I recently received a copy of Schoology's annual report on the state of digital learning and found the contents to be interesting, though not necessarily surprising. You can read it for yourself to see how schools across the US are looking at tech in the classroom. But, one thing I found interesting was the top three challenges high school teachers reported facing to integrating technology in their lessons. These included:
This is a major problem as I am sure most school districts are similar to ours in terms of requiring teachers to incorporate more technology into their lessons. However, without the proper training, teachers often fall back on the outdated technology tools and skills they have been using for over a decade. Things like: create a PowerPoint presentation on xxx or having students use word processors such as MS Word or Google Docs to write a report and then share it with the teacher when submitting their finished product. And then comes the item I normally hear: I'm using an interactive board when I lecture, doesn't that count as using technology? On that last question, I often tell the teacher something like 'Sure...if you only want the students to see technology. But, how are you preparing them for the modern digital world by using technology?' While these uses might meet the barebones requirement in meeting district mandates, they are certainly not the most interesting or sometimes even the most relevant way to do so in our current educational environment. And, they do nothing to really prepare students for the modern world outside of the classroom.
But, there is good news: there are a lot of free resources online that teachers have access to, if they only make the effort to do so. And, while this may not be true in all school districts, many offer teachers the opportunity to put this personalized training into use towards license renewal by converting the time spent into continuing education units (CEUs).
Teaching at a magnet school with an art-based focus, we use a lot of the Adobe products in terms of digital tools, as well as a few more specialized tools for my class. Adobe offers (some) free tools as well as their popular CC Suite subscription service. One such free tool is Spark, which allows users to create graphics, simple videos and webpages using their own individual Adobe ID, which can be created for free as well! They also offer free training that is incredible through their Education Exchange. I have been encouraging educators at our school, and beyond, to check out this amazing free resource!
Another way teachers can incorporate technology in their lessons involves using a learning management system (LMS) such as Schoology. While I have explored several LMSs, I have found Schoology to be among the best available. It allows me to interact with my students both inside and outside of the classroom and has become an essential tool in how I communicate with parents as well. Many teachers and school districts are using Google Classroom for a lot of the same reasons, but personally, I find Schoology to have more and better functionality. At least it better fits the needs of myself and my families.
A third and final essential category of digital tools that teachers should incorporate into their lessons are project management tools. While there are lots of free options out there, the one that I use in my classroom is Trello. Tools like this help prepare students for real-world project management tasks, they are great for both individual and group projects, and if used effectively, teach students the time management and collaborations soft skills needed to succeed both in the world of work and often, life in general.
These are just three of the many ways that technology can be brought into the classroom in a more interesting and effective manner. As I said before, there are plenty of free resources out there if teachers take the time to look for them and put them to use.
I guess the important take-away from this report for me is pretty simple: educators are both being required and want to use technology to prepare students for the 21st century but they need appropriate and up-to-date guidance in what to use and how to use it effectively. Teachers may complain that we are required to participate in too much professional development as mandated by our schools and/or districts, but this isn't the problem when it comes to technology. The problem is that the PD tends to be outdated and ineffective in terms of modern digital tools.
As you may have read by now, I have been doing a lot of courses through the Adobe Education Exchange. I absolutely LOVE working with the Adobe applications and consider these free courses to be a form of both relaxation and potential source of lessons for my classes. This week, Adobe held it's annual MAX conference. This is an event where thousands of digital creatives get together each year to learn about the latest and greatest changes coming to the Adobe products. The other night, I was listening to the live stream when I got prompted to update my software. I like to stay abreast of the latest changes and therefore did so without hesitation. Well...that may have at least partially been a mistake this time around!
This evening, I decided to complete my second 360 degree video for the VR in the Classroom course I am taking. I opened Premiere and opted to import some footage I captured last weekend while hiking Pilot Mountain here in NC. To my surprise, the only thing to come into Premiere was the audio!
Panic mode set in immediately. So, I took to the Adobe Generation Professional Facebook group of which I am a member and through out an all call for assistance. Not being one to wait too long, and seeing another Adobe friend online, I asked what he knew about importing 360 footage and described my situation to him. As I pointed out, I had done this before and now none of my footage, even footage that didn't give me any problems, was experiencing this issue. His response: reinstall the older version of Premiere! His suggestion was quickly echoed by another expert from Adobe. Personally, I hadn't realized one could run multiple versions of the software simultaneously. Jim also shared a Spark Page he created explaining the process of doing so.
After a few minutes spent downloading and installing the previous version of Premiere, I was off and running again without any more glitches. Although I knew where the problem originated, it was good to learn that one can run multiple versions of the software without any conflicts. My finished video is below if you want to check it out.
Yesterday was our first district-wide training day of the current school year, requiring teachers to select an instructor-led session from several options offered across the district. These sessions are collectively referred to as Out of the Box training in Durham Public Schools. It's an initiative to allow teachers to lead and select their own professional development (PD) based on their interests and needs. I always try my best to either lead a session or attend one being offered at Durham School of the Arts, for simplicity's sake. This time, I selected an offering on digital literacy being offered in our media center, since training in this area has been made mandatory for license renewals starting in 2019.
This session was the first in a four part series being offered over the next two years. So, I guess I know what my Out of the Box PD selections will be for quite some time to come! It focused on the requirement area of Leadership in Digital Literacy. According to the description, teachers are expected to demonstrate leadership accelerating their integration of digital teaching and learning pedagogies. When broken down, this area states that teachers will:
One way teachers can demonstrate their mastery of technology is through the use of virtual learning communities. A virtual learning community (VLC) is a group of like-minded or goal oriented individuals who meet up online to discuss important information relevant to the group's overall topics or goals. They can include anything from technology education to game design/development to chicken farming. There are literally thousands of possibilities and everyone can find something relevant to their needs or interests.
The first VLC discussed involved using Twitter. If you are reading this post, odds are you know I am relatively active on Twitter as well. I have long known about searching for hashtags (heck, I use #dsaGAD for every post I make about my classes) and that there are lots of regularly scheduled group Tweet-chats which employ them for ease of communication. However, I did walk away with a valuable reference guide from the training containing a pretty comprehensive list of Tweet-chats and their schedules related to education specifically. It was recommended to keep track of our participation in them as evidence of our working with other teachers from around the state, nation and even world. I also shared how one can use of Tweetdeck in these conversations, which allows for filtering on hashtags and makes participating in them MUCH easier to follow.
The next tip provided was to use Listserv. Once again, there are tons of Listservs one can choose from based on interests. These collaborative conversations have been around for quite some time and are probably the grandparents of modern chat VLC groups using other, more social-oriented media. The difference is that they are shared via email, rather than in real-time, and this can quickly fill one's inbox. To be honest, Listservs don't appeal to me for that very reason.
The third tool we were introduced to was the Google+ Communities. I did a little searching through them and again I did not find them to be as useful for me as Tweet-chats. But, I can see them as a resource to use and perhaps direct students towards for advancing their knowledge. This conversation also included some introduction to Google Hangouts, which are similar to a Skype conference where you can chat in only text or include video.
Some additional resources for developing understanding of tools and techniques included Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) along with several options available through the school system and the Department of Public Instruction, though the use of NCCAT and Kenan Fellows were overlooked. If you search for MOOCs in association with related terms for your content areas or interests, you can find LOTS of free courses offered by colleges and universities as well as independent instructors for free. While you don't get credit from the schools for taking such courses, there is no reason to be confused on the tools and techniques one teaches given the possibilities.
How can teachers succeed in demonstrating leadership in digital literacy to meet the new licensure requirement? One method suggested by Dr. Reuben R. Puentedura is known as the SAMR Model. In SAMR, you begin by Substituting traditional instructional methods with digital alternatives while not making any changes to the activities. Next, you Augment those activities with functional improvements. Once improved, you begin working on Modifying the activities through significant changes to them utilizing technology. Finally, you Redefine what kind of activities are used which were not possible without the integration of technology.
So, where do I stack up in all of this? I use a number of tools to meet the various needs of this model. I use a learning management system (LMS) to distribute and collect work. I do my best to avoid the use of paper, which speeds up grading and provides students with access to my materials anywhere they can access the Internet. Activities like matchings, quizzes, tests, and so forth are augmented because they get graded immediately by the system and allow students to make attempts as many times as I want them to while randomizing questions and answers and providing immediate feedback when set up to do so. My students submit their work digitally and are involved in collaborative groups which allow them to work on simultaneous editing using tools like Google apps as well as communicate in individualized group settings. They also utilize websites for planning like Trello. These tools allow them to work in groups within the same class, different classes or even different schools/locations! Student collaboration and group work has never been easier!
This is also true for teachers and one reason why I always push using Schoology in their classrooms. Adding technology to instruction isn't only good for students, but it makes the lives of teachers easier as well. Automated grading, no papers to carry home for school breaks or weekends and transparency for all stakeholders in their students' education are just a few of the benefits teachers can experience.
So, to answer that earlier question: where do I stack up in all of this? I would say I am pretty far along in terms of being a leader for digital literacy in my school and well beyond! But, what else would one expect from a technology education teacher?
I have not posted a new blog in quite some time as I have been very busy since our return from winter break. But, I want to share some information about one of the items that has kept me in that loop of constant work and why I believe it is an important topic.
A number of weeks back, I received a true compliment that speaks to the direction my advanced students in the GAD concentration have been focused on since the start of this year. I was contacted by a representative from the US Department of Education and asked if I would be interested in serving as a reviewer for this year's EdSim Challenge! Although I was a little hesitant at first, since I had not personally sought to assist with the competition, I feel that being asked to join their review team is a true honor. I believe they approached me as a result of being a CTE teacher with students' using of virtual reality in the classroom and thanks to my participation in the Keenan Fellows program. I say this because this year's challenge is focused on the use of virtual reality, gaming and the future of the tech ed curriculums.
So, what was my role in the competition's process? Participants in the challenge submitted proposals around the topic theme in hope of winning a rather substantial cash prize earmarked for prototyping their idea. And, like most competitions, there are multiple rounds that occur to be considered for the prize. I was asked to be part of the first round of those reviews. While I cannot go into specifics about proposal content or review criteria, I believe it is safe to say that I received several amazing proposals to examine. Overall, I found the review process to be interesting. It gave me an opportunity to see how other educators around the country want to use the new technologies of virtual reality and incorporate gamification into their curriculum. For more information on the EdSim Challenge, see the link provided above.
By now you might be wondering what is gamification and how/why is it important in education? Gamification involves using game mechanics and design techniques to motivate individuals with some end goal in mind. There are industries outside of education which have been using gamification for years. For instance:
Virtual reality can bridge the divide between where kids are at and what we want them to learn. It allows them to "experience" lessons and attempt skills from a first-person position by creating a powerful, interactive learning activities. Students can help Washington maneuver his troops during the American Revolution, make important design decisions on a construction site, fight off a virus in the human body, and explore any number of other concepts that are hard to conceptualize in a traditional classroom setting. Rather than just listening to the teacher explain concepts or lessons, they become a part of those lessons, learning through hands-on experiences.
In short, taking part as a reviewer in the EdSim Challenge has both encouraged and energized me with regard to the direction education is taking. I was also encouraged to note that the Department of Education sees the value in using this kind of technology in classrooms. I hope the use of virtual reality continues to grow around the country and across curriculums, not just in the world of Technical Education!
This past Thursday, it was time for the annual 8th grade parent night to discuss the assessment process students will undergo shortly after the winter break and what these rising high school students need to do in order to graduate in four years from Durham School of the Arts. Although it should be no surprise to anyone, it is often here that students realize our school's commitment to the arts as they are directed to start high school with two artistic focuses and that they need to follow at least one of them throughout their four years of high school. Since GAD and Digital Media are the only technology classes offered at DSA, I often find myself fielding questions about offerings of programming, engineering or information technology classes. As a result, I find this meeting critical for both families and the future of the digital arts at DSA as these are not the kind of technology classes our school offers.
Over the years, I have learned there are many reasons students choose to do an assessment for GAD. My hopes are always that they are truly interested in learning about digital art techniques or because they want to eventually enter a career in the game industry. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes students assess for GAD because they enjoy playing video games and want to take a class where they believe they will be doing so or they feel they lack the skills needed or interest to assess for a focus in the traditional arts. As a result, I often find myself telling 8th grade students that doing game design is one of the most difficult concentrations they can undertake because it requires an eclectic skill set and deep foundational understanding in the core curriculum areas as well as the skills of the traditional arts. And, despite learning the same information from students currently taking my classes, they occassionally do not believe me.
When students take my classes solely because they want to play games, it becomes clear from the first class, Scientific Visualization, that I require a lot of work to succeed in my class and there are no games being played. Since this is typically the first time they have experienced a digital medium, the initial learning curve is steep and can be difficult for these students as it is very fast paced and they often cannot do the assigned work outside of my classroom. Assuming they continue into Game Art & Design the following year, they find out quickly that the games they play are not of their own choosing and they are playing to gain an understanding of game theory and mechanics. This is a very different mindset than playing a game for fun. It involves critical thinking and dissection of the decisions that went into creating the game experience.
When students take my classes solely because they feel they lack the skill set, interest or knowledge needed for a focus in a traditional art class, they also have a fast awakening. The digital arts use the same understanding and basic techniques that traditional art classes teach students. They need to understand and gain skills in the use of design elements, principles and composition. I also require students to practice both traditional and digital drawing techniques, modeling and become comfortable artistic critique.
The main difference between traditional and digital art classes is that my students learn production art, not fine art. Fine art is often practiced for personal pleasure without regard for deadlines where production art involves using one's creative skills as part of a larger team to create a product for the marketplace. However, regardless of the end goal, it is still an artistic endeavor that requires the same knowledge and skills despite using a different medium. To quote Pixar's John Lasseter - "The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art."
So, as the assessment process begins once again, I am hopeful for my freshman class. I spoke with several parents and students after intiially providing the information about my assessment requirements and they all seem perfect for my concentration area. And, we have been holding our annual DSA Game Nights again so prospective GAD students can interact with current students in the GAD concentration to get a better understanding of what we do. So, there is no reason for students to not understand what to expect of the process or what is expected of them as GAD concentrators. I hope this encourages and inspires students to at least try the digital arts at DSA. It's a challenging but rewarding series of classes!
We are now two weeks into the current school year and things are starting to settle back into the normal routine. Gone are the days of nervousness over speaking in front of a new group of students and I am finally getting close to having all my new students' names committed to memory, though I am still slipping at times. As part of my personal education plan (PEP) for this year, I decided to work on reflecting on classroom activities and my personal thoughts on education. Granted, I do this on a daily basis regardless but I have rarely done so in such a transparent manner as posting my thoughts publicly on a blog! So, this will be the first of many posts where everyone will be able to see the sort of things I struggle with when thinking about my lessons and their effectiveness in teaching my students.
Currently, students in both my Scientific Visualization (Sci Vis) and Game Art & Design (GAD) classes are examining the historical advancements related to their respective curriculum. And, as we all know, one technique often used in classrooms when learning about historical events involves having students create timelines. Last year while working on a Kenan Fellowship, I was introduced to ChronoZoom, an open source, online digital tool designed to make creating timelines more interesting and informative for students. It allows students to create exhibits (historical events) and provide multimedia artifacts as evidence of the event, then place them together in a single historical timeline to show relationships and relevance. It seemed easy to use when I first learned about it and more interesting than the index card timeline which is recommended for this activity in my curriculum guides. Besides, ChronoZoom involves the use of technology and I try my best to run a fully digital classroom. So I decided to give it a try.
All I can say about this experience last year was that it was "mostly" a disaster! I didn't understand the tool as well as I thought I did and most of the kids experienced a wide variety of problems. Artifacts and exhibits were lost and the students spent many hours trying to create their timelines both in school and at home. I truly wondered if this technology was buggy or if it was our understanding of it. I now feel it was mostly us.
Not being an individual to quit after one bad experience with a tool, I decided to give it another shot this year. First, with my students in Game Art & Design who had used it last year in Sci Vis and then with my new students in Sci Vis. The students in GAD quickly repeated the same mistakes. After just two days, they were so frustrated that we abandoned using it in their class. I created an alternate assignment for them based on their skills in Photoshop and they adjusted to the change quickly.
However, my students in Sci Vis have not received the same instruction on Photoshop yet, so I moved forward with demonstrating and instructing them on ChronoZoom, including some of the information I learned from last year's experience. But, I hedged my bet on it this year. Instead of requiring them to use ChronoZoom, I explained that I would like them to try it as one technique for creating a timeline but if they wanted to change after trying it out or if they experienced problems, they could use any technique they wanted. However, all timelines, regardless of creation method, needed to meet the same requirements: minimum of eight exhibits which they felt held the greatest value in the development of visualization techniques, each containing 2-6 artifacts as supporting evidence and information. Besides taking into consideration potential technological problems or difficulty that some students may have with the tool, this allows students some freedom of individual choice in how they complete the assignment.
As the Sci Vis students began to work, I moved around the room helping them with various problems they encountered within the tool. Most were simply issues related to trying to add exhibits outside the confines of the time span they originally set. Some of the questions related to the information they were including in their artifacts. So I provided some guidance when asked wanted to leave my response as open ended as possible in order to make the students consider the importance of the item they considered including. By the end of the period, everyone had saved their progress and were well on their way to completing the assignment.
When I checked email the next morning, I had my first message from a student asking about using a different technique. She had the same problem some of the students experienced last year: altered or disappearing exhibits and artifacts. This concerns me as I was thinking we had moved past that issue this year. This will need further examination as to what students are doing to cause this problem as I have yet to be able to duplicate it myself. But, seeing this happen a second year in a row, I may have to move to another tool once again for this activity. At this point, I am curious about how many other students experienced this problem.
If you have used ChronoZoom and experienced this issue but found a solution, I would love to hear what you did. Please comment below if you know what causes this to occur or how to stop it from happening with students.
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.