I recently arrived back from my trip to Bagan, Myanmar with grade 7. It was the traditional week without walls experience many international school provide for their students. Having banned all electronic devices and travelled outside of Yangon, our WWW became the week without technology.
It was interesting to settle into this week’s reading from Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project entitled Geeking Out after a week without online access and digital experiences. My students were focused to interact with each other on a daily basis without the benefit of IM. Yet a large percentage of their conversations focused on technology based activities, and there were frequent references to posting photos on Facebook. Even without direct contact, their lives are filled with the digital world, even in a country like Myanmar. Looking at the discussion of students valuing comments from peers and online community experts, I start to wonder how student view my feedback in the classroom, particularly feedback about tech projects. I do not claim to be an expert and they know it. Is my rubric laughable to them? How can I create a community of experts in my classroom? Perhaps the focus during our next tech project should be how to deliver effective feedback online as they most likely will hold their peer’s opinions higher than mine.
I keep toying with the idea of having my students create blogs for their literature discussions. They all love the idea of being permitted to spend time online to complete homework and they love to talk. As their teacher, I will be able to monitor their time online and focus their discussions. However, as always, I am blocked by the internet situation here. Many of my students lack access at home, or it’s inconsistent. I would have to devote classtime to online discussions. This concept reminds me of the reading from our first week, Disrupting Class: Student Centric Education is the Future, that frightened me with its lack of student interaction. But the safety of online discussions might be just what my students need this quarter. What learning style is better for the majority of my ESOL heavy class, blogging about their literary analysis or discussing it face to face?
As this course moves on, I am beginning to find new and interesting methods of coping with the slow internet in Myanmar and developing tech projects that can be done at home, offline. It’s a challenge yet one that I am enjoying taking on.
After I broke free of the Chinese firewall by moving away from Shenzhen, the natural next step was to take an online course. I imagined myself flying through news sites and scandalous reading material out of the watchful eye of the Chinese Big Brother. Alas, in my excitement of gaining news access (suddenly I can read local news stories) I failed to take into account the internet speed in Myanmar. Sure, I can load news, but it might take 20 minutes. Sure, I can load interactive sites like Facebook, but trying to leaving a reply without repeating the comment 6 times is a challenge. The Coetail site is a funny one. It loads fine and, at times, I can even reply. However, unless it’s 6:30 am, I usually can’t click on anything.
This issue of speed has simply made me more flexible and resourceful. My early bird detention time has become my work on Coetail time. I am forced to plan ahead, which admittedly, is not my strong suit in non-teaching life. This course is also helping me think about how I can integrate technology into my classroom with the challenges my students face. My classroom websites are all updated and my students are now learning to post and comment on my blogs. I am more focused on creating 21st century learners in a setting where cell phones are considered high tech and only for the rich. I am letting go of my technology excuses and embracing all the online world has to offer.
Being part of the virtual world is a complicated social experiment. It’s having to strike that delicate balance between your online community, made up of people you might never meet, and the face to face world you live in. For our students, being taught to manage this dance is vital. They spend countless hours playing online games and chatting, often with friends they could choose to hang out with in the real world. Instead they type away to each other, hiding behind the safety of their keyboard. For many adult new to technology, the idea of an online persona is frighting. They don’t possess the social skills for the virtual world. I fear the same thing can happen with many students in the real world. Spending their life as a avatar, some students are missing out on the challenges and rewards of face to face interaction.
Upon reading “Disrupting Class: Student-Centric Education Is the Future” my concerns surrounding the loss of student socialization in real time were only strengthened. I have to say I was frightened by the classroom described. On one hand, it’s the picture of differentiation. On the other, it’s a room full of kids without the typical student chatter, without the collaboration we all encourage, and without the basic face to face interaction. What are we giving up by plugging in?
And yet I understand Will Richardson’s point in his article “World Wide Walls:Learning Well With Others” when he discusses the beauty and practicality of being able to collaborate on a global scale. Here I am in an online course, interacting with my new cohort from all over the globe. I am beginning to feel a part of a new community in the virtual world. What are we giving up when we reject the virtual world?
I am not saying technology is a detriment to our students. On the contrary, I think it’s a vital part of the educational experience. I bring up my concerns for a few reason. One, I have known too many Silicon Valley tech guys who could barely string a sentence together in real life. Brilliant people for whom a social gathering was as thrilling for them as a dental visit. Two, many students come to school because they love to be social. As a middle school teacher, I can’t think of anything more tragic than to deny my students their social time. Three, anything in extreme is bound to go wrong. I watch too many teachers dive into the technology world, casting aside pens, paper and books.
How can I teach my students to socialize in both worlds, carefully balancing the two, when I can’t seem to find my footing?
As I begin my journey to eradicate my digital illiteracy and advance my fledgling education tech skills, I am searching my past for reasons. How did this happen? I was given a laptop to experiment with back in 1993. I went to university next to Silicon Valley. I worked outside of Hong Kong. Yet I still consider myself a tech novice. Sure, I can create a blog, email, search and assign tech projects, but I frequently feel like I am drowning in the vast sea of technology. This adventure I have begun is an attempt to hone my skills in the name of education. I want to save my students from entering adulthood with the stigma of digital illiteracy.