Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ubiquitous Technology, Ubiquitous Learning

As smartphones (aka mobile learning devices) become more prevalent and more accessible by more people, it raises concerns of security, privacy, and the policy that governs what is acceptable use in and out of the classroom.

Though schools are beginning to re-evaluate their cell phone policies (see article Schools Open Doors to Students' Mobile Devices), there is still debate around whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs of allowing mobile devices to be a part of the learning environment. What school officials, teachers, and policymakers cannot do is ignore the fact that students have access to, and are using mobile devices in an alarmingly increasing rate, let alone the internet and social media sites.

Through mobile devices, students are able to use the medium of which they are accustomed and motivated by, to learn new information, as well as demonstrate understanding. Technology can be integrated throughout various curriculum.

When thinking about the pros and cons of mobile learning and allowing mobile devices within schools, we must think about what we are sacrificing. What are we sacrificing if we continue to view mobile technology as something foreign, untrustworthy, and unacceptable? Through strict mobile device policies, are we creating what Foucault termed as docile bodies? Students that are a part of a learning system that is disconnected from their own lives? What would be possible if we embraced the ubiquitous technology and created spaces for ubiquitous learning?

Friday, June 24, 2011

We All are Cyborgs

Professor Pianfetti's recent blog post on technology, privacy, and security-especially concerning medical advances- made me contemplate the way I have started to view technology in light of health issues. I have grown up with technology. I have come to rely on the technology of computers and smartphones to provide access to information, as well as leisure and educational activities. Though I am almost never without my cell phone, I have the option of leaving it. If choosing to do so, I can be "disconnected" from the technology that has become almost a second limb.

That was before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes this past January. Now my life is
continuously connected to technology; insulin and pen needles, glucose meters and strips, and my phone. There are multiple apps that are targeted for people with diabetes-the one I liked the best is called Diabetes Buddy. I am able to record what I eat from a large database of items, calculate the number of carbs, record my blood sugar readings, and how much insulin I take everyday. I also can log activities or exercise that I do-the type, length, and how I feel. I can then easily email my blood sugars to my endocrinologist, or my food intake to my dietitian. Or if I have a question, I can quickly email my diabetes educator along with any information about my day to day life that would be helpful in answering. As much as I would do anything to not have diabetes, I am thankful to be diagnosed in a time where technology is expanding the quality, and extending the years, of life for diabetics. And the technology continues to progress.

As a new diabetic, I have only just begun to
master multiple manual insulin injections per day, but I have slowly started to see an insulin pump in my future. From the discovery of insulin to current research on the artificial pancreas, medical technology has improved the lives of diabetics around the world. The artificial pancreas seeks to mimic the human pancreas by creating a loop system between an implanted continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump. The monitor tells the pump how much insulin to give, depending on blood glucose levels. The system is automatic, allowing the person to decrease manual glucose readings and eliminate manual insulin injections. (Please see the JDRF Arificial Pancreas Project for more information.)

As I begin to seriously think about the next step in managing my diabetes, I contemplate the positives and negatives of being literally connected to the technology that helps me live. When I was diagnosed, the one thought I came back to was that after spending my life relying on only myself, I now must rely on something outside of myself to survive. There will always be something external that I must have in order to live a full life. I was determined to not let a disease define me, but it is not something I can ignore. It is a part of me; something I constantly think about. And the technology that helps me live, is a part of me too-whether it is attached or not.

I am reminded of a book I had to read for undergrad called Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human by Michael Chorost. Michael was hard of hearing growing up, but as an adult, became completely deaf, forcing him to make a choice: stay deaf with no previous contact with sign language or the Deaf community, or receive a cochlear implant. His book details his decision and the process of re-learning how to hear, as well as his internal struggle to define himself with the newly implanted technology.

As technology advances, the line between the technological device and the human on which it is being used can become blurred. While he struggled with the idea of being part human/part computer, I struggle with the decision of having a device constantly attached to me that is artificial. Currently, I am still somewhat in control of my disease-I am able to manually test, manually figure out how much insulin I should take, and administer the insulin myself. An artificial pancreas would push me to rely on the working function of the technology. I am subject to the in and outs of using technology-malfunctions and breakdowns. Part of me would not be human. We often think of technology as hard, cold, and lifeless. But I am slowly seeing technology come to life; bringing security and ease of mind.

Technology raises questions of privacy, security, reliability, and identity. Who are we with and without this technology? If a part of our body is replaced with technology, does that make us less human? Where do I end and the technology begin? Is this an issue that all of us face? Even those without health issues?

As technology improves, the line between human and technology will become even more blurry. Personally, I am excited about the possibilities; excited about the technology that gets out of the way to allow me to live my life. Cold, hard technology brings me life. I already can't wait until the day I don't have to stick my finger multiple times per day.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ebooks in Developing Countries

As technology has advanced, new ways of viewing literacy has increased. With the increase in use of e-readers and e-books, adults and children around the world have found an easier way to access, transport, and interact with literature; especially within the classroom.

Used as textbooks for classes, children's literature for individual reading, or group reading through digital readers (Kindle, Nook color) or tablets (iPad), or whole classroom instruction through the whiteboard, text on a screen can become motivating and interactive. E-books have the ability to save space and money, as well as allow students to interact with text--highlighting the text, look up unknown words in digital dictionary, listen to text, or write a note connected to the text.

For myself, the most valued characteristics of e-books are the portability and the accessibility. As a hearing itinerant teacher, I am a mobile teacher. I must transport my materials for each of my students from school to school. The ability to have multiple books on hand saves me time and energy. While the cost upfront for an e-reader may be high, as more books (including textbooks) are available and as libraries (and Amazon) begin e-lending, the overall savings between print and digital may be very significant. The potential for e-books to become a staple in the classroom is increasing, including in the developing world.

Worldreader has begun a campaign to provide "books for all." The simple solution of access is transforming the education of students in Ghana. Where there was little access to books, especially textbooks, Worldreader is providing an avenue easily attain not only texts from around the world, but working with local organizations to provide digital copies of culturally relevant material.

Just as cell phones have transformed the landscape of accessibility in Africa, so too can e-books and e-readers. What will remain to be seen are the results of such accessibility. Will the e-readers take root in the educational systems in developing countries? How will these e-readers transform pedagogy in developing countries? Will educational outcomes improve because of e-readers? And will the digital divide be lessened if organizations like Worldreader have the ability to extend their reach?

Related Articles/Links:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Death of Monolithic Teaching

Differentiated instruction was a key word throughout my teacher education. As a special educator, it became a natural motto. As a hearing itinerant teacher, I am able to collaborate with classroom teachers to provide the best learning environment for my students, as well as work individually with my students to develop appropriate advocacy and compensatory skills. With all the support that is provided my students, they still at times get lost among the fast paced lessons that drive monolithic teaching practices. If my students, with individualized supports, get lost in the drive to teach to the test, and meet the minimum requirement, what about those students who are not within special education? The students who are lost because their brains are not wired for the same teaching style that I was taught.

Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson (2008) thoroughly dissect the transformation of education through "disrupting technologies." They claim that through innovations in technology, the educational system has the possibility to be transformed to reflect student-centric learning. Though "new disruptive technologies never perform as well as does the established approach in its own market (Christensen, C.M. et al, 2008)," (at least in the beginning),education will slowly be transformed by the adoption of differentiated instruction through technology. By creating an environment that allows teaching/learning to be tailored to each student, education is transformed from a monolithic approach to a student centered approach.

Christensen et. al (2008) describe the transition from simple computer based learning to actual student-centric learning through technology. I have seen this true in my own life. During undergrad, I took a few online courses. These courses simply reflected the same monolithic structure of a physical classroom. I was given text to read, assignments to complete, and occasional postings on a class forum. There was very little dialogue or interaction. Compared to the master's classes I am a part of currently, there is a community that is built around inquiry, discussion, critical thinking, and collaboration. Technology, along with innovative teaching practices, creates a virtual community of learning, instead of simply a class on the internet.

The monolithic classroom is dying...slowly. Teachers are finding ways to create a classroom that reflects 21st century learning and skills. Allowing students to complete assignments in different ways according to their preferred intelligence. Allowing students to be the teachers in the classroom. Allowing students to be creators within the classroom, as they are in their social world. Connecting life to the classroom.

Christensen, C.M., Horn M.B., & Johnson C.W. (2008). Distrupting Class: How Distruptive Innovation will Change the Way the World Learns, McGraw Hill: New York.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mobile Photos/Video in Mobile Learning

As Disrupting Class elaborates, students and adults learn in different ways. As individuals, our brains are wired in various ways that enable us to learn new information, analyze situations, and create new meaning. The way a person learns is as variable as the individuals themselves.

As an educator, I am in constant search of strategies that will support the way that my students learn. As a special educator working with students with hearing loss, I am also in constant search of various ways to present language rich lessons in new and refreshing ways.

Fast becoming one of the most basic tools of mobile devices, the camera and video provide an easy way to incorporate technology into lessons and provide a visual connection between the student and learning topic.

Let me briefly explain my teaching position first, before describing the way I use mobile photos/videos within my teaching. I work for a special education cooperative as a hearing itinerant teacher. I am a mobile teacher. I work directly with 14 students from K-12 in 3 different towns in 6 different schools. I do not have an office in the schools of which I work; having to be creative and fight for even a small corner in the cafeteria, library, or hallway. My “office” is basically my car; carrying my materials to each school. The less I have to carry, the lighter my bag is, the easier my job.

My smart phone has become an ideal device to capture teaching moments--becoming language books, vocabulary books, visual reminders, and a motivator for my students. Below are some pictures taken of a student who is learning the parts and care of his hearing aids. We were able to go through the steps of cleaning his hearing aids, taking pictures of each step. He was eager to get his picture taken, and even more excited to see himself in print when making the final product.

Having my phone on hand already (the best way to contact me, since I am rarely in my office) allows me to quickly and efficiently take pictures during lessons, then emailing or sending to print at Walgreens. Language lessons are enriched by giving students the opportunity to be the center of attention in front of the camera, practicing the concepts while taking pictures, then again when making the final product, and again (and again) when the student goes back to read through and revisit the past lesson. These activities allow my students to develop language-expressive/receptive, written/oral in a creative way.

In the future, I would like to move away from physical final products, like books, and create more digital projects. Creating even more opportunities for my students to learn 21st century skills.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Summer, New Learning

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project describes the usage of technology amongst people in different generations. According to the report, I am amongst the generation of Millennials. Millennials are known for owning the most technological devices and for using them to their capacity; using them to enhance (and possibly interfere) almost every aspect of their lives.

I may own 5 out of the 7 featured tech devices (excluding the desktop computer and e-Book reader), but I cannot truthfully say that I am a full-fledged tech savvy Millennial. Though I am Millennial in age, I only come to truly represent the "typical" Millennial in the study through marriage. If it were not for my husband, I would probably not have a smart phone, a game console, or an iPad. It is through my husband that I learn about the latest gadget, the latest app, and the ways that technology can bring ease and fluidity to my life.

Even though I benefit from being married to a tech junky, technology and I have grown up together. From the laboriously slow dial up internet, to the lightening speed at which my cell phone (my cell phone! that device that used to be like a shoebox in my parents car, just in case of emergencies) can load my Facebook page. As the speed at which I can connect has become faster, the more impatient I have become. Though I would not have gotten a smartphone on my own (at least till they became outdated), I have come to expect nothing less. I cannot go back. I use it to not only talk, text message, and email, but also to get directions, recipes, check movie times, find used furniture, fill prescriptions, manage my diabetes, play games, and of course find the answer to every single minute question that comes up in life.

I have found it easy to incorporate some features of my mobile device within my teaching, using it as a visual timer, camera, and video recorder. But it stops there. As much as I would like to consider myself a tech-savvy teacher, using technology to enhance and support my students' learning (as well as my communication with staff/parents and organization), I have not made the complete leap. Since the recent addition of an iPad to the family, I have begun to find reasons to add it to my professional life as well. I am looking forward to learning more about the devices that have become customary within my life, and the ways in which I can use them to provide 21st century learning.

My explorations of the use of technology will be encapsulated here, hoping to gain at least one goal: Rethinking teaching & learning.