Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The more I get involved with Twitter, the more I long for a classroom where I could actually put what I am learning to use.  I used to teach high school English, and I think the idea of creating a Twitter account for a fictional character would be really fun and educational.  Students could demonstrate an understanding of the thoughts, feelings and psychology of the character as well as keep a running account of events in a story. You could even have two or more characters interact on Twitter, perhaps creating teams within the class that would each have a character as their avatar.

I can see where students who are not particularly motivated to keep a reading log might be very happy to post a running string of Tweets about the book they are reading.  And the length limits would motivate those for whom a more lengthy entry in a reading log is overwhelming, while for others it would be an interesting challenge to express themselves in concise, cogent ways.

The reading in Richardson and Mancabelli was exciting, but also left me with concerns and questions about the roadblocks to making the transition from traditional to networked classroom.  I loved reading all the success stories of teachers who made the change and can't imagine ever going back to the way they used to teach.  I was also happy to hear them speak of the mistakes and stumbles they made along the way. However, examining the seven qualities of networked classes left me wondering about the potential for difficulties, particularly regarding transparency.

I don't think Richardson and Mancabelli truly addressed the issue of rights to privacy in a classroom where live video is streaming, for example, or when a worldwide audience gains access to the names and, to a certain extent, the thoughts, interests and aspirations of students.  I think, too, that students who know they are in a transparent situation may be self-conscious, which suppresses their contributions. Other students might unthinkingly self-reveal inappropriately or deliberately act out in response to having a global audience. As a teacher, I don't know how comfortable I would be with full transparency. Not that I have anything to hide, but it's sort of like how you feel panicy when you are driving and see a police car, even when you aren't violating traffic laws. I just don't know how comfortable I would be with the whole "Big Brother is Watching You" issue.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It took a lot for hoop jumping...a lot of one-step-forward-two-steps-back...but I finally managed to sign up for Twitter and download TweetDeck.  I've already found dozens of people and organizations I want to follow, and I'm beginning to build a Personal Learning Network of educators to help me boldly move into this vast cyberspace.

I'm anxious to see how useful this tool can be for a teacher.  As a newcomer to this sort of technology, it is reassuring to see that other teachers have gone before me, blazing a trail for me to follow.  As with most new things, I find myself questioning whether I am doing all this the right way.  I wonder, too, if there is such a thing as "the right way" to navigate the digital world at all.  Perhaps the truth is there are any number of right ways, and my task truly is to find MY right way.

Well, time to saddle up and ride the wild software.  I'll be lookin' for y'all out there on the range.  Happy trails!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When I was reading my assigned chapters from Personal Learning Networks (Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli, Solution Tree Press, 2011) a few things jumped out at me.
First was this:  'When texts and teachers are all over the place, however, it becomes crucial that learners of all ages be able to answer the questions "What can I believe?" and "Who can I trust?" during every interaction online." (p.26)   Boy, does that ring true!  The same was always true of the print world, but when anyone with a computer and internet access can post information online, it takes the level of misinformation to a new level.  My practical suggestions to students regarding the reliability of a web source involves determining 1.) If other sources support this information, and 2.) What is the motivation of the poster?  Is he or she sharing the information from an altruistic point, or is there some agenda involved?  Finally 3.) What is the educational and experiential background of the poster?  Expertise in one area does not translate to expertise in all areas.

The other point that stood out to me from Richardson and Mancabelli was the importance of focusing on quality rather than quantity in our connections. "...with the literally billions of potential sources at our disposal right now, it's imperative that we find those that offer the most return for our time investment"(p.36)  Finding the pretty pony in amongst the horse manure can be a challenge, but it pays off in the end.  A good connection tends to lead you to other good connections through its links.

Perhaps the best definition of what exactly Web 2.0 tools are and what they do can be found in Web 2.0 How-to For Educators (Gwen Solomon and Lynne Schrum, ISTE, 2010)  It stresses the collaborative and creative nature of work done through Web 2.0 tools "Web 2.0 tools go a step beyond to offer ways of creating, collaborating, and distributing the final product and then interacting with an audience." (p.5)  The question for me, though, is this:  In an educational system that stresses individual effort rather than group collaboration, how do you convince administrators, parents, and indeed the students themselves that collaboration is a good thing.  I have had many students lament over group projects where they feel they did all the work and others reaped the benefits.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I am finishing up the first week on my new job as an instructor in the writing lab of a community college.  I am grateful to have found this job, after 13 months of being unemployed after my layoff as a college instructor.  Yesterday, I got a letter from the unemployment office with information about how much money I got in 2012 from unemployment (for tax purposes).  I did a little math in my head and discovered what I had suspected was true; I made more money from unemployment than I will from my part-time teaching job. I have no benefits and cannot work more than 19 hours a week.  Why only 19?  If I worked 20 or more, they would have to give me health insurance, etc.  In addition, even though I work for a school that is part of the state school retirement system, the school does not contribute to my pension in that system. 

Now, I took this job with my eyes wide open.  I knew the job was low-pay, short hours and no benefits.  My hope is that it will be a foot in the door to move up to something better.  And, of course, the knowledge that unemployment doesn't last forever, coupled with the slow job market, convinced me to take the position.  But all this makes me wonder about the bigger picture. What does it say about us as society when teachers are paid so little and denied benefits?  Are our values askew?  If we truly value the education of our young people, why do we discourage good people from becoming teachers by requiring them to incur tremendous school debt to become qualified teachers and then offer them jobs where the salary makes it difficult if not impossible to pay off their student loans and eke out a decent living?  I know none of us go into teaching to get rich; that is not the point. Still, it sure would be nice to make more than the greeter at Walmart and to not have to worry about how to pay for medical care.
My goal in earning my MET degree is to teach online, and one of my fears in online teaching is the challenge of teaching a large number of students in an online class. Individual attention is required, perhaps even more than in a traditional classroom, and the need to engage with students one-on-one can be, I imagine, pretty demanding.

I found a nice article from Faculty Focus that deals with managing high-enrollment online classes.  It's a good read, with very practical advice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's alive! It's alive!

Here it is, my first post to Cyber Trench!  I'm Keith Osterberg, a community college writing lab instructor and graduate student working on my Master of Educational Technology degree at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis.

I'm creating this blog for my Online Applications for Collaboration class, but I am certain it will live on after I have completed my degree.  I'm a newbie to the blogosphere, so bear with me and feel free to offer pointers on how to improve my efforts.