Digital Distraction

Per my previous post about laptops/phones in the classroom, here’s an interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Digital Distraction is a Problem Far Beyond the Classroom. But Professors Can Still Help

In a nutshell, the article posits that digital distraction is everywhere, even the classroom. It’s not just the classroom. ”

“They’re digitally distracted in class because they happen to be in class.”

So many good reasons why banning laptops/phones in class is a bad idea. The better idea is to promote active learning. I see that every time I’m in a class.

 

Can Laptops in class be used for Good? YES!

Thoughts prompted by this excellent tweet and conversation:

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I’ve been working as an academic technologist at a university for almost two years. I could retire if I got a dollar for every time I’ve heard complaining about how students can’t handle having computers/laptops in the classroom.

Thankfully, there are people like Rebecca Wingo to make me feel all better. Look at this productive, pedagogically appropriate use of laptops in a classroom. Encouraging students to validate what they’re hearing, to confirm facts, to find additional resources. THAT is what technology can do when used appropriately.

Three people working together on a laptop.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

I was teaching in a class recently. Students were assigned to do research and develop a digital project in the space of three class periods. They had class time to do this. They were in small groups of 2 to 3. For an entire class period (75 minutes), these students were focused, productive and above all, learning. What types of learning did I see?

  • Content: they learned essential content about their chosen topic of interest
  • Group work: they were working in small groups, they had to divide tasks, resolve any disagreements
  • Time management: they only had two class periods to do this project. The weren’t supposed to work on it outside of class. They couldn’t be distracted
  • Digital literacy: they learned how to find information and decide if it was valid, reliable, useful
  • Digital skills: they had to try a new digital tool and master it in a short period of time. It was not complex, but did require them to create and share a Google Sheet (this was new to some); learn a template and publish it within the other tool.
  • Writing: they had to quickly find, digest and communicate information. This was done through digital appropriate writing (much different than academic!)
  • Visual communication: they were required to use visuals and possibly spatial data. Using these different types of media can be challenging. Copyright, interpretation, technical skills all come into play.

I sat in and helped as needed for all three sessions. I did not see a single student “distracted” by the technology. They were on task, they were focused and they created something. They looked at content differently. They discussed. I saw a few kids send a few texts. but they got right back to work. Did they create something like a 10-page final paper? No. And I bet they’ll remember it far longer than the 10-page paper they wrote for another class.

What made this a such a successful project? In my mind, it was a few things:

  • Students were actively engaged in their learning.
  • Students produced something, not just absorbed information.
  • Students were learning about something of their choice.
  • Students were helping each other learn new things.
  • Students were given permission to fail, or to not be as perfect as an A usually requires.
  • Learning was more about the process than the final product.

While my example is quite different than the one Rebecca Wingo shared in her tweet, it’s fresh in my mind.

For my next lecture, however, I am going to purposefully toss a few things in to have students engage. I do love the look on students’ faces when you tell them to get out their phone/laptop. It’s even more rewarding when the “students” are faculty/instructors. I often present to faculty/instructors about incorporating technology into classes, whether it’s the learning management system, Google, GIS  or something else. I usually do incorporate some sort of hands on tech thing, since that what I’m teaching, but after Rebecca’s post, I am going to be even more deliberate to model what they can do with students in class.

 

Cred

I almost forgot — I wanted to address the thought that forgetting names/dates and having students look up things calls into question her credibility. I think it’s quite the opposite. She’s teaching them so much more about how to be a historian, how to study history and how to be a student. I hope our credibility as historians (or other subject matter experts) isn’t on how much we can memorize and spit back. It should be on how we can find information, analyze, conceptualize, and more. I’m even more impressed in her credibility!

 

Treatise on Audio Books

One of my all time favorite bloggers, Pernille Ripp, wrote about audio books, a pet topic for me: “Why Audio Books in the Classroom?” (Read this, but read all of her blog. It’s wonderful.)

I cannot believe I haven’t written about audio books before. They have been a huge part of my family’s life for the last 10 years, and is what started me on the path to working in education technology.

boxcarIt all started on a car trip. The kids were little (probably 8 & 5 years old) and antsy. We stopped at a bookstore. I spotted a CD of The Boxcar Children. Aha! Perfect for a car trip. The kids were hooked, and our adventure with audio books began.

My daughter has never liked to read – with her eyes. She was not a natural reader, she has never liked to read. It has always been a struggle. However – as Ms Ripp describes her student doing, my daughter INHALED audio books. We couldn’t keep up – it involved many trips to the library and finding affordable books on CD (and yes, even on cassette!) The arrival of the iPod and downloadable audio books was a game changer.

Yet, we still struggled to get school to accept audio books as books. My daughter’s 4th grade teacher flat out told us they didn’t count. Well, I flat out lied about it on those stupid reading logs we were supposed to do. (This teacher wouldn’t let kids read graphic novels either, but that’s another post.)

Thank goodness for the 5th grade teacher who not only accepted, but encouraged the audio books! Turns out her daughter is legally blind and consumes audio books at an amazing rate. At that point, the audio books were written into the 504, and although we have had to keep fighting for acceptance, we had documentation in our court. My daughter now gets all her college books in an audio version and it’s not an issue.

I get why people struggled to accept audio books as legitimate, but it’s time to change. The skills of listening to a text are just as necessary as reading with your eyes. Just as the world is moving quickly to more visual literacy (meaning learning to “read” images, data visualizations, etc.,) we also need to teach audio skills. We get information in so many ways now that we cannot limit it to reading with our eyes.

It is always expected that my daughter has a print book in front of her while she listens. She can’t do that. She needs to have her fingers busy. While listening, she often does a puzzle, knits or plays sudoku. It’s how she listens deeply. We’ve learned that this is how she learns best — not the way school thinks she should learn. I think the visual decoding is really difficult and distracting for her.

Sometimes, my son does listen to a book with the print book in front of him, if he’s doing heavy reading for school. He takes notes, marks the text. It’s how he learns. For him, using both audio and visual works.

One of my recent work projects  was producing a digital curriculum. We fought hard to have all the text narrated by professional actors. And guess what — it is probably the biggest selling point of the digital product. When we did early testing, I had the opportunity to test it with all levels of readers. Even the “high” readers – those reading far above grade level – loved the audio. It isn’t just for “special ed” (I HATE that term) or kids with LDs.

Give them a shot — while I love reading the Harry Potter series, I also love listening to Jim Dale read it to me. And how about celebrity bios? Nothing funnier than listening to Ellen DeGeneris reading you her book, or nothing more enjoyable than listening to Rob Lowe read his. Seriously. Try it.

 

Communication vs. Writing

This blog is a great place to story some of my other writing. Here is another response I wrote for the MOOC, “The Art of Teaching History.” The prompt in this case was, “What are the obstacles to teaching writing?”

Communication isn’t just writing

The prompt this week is about obstacles to helping students become better writers. I certainly support helping our students become better writers, but I feel there is a gaping hole in the conversation in the videos. Our old definition of writing is the obstacle. We must think about communication, not just writing.

The videos solely address formal, academic writing. Journals, when assigned, are still an academic writing exercise. As a few threads here have addressed, the world has shifted, and students are exposed to many different types of communication media: Twitter, blogs, videos, Tumblrs, Instagram, etc. The list is endless and ever changing.

I am glad to see a few threads here addressing the issue I see. Some of the threads here are disturbing, because the blame for students not being able to write is being placed on our students and their use of technology/digital information. That is simply not fair to our students, and shows a lack of being able to think forward. We cannot continue to live in the past and expect students to perform in school the way we, as adults, were taught. We — the adults — need to also learn from where the world is going.

I am not saying students shouldn’t learn to analyze and evaluate. They need to learn to communicate their thoughts and knowledge, including this analysis and evaluation. It is our expectations of how they communicate this that must change. Is the standard 5 paragraph essay still necessary? What about a 90 second video? A powerpoint/prezi or some other presentation? It takes more skills to communicate visually. They must still get their ideas out in an orderly manner. They must make a thesis and support these ideas. Using visuals, doing a presentation, or some other mode of communication is JUST as valuable — and perhaps in our increasingly visual world — MORE important than just being able to write.

Teaching other modes of communication also allow us to differentiate the classroom, and perhaps allow students to shine in different ways. We cannot limit our world to text. Students with certain learning disabilities or those who are creative/artisitic may show you a different side of themselves when presented with the opportunity to use other modes of communication. Students who are well versed in writing are done a disservice if they are not encouraged to explore other modes of communication.

Writing is merely the beginning. By limiting ourselves in teaching history to this mode of communication, we limit our students.

Video

Understanding Ukraine: The Problems Today and Some Historical Context – YouTube

I love John Green. He talks so fast, I think he gets in twice as much info as anyone else….

I cannot evaluate the content in this video, as I know next to nothing about the situation in Ukraine.

I do know, however, that John Green has nailed how students – and adults – learn. I learned more about the situation in this 6 minute video (which I watched twice) than I have in the last few weeks.

Green makes great use of using history to understand a current situation. There is really no way to understand what’s going on there without knowing the history, but he does a great job moving through the essentials, and demonstrating how history, geography and politics all contribute to the current situation.

Wouldn’t it be great if students were empowered to do this type of assignment? Not only does video production require writing (like a paper), it also requires visual literacy skills. Yeah! 21st century skills!

Professionally, I would love to be able to produce content out this quickly as it relates to current events. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed….

My Case For Social Media and Technology Use In School

This is a great post about why schools should use social media and tech. The points made here are excellent — and to me, it’s a no brainer. I’m really not sure why my kids’ schools find this so difficult.
I was even more excited to find another parent blogging about these topics! The parent voice is not very present in most of these discussions, except on the Twitter chat #ptchat (this blogger is a big part of that chat.) George Couros advocated for increased parent voice/presence in a presentation at the #TIES13 conference in Minneapolis in December. I agree, and am happy to find other parents in the conversation.

ParentSchoolPartners

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Today, yet again, I have heard people question if and why we should be using various pieces of technology and social media in school. It has been almost 40 years since personal computers were successfully marketed and sold to the general public. It has been over 20 years since the “world wide web” (www) was launched. It has been 10 years since the launch of Facebook and 7 years since the first iPhone was released. These things will continue to evolve in capabilities and how they are used – but they are not going away.

Besides the fact that we are supposed to be educating our children for tomorrow’s world, here are the reasons I can  think of off the top of my head as to why social media  is of importance in our schools (some of it relates to tech – but honestly, I think it’s a no-brainer as to…

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