WebQuests

Some people would call me lazy, I prefer the term efficient myself. Here I am, having to write a blog piece about something that is both technological and pedagogical, and my teacher has also asked me and my classmates to design a WebQuest. Genius! I will do the research I need to get going on my WebQuest project and use that information to write my weekly blog about the pedagogical applications of ICT (Information and Communication Technology). As long as I am concerned, that is efficiency at its finest!

In order to get started, I think it is important to define what WebQuests are. They were designed by Bernie Dodge, a professor at San Diego State University in the mid 1990s and have been used in different fields ever since. In short, WebQuests are wrapped around a doable and interesting task that requires higher level thinking and that makes good use of the web. An ideal WebQuest will have learners go on different sites so that they can find the information they need. Learners will then need to process the information they gathered in order to understand it and then be able to present it to their peers.

WebQuests can cover any type of subjects. The site WebQuest.org gives examples of WebQuests, templates and WebQuest categories that teachers can use in order to design their very own. The examples cover a wide variety of topics and cover many different fields (history, biology and geography). Other sites provide examples of WebQuests while others give tools so that teachers can use in order to build their own webquests. I would argue that a good way to get started would be to start with an existing WebQuest, adapt it to your needs and then present it to the teacher. A lot of WebQuest authors think that way since they state that their WebQuests are available for others to use as long as they mention original authorship.

As long as I am concerned, WebQuests offer great possibilities and have many advantages. Since WebQuests are often group projects, they help students organize and share their work. Students learn about a subject, but they also learn to interact and work with others. Since my kids love their computers and everything that they can find on the web, giving them the opportunity to do just that in a class project is a sure way to get them interested. To me, the greatest advantage of a WebQuest is the fact that it blends many areas of knowledge. In an English class context, it blends the knowledge and learning of English with the use of ICT. If I take the WebQuest I am currently designing, I can add the subjects of science (mainly physics) and philosphy to that mix. By studying one topic (English), the learners end up covering many others.

WebQuests have numerous advantages and I am looking forward to trying them out with my future students. They also present an interesting chalenge : make sure that the students get to analyze, synthesize, solve problems, create something new and judge a situation. Coming up with an activity that does all that is a problem I look forward to solve.

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Interactive Boards

If there ever was a term perfectly suited to describe me it is the expression digital immigrant. As my receding hairline states, I was born long before the advent of the Internet and I am sometimes at quite a loss in regards to everything technological. So today, I will try to tear apart the veil of mystery that still surrounds, at least in my case, interactive white boards.

Interactive white boards are tools which show great promise. Industry leaders make videos showing how great they are and how much students love to use them. As I watched this video and attempted to go pass the propaganda, I realized that in order for an interactive white board to be useful, it had to be used in an interactive way. The children in this video have a great time using an interactive white board because they can use it together and their answers show up instantly as they slide them on the device. This seems to me as the optimal use of a white board: both interactive and collective and there lies the challenge. Many of the YouTube videos I have watched, show how teachers get their students involved by using the interactive white board ONE AT A TIME. Teachers must make sure that interactive white boards are used in an interactive way. The worst case scenario is that of a teacher speaking to a board without the students getting to actually play with it.

An important caveat with interactive white boards (and that has been backed up by my 15 year old stepson) : students are usually better at using interactive boards than their teachers. This makes perfect sense, middle school and high school students are “Digital Natives“, digital tools, whatever they are, come very naturally to them. In this case, not only do teacher have to accept that they are not the experts, but also that their students might be able to show them quite a lot.

Finally, I think that interactive white boards are a great tool that teachers need to master. However, teachers will have to accept that their students know more about interactive white boards than they do and they will have to find a way to get several students use this tool simultaneously. Because if students can only use the interactive white board one after the other, then this takes the interactive out of the equation.

Cell Phones in Class

78% of all teenagers have a cell phone. It seems to me that for the YOLO generation, a cell phone is an extra limb. For me, who has never texted, it is fascinating to know that my niece can send up to 1200 texts a month! However, there is one place where the use of a cell phone is contentious, and that is a class room. As a future English teacher, I decided to give the idea of having cell phones in class a look.

I realize that there are advantages and disadvantages to letting students use a cellphone. On the plus side, it allows students to look for information on the Internet. It is, in fact, much easier for teenagers to look a word up on the Internet using their cell phones then it is finding the information in a dictionary. Using their cell phones is what comes naturally to them. I also think that it allows for greater interaction during class. Using their cell phones, students can fact check one another and debate over vocabulary or grammar. Furthermore, because cell phones are relatively cheap, it is a device that almost everyone can afford. I mean, let’s face it, some kids cannot afford a personal computer, let alone change it regularly in order to keep up with the technology.

Even though I think that allowing cell phones in class would be a great plus, I must admit that there are some interesting counterarguments. First of all, students who can use their cell phones tend to be less focused. It is true that students can send texts, go on Facebook and just play games with their cell phones, but is it that much different from chatting up with your classmates or sending notes across the class? I think that if a student wishes to be disruptive, he or she can do it with or without a cell phone. Also, and much more pertinent I think, students often forget to turn their phones off, and even when they are off, they can be disruptive. A final argument against cell phones concerns the capacity to cheat. I find this to be the weakest of all arguments for two reasons. First of all, if we can ask students to put their textbooks and their dictionaries in their bags during an exam, why is it impossible to do the same thing with a cell phone? Second, students have been cheating long before the advent of cell phones. The way I used to cheat when I was in junior high and high school was to conveniently place the irregular verb list on my chair.

Because of the advantages cell phones offer, there are a few pioneers considering a new cell phones in a more positive light. The BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) movement and the POD (Personally Owned Devices) initiative are probably a sign of things to come. In schools guided by those principles, activities have been created so that students can use their cell phones to interact instantly with their teacher. There is still a long way to go before cell phones are openly accepted in all class room, but I believe that this will be a reality shortly and that the paradigm shift has already started. Case in point: school policies toward cell phones vary greatly and some schools already embrace their use in class. It is up to us, teachers and future teachers, to see how best our students can use cell phones.

The Flipped Classroom
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has had a tremendous impact on our day to day lives over the course of the last twenty years. Though we have grown more and more comfortable with ICT, the education system has had a hard time adjusting to this new reality. Not only is the use of ICT often limited or banned in class, many schools cannot provide an ICT device (smartphone, computer or IPad) to all their students. Despite all that, a new generation of teachers have started to approach teaching and ICT in a new light which has led to what has been called, “The Flipped Classroom” or “Flip Teaching“.

The main difference between a flipped class and a conventional class is that students learn their curriculum at home and do their homework in school. Under this new formula, students are asked to watch a video of the concepts that they need to grasp. They will then do their homework in class with the teacher providing them with the help they need. In order for the system to work, students are asked to take notes of the videos that they watch and they must prepare questions for their teacher. This is a very common requirement used by flip teaching teachers in order to make sure that the students actually watched the videos on their free time and that they prepared for their classes.

This new teaching method allows for more one on one teaching on the part of teachers. This is the view of and Adam Sams, teachers at Woodland Park High School in Colorado, who now see themselves as a “guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage”. Because of flip teaching, Mrs Bergman and Sams say that they can now walk around their classroom, provide one on one help to their students in need while their more advanced students can go on with their work. In conventional teaching, they are a detached figure, speaking in front of the class while the students listen (or sometimes sleep) quietly at their desks. Flip teaching therefore allows for a form of teaching that better suits individual needs.

For Mary Beth Hertz however, teachers and classrooms are still needed. She concedes that flip teaching is a great teaching tool, but it is not a miracle cure that will solve all the problems that our schools face. She argues that since not every child has a computer at home, it becomes almost impossible for these learners to evolve in a flip teaching environment. Furthermore, watching videos of the theory and content of a class can be time consuming. Finally, she states, and is quite right, that not everyone learns best by watching a screen. The conventional role of teachers, it seems, is very essential still. From what I understand, flip teaching shows great promise, but it should be seen as what it is: a great teaching tool. Nothing else and nothing more.

In my opinion, it is true that flip teaching shows great promise; it is a fantastic way of making sure that absent students (because of sickness or extracurricular activities) will have access to the material. I also think that since children and teenagers love looking for stuff on the Internet it is something that they are very familiar with and happy to do. The greatest advantage for me is how it allows people that are very knowledgeable but that are not comfortable in front of a group, to focus on one on one work. However, flip teaching is not an end all be all solution for our education system’s problems. As for teachers, not all of them are ready to make the jump to flip teaching. They need to prepare their classes differently and rethink the way they transfer knowledge. Flip teaching asks many teachers to get out of their comfort zone by adopting a technology they are not always proficient with. Furthermore, in order to teach through using a flipped classroom format, most teachers will have to completely change their approach to teaching. Finally, flip teaching will never replace teachers since students need explanations (during their work times or in order to grasp certain concepts) and because somebody has to prepare those videos!