Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rules of Engagement for BackChanneling

If you are unfamiliar with what back channeling is, take a look at this link I see many benefits in using back channeling to allow questions to be answered that might not be addressed by a speaker/presenter. It allows the shy student to be able to feel more confident in question asking, it allows the thought of the meetings to go deeper for those already familiar with the topic, as well as serving as a way to answer the questions of those that feel "this is all Greek to me" because they can communicate with their peers immediately and get caught up in the conversation.

All that being said, lately I have seen and been on the receiving side of poor digital citizenship skills. An inconsiderate backchannel participate has great power with this tool. When things are said in an attacking nature or judgmental view, backchanneling can go from being a resource with positive results to making the speaker want to ball up in a corner sucking their thumb in the fetal position.

Since no one wants to see that, here is my attempt at some suggested Rules of Engagement for BackChanneling. Some of these may seem like common sense, but after my week I feel the need to make this as simplified as possible.

1. Make sure whatever you would type in the thread is something you would say face to face to that speaker.
2. Passionate feelings are not bad but make sure if you disagree you are doing it in a constructive way. Constructive criticism helps us grow, it is still painful, but by using BackChanneling we are saying "Hey, I would like your thoughts on this." Be sure not to ATTACK THE SPEAKER AND FOCUS ON THE IDEAS BEING PRESENTED.
3. Use a moderator in case things get off track. This does not have to be prior planned. Just ask someone if they would be willing to "police" the conversation and gently guide the responses back to the appropriate topics. Not all speakers follow the BackChanneling while they speak, so this can be a great help to the speaker.
4. Resist the urge to turn a thought into an ongoing conversation that becomes silly, stay professional. This becomes a distraction to others and shows disrespect to the speaker by your "hijacking" of the event.
5. If you adamantly disagree with something that is being said, think of the immortal words of Thumper, "If you can\'t say something nice...don\'t say nothing at all." Save your thoughts for after the presentation and go speak directly to the speaker. This allows facial expressions and the emotion behind the thoughts to be expressed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

When Great Technology Tools Are Used Irresponsibly-Digital Citizenship Importance

Today I had the opportunity to go to a conference with 450 educators from across the country to learn more about technology in the field of education. Today I also had the opportunity to see the importance of good digital citizenship skills first hand.

It just so happens that I was participating in a workshop held by the keynote speaker after she talked to the masses. During the keynote she used TodaysMeet to allow back channeling during her address. I watched as she opened the dialogue up and saw the posts made by the audience. I also watch her become deflated by some rude and negative remarks. She was shocked at some of the responses (including put-downs of her dress...really?!) but handled it like a trooper. Her answer was, "well that's ok, it is out there to allow the audience to work out what they are seeing and hearing." My response was, "No, it's really NOT ok. It is bad form and gave very little constructive feedback and was a poor showing of digital citizenship."  I stand firm on my feelings regarding this and have been thinking about it all evening. I would like to share a few of my thoughts:

  1. Today's issues just goes to show that teaching Digital Citizenship is vital to good technology usage. We can't expect our students to be good digital citizens if we are not modeling it ourselves. 
  2. I wonder if those comments would have been said to the speaker's face? How often do we "hide behind the technology" and allow ourselves to use poor manners?
  3. I see the benefits of using someone to be a "moderator" anytime you are using back channeling. This would allow for some "policing" of the threads and prevent off task and inappropriate talk. The speaker said she had NEVER had that happen Atlanta, way to go! 
  4. From now on I will be very clear about what is and what is not acceptable before using back channeling with a group. (Suggested Rules for BackChanneling coming soon).
  5. We, as educators, often jump at a chance to use new technology in the classroom but we don't prepare our "students" (in this case, teachers that should have known better) on how to properly use the technology. Educators get stuck on "we aren't teaching the technology, it's just a tool" but I believe this shows we have responsibilities to teach both the content AND the technology.
This speaker handled the situation as a learning experience for herself but I have no doubt she did not leave with a positive view of that group. Being in the South and from the South myself, I would assume that the audience would have been more gentile. I was embarrassed by the feed....Bless their hearts! ;)
(stepping off soapbox)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why this T-model chaffs me just a bit...

I keep seeing this posted on twitter over and over again and while I agree with it's broad concept, the business education technology teacher in me also gets a little undone by it; So much so that it wakes me up at night and causes me to fear we are going backwards! Please allow me to share..

First, I believe technology is a tool, not a learning outcome. I believe technology is what oils a lesson plan for greatness. I believe technology allows students to delve deeper, dream bigger, and research easier. I can't even begin to explain the excitement I have had about seeing what I "teach" become part of the every day curriculum. BUT...

The model above scares me just a bit. Why does mobile learning have to have a RIGHT AND WRONG approach? The truth is, at some point someone has to teach these students how to navigate and use prezi, blog responsibly, access Wordle sites, etc. That is why I find the above model scary.

Technology in the schools has come a long way baby...for years, I have taught a set curriculum that said my students needed to know how to create PowerPoints, save files, etc. All these standards have been VERY specific to meet the ISTE standards and to equip my students for the future. The sad part is that often I have "created" lesson plans that had nothing to do with authentic learning just so I could put a check mark by a standard that need to be met. 

I have been BEYOND excited that this is changing...I now work with teachers to meet my standards but the students are working on projects that mean something to them, something they are studying in class already. It has become authentic learning and is morphing into true learning of technology that just happens flawlessly. This next year I will be in the classroom while a teacher teaches content and I work the room while student pick their app/website/output of choice to show, learn, create, or "take action." 

As this shift happens, there will be less me and more or students just doing what comes naturally, BUT... we cannot forget the fact that standards for technology still exist. Curriculum in ed tech still has to be "taught." When we don't teach that tools have rules and that there are proper ways for creating we undermine the role of technology and we do not show the students the pros and cons to the power at their fingertips. 

I have felt like we, as an educational community, were heading to a place where technology would just seamlessly take place in the classroom and that less time would have to be taught "teaching" the technology...and that is a good thing! BUT...we have to also make sure the teachers take seriously their responsibility to help their students become good digital citizens AND teach them how to create WORTHY output. 

Now I will step down from my soapbox. ;)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why Are We Afraid to Manage Misuse of BYODs?

I push around a cart of iPads to elementary students. The cart and iPads belong to the school. If a student disobeys the rules regarding iPad usage, there is immediate feedback to that student. I have been made aware of many teachers not feeling comfortable with managing misuse of devices in a BYOD environment. To be honest, in the beginning it baffled me but I tend to be on the side of a strict disciplinarian teacher instead of relaxed; I also teach elementary students which makes discipline easier (in my opinion).

So these thoughts have been mulling around in my mind:
a) Are the teachers that feel uncomfortable managing misuse the same teachers that feel uncomfortable with discipline as a whole?
b) Are these teachers the type that want to have positive friendships with their students and therefore feel uncomfortable changing the dynamics this way?
c) Is there a way for these types of teachers to feel more comfortable with technology in the classroom?
d) Isn't discipline something we MUST take on when we decide to be a teacher (might be stepping on some toes here)?
e)  Can we assist teachers in this area to help them?

There is a fine line that we as educators walk when interacting with our students. We know that if we are seen as a "tyrant" teacher, our students will shut down and not listen to us at all. We know if we are too soft, they will run all over us. As much as I love a very "fun-based" lesson, I also know some students have a hard time finding the balance between the "silly" and continuing to learn in the more relaxed environment. I get the a mother of teens, I live that movie as well.

Here is my fear if we DO NOT remain consistent across the board in our discipline of BYOD:
a) Students will see the school's inconsistency and think that the rules are fluid and flexible.
b) Students will sense the fear of the teachers (or see their desire to look the other way) and not see why we have those rules in place.
c) These teachers that seem so easy-going all the time eventually have their "boiling point" and out of nowhere they have a day in class where they snap and get fed up with the misuse because after a while even the rule-follower students start seeing there are no repercussions for breaking the rules. Then the students are like, "What's up with Mrs. Davis today?"  Our hypocrisy will be eaten for lunch.

So what do we do?
We have to be engaging in our lessons, we have to set limits from day one, we have to move around our classrooms and challenge the students that seem to be off-task by giving them a technology-based task. "Jessica, did you hear that term I just said? "Digital literacy," please look it up on right now and tell the class what the definition is." We have in that one statement, brought Jessica back into the classroom discussion and allowed her to use the technology in her hand.

We must remain consistent across the board because students need boundaries and teachers accomplish much when students remain within these boundaries. Does this mean we ban twitter, vine, or other social media? No, it means it is to be used as the teacher sees fit in the classroom but not opened if it has not been teacher directed. See my earlier post  for helpfulness on how to manage and set standards up front for you and your students.

Will it be easy?
Not always. Every lesson plan that I teach has varying degrees of responsiveness and qualities of engagement. I do believe it can be managed and the main thing is, we must not give up. As the new school year begins we must pinky promise each other that we will remain firm in our resolve to deal head-on with misuse of technology. We must work to be engaging. Our focus is not the technology, if we have to constantly deal with misuse, the lesson plan is lost. The technology should be what lubricates the lesson and makes it more fluid. We have to remember that the classroom is ours, and even though that device belongs to the student and their family, you have a right to expect proper use while it is in your classroom.

If a student was poking another student with a pencil during instruction time or throwing a pencil across the room at you when you were writing on the whiteboard, you would take the pencil and respond to the actions. The pencil belongs to the student just like the device does. Misuse is misuse and there are different degrees of misuse that you will have to deal with in the classroom.

How will you revamp your lessons to best meet the needs of your students now that you have the blessing of technology in your classroom?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Apple Configurator Fixes

There are three technology based things that have made me very happy this summer:
 1- My new zero turn radius lawn mower.
 2- Teaching Vacation Bible School at my church using iPads with fifth graders.
 3- Learning that Apple Configurator has become more user friendly. 

 Boy, I sound nerdy. But for real- last January, our school invested in a rolling cart of 30 iPads and we chose Apple Configurator to prepare and supervise the iPads. Every single week I felt like I did everything the exact same way but I would get an error message or they did not all respond the same way. This caused some major stress on my part. Some days I didn't even know that I had an issue until I started teaching the lesson. That is when you smile at your students, change plans in midstream and pretend like it was all part of the lesson plan!

 My two biggest complaints about Apple configurator were:
A- You never knew how long it would take to update anything. The software gave you no idea.
B- If things didn't work, there were no error messages to give you an idea how to correct the problem.

BUT, both of these issues have been resolved and maybe just maybe Apple Configurator's name will not be a "bad word" in my vocabulary this fall. I'm excited to use it again!