Professional Learning Network

PLNs could be very effective because they demand that you engage with the material and interact with others who are interested in the topic as well.  There are also so many topics to research that there really is no way that one person could learn everything about an issue on their own.  It’s so helpful to consult other people and it also allows you to get a variety of opinions and perspectives.  Education is so different between counties, states, and countries that a PLN could allow teachers to get more ideas about what to do in their classroom to make it most effective for the students. 

I also see some limitations to learning with PLNs.  It is very easy to have an artificial experience with PLNs, but I suppose that when you do research for your own personal reasons then that happens less often.  In this particular PLN, I found it difficult to choose a topic but then once I did I found a lot of resources for other ideas that I hadn’t considered.  I wish that I would have done more researching before choosing my topic because many times as we look for information about one topic it leads us in a completely different direction.  I also think it’s easy to depend on static articles because they’re so easy to find.  The PLN only works if you seek a variety of different types of sources and really try to interact with others.

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Audio

Using audio in a classroom was definitely an unfamiliar concept for me before today.  I have always thought of audio as referring only to background music in a movie or listening to a song.  Tools like Jing and Voice Thread give us the capabilities of creating our own audio, not just passively listening to someone else’s creation.  Students could use these tools to comment on a poem or short story, just as we did with Whitman’s poem.  This could be especially useful for auditory learners and verbal processors who need to speak and listen in order to fully grasp and remember information. These tools also allow for collaboration as multiple users can offer input into the discussion.  Teachers could use audio tools to record literature for students to listen to even when they aren’t in the classroom.  This would especially help struggling readers whose comprehension increases when they can listen to the text and follow along as they read.  Audio is also useful for ESL students.  Using either Jing or Voice Thread, the teacher could record a passage and use the cursor to highlight the words as they’re read or underline them in colored pen.  This helps with sound-sight recognition.

Students could use these tools to express confusion or frustration.  If they have a digital copy of the text and there is a passage, phrase, or word they don’t understand, they could capture the image using Jing and record their question while focusing on the specific item they’re having trouble with.  This could even be used as a way to take notes.  Whatever relevant passages we discussed in class could be captured in Jing and then students could record the relevant information we discussed.  They could save this and it would be like taking paperless notes, the files for which they could store on a blog or wiki to have instant access to anywhere.  Audio would also be helpful for explaining instructions, especially how-tos for using technology.  The teacher could record and demonstrate instructions and post the video to a class wiki.  Then, if students try to use the technology at home and are confused, they could consult the video to troubleshoot their problems.  These are just a few of the many ways students and teachers could use audio in the classroom to enhance learning and engage with the material.

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The curriculum meets technology

The biggest idea on my mind right now is still the question I posed to the class: since the focus of the English classroom does not presently seem to be about the classic literature I love and adore, why exactly am I going to teach?  This is such a complex question and I really don’t think there is an answer.  The truth of the matter is teachers are still responsible for teaching some of the classic content, in addition to building students’ digital literacies, their writing skills, their knowledge of English grammar, and more that I cannot even name at the moment.  As society has progressed, it seems like any sort of “other” category of what students need to know has fallen under the care of English teachers to communicate.  Our classrooms have really become a conglomeration of many different disciplines, from journalism to technology (in addition to the working knowledge students need to have of religion, biology, history, politics, etc. which are necessary to understand literary allusions and metaphors).  Even though this is a lofty task, technology may actually make it more feasible to teach the curriculum I want to teach, simply because technology makes many tasks easier and faster to complete than before.  If done meaningfully, with  a strong purpose in mind, the invasion of technology in the English classroom may prove to be extraordinarily helpful to the preservation of rich literary material.

One of the main ways I can see this happening is through the use of blogging.  The class can read a novel, short story, poem, etc. together and then the students can post discussion questions, comments, or criticisms on their blogs.  Giving students the opportunity to voice their opinions and demanding that they take time to reflect on the text in order to write the blog encourages participation and connection with seemingly archaic material.  As they comment on each other’s blogs, students are gathering multiple perspectives about an issue or idea in the text while garnering evidence to support or reject their theories.  Because it is likely that technology will only continue to expand in its prevalence and influence (understatement?) as students share their thoughts on the Web they are almost guaranteeing the spread of those ideas.  Though the website to which they initially posted the blog may be shut down, by posting on a public forum where other users from around the globe can access that information it is inevitable that those analyses will be shared.  Perhaps if students put interesting ideas about a text on the Web, other people’s interest in the text may grow because they want to participate in the discussion that is happening in my classroom.  It is usually unclear for teachers how far or how much they have impacted students, but technology could help our arms extend a little further to beyond our own classrooms.  I think most of us would agree that this is a positive thing.

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Microblogging

Blogging and micro-blogging can be very effective tools to have in the classroom.  Blogging allows students to express their thoughts and ideas in a reflective manner before sharing with the whole class.  The comment feature on blogs and micro-blogs like Twitter allow people to connect to each other as they share opinions.  Commenting can also be useful in the classroom to increase participation and empower student voices because they can see that someone else is reading and connecting with what they’ve written.  Micro-blogging can be useful in teaching because character limits make word choice very important.  The hashtag feature on Twitter allows users to find only those Tweeters that are posting about specific topics.  Because blogging and micro-blogging are digital forms of communication, it is very easy to share links, videos, pictures, or articles with other users who can have instant access to those materials.  These communication tools are useful for connecting others to each other without wait time.

As with all things, there is a negative side to blogging and micro-blogging.  In my opinion, Twitter is not very easy to use.  I kept getting confused about how to find what I was looking for and the hashtags didn’t help me much.  I had to use broad terms to find what I was looking for.  For some people, Twitter may be just as unuser-friendly, which is a clear problem if people can’t use the technology in the first place.  Another weakness to micro-blogs is the privacy features.  It’s great that I can follow anyone I want to, but that also means that anyone can follow me as well.  Obviously, lack of privacy encourages smart Internet use because you know people can see what you’re doing, but for someone who already does that, it’s really just creepy knowing that anyone can follow you.  This could be an issue with students as well because many parents do not want their children using the Internet without strict privacy settings in place.  Blogging can be the same way if the blog platform does not allow for private blogs.  Anyone can subscribe to your blog and read everything you have to say.  This crosses over into a discussion about the divide between personal and private lives, which is always tested whenever anything is posted online.

After using blogging and Twitter, I do see ways that I could incorporate aspects from these media in my classroom.  Blogging could replace traditional response journals to 1) go paperless and 2) engage students in a media which they generally feel pretty comfortable using.  Twitter could also be used to engage students if everyone’s post uses our class name hashtag so we can easily find each other’s Tweets.  I still really don’t like Twitter and I doubt I’ll use it much, but I see limited potential in it.  It is questionable that that will even be an option for me, as technology is developing so rapidly Twitter may be replaced within the next couple of years.  Either way, it is important for all educators to reflect on the technology available to them to analyze what place it has in their classroom.

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Researching…

The incredible amount of access we now have to information has made it so that there are few true experts in the world.  One no longer has to go to college for 8 years to learn the most complex ideas from microbiology, engineering, or philosophy.  The Internet has answers to nearly every question.  In fact, some would argue that modern technology makes the classroom obsolete because students can teach themselves whatever information they are seeking.  This is precisely why we need to change the way we teach in response.

It is true that much (if not all) of the fact-based information students learn in classrooms could be found online without the assistance of a teacher.  Yet the sheer memorization of facts is not our primary goal as educators anymore.  Our goal is to build a community of learners who share and grow as we embark together on a journey to create meaning every day.  This undertaking most certainly requires a classroom filled with other learners who can help shape our learning as we collaborate and discuss.  We want to use technology effectively in this setting, not allow it to replace human connection and learning experiences.

The problem is that technology is so tempting to use for every circumstance because it is now so user-friendly and readily accessible.  Programs like Zotero save us precious time that we would spend searching through texts, referring back to our MLA handbook, trying to figure out where to put the colon in a citation.  With technology, we don’t even need to have a physical copy of the text we’re citing; Zotero can find the citation information through the Web.  Even without Zotero, there are so many people that post to the Internet now that it is not inconceivable that one could find a necessary citation on a blog or a book website.  While this makes our lives undoubtedly easier, questions arise about our dependency on technology and whether or not students are missing out on learning valuable research skills by allowing technology to do the work for them.  Others argue that these skills are not as important as the ideas students are working with, so if we can save them time by speeding along the research process, they will be able to focus on the truly important tasks.

Researching does teach students important skills.  When we research, we are practicing selecting important information and distinguishing it from unimportant information.  We also develop an understanding of reputable versus questionable sources to cite for evidence to ensure that our support is strong and credible.  Researching demands that we explore different types of media-videos, critical essays, biographies, film, etc-which develops our literacy in all those types of texts.  We can still develop all of those skills using technology; the danger comes when we reduce researching to performing a Google search and citing the first 10 websites that appear.  Teachers just need to ensure that they are showing their students how to distinguish between scholarly and popular sources.  There also need to be times when students put away the technology and look through books themselves.  As we weigh information to see whether or not it is credible and useful for our research topic, we can learn so much.  As teachers, we want to encourage literacy in all its forms.  In essence, we need to teach students how to use technology, but not to rely on it for every task.

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The New Web

Web 2.0, a term used to demonstrate the way in which the Internet has changed since its first launch, has opened doors in classrooms to new tpyes of learning and thinking.  Previously, students sat in classrooms, passively listening as a teacher told them all they would ever need to know.  The Internet (Web 1.0) worked in much the same fashion, with creators publishing information that was read and used by consumers for specific purposes.  There was no interaction between creator and consumer, no widespread sharing of information or collaboration with other authors.  This is no longer true today.

Today’s web is a dynamic, versatile, and interconnected network of people, places, ideas, beliefs, and knowledge.  The information is always changing as people edit, respond to, and add to what has already been published.  Take Google docs for example, in which multiple people can edit the same document at the same time and the changes appear in real time as they are made.  A student in Los Angeles and one in Tokyo can have an instantaneous exchange of information using the new web.  This is just one example of an amazing tool in the new web that opens all kinds of possibilities in the classroom.

Teachers are finding ways to implement the capabilities of the new web every day.  Building multimedia projects using photos, videos, and audio clips helps students synthesize a variety of media and information types into one cohesive project.  Students can complete reading surveys using Google docs and see how their answers compare to classmates’ to spark discussion and debate about literature.  Students can feel free to ask any question, even one to which the teacher does not know the answer, because the class can quickly consult articles, blogs, journals, and other sources to find information about the topic.  Learning is happening continuously thanks to the resources of the new web.

However, with all good things there is usually a downside.  The mass amounts of information available that seem to just be floating in nebulous space, reading for the taking, have resulted in copyright infringements and illegal downloads.  These can happen accidentally, but it is difficult for students to grasp that there is a real live human being who owns the information they have such easy access to.  Teachers have modeled poor Internet use by using pictures, audio, and video from others in their own presentations or activities without citing the source or ensuring that their usage follows the Fair Use Policy.  There is also the issues of Internet safety and digital footprints.  As many students do not consider the owners of the material they find online, they usually do not think of themselves as authors who can be traced and linked back to anything they post online.  This digital footprint follows them for the rest of their lives, which for some students can be a terrifying thought.  With the dynamic nature of the web, there is also the potential for people to post false information.  Students often believe that if it’s online, it must be true.  This is obviously wrong.  The new web also raises new problems with classroom management.  With such a huge network to explore, it can be tempting for students to get off-task and embark on their own Internet explorations.  While discovery is a noble exploit, class time should be used to its fullest potential and students should be focused on the tasks at hand. 

As teachers, we need to help balance the benefits of Web 2.0 with the potential dangers by modeling appropriate use of the Internet and its resources.  Teachers should help students distinguish reputable sources from bad ones to ensure that factual information is used. Students should learn how to appropriately cite sources and should have a working knowledge of Fair Use policies to prevent copyright infringement.  Students should also learn that the information on the web does not simply exist; it belongs to a real person and that also leads to issues of safety with the people students communicate with online.  Teachers should monitor student activity online to ensure that students are staying on task and using technology appropriately.  Teachers and students should be aware of their school’s Acceptable Use Policy and adhere to it to prevent any legal or personal issues online.  Safety and consideration are key, but if these are kept in mind then teachers and students should be free to access the huge wealth of information that exists online and connect with people around the globe.

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Thinking about technology…

Describe how you learn both informally and formally.

Formally, I learn in school.  I take courses taught by knowledgeable professors who prepare activities, readings, and homework, the completion of which allows me to absorb that knowledge.  I am a very visual learner and color-coding, presentations, and hand-writing notes help me retain information better.  Informally, I think I learn more than I do in my formal education.  I learn from listening to other people talk about issues, from hearing bits and pieces of news from television, from engaging in discussion with others, or just personal browsing about a topic.  My ears are always open for new information and my brain automatically logs away new ideas and thoughts to build up my knowledge base.  I learn from reading, whether I’m learning about better ways to apply make-up from a magazine or acquiring new vocabulary from reading a novel.  Basically, I think I’m always learning about something new because there is always something new to learn and some way to be exposed to that information.

What role does technology play in your learning?

Technology generally plays a huge role in my learning.  Media, such as television, magazines, newspaper, advertisements, the Internet…all of these sources give me access to knowledge on a day-to-day basis which I use frequently, both in informal and formal settings.  If I am interested in a topic and want to know more, I quickly consult the Internet to find answers, or maybe I text a friend who knows more about it than I do to get their opinion.  Technology also helps me share what I’ve learned with others through Facebook notes or status posts.  Many times this will lead to further discussion in which other opinions are added to grow and develop my own knowledge base.  Technology sometimes leads me research topics I didn’t even realize I had no knowledge about.  This generally happens with Wikipedia or YouTube where I begin on one page or video and am lead to other pages that interest me.  I think this demonstrates how many times technology is teaching us about the world and we often are unaware that it is taking place.

What role does technology play in general in your life?

Technology is something I use every single day for almost every activity.  I text and email throughout the day to stay connected to family and friends, plan my upcoming wedding, and stay on top of homework assignments.  I use the technology of the car to drive me to school, my GPS to take me to unfamiliar places, my iPod to entertain me while I drive, and my radio when my iPod bores me.  My smart phone lets me play games, surf the Internet, find people and places, and download movies and videos.  When I come home, I might watch TV to relax, use my microwave to make dinner, and use my computer to type a paper (or a blog like this one).  All of these activities are so mundane that they have become automatic for me; I no longer struggle to find the right buttons on my phone or the right program on my computer.  By being exposed to so many types of technology 24 hours a day, our generation is developing a type of media literacy that is unique and is only growing as new technology is invented.

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