One week has passed since the first My Big Campus Workshop, and the response from the staff has been encouraging – especially since it opened up new lines of communication. Several staff members have since raised valid questions, misconceptions, and concerns – some of which I was able to address right away, and others required more time.
One of the leading concerns was the absence of computers in other classrooms. My class is only one of two with the Building Blocks Grant. The other teachers only have between three and six computers for the students to use in class. Because of this, many teachers could not see the value of MBC (My Big Campus) to their instruction with limited computer access.
At first I was slightly annoyed by these concerns. I wanted to tell the teachers to be resourceful and get creative, but that probably wouldn’t have been a good sales pitch. Instead, I gave them a couple of ideas, but realized that I needed to find some teachers who were willing to experiment.
I decided to ask the other teachers on my team if they would be willing to help me. Both Ms. Newton and Ms. Galilei (the math teacher and science teacher on my team, respectively) were thrilled to help. The only person who would be difficult to convince was Mr. Lee, the social studies teacher.
Remember Mr. Lee? He was one of the leading characters in my first Teacher, Meet Technology post.
You may be wondering why I am so determined to get Mr. Lee to use My Big Campus. Perhaps it is because I am stubborn and he ticked me off, but I like to think that my determination comes from my passion for teaching and doing what’s best for the kids. Truthfully, I think it is a combination of both. But, before I jump into my story about Mr. Lee, I think you should know that I am naturally a very optimistic, albeit bossy, person. When combined, these two qualities can lead to bouts of passive aggressive manipulation – but this works for me. Sometimes.
Mr. Lee’s attitude about My Big Campus was very negative. So, obviously I spent the rest of the week and the following weekend plotting my next move. Since I knew that the other two teachers on my team were sold on MBC, I decided to recruit them in my mission to get Mr. Lee to log on. They readily agreed.
Our plan was to meet as a team on Tuesday to discuss different ways to increase students’ agenda use. After throwing out a couple of ideas not related to technology, I would bring up MBC as a tool for posting our agendas all in one place. In order for this to be effective, we would need to have consistency across the team. Mr. Lee would have to agree…right?
We met informally on Tuesday in Ms. Newton’s room, and Mr. Lee was adamant that the plan to post our weekly agendas on MBC would not work. Our debate lasted for forty-five minutes, and tempers were hot. Mr. Lee just could not see the point in posting his weekly agenda online when it was already posted in his class.
He was also concerned that he would have to spend hours learning how to use MBC, just to have it taken away by the district in a year or two. Apparently this happens often, and, as a new teacher, it was an issue that had never crossed my mind. While he has a valid point, I doubt the district would take away the program if many teachers use it; especially since MBC doesn’t cost anything.
In the end, Mr. Lee agreed to post his agenda on MBC, but he made it clear that he did not see the point in doing so. I invited him to the second MBC workshop after school the next day, but he couldn’t attend that one. I agreed to work with him individually after school.
One on one with Mr. Lee
We met in his room after school, and I walked him through the program. Initially I planned to only show him how to log on, create groups, and post his weekly schedule, but he kept asking questions about the other features of MBC. Our meeting turned into a crash course on all things My Big Campus.
Working with Mr. Lee was an interesting experience. He argued with me every step of the way, but he also asked new questions. It was almost as if there are two different sides to Mr. Lee: the side that wants to learn more about how to use technology in his classroom, and the fearful side that is afraid to experiment with something new. While I appreciate his efforts, the two hours I spent trying to introduce him to MBC was exhausting.
I was right about Mr. Lee being a digital immigrant – but unlike most digital immigrants, Mr. Lee is fresh off the boat. He constantly second guessed whether or not he should click on something, as if the computer would explode if he clicked on the wrong button.
We played the “what if” game with every new thing that I showed him. Some of his “what ifs” were valid, but others were a bit far-fetched. You can see a few snippets of his what-ifs below:
Snippet Number One:
Me: So you just log in by using the same log in and password as your email.
Mr. Lee: But is that safe?
Me: What do you mean?
Mr. Lee: Once I put in that information, anybody from My Big Campus can see my information.
Me: No they can’t…
Mr. Lee: But they will have my password. I can get in trouble with the district for giving them this information.
Me: Well, the district set up the account for you. I don’t think you will get in trouble for using the account they set up for you.
Mr. Lee: Ok, but if I get in trouble I am telling them that you told me to do it this way.
Me: Of course, just send them my way.
Snippet Number Two:
Mr. Lee: What if I post my schedule on My Big Campus on Monday, but then I have to change it by Wednesday?
Me: Then you can easily log in and change it, like this.
Mr. Lee: But what if a parent sees it on Monday, and then questions why I had to change it on Wednesday?
Me: …Then you can explain to that parent why you had to change it.
Mr. Lee: But what if that parent gets angry because I changed it?
Me: Then we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Snippet Number Three:
Mr. Lee: What if a student posts something inappropriate to My Big Campus?
Me: Oh, let me show you the reports button…
Mr. Lee: But what if a student posts something not nice about a teacher?
Me: Well, if it is inappropriate we can see it through the reports, and take action from there.
Mr. Lee: But then other students will see it, and think poorly of that teacher.
Me: Well…they do that anyway by talking to each other, so…
Needless to say, Mr. Lee depleted my patience jar for the week.
It was clear to me after our meeting just how much I take for granted. I have an inherent trust in many of these online programs (don’t worry, I am also cautious). Mr. Lee on the other hand is very nervous around something that he doesn’t understand, especially if his students understand it better than he does.
Regardless, I was very excited by the end of the meeting. Despite his hesitance, Mr. Lee actually posted a video for his students to watch on their own time, and he liked the fact that he could make his videos available to the students outside of class.
I don’t know how much Mr. Lee will actually use MBC, but I do know that he is now familiar with what it can offer – and that is a step in the right direction.
I completed my student teaching experience at a low-income inner city high school. The school had a bad reputation for having a high gang population and “bad” kids. So, when I first announced my student teaching placement on Facebook, I was not surprised that most of my friends’ comments revolved around the reputation. One friend even joked that I should buy a bullet proof vest.
They were wrong. That school had some of the nicest kids. When I walked down the hall carrying a heavy box of books, a student I didn’t know offered to carry it to class for me. This happened on multiple occasions, with multiple students.
Needless to say, I had a fabulous student teaching year. My CT (cooperating teacher) was excellent, and taught me a lot about the importance of setting high expectations for all students. Most of our kids were English Language Learners (a.k.a. ELL’s) and were of low socioeconomic backgrounds. There have been many studies done on students who grow up in a low-income household, which you can read about here.
We required the students to create a poetry portfolio early in the second semester. I expected the final draft of the portfolio to be typed, so we spent a week in the computer lab. Many of the students did not finish typing their portfolios during the allotted class time, and as a result the final scores for the portfolios were lower than I would have liked.
While reflecting on the unit in one of my seminar classes, one of my peers suggested that by requiring the portfolio to be typed, I set the students up for failure. He pointed out that because most of my students are of a low socioeconomic background, I should not expect them to use the computers at school – especially if they do not have computers at home. After all, how could they finish the assignment without a home computer?
His response reinforced my belief that bringing computers into the classroom is vital to student success. If the students do not have computers at home, then where else will they develop the technological skills they will need as adults?
The middle school I work at now has a very similar population to the high school I just described. While I have had to spend more time teaching basic computer skills (such as how to save files to a USB drive, how to copy and paste, and how to use Google), the students are much more motivated when using the computers.
Besides, the public library provides free internet access after school and on the weekends. Since when has it become inappropriate to expect students to do something or go somewhere educational outside of school?
As an English Language Arts teacher one of the tools I rely on is my students’ ability to discuss writing and literature in an appropriate manner. I teach seventh grade. My students are professionals at inappropriate behavior.
When I try to facilitate class discussions, they usually do one of two things:
1) They clam up and suddenly become fascinated with whatever is under their grubby fingernails, or…
2) They all shout out ideas at once, competing with each other instead of bouncing ideas off of each other.
The first scenario is not as common as the second, which is a good thing. With the second, at least my students are excited and thinking about the topic. The thing is, I often feel like the basket in a game of basketball – but instead of the players working together, every player is trying to grab the ball (my attention and approval) and make a basket by sharing their ideas without any help from their teammates. In basketball this is catastrophic. It has similar results in the classroom.
My solution was to use My Big Campus’ discussion feature as a way to force the students to talk to each other instead of to me. Unfortunately, this did not work out as I had hoped. When planning the lesson I blissfully envisioned a discussion similar to those I have on Facebook with fellow teachers, or those that take place in a college environment. It wasn’t until after implementing the lesson that I realized how naïve my expectations were.
The students had no problems posting their ideas to the discussion. The hitch came when they started commenting on each other’s posts. Instead of questioning each other or adding to each other’s ideas, the students became very complimentary of one another. They also became grammar Nazis.
At first, I found it sweet when a student would post, “good idea” or “you did a good job.” I was ecstatic when I read, “make sure you capitalize your I’s” and “you used the wrong there – it is their not there.” However I soon realized that they weren’t thinking deeply about what the other students were saying. Instead, they were using the compliments as a cop-out to thinking critically about their responses.
Two hundred notifications later, I realized that I am still the basketball hoop, my students are still competing, but now they all have their own basketballs to shoot. Duck for cover!
This led me to the realization that I can’t expect my students to lead productive discussions in class or on the computer without first teaching them the appropriate skills. Whether typing or speaking, the students need to know how to bounce ideas off of each other without dominating and how to ask clarifying questions such as “can you elaborate on that” or “can you give me an example?” The skills are the same no matter what medium we use.
Time to hit the books (so to speak).
I have a book called Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford (2011) which identifies five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting:
1) Elaborate and clarify
2) Support ideas with examples
3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas
5) Synthesize conversation points
I continued to read, but was disturbed when the Zwiers and Crawford argued that technology was not a good tool for developing academic conversational skills. They argue that because of the lack of face-to-face communication with digital discussions, “exploration of a topic, the building of ideas, and emotional connections are often missing.” They also argue that “popular modes of communication…are mostly ‘one-way’ [and] do not adjust their messages or negotiate meanings with their viewers” (2011).
I stopped reading Academic Conversations. I disagree with their claims that the lack of face-to-face communication does more harm than good and that digital modes of communication have static meanings. Instead of fighting technology integration, the authors should be asking how students can use technology to explore topics and build ideas.
The toxic statements ate away at my brain for a few days until today, when I stumbled upon an article called “The Must Have Guide to Helping ” by Dr. Abir Qasem and Tanya Gupta. They argue that “using technology in education is about redesigning pedagogy by taking advantage of available technology, and not just substituting faculty time with technology.” Teachers
Qasem and Gupta go on to argue that technology actually facilitates productive conversations instead of hindering it. The reasoning behind this is two-fold:
1) Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own
2) People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”)
*Read these statements with caution*
Do not assume that all group work is bad. Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop his or her own ideas before coming together as a group.
UNM taught me that group work is a valuable strategy for encouraging all students to participate. Group work can also be a great tool for teaching students to think outside the box and value different perspectives.
But here is the thing: according to the “The Rise of the New Groupthink” by Susan Cain, brainstorming sessions stifle creativity instead of stimulating it. Woah.
Apparently, “when we take a stance [that is] different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.” (Cain, 2012)
This makes sense, considering what most of our students want most is to be accepted by their peers (want proof? Click here).
But how does all of this information apply to both spoken and typed class discussions? I am getting there, but first I will condense the information into a list of facts for your sanity and for mine:
- Students lack academic conversational skills and need explicit instruction in these skills.
- There are five core conversation skills that students must have to be successful conversationalists in an academic setting: 1) Elaborate and clarify 2) Support ideas with examples 3) Build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas 4) Paraphrase 5) Synthesize conversation points.
- Studies have found that face to face conversations lead people to instinctively mimic the opinions of others instead of fighting for their own.
- People tend to think more creatively and are more productive when working in solitude (read more about this in “The Rise of the New Groupthink”).
- Group work is extremely effective when each member has time to individually develop their own ideas or part of a project before coming together as a group.
- When people take a stance that is different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection.
- Adolescents are constantly seeking social recognition and acceptance from their peers.
So here is the whammy: Digital discussions enable students to think independently while also being socially rewarded by their peers.
But first, in order for them to be effective, I have to teach my students how to pick each other’s brains effectively…and because they use similar conversational skills as speaking when typing, I will once again pick up Academic Conversations (and ignore the technology bashing sections). Perhaps in doing so, my students will start to discuss as a team, bouncing ideas off of each other before shooting for the basketball hoop. Swoosh!
Wish me luck!
Cain, Susan. “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” The Sunday Review. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all>.
Gopnik, Alison. “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind? – WSJ.com.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html?fb_ref=wsj_share_FB>.
Quasem, Abir, and Tanya Gupta. “The Must-Have Guide To Helping Technophobic Teachers | Edudemic.” Edudemic. Edudemic, 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Feb. 2012..
Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011. Print.