Week 4 – Assistive Technologies For All

Welcome to my final blog entry for EC&I 833, summer semester of 2021!

In my first blog entry, I shared a summary of my career as an educator. I began my career teaching in inclusive education settings where I was exposed to various assistive technologies that were utilized by the students I served. It is important to mention that I did not have any prior experiences or knowledge of the use or integration of these assistive technologies. I certainly had to learn on the fly and rely on my colleagues to help me better understand these technologies and how they were to be used most efficiently and correctly. Our colleagues, Janeen, Darcy, Daniel, and Reid shared an engaging presentation on assistive technologies that I will connect to it this blog.

One of the assistive technologies that I have worked with and wanted to highlight is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). This system is based on behavioural scientist B.F. Skinner’s 1957 book Verbal Behaviour. Andy Bondy and Lori Frost (2001) explain PECS as,

an alternative/augmentative communication system that was developed to teach functional communication to children with limited speech. The approach is unique in that it teaches children to initiate communicative interactions within a social framework (p. 725).

My initial observation of this system was that not all students who used PECS had the same visuals; it was individualized. I also recognized that PECS gave students a voice to interact with peers and adults based on their wants, this was so empowering to witness! It also taught students the foundations upon which conversations are built. However, I also came to realize that the organization of each page was easy to disrupt and the importance of placing each picture back on the correct page for future use was crucial. Furthermore, I also saw the inaccuracies of picture selection and the associated frustration for many of the users due to their disabilities (i.e. cerebral palsy). Additionally, I found the system to limit vocabulary and the developed dependency of adult-initiated questions or speech to engage in conversation using the Picture Exchange Communication System.

PECS is a more cost-effective technology as opposed to the application: Proloquo2Go. This assistive technology is closely relatable to the Picture Exchange Communication System. The biggest difference is that this application provides a digital platform for its users. The students who used this program were taught to tap images on a screen to develop sentences or statements to communicate. The application would provide a voice to speak the created sentences. I recently researched the application and see that there have been upgrades to provide a more natural-sounding voice as opposed to the computerized one presented twelve years earlier. In my opinion, Proloquo2Go was aimed towards emerging or advanced communicators, but could certainly be tailored to beginners. This application also comes at a price. As of today, Proloquo2Go costs about $350.00.

We often think of assistive technology as complex and expensive. I appreciated Reid’s input in debunking common misconceptions associated with assistive technology. Two that stuck out for me were there who? And the where? As I mentioned, the Picture Exchange Communication System and the Proloquo2Go application were used with students with intensive needs. The misconception that assistive technology is only aimed at these students is misleading. I think about the day-to-day adaptations that are implemented with mainstream students that would be considered tier one interventions. Assistive technology is presented in many forms in the classroom such as calculators, hundredth charts, basic manipulatives, and standard speech-to-text options, and is not necessarily targeting students with intensive needs. This brings me to the where? Assistive technology is typically introduced in the classroom but it is expected that it is used as a strategy beyond the walls of the classroom and integrated into day-to-day living. I feel the biggest challenge is shaping society’s views on assistive technology (to ‘normalize’ assistive technologies and accept them as tools for success). Think of building a home. We cannot build a house without the use of tools, the same can be said about learning. Each student requires a different set of tools to meet their goals and experience success. Janeen shared Joy Zabala’s (2005) S.E.T.T. Framework in which I investigated further and hope to integrate the proposed questions when considering assistive technology for my students.

When selecting assistive technologies, it is important to consider the philosophical and theoretical aspects that back each technology. The theory behind PECS and Proloquo2Go is to promote and provide an outlet for communication for the individual. The philosophy behind any assistive technology is to promote independence. It is also important to consider accessibility. The goal of independence can be costly, therefore those who would benefit from these technologies may not be able to access them. How do we ensure that each student has access to the best programs to meet their needs as a basic right?

Arkin’s Summary of Learning – EC&I 833

Hello EC&I 833 colleagues! Welcome to my Summary of Learning!!

I have thoroughly enjoyed learning and engaging with my peers during these past four weeks. Thank you all for contributing to my educational journey, I truly appreciate it. In the spirit of this course, I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried a new (to me) program called VideoScribe to share my growth, understanding and knowledge of this course. I hope to use this with my students in the fall for an introductory activity where they create a brief introduction to share with our class. Enjoy!!

Week 3 (Part 2) – Assessing Assessment

Education is a journey and a process. I recall the hours spent transferring notes to recipe cards and the late nights in preparation for those ‘big’ exams. Matching, multiple-choice, true and false, short answer, and long answer, were some of the variant questions seen on exams. My parents held a high standard for academics. They would remind me of what they sacrificed in their home countries (the Czech Republic and Colombia) and how education held value and success. I also reminisce on the anxiety brought on by these assessments, expectations, and experiencing relief when it was all over but found myself holding my breath until I received my mark. It seemed to always be about the marks. Comparing where you ranked amongst your peers. What was the class average? What would my parents say? What would my friends say? As an educator, I include this empathy, based on my past experiences, when considering the appropriate assessments for my students. It is as clear as ever that teachers must reflect on a variety of assessment tools and strategies. As I said, education is a journey and I truly appreciate the current norm of formative and summative approaches to showcase understanding.

Our colleagues Christina, Janelle, Laurie, and Ramona covered several assessment technologies relevant in today’s classrooms. I was fixated on the evolution of assessment technologies in education and connected the timeline to the article written by Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby (1993) on Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism. This article does not only define instructional design but how we design and implement assessments. I believe that each student learns in a unique way and through establishing rapport with the student, the educator finds authentic ways in which assessment can be practiced so that the student may experience success through demonstrating growth. As I refer back to my assessment practices, I see myself closely aligning as a constructivist through my attempts to facilitate learning by creating authentic experiences for my students as they learn in cross-curricular situations so that they may make connections to prior learning and build upon those foundations of learning. I also apply opportunities for peer and self-assessment and reflection to empower my students with ownership and accountability.

I believe that education has evolved into something more flexible and fluid, and so too has assessment and its’ tools and strategies. Assessment technologies such as GoFormative, Plickers, and Flipgrid are fantastic options if used with purpose and provide the potential opportunity for student growth. Dr. Ismail Elmahdi, Dr. Abdulghani Al-Hattami, and Dr. Hala Fawzi’s (2018) article Using Technology for Formative Assessment to Improve Students’ Learning discusses a study completed with emerging educators on the use of Plickers in the classroom. The study also inquired about the rationale for using this assessment technology.  Many of the responses were ‘because it is fun’ or ‘it saves time’ (p. 186). It is clear that some assessment technologies are flashy and fun, but if there isn’t a true foundational purpose for implementation, is there a point in using the technology? Educators must reflect and consider if their assessments are authentic and purposeful. Additionally, we should also be asking who the assessment benefits? Is the assessment fair for all learners? Did I use language that can be understood by all my learners? I am grateful for having had the opportunity to listen to this presentation this summer as I plan to reflect and refine my current assessment practices to ensure that I am being purposeful and authentic in delivery. What are your favourite or go-to assessment tools?

Finally, as I compare my current assessment practices and beliefs to those asked of our school division, some items align and others contradict. As a ‘Connected Educator’ in my school division, it is encouraged to explore and utilize assessment technologies to meet the needs of our students. The encouragement excites me as an educator due to the possibilities, but as I mentioned I still want to be authentic and purposeful in my selections. Division assessments such as the Common Outcomes Math Assessment (COMA) and the On-Demand Writing Assessment (ODWA) deviate from my teaching and assessment philosophies by nature of their construct. I aim at developing and providing my students with flexible options that guide and promote academic growth that get students excited to learn, develop and build upon their skills of knowledge (life-long learners). To close, I found this interesting article that compliments many of the points I’ve attempted to illustrate in this blog. I hope you find it a good read!

Week 3 – Education and Technology Unite

Hello EC&I 833! Welcome to week 3!

There is no doubt that Education has evolved through the years, and so too has technology. According to Jackie Gerstein (2014),

The Internet of today has become a huge picture window and portal into human perceptions, thinking, and behavior. Logically, then, we would expect that schools would follow suit in matching what is happening via the Internet to assist children and youth to function, learn, work, and play in a healthy, interactive, and pro-social manner in their societies-at-large. More often than not, sadly, this is not the case. (p. 83)

Gerstein suggests that Education and emerging and evolving technologies lend themselves to perfectly align, emerge, and evolve together. As I reflect on Jackie Gerstein’s education and technology metaphor, I consider colleagues who have refused to refine or grow in their practice. In other words, they are ‘set in their ways’! ‘What isn’t broken, should not be fixed’!! On the other end of the spectrum, we see the young and up-and-coming educator, full of hope and ready to implement ‘the new’. Change can be scary and worrisome at times! Especially when educators are expected to incorporate these new technologies in their classroom while:

  • Maintaining routine and procedures (in-class and school-wide);
  • Covering curricular outcomes;
  • Assessments (formative and summative);
  • Social-emotional state of our students;
  • Supervision…. The list goes on and on…

Oftentimes these new technologies are great and practical within the classroom, but are they necessary? Does technology align with personal teaching philosophies? As educators, how can we filter and implement technology logically and appropriately? Although Web 1.0, 2.0 and, the emerging, 3.0 have opened the doors to new possibilities in education, they have also brought on privacy and safety issues that educators must be aware of when including said technologies. Digital citizenship seems like common sense, however, I feel that we do not spend enough time learning about it or reflecting upon it. It seems like a beginning of the school year lesson, a permission form, and it’s laid to rest until something concerning arises. Technology is a privilege! I believe that proper Digital Citizenship is crucial and should be referred to throughout the use of technology in the classroom. Technology is not slowing down; altering our mindset, embracing technology, and implementing it in a safe productive way should be reflected in our teaching philosophies and practice. Jackie Gerstein further explains, “A mental shift occurs when a fixed mindset, which often leads to learned helplessness, is changed to a growth and positive mindset, where one believes that there are options: that one can grow, change, and be significant” (p. 95). Moving from a negative mindset to one that is positive and open to new opportunities is essential for learner-centered education.

As I reflect on my group’s presentation on Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 and reference the impacts of Web 3.0 on education, it is clear that it is a journey and a process. The ultimate goal of Web 3.0 concerning Education 3.0 is empowering our students to become twenty-first-century learners by taking hold or accountability for their education. Students go from having a voice to now USING that voice as they critically reason and question. Teachers act as a guide and propose inquiry-based learning opportunities to provide awareness and support student learning. In theory, this seems amazing, but how can we achieve this level of education? One of the tools I use in my classroom to promote twenty-first-century learning is Genius Hour or Passion Project. This is a starting point to engage our students and encourage them to become connectors, creators, and constructivists. Of course, this will look different for each student.

Our colleague, Rae, shared the advantages and disadvantages of Web 1.0 to 3.0. As she mentioned the web is certainly directed to the western world. Katia’s question also provided food for thought and had me wondering who truly is responsible for proper representation for all? Is the web truly fair for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.? As I direct my attention to the classroom, students who already perform well in the classroom will likely succeed regardless of how education is presented to them. This is due to the environment that they are fostered in. However, I also see Education and Web 3.0 as very open and fluid. Where does a teacher limit their student’s access? How do we narrow the focus? I also feel that Education and Web 3.0 potentially stretching students thin. Last week, we discussed productivity and multi-tasking. How do we facilitate focus and avoid burnout? What does Education and Web 3.0 look like for the student who has responsibilities at home and only seeks out the bare necessities of education? In a digital age, we aim to incorporate technology as a tool to enhance and make life easier and develop students as they transition to the workforce as effective problem solvers with innovative ideas to contribute to a brighter future.

Week 2 (Part 2) – Pandemic Teaching? Sure, I got this…

Hello EC&I 833 and welcome back!

Pivot! One of the many words that had become a staple during the teaching experience during the 2020 – 2021 school year. Many of my colleagues would describe me as organized, rigid, and prepared. Teaching through a global pandemic challenged educators to adapt and become more ‘fluid’ (another pandemic buzzword!) to meet the needs of the school, students, and the pandemic itself. For me, the pandemic tampered with routine and challenged my teaching practice and philosophies. I strongly believe in the development of relationships and rapport with the students in my classroom and the school. At the beginning of every school year, I echo the same message that I want to be defined as a school teacher, not a classroom teacher.  

Fortunately, I was only exposed to remote learning during April. This was, by far, the longest (and most challenging) month of my teaching career. Along with the new challenges presented through teaching synchronously and asynchronously, those challenges were also met with the negativity and criticisms of the general public. It was difficult to stay positive and confident in the delivery of proper education. Then you throw the social-emotional pieces in the mix. How are my students doing? Did they have breakfast/lunch? Do they understand my lesson? Was it too much? Too little? Was I clear in my expectations? I questioned and second-guessed EVERYTHING!

I attempted to keep as much structure and predictability present as possible. I stuck to our Day 1 through 5 schedules and the order in which subjects were presented. I relied heavily on Microsoft Office 365 to streamline educational technology. More specifically, I used Microsoft Teams to meet with my students in the morning and afternoon, as well as in individual and group settings throughout the day. Additionally, we used Teams to share our work through the whiteboard extension during Mathematics and the breakout room feature during discussions. Students also found hand-outs and pre-recorded lessons on Microsoft Classroom OneNote in the appropriate subject folders. Subject-specific textbooks were accessed through the Clever extension for accessible use. Additionally, we used Flipgrid and SeeSaw to demonstrate understanding, collaborate and share with our classroom peers. I strongly believed that because of front-end work and preparation in September, students had the best chance at experiencing success had we required to ‘pivot’ at any given moment. However, it was clear that our school was not afforded the same opportunities as perhaps others. Sharofat Bakhodir qizi Urokova (2020) shares Impact Factors with distance learning. One of these factors (Social Equality) connected with me as I reflected on the remote learning experience

“Social Equality – Access to equal education for all, regardless of the student’s place of residence, health, or financial status.”

Factors such as the number of school-aged siblings in a household, roles, and responsibilities of the student at home, access to the Internet, etc. impacted the performance of students. Therefore, as a school, we sprung to action and developed equitable opportunities by providing our families with paperwork packages so that equal education for all was present.

My colleagues, Jacquie, Josie, Fahmida, and Mike did a masterful job of sharing online and distance learning tools, such as Google Classroom, Scholantis, and Microsoft Teams. Although I do not have much experience with Google Classroom, I intend to continue utilizing Microsoft Teams and Office 365 as a hub for my digital classroom. Additionally, the group shared the advantages and disadvantages of online and distance learning opportunities. Advantages such as collaboration, flexibility, inclusion, and accessibility contribute to a self-dependent and guided learner. Furthermore, I appreciated the disadvantages shared in the presentation and took the time to reflect on those ideas. One common thread that was evident through the disadvantages discussed was the educator’s selected and delivered pedagogy. Patricia Ananga (2020) explains,

“The selection of pedagogy targets subject matter, needs of learners, learning theories, objectives, instructional methods, the interaction among teacher and students, and among students and assessment. Pedagogy therefore is not just limited to the method of teaching as most people assume but moves further to all the activities and resources that enhance and ensure that learning takes place” (p. 317)

Every student comes to us with a story. It is important to read between the lines, reflect, refine, and provide the best opportunities for success regardless of face-to-face or digital learning experiences for all of our students. COVID-19 furthered my appreciation of the simple things and to ensure that I take advantage of each day. As we know, things can change in an instant. I leave you with this video. I hope you can find humour in it and know that remote learning could have always been worse…especially in the 90’s.

Week 2 – Narrowing the Focus…SQUIRREL!

Hello EC&I 833! Welcome to my second blog. Here we go!

I believe that the Internet can be a productivity tool depending on its intent, use, and influence. Ideally, the Internet should be utilized as a tool to expand knowledge through research and global perspectives. However, as I reflect on my research of Web 1.0 and 2.0, respectively, I consider that productivity was more achievable during the time of Web 1.0. The innovation of the early Internet introduced the world to an information and data hub at the touch of your fingertips. The transition from looking up information through the use of physical literature to digital accessibility was upon us! Additionally, Web 1.0 provided the opportunity to focus and intention if the individual using it knew what they were looking for and where they should look. Web 2.0 introduced a more interactive platform for its users. In my opinion, for every ‘good’ item you find on the Internet, there are more ‘bad’ or distracting items out there that blur the lines of productivity.

As I reflect on the Single-tasking Is The New Multitasking video, I can relate to much of the video’s content. I chuckled as I examined the top of my web browser to see how many tabs I had open, although many related to this course, there wasn’t a clear and consistent focus. It truly demonstrated that my mind was wandering in many different directions. You could argue that I am not using and productively influenced by the Internet. Our colleagues, Raquel, Deidra, Allison, and Kelly shared, compared, and contrasted many productivity suites and platforms. Although these suites and platforms are intended to boost productivity in a ‘one-stop’ design, they fail to teach you how to use the products to apply efficiency. As educators, we must understand that we cannot simply introduce a tool or platform to our students and assume they can utilize these tools to their fullest potential. There must be education to back each suite and platform. I’m sure many of my colleagues can relate to asking students to use the Internet to research a topic. Students may report back with less than ideal research (unreliable sources) pieces or fully plagiarise the topic. What makes for ‘good’ or ‘strong’ research? How do we know a credible resource from an unreliable source? I believe in an ‘I do, We do, You do’ approach. In essence, I narrow the focus and where to search for information by introducing credible resources. Additionally, I am a firm believer in graphic organizers to assist with productivity and organization. Instilling these appropriate habits earlier in a student’s academic career is crucial to promoting productivity and avoiding the garbage that is out there on the Internet.

Productivity Suites and Presentation Tools are big business! As discussed in class, many of these platforms were designed and intended with businesses in mind. Education has adopted and made use of productivity suites and presentation tools to enhance student’s educational experiences. A solid platform must be user-friendly and the ‘less is more’ ideation is key to success. The article Schools Leverage Apps and Easy-to-Manage Suites of Learning Tools by Jacquelyn Bengfort discusses the ease of using G Suite and Microsoft Tools and the opportunities for educational enhancements these platforms provide. If we refer to Abhishek Solanki’s (2019) article on Psychologist, B.F. Skinner’s Teaching Machine (1954), we learn that “the biggest challenge in the field of education is to provide individualized and tailor-made programs for each individual on a massive scale” (p. 3). The Internet gives learners the ‘massive scale’ and the POTENTIAL for individualized and tailor-made programming. Referring to my earlier statements, that we must condense and narrow the focus for our learners. Take away the excess (90%) and focus on the appropriate content (10%). Educators must not ignore pre-Internet philosophies and foundational teaching strategies. These foundational strategies are important in the development of essential skills such as problem solving and organization. So, when you begin getting sucked into a string of funny memes, practical joke videos, or cat videos, remember why turned on the computer in the first place.

Week 1 – What Does Educational Technology Mean To Me?

Hello everyone! Welcome to my first blog post for EC&I 833, enjoy!

Before I share my definition of educational technology, I feel it important to provide a brief background of my education journey and early interactions with edtech. My ambitions to be an educator began at the tail end of my tenth grade year of high school. I am sure I speak for many when I say, this aspiration was sparked by being surrounded (directly and indirectly) by phenomenal teachers who went above and beyond to meet each student’s needs and created and contributed to a culture of inclusion where each student felt they mattered. Every student had ‘their person’ or in this case ‘their teacher’. I did not doubt that I wanted to contribute (pay it forward) to this culture. I enrolled in Middle-Years Education but at the culmination of my degree, I found myself beginning my career teaching students with intensive needs for the first five years. I value those five years and I believe they challenged me as a person and educator. As it relates to educational technology, my involvement in inclusive education further developed the ability to differentiate, adapt, and evolve when necessary.

In high school, my exposure to technology was limited. I recall, I took a keyboarding course that introduced us to ‘All the Right Type.’ Sure, students may possess the ability to communicate quickly via their smartphones, but ask them to type out an essay, and may not be the same age by the time they are finished! My definition of educational technology is where technology is used to support, and enhance student’s educational experience, as well as the ability to connect and collaborate with others. Based on my early exposure to technology use in high school, I certainly had a limited understanding of the possibilities technology presents. Technology is more than replicating and asking a student who struggles to write to type out their work so that it is legible. From my professional experience, technology is used to support students to enable them to perform at a level similar to their peers. For example, students who are challenged by writing may use speech-to-text platforms to record their ideas. Technology also presents new opportunities to enhance and develop student work. Students can apply and instill creativity and imagination into their work to demonstrate further understanding. Finally, technology allows for students to connect and collaborate allowing exposure to new perspectives and ideas. More recently, I have taught grades seven and eight, and have provided students the opportunity to collaborate with same-aged peers from other schools in the city through a digital book club and captures the principles of sharing, listening, and appropriate digital citizenship.

Aristotles’ Three Intellectual Virtues are truly intriguing, revolutionary, and stand the test of time. The three virtues of thinking, creating and acting present a foundation of educational technology and how it is applied in the classroom. Based on my definition and how I use technology in the classroom, I reflect that all three virtues are used when introducing a new platform or requesting tasks be completed through the use of technology. Thinking allows students to draw from knowledge already learned and to open their minds to new knowledge that may be read, heard, or experienced. Creating allows students the opportunity to experiment with new platforms to produce their previous, current, and new understandings. Finally, acting brings in practicality and focus. When we think of Educational Technology, we must also reflect on Neil Postman’s (1998) five ideas on technological change. I considered Postman’s second idea on “the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population” (p. 2) and Katia’s words that were shared on oppressive education. At this philosophy’s most basic level, we must understand and address that not all students have the same fortunes and opportunities as they do in the classroom. For instance, a student who is asked to work on a task or assignment with the use of technology may not be able to work on it at their home.

We also need to consider that technology offers positive and negative features. This year, I noticed that student’s work had been less than satisfactory, especially through the use of technology. I took time this winter to remove technology and “get back to basics” with my delivery of education. Students had omitted the ability to organize and elaborate on thoughts and ideas, and more importantly, TALK TO ONE ANOTHER! Tony Bates’ brief history delivers a timeline for us to reflect upon in terms of evolving technologies. Several significant skills have been surrendered due to technology. Skills such as oral traditions, storytelling, and memorization are some of the few that come to mind. How do we recapture these skills when we can rely on technology to record and remember for us?

As a student, I can recall being taught through a more traditional or behaviorist approach. As I entered the Faculty of Education, I believed that this was the appropriate and best practice, and designed and delivered my lessons accordingly. I found this approach to be inefficient when working with students with intensive needs, yet working alongside a team of instructional assistants. Thus, my journey of reflection and redefining my practice began. I began to rush through my memories of being a student and what stuck out the most. It wasn’t the note-taking or regurgitation of information, but it was the experiences and hands-on learning that came rushing back to me. As I immersed myself in learning about different student needs, it was clear that providing a more constructivist approach was essential to developing an educational experience that would see my students find success and growth. I took what I applied through a constructivist approach and carried that into my classroom teaching grades seven and eight students. By this time, I had more of an understanding of differentiation and adapting on the go to meet the needs of all my learners. Reading Preggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby’s (2013) article on Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective drives home the importance of maintaining a balance of these philosophies as well as providing an opportunity to expose our learners to each. Today, I feel I have also welcomed connectivism as part of my teaching philosophy. As George Siemens (2005) explains, “connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity” (p. 7). The emphasis on connecting and collaboration has been promoted in my classroom, alongside integral teachings of digital citizenship. Students must have an understanding that technology does not replace, but an appreciation for its enhancements.

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