorials was the lack of community. I had no social reason to be there. I suspect that if my #tiegrad cohort were all required to participate in this Java Script short course, I would still be there eagerly plugging away. The funny thing is, I not a very social person in the “real world” , but in the online world I seem to be far more social. I need people to connect with or I quickly lose interest and move on.
The other thing I think is missing from the Khan Academy tutorials is that it lacks an element of creating something. Although I am learning, I have nothing to show for it. What I mean by that is, I have nothing to take away to show off to others and say “See what I did today!” Some would say that is the problem with the digital world, you don’t get anything concrete out of working in that medium.
What hope to gain from jumping to Unity 3D as a part of my learning project is that I will have something to show from my learning in the form of actual working programs that I can distribute in virtually any platform I want. What I am also hoping to find is a community of adults with which to interact with so that I have a social reason to return and continue to learn.
So wish me luck, as I try to find an online learning project that captures my att… Oh look a squirrel!
To be quite frank… I have done very little this week. I started the learn to colour tutorial but have not completed it. BUT… This is not to say I haven’t seen the interface at work.
I decided to put a handful of students who wanted to start coding into the program. The nice thing about Khan Academy is that I can set up a Classroom for myself and I can monitor the kids progress within a teachers Admin Panel, this will be very handy. The other thing that worked out very well is that the kids signed up using their Google Classroom accounts so their profile is still within the Secure GAFE environment.
So far, the kids seem to like the tutorials and have been busily working away at them. Since I have a mix of students from grades 9 – 11, I have been recruiting some of my in-house Java Script geniuses to help out when someone gets stuck. As I move along with developing my coding program, I intend to utilize the kids who are already proficient at coding to mentor those who are just learning. This will be especially handy as I begin to introduce problem solving tasks into the curriculum. I also hope to start doing coding competitions within the school district next school year, which revolve around collaborative problem solving through coding.
As for my learning, WHAT HAPPENED? FitBit is what happened. My attention got hijacked by one of my classmate’s learning project. Every spare moment I had, I was out walking, but all is not lost. This lack of interest in my own learning project illustrates a couple of things about online learning.
First is that curriculum, regardless of its relevance to, or the level of interest of the learner is not necessarily enough to capture an individuals attention. Secondly, people tend to go where others are gathering even when it is online.
Like I said, so far the tutorials are well structured, they get you going quickly and you see results almost immediately. As far as learning design goes Khan Academy is hitting the mark, yet my attention is elsewhere?
I think this speaks volumes about the importance of social connections in learning whether they be face to face or online. The FitBit project has 13 classmates participating in the periphery. Competing with one another, trying to best each others step totals. Using twitter and the hashtag #tiefit, It has become an extension of our existing learning community and so that is where my attention turns.
As good as the Khan Academy tutorials may be, I have no social connection, no learning community. I must point out that Khan Academy DOES have a learning community but I don’t really want to reach out to that community because it looks to be occupied by preteens. As much as I may be able to learn from them, chances are I would get arrested for creeping youngsters online.
So that is Week 2. Even though I have not learned much Java Script, I have certainly discovered just how important learning communities are to effective online learning.