Personal Learning Network

Twitter data infographic with avatar

If there was ever any doubt that I was in the right profession one would only have to look at my avatar’s bubble of most used words on Twitter. Before this semester, I did not have an outlet for professional interactions online and spent all of my time scrolling through Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram. Each of these sites/apps has their place in my life, but Twitter has recently shoved its way to the front of the pack and I think it is going to stay there. The EdTech community on Twitter is creative, supportive, and inspiring in turns. The site has also become a place where my personal academic interests intersect with my professional interests. I am easily wooed by article sharing and I could scroll for hours through posts spanning from The Royal Shakespeare Company to MindShift. Looking back on my own tweets (as represented in my edited “Visual.ly” infographic), I feel pretty good about how my web presence has developed on the site over the past four months. Clearly, I’m still starting out, with only 52 tweets and 29 followers at the moment. But with time and cultivation, I think my PLN on Twitter can become an important asset in my professional life.

Without a specific goal in mind I do not think the development of my PLN would have been as successful. I let an early quote in Curtis Bonk’s The World is Open (2009), lead how I wanted to build my community and guide my research, “Technology by itself will not empower learners. Innovative pedagogy is required. And the approaches will vary with the type and age of student” (p. 33). It is getting easier every year to become a 1-1 classroom, but it is a whole lot harder to make teaching choices that allow the technology to enhance student learning and comprehension. We know that having technology in classrooms is a good idea, so I did not want to spend my time reading articles trying to convince me of the obvious. Instead, I want to know what activities, apps, and assessments work in a tech-based classroom, and I want to hear it straight from the teachers who tried it. Diigo came in handy while I was collecting these articles. I will probably continue using the service as I find it far more useful than bookmarking in my browser. Diigo is not pretty, but it does its job well. Many of the articles I saved I found on Twitter, and eventually I started feeling guilty because I was not doing much research of my own. But the EdTech community on Twitter provided much of what I was looking for in terms of contemporary pedagogy. What I appreciate most is their dedication to progress without being completely focused on the equipment. We all love our shiny new tech tools, but those are rarely what we are working on in the classroom. Joining the conversation with teachers on the front lines of EdTech has already had an impact on my classroom, and I hope in continues to in the future.

References

Bonk, C.J. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Podcasts

Episode 1/3

Link to Episode 1 Transcript

Episode 2/3

Link to Episode 2 Transcript

Episode 3/3

Link to Episode 3 Transcript

Podcast Reflection

Every time I try and create something in Audacity I develop a keener appreciation for all the regular podcasters out there, whose work seems downright flawless after wrestling with the envelope tool for an evening. What they do on a weekly basis is no small feat. Even though I use Audacity fairly regularly for my classwork, there’s always a new trick to learn or issue to overcome. I definitely spent some time re-watching screencasted tutorials for this assignment. Podcasting, or at least audio editing, is something I made a point to build into my curriculum. My crowning jewel of assignments last year was having students create radio plays from the text of The Quick and the Dead. It was pretty incredible what they were able to put together after a few basic editing lessons. Once I brought sound into the assignment, I had the highest level of engagement I’d had all semester.

This time around, making my own podcasts, I branched out and used Garage Band for my intro and outro music. I had never used the program before and it was an enjoyable time-suck to layer loops for hours. I am not particularly creative when it comes to music, so there was no original jingle or miniature masterpiece. What I did find was how quickly my podcast could sound dark, energetic, or silly. At first I just picked out loops I liked, but eventually I had to consider how my voice would sound following the intro, and if the tune was appropriate for the content of the podcast. This, of course, made it seem like a Herculean task. At first I had big dreams for piano music that became “techified” after a few bars to represent our transition from traditional to online education. But this was beyond my Garage Band ability, so I opted for a simplified version. I wanted the music to sound peppy, have a beat, but still convey that it was not the intro to a children’s show. I think the strings I ended up with almost make it sound like the beginning of a TV news segment.

I played around with the format of my content in a couple different ways. I admit I like a good gimmick, and if my cohort has to listen to all three recordings in a row, then each episode should catch their attention anew. While my first episode is straightforward in its delivery, Episode 2 is framed as an open letter (an homage to the recurring McSweeney’s column), and Episode 3 takes list form. It did not take long for me to realize that recording a recitation of my more formal writing was not going to create the most interesting podcasts. Changing up the format allowed more of my personality to come through the podcasts and be more creative with how I was writing about edtech.

Google Docs Survey

homework in pjs

no need for a parking pass

learn at my leisure

-Respondent #3

The purpose of this survey was to gather data about online students at UAF and their experience with distance education. I sent the survey to both my ED431 and Secondary Licensure Program cohorts who are either currently, or have in the past, enrolled in online courses. The questions focus primarily on the respondents’ experiences with online courses, the platforms/applications they used, problems they encountered, and how they now feel about online education. As “extra credit,” I asked respondents to write a haiku about their online learning experience, which I have included as section breaks. Overall, I had eleven respondents to my survey, which I realize is a very small sample size, but there were still interesting data points within the responses. There are four points in particular that are worth discussion:

can’t pay attention

do not know who is talking

opening new tab

-Respondent #4

  1. Spread of Learning Applications

bar graph of commonly used platforms and applications

The sixth question on my survey asked respondents to check all the online learning platforms and applications that had been used to facilitate their courses. While I anticipated some overlap simply because most of the courses were within the UAF School of Education, the data showed that students had been exposed to a wide variety of applications. I believe this is an indication of where we are in the evolution of online learning. 10 of my 11 respondents had used both Blackboard and Google Hangout, but then they also checked three or four other applications. There does not seem to be one platform that meets all the needs of a distance course. Professors are trying new applications to enhance student learning and the overall experience. While using multiple applications for a single course can be confusing for some students (discussed later in section 3), these results are still to UAF’s credit. A willingness to progress and continuously experiment with new methods of course delivery is what will keep their distance program relevant in a fast-pace tech world.

love to learn online

be a mom and study too

but can’t see others

-Respondent #2

2. Blackboard vs. Google

bar graph comparing accessibility of Blackboard vs. Google

Seeing that respondents had the most experience with the Blackboard and Google platforms, I singled out data from my seventh survey question to focus on how accessible respondent felt those particular platforms were. While the respondents lauded the accessibility of Google as “very accessible” (9 respondents vs. 4 for Blackboard), 7 respondents felt that Blackboard was only “somewhat accessible” or “somewhat inaccessible.” This may not come as a huge surprise for those who teach or take courses through these platforms, but I think there is a bigger issue beneath these results. Blackboard is primarily an education platform, and with the addition of Blackboard Collaborate works to provide a “one-stop” experience for online courses. Google is, well, Google. It is a platform that for many is part of their daily lives, with applications that have proven to be incredibly useful for the purpose of education. To be fair to Blackboard, we are somewhat conditioned to Google’s interface. But, if universities are paying large sums of money to use Blackboard (sometimes as a primary online platform) it is worrisome that it lags so far behind a non-educational platform, and it should be receiving better feedback from the students who use it.

I circled the drain

Procrastination whirlpool

Just dive in and swim!

-Respondent #9

  1. Issues to Address

bar graph showing common issues online students encounter

Asking about accessibility naturally led to the other problems that online students encounter. For the 8th question on my survey, I had respondents check all of the issues that made completion of their online course more difficult. Unfortunately, one of the top results was “Technical Problems (machine error)” with 5 responses, which suggests that even our normalized use of tech devices and internet access is still victim to unseen difficulties. Beyond this, the next four highest ranked issues can be divided into either learning-based or instruction-based. “Time Management” (4 responses) and “Motivation” (5 responses) are learning-based issues. These are student skills necessary to the successful completion of an online course, but for those who are unused to an online classroom the lack of scheduled meeting and physically present cohort can be a stumbling block. As for the instruction-based issues, “Lack of communication with professor or cohort” (3 responses) and “Confusion over assignments and/or online applications (operator error)” (3 responses), these can be directly addressed through course design. The instructor is able to remedy these issues through increased and clear communication, and making resources available for learning about new applications. As discussed in section 1, some students may become overwhelmed when more than a few applications are used for an online course. For these students to be successful, the instructor should work to be obviously available in both the response and initiation of communication (email, phone calls, online posts, etc.), and eager to support their students through learning a new platform/application.

Doing it three years

Don’t regret a single thing

Online ed wahoo

-Respondent #8

  1. Switching Roles

Bar graph comparing number of online courses taken vs. interest in teaching online courses

The final question in my survey was perhaps the most important: “Would you be interested in teaching online courses?” As online education becomes an effective credit-earning option, not only at the university level but K-12 as well, it is integral to its future that people take up the torch and teach online courses themselves. In organizing my data, I wanted to see if there was a correlation between the amount of online courses a student took and their interest in teaching online courses in the future. Basically, if this is how you prefer to learn, is this how you’d like to teach as well? For the most part my assumption was correct, those who had taken 16+ online courses were more likely to say that they would like to teach online courses in the future (4 said “Yes” and 1 was “Unsure”). One respondent from both the 11-15 and 1-4 categories also responded, “Yes.” It was heartening to see that despite all of the issues recorded in an earlier question that 60% of the respondents were interested in teaching online courses.

Complete Response Data

Overall Impression of Google Forms

Making the survey was surprisingly enjoyable. I liked figuring out how I wanted the data to come across and which question form to use. At first I thought the whole things was a bit plain, but then realized that you could embed photos and videos, change the background, and create page breaks. I did not end up using all of these features, but it makes me more likely to use it in my classroom. Even in my Home Ec class I think I could easily convert my “Kitchen Safety” quiz into a Google Form, and it would be made epically more interesting with spotting potential hazards in photos or videos. Really in any class, Google Form could be used for formative/summative assessment or just a simple questionnaire.

In the future I would like to distribute the form differently. Using email to send a long clickable link (which makes anybody hesitate), or displaying the first questions and then answering the rest of the survey elsewhere, felt clunky. Even if the whole survey made it in the email, the background was missing. Maybe if the email itself had a nice template it would come across as more professional. Emailing seems to be the easiest way to share a survey with a large amount of people, but I would rather embed it on my website, or for my class put it on Google Classroom.

I felt my lack of Excel-like program knowledge limited what I was able to do with the response data. Having to reorganize the data into new tables to make the charts was a step I had not anticipated, and which I found pretty frustrating for a bit. After a few YouTube tutorials I was able to get a few of my charts showing the data the way I had envisioned. I would need to learn more about spreadsheets if I were going to use the response data from future surveys for much beyond the basics.

Online Education survey can be viewed here

Mobile Tools

Our school’s lack of comfort with phones in the classroom is usually brought to light in parent-teacher conferences. After hearing that their student is glued to their phone during class, the parents’ immediate question is, “Isn’t there a no-phone policy?” Unfortunately, our answer is not as strong or united as it should be, “Well, you know there are some teachers that use them in class.” The kicker here is some: only some teachers and only some classes. You can bring your phone and use it to take a quiz during 3rd hour, but if it leaves your pocket during 4th hour there will be consequences. This sends mixed messages to students about the rules and procedures in place for device use, which are integral to the success of a mobily integrated learning environment.

We have reached the point in education where the conversation about banning devices in schools has gone fallow; it cannot be the solve-all for recapturing students’ attention. A more fruitful discussion lies in how to integrate devices in engaging and pedagogically sound ways. Simply allowing devices in the classroom only adds to the multitude of distractions, but using those devices to help students understand and analyze content is where we will start reaping the benefits. While laptops have already worked their way into the classroom, smartphones, for so long considered a nuisance, may need some help on the PR front. In a 2014 study conducted by Suleyman Nihat and Goktas, 1,087 pre-service teachers rated laptops as better learning tools than smartphones. The results of the study demonstrated that “Generally, the attitudes towards using laptops in education were not exceedingly positive but significantly more positive than m-phones” (Suleyman Nihat & Goktas, 2014). What I find most worrisome about this study is that these are pre-service teachers: future classroom leaders who like laptops a bit more than smartphones, but are not really excited about either. At the conclusion of their article, Suleyman Nihat and Goktas suggest that there is an urgent need for teacher training in m-learning, specifically regarding the integration of smartphones into the classroom (2014).

Pie graph showing time spent on apps compared to browser

Image Credit: www.flurry.com

As the debate continues about the most effective devices to bring into the classroom, it’s important to note that content delivery varies between these devices. How students engage with their work on a smartphone or tablet will be different from how they have previously interacted with activities on a laptop. Pretending that a smartphone is just a small laptop completely disregards how students experience an app-based interface. Even though there is a web browser available on most smartphones, an overwhelming percentage of people spend most of their mobile time in apps (Spence, 2014). Today, it is not enough for a website to be mobile-friendly. The University of Oklahoma has developed an app for their students with a focus on “a “mobile-first” culture that forces content developers to rethink how things are done when moving content to a mobile environment” (Mathewson, 2015). The school’s efforts to be “authentically mobile” will hopefully set a precedent for how we can make mobile content a viable and engaging option for students (Mathewson, 2015).

One current m-learning project that I particularly admire takes the idea of being “authentically mobile” to the extreme. The Fisheries Technology program at UAS provides students the opportunity to take courses that are pre-loaded onto an iPad:

Reid Brewer holds one of his preloaded iPads

Image Credit: uas.alaska.edu

These “off the grid” courses make you completely independent of the internet — free to take the class whenever you can squeeze it into your busy schedule. The waterproof iPads, provided as a free loan by UAS, contain all lectures, videos, readings, FAQs, and even the exams, which you can take remotely without a proctor. (“Fisheries Technology”, 2015).

Reid Brewer (shown above), an associate professor at UAS, was inspired to develop these iPad courses after spending time with commercial fishermen, who had all of the practical knowledge of their trade, but lacked access to university classes to earn occupational endorsements (2015). Now on the long hauls between port and fishing grounds, they can watch the high quality presentations that often feature guest lecturers, photos, videos, and GoPro footage through the Articulate app. Lessons are kept short and students can re-watch presentations as needed. At the end of a unit, exams can be taken securely through the Exam Soft app. When the iPad is next connected to Wi-Fi it will send the exam scores back to UAS.

I realize that taking the Internet out of the equation may seem like a step backwards in the future-focused field of m-learning. But, living in Alaska where 38% of residents statewide (81% for rural residents) do not have access to broadband Internet, it may be wise to consider how we can reach pockets of the population who lack regular and reliable Internet access (Klint, 2015). What I appreciate about Brewer’s project is that he pinpointed an education access problem, solved it in a technologically savvy way using m-learning devices and apps, and still enabled students to be mobile in the most literal sense of the word. These courses provide a framework for Internet-less mobile education that could serve as a transitional phase for those who are currently unable to participate in Internet-based m-learning.

 

References

Brewer, R. (2015, Oct 21). Using Apple iPad to deliver asynchronous college fisheries classes nationwide. Presentation at the meeting of Alaska ACTE, Anchorage, AK.

Klint, C. (2015, Jan 30). FCC says Alaska among nation’s 10 worst states for broadband internet. Retrieved from http://www.ktuu.com/news/news/fcc-says-alaska-among-nations-10-worst-states-for-broadband-internet/31016270

Mathewson, T. (2015, Oct 6). Campuses strive for ‘authentic’ mobile approaches. Education Dive. Retrieved from http://www.educationdive.com/news/campuses-strive-for-authentic-mobile-approaches/406684/

Spence, E. (2014, Apr 2). The mobile browser is dead, long live the app. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2014/04/02/the-mobile-browser-is-dead-long-live-the-app/

Süleyman Nihat, Ş., & Göktaş, Ö. (2014). Preservice teachers’ perceptions about using mobile phones and laptops in education as mobile learning tools. British Journal Of Educational Technology45(4), 606-618. doi:10.1111/bjet.12064

Web Presence

Social Media + Blogs + Viral + Networking + Marketing + Web Site = Web Presence

Image Credit http://realproadvisor.com/2014/10/web-presence-analysis-5-0/

Upon recent reflection, I find myself to be a natural consumer rather than producer of online material. My Facebook updates and photos slowly trickle in, and my appreciation for Twitter extends mostly to shared articles and op-ed pieces. The reason for my social sharing hesitancy is two-fold: (1) I have no urge to post banal personal information publically; (2) my constant analysis of others’ online profiles is undoubtedly reciprocal, and I want my web presence to pass the test of any curious Googling. Over the past few years, I have been retreating from a maintained network of profiles for my personal life, but as I transition into my career there’s new motivation to be active professionally. As a teacher, being aware of my web presence is a necessity, and it also gives me a voice in the online conversations surrounding education.

My knee-jerk reaction to a curated web presence was skepticism; there are so many online personas that are unlike their real-life counterparts. I feel like Holden Caulfield looking for “phonies” around every corner. And just as that character projected a fear of his own artificiality onto others, I also dread creating a web presence that feels false or forced. Yes, I want to come across as smart and capable, but also genuine. How do I express myself on multiple platforms in a way that creates a picture of my professional life and reflects my personality?

The issue of web presence becomes increasingly important as people become voracious users of the web and mobile apps. Not only are individuals avidly exploring and sharing, but so are the people who will use the web to get to know them better: future schools, bosses, and even romantic partners. Cohn (2014) succinctly defines web presence as “… the collective existence online of a company or individual.” The key word in this definition is “collective.” While you may have designed the perfect LinkedIn profile, you may feel less sure about the photos or comments found on other pages. Your web presence should account for anything that would come up in a quick Google search.

What I would add to Cohn’s definition is the concept of control. By taking the initiative to develop your web presence, the ball is in your court, “You … gain control over how you’re perceived online, and thus what employers find out about you when they conduct their search” (Schawbel, 2011). It is critical to speak for yourself and lead the creation of your online persona instead of relying on materials produced by others. While getting something embarrassing removed can be a challenge, one can at least try to drown out a search result with positive self-promotion elsewhere.

Those lurking online embarrassments may be found in your web presence, but more likely in your digital footprint. Every mouse click on the Internet is a decision that will be logged and stored. With recent corporate database hacks leaving many shame-faced clients in its wake, web users are becoming slowly more aware of how vulnerable their digital footprint is to those who know how to mine for information. Much like the quote attributed to basketball coach John Wooden (1997), “A true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching,” your digital footprint reveals who you are online when you are not posting, liking, or sharing. I see the primary distinction between web presence and a digital footprint as curation. One is created for public consumption, highlighting your best qualities and accomplishments, while the other is a shakily semi-private account of your online activity.

Teaching Web Presence

“I actually think we should make it an expressed outcome from high school that all of our students are Googled well, under their full name, on graduation day”

(Richardson, 2012).

Digital citizenship is a popular and ongoing lesson as more tech is brought into the classroom. From what I have seen, much of the discussion around web presence is contained within the concept of digital citizenship as we teach students how to better self-monitor their online behavior. What we lack is the explicit question “If you Google your name, what will be in the search results?” While there may not be a fruitful list right now (especially for a younger class), students need to develop the forethought to regulate their actions now. In a 2013 article, Kelly Schryver suggests, “As a final project, you might create mock “search results” pages about your future self, as found, say, in the year 2025. What articles, images, videos or other kinds of results would appear? What would they say about you? Why?” Framing online activity this way gives students an opportunity to take control over their experience and start to grasp the future implications of their current actions on the web. Often, it seems the conversation for teens focuses on what not to post, which is only a small part of building a positive web presence.

Though I see the incredible need for teaching the topic, I do have concerns about approaching web presence heavy-handedly in the classroom. It is tempting to walk students through five steps to build a positive web presence with accounts and blogs, but it would be obsolete by the time they finish setting it up. Teachers should recognize that the students’ web experience is different from their own, and that instruction on web presence must account for “where” and “how” students are active online. In a 2012 Forbes article, Eric Jackson discusses the impending mortality of sites like Google and Facebook; they will be “[n]ot bankrupt gone, but MySpace gone.” To explain this, Jackson (2012) breaks down generations of the Internet into Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Mobile, where most Millennials are active now. While I develop a Web 2.0 web presence my sights still need to be on the future, as my students, who are primarily mobile, will need to learn how to create a web presence that may not be on the web at all. As it is with anything tech related, we need to remain flexible with our definitions and chosen platforms because the landscape develops so quickly. What should remain constant is the motivation behind developing a web presence, controlling your online reputation, in whatever forms it takes.

Works Cited

Cohn, M. (2014, May 6). What is an online presence? Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140506135535-1862984-what-is-an-online-presence

Jackson, E. (2012, April 30). Here’s why Google and Facebook might completely disappear in the next 5 years. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2012/04/30/heres-why-google-and-facebook-might-completely-disappear-in-the-next-5-years/

Richardson, W. (2012, Oct 25). Guest post: Three starting points for thinking differently about learning. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/guest-post-three-starting-points-for-thinking-differently-about-learning/

Schawbel, D. (2011, Feb 21). 5 reasons why your online presence will replace your resume in 10 years. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2011/02/21/5-reasons-why-your-online-presence-will-replace-your-resume-in-10-years/

Schryver, K. (2013, Feb 5). Guest post: Who are you online? Considering issues of web identity. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/guest-post-who-are-you-online-considering-issues-of-web-identity/

Wooden, J., & Jamison, S. (1997). Wooden: A lifetime of observations and reflections on and off the court. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.