Monday, July 30, 2012

So Much Technology, So Little Time

As a SecMACer, I may be utilizing at least 18 hours of my day for school (or in a semi-conscious state thinking about school), but I still feel like I need more time.  Time is the only thing in this program that is in short supply.  We are given all these wonderful technologies- like Diigo and Dropbox and Google Reader and Evernote and this list goes on and on and on- to simplify our lives.

 But right now, I feel like simplify is more like "simplify."

I feel like a child in a candy store when I have to decide which new technology to use-- "Ooo do I want to highlight with Diigo??" "Do I want to share on Dropbox?  Or would Evernote be better?"  Ah the choices, the choices!  I think I spend more time trying to decide on which service to use than it would take for me to save my work to a flash drive and move on with my life.

But I know, in the future, these technologies will save me time... and the heart attack that ensues after misplacing a flash drive.

I would love to sit down and play around with all the services, if only I had time.  We had the opportunity to do just that, when we had to make a handout for class Friday. Though instead of listening to other presentations, as delightful and informative as they were, I would have preferred having that class time to explore and practice on my own.  I've been using Skype for years, but all the features of Diigo and Evernote and novel to me, and I just wanted to spend my time in class clicking around-- an urge that was hard to surpress and pay attention to my fellow group members.

I often have the attention span of a gnat when I have to listen- something I know I must work on to be a successful teacher.  But my best learning takes places when I am in control of what I am exploring.  Maybe having us explore the technologies on our own during class, and then doing a write up on two of the services could have been an alternative for us hands-on folks?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Teachers and Twitter?

I never thought that teachers would embrace the technology that limits thoughts to 160 characters.  Teachers are all about fleshing out ideas and supporting one's thoughts.

That being said, one would naturally assume Twitter is a natural enemy of teachers.  But Friday's class changed my mind.  I never thought of Twitter as a platform to spread creative lesson plans.  Searching relevant hashtags, following edubloggers, responding to lesson suggestions- all are much more productive (and more interesting) than reading what your former neighbor had for breakfast this morning.  Twitter makes it easy to quickly filter relevant posts, and collects posts from a plethora of other tweeters in one convenient location.

My sophomore year of undergrad, I took a class called "Technology and the Humanities."  We had to create audio essays, wiki pages, write reaction blogs (much like this one...), post our feelings about class each afternoon on Twitter, and much more.  That class made me accept the role of technology in every day life a little more, but I still thought Twitter was a useless platform that would die out within the year.  Yes, it allowed students to makes comments and react to class. It was nice for students that hated writing and gladly accepted the 160 character limit.  It was nice to think that students had to be creative and learn to be concise because of the space limit.  It was nice to have instant feedback from one's peers.  But all those "nice" things didn't seem very valuable to me.  I felt like other online platforms would allow for more nuanced and thought out responses.

Using Twitter to share links- now that is more like it. Posting a quick snippet to let others know what a link is going to share and having a tinyurl link to a blog or website combines the best of Twitter and Blog worlds.  It is like having a bunch of headlines to scan (like a newspaper) and choosing which to read up on.  Thoughts don't have to be cryptic because of character limits.  Teachers can still have faith that people can expand on their ideas and actually use descriptive words instead of using the bare bones of a sentence and throwing grammar to the wind.  "C U l8er" and "BRB" don't have to replace real speech.  Hoorah!  Proper English still has a chance!

I am still a bit skeptical about the personal websites to share with employers.  Sarcasm and jokes are still difficult to decipher at times- especially when reading something without the author present.  Even if I screen everything I put on my website, I don't like the idea of having a cyberspace trail that I can never get rid of.  The website can be useful for interviews where people can't meet in person- but I think Skype is still a better alternative.  Things are less likely to be lost in translation when you can see and hear the other person.  I fear getting to a point where I feel I need to self-censor so much my true personality can't shine through.  I'll be so worried about seeming professional I can't be myself.  I can't be there to read the mood in the room (or the cyber connection online), so I can't decide if it is OK to start letting my humorous side out.  The website leaves me exposed, without being there to defend myself, and reduced to the bare bones of what I think someone else wants to see with no room for adapting during the process (as in when the interviewer is looking at the cite).  Call me old fashioned, but I would prefer practicing my people skills.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gamers Saving the World?

Gamers our future saviors?  What?  Those men-boys that live in their mother's basement and haven't seen the sun in weeks?  Ok... you have me listening.

Jane McGonigal has a wild theory, that we can channel gamer's drive for an "epic win" to solving real world problems.  Gamers spend billions of hours a week playing their online games, saving fictional realms, and helping strangers in need.  Jane wants to know, can we harness this drive?  Can we create games that require us to come up with creative solutions to everyday problems?  Will people really carry their game-world habits to the real world?

I think this is a creative and out-there solution-- that just might work.  But I still have my doubts.  Yes, people tend to be completely different when playing as their online avatar.  Yes, they are willing to risk their lives for another.  Yes, they spend hours on quests because the work is "just right" (to borrow a phrase from our Scarlett friends)- problems are presented to us, but only when we have enough experience to make it through the level.  If we die, we can start over.  If we run out of credits, weapons, or money- we can reload.

That doesn't happen in real life.  There is a finite amount of resources that the world needs to share.  People from different countries have different motivations and interests.  I would love to say that we can all work together to create a world that is beneficial to all, but, we are human.  There is greed in the world.  People will fight for power.  There will be conflicts over how to divide supplies and power.  Religion, philosophy, beliefs, etc. will create conflicts.  Game designers can try to design the playing field in the game, but when the gamers emerge from their basements, the real world won't have level playing fields.

Gamers can create deep relationships online, but then have trouble interacting with people in real life.  Wouldn't it be a better idea to try and create the sense of security that the online world offers, but in the real world?  We can't live our lives completely online.  We can't have designers giving us perfectly designed situations for every problem.  We don't live in a vacuum.

In the end, I think Jane McGonical has an interesting theory.  But I would tweak it a bit.  Research has been done (for example, Bronson and Merryman in Nuture Shock), that shows people are more confident when role-playing, we can blame mistakes on the character we are playing.  How about we role play in live sessions?  From the classroom to a club to the workplace, we can integrate these role playing techniques to help solve problems we face in our everyday life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Group Work

Group Work.  Two simple words.  Yet they have the ability to send chills down my back.
In high school, I was the controlling over-achiever that dreaded putting any task, no matter the size, in someone else's hands.  I was the student teachers put in a group to whip other students into shape, inevitably resulting in me doing the entire assignment because I wanted an "A" and the others did not care.  "Group work" was synonymous with headache, struggle, control, frustration, dread, long nights- the list goes on and on.

Fast forward to present day.  I'm still struggling with the aftermath of high school group work.  When I saw we had a three-hour block of group work and discussion, I immediately started the mental preparation for making it through the day.  My four years in undergrad helped me let go of some of the control, but a ball of dread in my stomach was always waiting to awaken for the next group activity.


Oh man, 6 over-achievers in one room.  Working on one assignment.  This is not going to go smoothly.

I was right.  We all had different interpretations of the assignment.

Alright, you have three hours with these people, sit back and get a feel of the power dynamic. This might be a preview of your future faculty meetings.   Think of this as practice.

To start off the session, we went around the group, each person sharing their ideas.  Immediately it was clear everyone looked at the assignment through a different dimension of English.  One person wanted to focus on research skills, while another was looking for a way to physically engage students, another wanted to work on writing, and comments were made about every idea in between.  I never thought about the scope of the English department- all the teachers have different ideas about what is most important and what should be emphasized.

It was obvious we were a group of individuals that were used to being in control, and we had a hard time compromising on our opinions.  We tried to make a lesson plan that gave teachers choice, so we could let everyone have their ideas represented.  At times, the constant attempts to put multiple choices led to confusion about what we were discussing.

The back and forth was not all bad.  It allowed all the members to get feedback about their own ideas and hash out the limitations of various lesson plans.  We were able to combine approaches to create a (semi) finished product that drew on different skills needed in an English class.  Though it was hard at first, I am glad we had the three hours to work on the assignment.  The long time frame allowed us to get over our initial desire to control, and move in the direction of compromise.

I saw a glimpse of my future faculty meetings, and realized I need to keep an open mind and loosen the reigns.  Maybe some cookies to sweeten the mood :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Dirty Pop"

First of all, it is called pop not soda.  That being said, I think *NSYNC sang my stance on the subject perfectly in their 2001 smash hit, "Pop":

Sick and tired of hearing
All these people talk about
What's the deal with this pop life?
And when is gonna fade out?
The thing you got to realize
What we doing is not a trend

Ok, fine, they were singing about pop music.  But as an English major, I reserve the right to interpret things any way I gosh darn well please.  And if I want the song to be about the sugary, fizzy deliciousness that is pop, so be it.  

When I first read the story about New York's ban on large size pops, I thought, "Wow!  How great!  Helping people be healthy!  We sure need more of that in this country."  Then I thought about my frequent trips to a certain room in the School of Education building with free and unlimited pop.  I would be crushed if that was taken away from me.  How would I make it through the long hours of lecture without my oversize dose of caffeine?  No, no!  Michigan, you can't follow suit!

Then I thought about the ban even more.  I was ready to make others limit their choices, but was crushed when I thought about losing something that brought such delight (no job
+ back to back undergrad and graduate school= one incredibly broke girl that actively seeks out free goodies- like pop).  A couple years ago, the University of Michigan established a no-smoking on campus policy.  I was ecstatic.  Many a night was spent in my dorm room fuming over the person smoking outside my window.  Didn't they know it was sweltering hot in the ancient dorm, and closing my window would mean certain death by baking to a crisp?  I hated the scratchy throat I got from the smoke, the dirty smell that overpowered my lavender room spray, and the general anger that one person was able to cause with one cigarette.

My reaction may be similar to a lot of other people.  We adamantly support one ban, but when another ban comes along that limits our personal choices, we react angrily.  This would be a perfect opportunity for a writing assignment.  Students could explore their personal reactions to bans in their lives.  A creative writing exercise would allow students to candidly explore their thoughts, while an argumentative assignment could be a more structured alternative.   By creating a blog, there could be a timeline showing a student's rections and changing opinions.  They could link to articles that influenced or changed their opinion, and look at  similar bans and laws in different states and countries.  They would be able to go back and look at what made them change their mind and supporting articles.  Students could look at each other's blogs and comment on classmates' work, creating a place where the debates and ideas could be monitored.

 It could also be used in social studies classrooms when discussing our individual rights as Americans.  Students could be split into groups and debate the constitutionality of such laws.  Students could even compare how such a law would be received in other countries or even other states.  Heck, the all the subjects in school could have activities related to the ban.  Economics classes could look at the impact of the ban on vendors, while biology or chemistry classes could look at the impact of pop on the body.  The fact that this topic relates to so many different subjects makes it the perfect theme for a school or a grade in the school to get involved in.  Looking at one topic from so many different perspectives and fields would give the students a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of not just the ban, but the impact of policies in everyday life.

The topic of pop bans would be something students could relate to, possibly more that other topics like the war on drugs or smoking.  This subject is a little less politically charged, and students could voice their opinions more openly on a topic like this that is less touchy.  Teaching with a current event opens many doors to exploring topics that are relatable and can be watched over time, allowing the debate to evolve. Now if only I could find that letter I wrote to the class president about the smoking ban, I think I think I need to reconsider some of my arguments...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Reflecting and Reminiscing: Am I Ready for the Shift to Technology in the Classroom?

"'re so thick! You're mister thick thickity thick face from thicktown thickannia. And so is your Dad!"

Why thank you Doctor, you always have such eloquent observations.  The good Dr. Who may have been drunkenly talking to a robot, but hey, he could have been talking about my tech skills.  Technology has always felt unnatural to me, something I have grudgingly come to terms with out of necessity. I much prefer days when I can leave my phone and computer behind to go explore my surroundings or immerse myself in tales of feisty maidens and elaborate castles.  I prefer the jumble of voices and hum of a living city to pre-recorded, auto-tuned, rehearsed music pumping through tiny ear buds.  I think iPods and 3-D TVs seem like inventions dreamed up on the set of a sci-fi television series.  I try to act cool, and roll my eyes at my mom when she tries to import pictures on her MacBook. I keep my iPhone at my side like my peers, doing my best to keep up with the Joneses, but I constantly wonder what the heck people do on their phones all the time. Sometimes I think I am 22 going on 82- sounding like my grandpa when I complain about how easy the kids have it these days.  Instead of saying, "I had to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow, with barbed wire shoes (I was thankful to have shoes!) just to get to school," I am saying, "When I was your age, I had to go to the library, find the correct section of the stacks, retrieve a book myself, and learn to figure out what sections were important instead of searching for key terms!"

Is this what the future has in store for our beloved low-tech goods? 

I worry that involving technology will threaten the classroom as we know it.  For some students, this would not be a bad move.  Computers provide instant internet access, camcorders produce instant records for review and analyzing, and Smart Boards allow students to interact with text and images- all these technologies are used by teachers to try to enhance the learning experience of students.  In class, we talked about the use of digital cameras to display student work to the whole class.  The purpose of the picture-taking started as a teacher simply playing with his new camera, but resulted in the realization that students work harder when their work is going to be displayed.  We talked about using computer labs to work on research projects and creating multi-media presentations that allow students to use their creativity.  I know there is sound research behind the claims that technology enhances the classroom experience, but I shrink away from this progress.  Is it really a good idea to have kids' work constantly on display?  Are we as educators failing at our job to provide a safe environment for students by exposing them to the world of cyber bullies and a digital trail that can never be erased?

I'll take a day in the stacks over a day in the computer lab any day.
I hope this class will change my mind.  I want to embrace progress, but I am afraid of losing the experience of old fashioned work- watching the dust dance in a shaft of light, illuminating the worn bindings of the musty smelling books haphazardly stacked on a study table.  One can get lost in that environment, transported to a place where imagination runs free and the mind has to come up with its own images.  While studying in London, I learned to embrace the tech-phobia of the aging OxBridge professors mindlessly strolling through the converted Victorian townhouses that dotted campus.  I have to wonder, does the plethora of information literally at one's fingertips cause us to become reliant on simply modifying the work someone else has already done and conveniently uploaded to the internet?

Until next time,
Philosorapter leaves you pondering.