Sunday, April 25, 2010

Online education

For those interested in learning more about Boise State University's EDTECH graduate program, take a look at the video below. I'm only two classes into my degree, so I haven't had a chance to take a class that makes use of Second Life. It certainly looks like it could have promise.

I think good educators draw on a variety of resources and strategies to get students engaged in the curriculum. Could the virtual world of Second Life be one of these resources I use? Sure. Does this mean that the concrete here-and-now goes out the window? Of course not.

As an online student, most of my learning occurs through a pixilated environment. As a high school classroom teacher, the majority of my interactions with students are face-to-face; this despite the fact that they spend one-third of their day interacting with screens. While there is definitely a benefit to incorporating virtual worlds and online interaction into my teaching, it's worth noting that some of the most meaningful classes I've had have occurred in the format of an old-fashioned Socratic seminar

Teacher and student

With the end of the school year in sight, it's no surprise that I find myself busier than ever. What's different this year than previous years is that not only am I juggling curriculum and assessments for the five classes I teach, I am also busy completing work for two classes I am taking for my master of educational technology degree.

I have about one week to write a major research synthesis essay for one class and create an in-depth WebQuest for another. It is going to be an arduous stretch. I will complete it, though, and thankfully will have a little break before I once again juggle the roles of student and teacher in the fall.

As those of you who are teachers know, teaching is a full-time gig. I'm at school by 6:45 a.m., and often stay past 4:00 p.m. And unlike most professions, my work day doesn't end when I get home. There are always lessons to plan, assignments to correct, and constituents to get back to. This is just the reality of being a teacher. While it's time consuming, it's also wholly engrossing, meaningful, satisfying work. If I didn't enjoy what I do, I wouldn't do it.

Because I give a lot to my job, I have a limited number of hours to give to my wife, myself, friends, and family. With two graduate classes also in the mix, it's safe to say that my cup is near overflow. Fortunately, I've been able to keep sipping away before any drops spill, but it hasn't been easy. Knowing that a respite is near helps motivate me to take the final necessary gulps.

Although my graduate work will soon be over, my responsibilities as a high school English and journalism teacher will continue through the end of June. When we return to school tomorrow, my 9th graders will be turning in poetry anthologies, and my seniors will be submitting major research papers. The journalism kids will assess their latest issue and begin planning their final paper of the year. With the seniors finishing at the end of May, there will be a changing of the guard for the last edition, as underclassmen take on the major editorial roles.

My seniors' last unit is Lord of the Flies, which we'll start tomorrow. The freshmen will end with Speak and Romeo & Juliet. Best wishes to students and teachers everywhere for a swift and fulfilling journey to the finish.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A digital initiative

A few weeks ago I was selected to be part of an innovative team of educators who will be responsible for laying the groundwork for an online high school in Massachusetts. Thanks to a $400,000 grant, pockets of teachers from across the state will develop quarterly online courses that can be administered to students via computers through the Internet.

I met recently with five other content area teachers at a regional educational collaborative. There we were given laptops and offered an opportunity to explore various Web 2.0 tools. Once we become familiar with the electronic options available to us, we'll conceptualize how to best put them to use to teach students the curriculum they need to earn a high school diploma.

The majority of my work will be done in the fall, when I will actually create the class using the Moodle content management system. Once the course is set up, I will administer one pilot section of it in the spring. The goal is to fine-tune the course for the state so that eventually, other tech-savvy, certified educators will be able to teach the course to students from across MA.

Online learning has a number of benefits. The asynchronous nature allows for students to engage with the content during the hours that are most suitable for them and their lives. The discussion-board style discourse gives all equal voice. This is a contrast to brick-and-mortar classrooms, where the most vocal or loquacious students run the risk of dominating classroom conversation. Rather than get caught up in the heat of the moment, posters also have a chance to reflect on what it is they are learning, and how exactly they want to portray an idea or show their understanding of a concept.

Given that students spend nearly eight hours per day in front of screens, online learning also provides comfort and familiarity. The main drawback, obviously, is that students miss out on an opportunity for face-to-face contact and interaction. It's hard to truly get a"feel" for your teacher and classmates until you actually spend time with them in the same physical place.

One nice component about the course I'm piloting is that the students will be in a room with other students taking the class, and they'll have the assistance of a paraprofessional. Thanks to Skype and other video conferencing programs, students and paras will be able to converse with the "behind the screen" teacher to ask questions and receive immediate feedback.

As an aside, one of the teachers in my cohort was an old friend from my undergraduate days at UMass whom I hadn't seen in more than 10 years. It was great to reconnect with her, and served to further drive home the notion that it really is a small world, and we are connected in more ways than we realize.

Photo credit iStockphoto

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A teen summit on bullying

Area teenagers discuss bullying with reporters from the Daily Hampshire Gazette. For those looking for a deeper understanding on the root of bullying behavior and its effects, this is a worthwhile view.

Restive times

It's been the kind of day that's evocative of summer. Balmy temperatures, neighbors operating lawn-cutting machines. The smell of burning leaves and twigs from a nearby brush fire. I spent much of the day outdoors, patching a divot in the driveway, assembling a shade umbrella for the back porch, and wiping off the deck chairs and table. Physical tasks to quell a restive mind.

A conglomerate of national and international media gathers outside my high school as a DA's investigation into a student's suicide yields charges and arraignment hearings. A school community desperately tries to heal while an impassioned public calls for heads to roll. Slick and self-righteous media figures feign compassion as they grasp at half-truths and call for justice.

It's the story du jour, the outrage of the moment, the latest flaming spectacle. Somewhere under the media light lies nuance and truth. Yet the cameras and microphones pick up simplistic anecdotes, condensed for the masses into 30-second digestible bites. All flash and sensation. Emotion and conviction. We know. We know. We're hundreds of miles away, yet we know. We'll give you your objects of ire. See where our finger points. We're infallible. Omniscience is our coxswain.

Despite the media's barrage, life goes on. Students come to class ready to learn. Their resilience is remarkable. Is learning just a convenient distraction, or is it the nature of the teenage mind to be elastic and malleable, always seeking to absorb a new experience and perspective as world view is created inside expanding neurons?  

Existential thoughts color day-to-day interactions. Justice, redemption, remuneration, repudiation. Reactions, accusations, justifications, recalculation.

Next week will bring arraignments and pleas. A community braces. A nation - and a world - awaits.