Monday, December 31, 2018

2019 One Word: Resolve

Sometimes my career feels like a battle. As an instructional technologist, I don't feel like my role has ever just been trying to help willing teachers integrate technology but also to be an evangelist or even prophet about the future of education and the impact technology can have. About this time every year,  I begin to feel a wee bit weary. I feel fatigued from having to defend educational technology which is always odd to me that this has become part of who I am.

I look back over the past few years and see a theme:
2015's one word was "Let's"
2016's one word was "Beta"
2017's one word was "Brave"
2018's one word was "Perspective"

This year as I tried to decide which one word to choose to help me as a professional, I found myself feeling less joy about what I do because of the weariness of having the same old conversations year, after year, after year. Every year, choosing one word in January gives me a sense of where I have been during this school year and a focus on where I want to be at the end of May.

So this year my one word is RESOLVE. After a year of diligently trying to look at and balance perspectives of others, I am ready to own who I am. I am an instructional technologist who currently is in the role of Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation. This year I am resolved to stand firm in sharing the virtues of educational technology with the educators, students, and parents that I come in contact with day in and day out. For me, this means that I will stand firm in touting the importance of students having the skills that support the ISTE Standards for Students for their futures.

I have been toying with the one word, "Resolve", for a few days now. This morning I felt affirmed in that word as we read the scripture from Mark 6: 1-4 in church:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Now, I'm no Jesus but these words resonated deep within me this morning. Jesus's own family and friends in his own hometown didn't believe in him and the things he was sharing. One of the hardest things about my role is that I am often asked to speak at other schools and educational conferences but my fellow educators in the school I've been at for 15 years push back the hardest. My insecurities imagine what they say "Who is she? She was just an elementary computer teacher?" "How could she possibly think she could tell me better ways to teach my class?" "She knows nothing about my subject matter." None of those things have been said to me, mind you. Then my pride gets in the way and I'm convinced I do know best sometimes (hence the chosen word "perspective" last year to make sure I was being balanced.) 
But here I am today choosing "resolve," not to push my ways on others but to stand firm on believing I have an important role at my school to be an evangelist and prophet about the future possibilities of education. My prayer is that just like Jesus in the scriptures we read this morning, I can do it with humility (this was his second time to go to his hometown and try to reach them). I want to have the resolve to bravely share concepts and ideas based on what I have learned might be helpful regarding technology integration.
What will this look like immediately?
  • Explaining the analytics data of digital testing inside Canvas and how it can benefit or students and teachers when creating assessments.
  • Explaining how we are in an era that has never been before: we can now have immediate feedback after a lesson and adjust our teaching to that feedback to best meet our student needs.
  • Harking the benefits of rubric-based assessing so that students can share their learning in ways other than a paper/pencil/digital assessment of questions.
  • Explaining that Canvas is a learning management system that our school can "grow into"  as we consider mastery paths and learning outcomes associated with our questioning of students.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Applied Learning in a Test-centric World

It was 1990 and I was one semester away from graduating with a degree in Accounting. I was taking Tax Accounting in the summer and everyone knew that was crazy. Taking one of the hardest classes in my major in a 6-week class was no joke. I felt like I never left the library that summer. There were groups of us there studying our hearts out day in and day out. I remember sitting at a table with a friend that was also taking a class. One day another student came over and asked us a question about the law and I answered immediately. I had memorized everything well. Reading over it again and again.

I will never forget when the professor announced the first exam. We could use our tax book and write any notes we wanted to inside that book. I thought I had it made! I wrote itty bitty tiny all through the book and felt prepared as possible. I was an A/B student most of my life and while memorizing didn't come easy for me, I could do it. I remember sitting there looking at the first exam and thinking "Oh dear goodness, I'm going to flunk this!" And I did. And the next one too. I was shaken to the core! I had studied like crazy, to the point where I was the one other students would come to ask questions but I wasn't ready for everything I studied to be applied as actual case studies. I didn't know how to convert my information into knowledge that would actually help people on their tax returns. I pulled a D in that class and I was mortified. I cried like a baby. How could I be an accountant if I couldn't really understand how to help people? Side note: I actually already was working for a public accounting firm and had my own clients at age 21. And, I was fairly good at it.

But the truth is I was 21, about to graduate college and for the first time in my educational process, I had to apply what I was supposed to have learned not just regurgitate facts like I usually did. Maybe I had to apply my learning in classes sometime before that along the way of my k-12 and higher ed journey but I had no recollection of it. My point is, I didn't know how to apply my learning because my educational testing was always about repeating facts back to the teacher. I really don't have very much recollection of critical thinking as part of the educational process.

Actually, I think that the professor was ahead of her time. Allowing students to take an open book test and apply the information that was in there. This was before the internet existed but she knew that every tax accountant would have that little book or something similar that they could easily access as part of their career. She wanted to know if we knew how to apply the book to situations.

Fast forward to 2018 and I think about the fact that education still often looks like the regurgitation of facts for many classes but today's access to information is even easier than ever before. So do we as teachers just give our students access to that information during exams and have them apply it in ways that seem authentic? Some do, others are still asking questions that can be googled in 2.7 seconds. How are we preparing our students for those applied learning moments?

  • How are they learning about history in a way to prevent it from happening again instead of knowing how many soldiers died in what battle?  
  • How are we teaching students how to balance a bank account (something everyone should know how to do) instead of word problems that ask how much of his $50 John has left after he spent $27.45 at the grocery and $6.52 at the cleaners?
  • How are we teaching students how to write for others when only their teacher sees their writing but being able to write a blog post is considered a skill needed for today's workforce?
  • How can the scientific method be relevant when the lab experiment is so prescribed that everyone gets the same answer? 
Applying the learning given to students thru the textbook, website, or teacher's mouth is the next step to knowing learning has actually happened and that the learning has led to something students can articulate through action. Assessment should be changing because it is not really showing the teacher or the student the value of what they are memorizing. You want students to get excited about what you teach? Make it purposeful. You want students to not cheat in your class? Assess them in ways that apply the things they can easily google. 

The thing that scares us as teachers: Not all students have the ability to transfer the information being told to them in class to authentic issues. I was proof and I was a good student! BUT, if we start transforming the educational process now, students will start learning how to look at a problem through a design thinking lens or value the need to memorize facts because the test is going to ask them to apply those facts in new ways. Applied learning isn't easy but a world of thinkers that are regurgitators is even harder. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

What is Cheating in the Digital Age?

For the past few weeks, I've heard the laments of teachers worrying about cheating. For some, it's because they are actively aware it is happening in their classrooms. For others, it's because they have heard it is happening in someone else's classroom. As I hear what others are saying I am appalled by some of the blatantly sneaky cheating that is going on by students but I also am aware of a gray area that seems to blend the lines between right and wrong. So I ask, what is cheating in this digital age? The following blog post isn't about me saying that cheating is ok, it is about my view on why it is harder than ever before to keep a student that wants to cheat from cheating. Here is my opinion why it seems more acceptable to students to work the system:

  • Hacking is acceptable and seen as a skill. Today we are training students how to code starting in preK because the future wants this skill in the workplace. According to the Techopedia website, hacking is the ability to break into a system ( but every single day as an instructional technologist I sit at my desk and wish for different educational platforms to be able to do certain things they cannot and I look for add-ons (or hacks) to make it happen. For instance, at our school, we use the LMS Canvas but it doesn't inherently lock a student into a quiz tab while taking a quiz so we have bought the "hack" known as Respondus Lockdown Browser as an add-on to do this. There is a little bit of irony that the hack is to prevent cheating but in this case, Respondus is what is known as a non-malicious hack that adds value to a product and the product readily accepts it. But do you see the irony? 
  • We are teaching students to find tools to help them in their learning. Today's students have not ever lived without the Google search engine. This means that today's students are not dependent on their teacher to pour information into them. Part of teaching today is helping students discern tools that aid their learning. Maybe it's Khan Academy for a math concept or as I type on this blog, maybe it is Grammarly. Grammarly is a writing assistant that helps you correct grammar mistakes as you type. To me, even the free version is one step beyond the red squiggly underlines of word processing software. With one click, I can add Grammarly as an extension on my Chrome toolbar and I have a benefit the person sitting next to me does not. AND if I happen to have $12/month the benefit for the paid version can truly change the way I write by leaps and bounds. But what if a teacher is grading my grammar on an essay, is this cheating or is this using the tools available to me?
  • Everyone else is doing it. Yesterday I had a conversation with a super vigilant parent that works hard to create safeguards for his children not to access parts of the internet that can lead to moral degradation. After realizing his boys were accessing gaming time more than he had set up to allow through their Disney Circle he dug a bit deeper. His boys had downloaded an app that allowed them to bypass the VPN blocks so that they could play Fortnite longer than their father deemed healthy. When asked how they knew what to do..." everyone at school does it." The father said to me "and I have good kids!" and he does. If this is so rampantly accepted by this generation how do we harness it? How do we protect ourselves from ourselves? Or more importantly, how do we protect our children as they are developing their frontal lobe from themselves?
  • There doesn't seem to be ramifications. Kids aren't getting caught. This week I heard of two students laughing in the hallway about turning in a slideshow they had pulled off the web, changing one page and then turning it in and getting an A for it. I also heard about some students cheating on exams in a classroom on a regular basis since the beginning of the school year. If it seems like people are getting away with it then the effort to do right seems pointless. Of course, this opens the door for a lot of edge-pushing discourse. Perhaps the concept of grades need to go away? Or what feels like high stakes testing? And then there is the fact that our school's average ACT scores keep going up so if students are cheating but those type of scores continue to go up where is the disconnect? And is it that the students see the disconnect better than the educators do? I realize all those questions could be read as heresy but like I said, this blog post is to help me put all the cards on the table and honestly look at what is happening.
  • The rules of plagiarism are harder to distinguish. Not just for the student but for the teacher as well. My college-aged student just finished a class in British Literature where she made a 50 on a project because the teacher said she plagiarized. That being said, she still doesn't believe she did because she had sources on every slide. Quite honestly, I'm not sure she did either. And there is the rub. The ease of access to an abundance of information makes it harder and harder for teachers to distinguish the work of their students from someone else. It also makes it harder for students to discern if that was an original thought they just wrote in their paper or if it was something they read in the last 2 hours when perusing one well-written article after another during their research phase. 
  • Access to information makes some tests seem irrelevant at best. And this is the bullet point that will get educators ruffled more than any other. Are we still testing our students as if they didn't have access to technology? In my lifetime of learning, there was value in rote memorization questions but if I can google an answer in 2.7 seconds is our question relevant in today's world? Perhaps it is time for us to evaluate our evaluations. Can we assume students will always have access to information and test them in a way that shows they have turned that information into knowledge? Critical thinking questions based on information readily available. Or authentic learning opportunities, project-based learning, inquiry-driven learning etc...all seem like buzzwords but we are in a time in education where discerning if learning is actually taking place is getting harder and harder to do. How do we change our method of operation to meet the needs of today's student so that cheating doesn't seem like the most logical way to deal with a test at hand. How do we change our questioning to force students to think about their answers instead of googling their answers? 
  • What happened to honor? How do we instill in students the virtue of being honorable in regards to testing integrity? What digital citizenship lessons need to be talked about in every classroom to show the level of importance we place on this? What expectations need to be placed on the student? What ramifications? And while we are at it, what expectations should be placed on the educator to do their part in creating an environment where integrity and honor are both expected and monitored for? 
What is cheating in the digital age? It might seem black and white to you but to our students, it is becoming more and more of a gray area. We can't ignore this. Important conversations need to be happening so that important outcomes can be produced. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Digital Testing Safeguards

In 2013 I wrote my first blog post on managing technology usage in the classroom. The fear of off task behavior still seems to be one of the main reasons teachers are hesitant to use technology five years later. While the devices may vary, the concepts on how to teach students good internal management of appropriate use has not changed. It starts with intentional boundaries being placed on students anytime technology is in their hands from pre-K forward.

I believe wholeheartedly that classroom management of students on devices is a digital citizenship issue. We are teaching students how to manage their impulses by setting expectations of appropriate usage. I also believe that if we are requiring students to use technology in our classrooms, we also need to be teaching students how to use it wisely and timely. Expectations are important for appropriate usage.

As our high school is moving forward to prepare for exams using Canvas for objective assessments my mind has been thinking on various ways to prepare the testing environment and test itself for integrity purposes. Below are my thoughts on this subject:

  • Classroom seating setup- make cheating hard but make monitoring easy for you. Exams don't take forever, move your desks or your students to help you monitor better. I work with a teacher in the elementary school that has her students sit on one side of their desk when she is giving instructions and then when it's time for them to work on the computers she has them move their chairs to the other side of their desks so she can quickly see their screens when she is working with small groups in the back of the classroom. Another option might be setting up your room for the task at hand by setting up desks in the following ways that allow you to quickly move around your room as you proctor an exam:
  • Question banks/groups -By creating Question Banks in your learning management system you can very easily differentiate a quiz to students by allowing the system to choose questions out of a question bank. Basically you are telling the Question Group how many questions you want on the quiz and it will randomly select questions from your pre-created banks. When creating question banks for randomization purposes it is important to create banks that have the same level of critical thinking within the groupings so that the quizzes will be equitable in rigor. Use Canvas LMS? Check out these links to help you:

  • 1. Access Codes- Codes serve as a safeguard that students cannot access exams when you are not ready for them to access it. Giving students the code right at exam time and then changing the code once everyone is in is a way to make sure different sections you teach are not accessing the exam when they are not in your presence. This can be set on the detail page of any quiz/exam you make in Canvas. 
  • 2. Filter IP Addresses- Many learning management systems have the ability to only allow a quiz/exam to be taken on campus. By choosing to filter the IP address you can prevent students from possibly accessing or finishing an exam at home without a proctor. This can also be set on the detail page in Canvas. Be aware that sometimes if a device is being managed by a VPN students will not be able to take the exam due to this setting. 
  • 3. Change feedback setting - One of the beautiful things about accessing digitally is that exams are graded immediately and teachers can spend more time on other things. In Canvas there is a setting for students to see question feedback right after taking an exam (in fact, it defaults to this setting). For testing integrity purposes, I would suggest changing this setting to a time after all of your students have taken the test so that you can be more assured that students aren't sharing their results with each other. 
  • 4. Shuffle answers - In most robust LMS options there is an option to shuffle the answers inside a quiz/exam with one click. When this is utilized to automatically it is important not to have answer choices like "both a & c" because it will randomize the answers and this answer will not be correct. 
  • 5. One question at a time - By choosing the option for students to see one question on a page it keeps wandering eyes from looking over and seeing another student's page of answers. The downside to this is that many students find it cumbersome when taking a test. Think of it like a hand covering the last question as the quiz taker moves along the test. Easy access is eliminated.
  • Lockdown Browser.  Using a lockdown browser so students cannot take screenshots or navigate off the tab they have open is another option. This is not a built-in option for most LMS options. Any time add-ons are used there is sometimes an added level of opportunity for things to go wrong. Keep in mind that you may have to troubleshoot this in your classroom as well. This document gives our teachers an overview on how to use Canvas with the Respondus lockdown browser as well as showing them how students will use the software depending on which device they are using. 

    The above list give teachers various ways to create quizzes/exams that ensure testing integrity. Teachers can pick and choose things that seem most beneficial to them but the value of test proctor movement is invaluable in both digital and non-digital assessment. It is also the easiest management tool. 

    The last thing I want to share are ways to overcome students getting kicked out of a Canvas exam  and not being able to continue taking it after accessing it again. This could happen due to a connectivity anomaly or due to a student just needing extended time for testing purposes. The easiest way to handle this is to not assign a "available until" time when creating a quiz/exam. This allows the test to remain open until the student submits the exam. To monitor this well we suggest these steps:
    • Use an access code (as soon as all students have accessed the test change the code).
    • At the end of the class period have any students who have not completed the exam come to you and physically watch them exit the exam. This way they cannot continue the exam except when you give them the new code. This prevents students from finishing up a quiz/exam in study hall with access to information to help them.