Somewhere in the Middle

I just finished reading this article by Marc Prensky and, wow, it was very thought provoking. It got me reflecting on a few of my classes, particularly high school classes, and how I teach them – specifically, I was asking the question “do I teach with old things in old ways or new things in new ways or am I somewhere in the middle?” I came to the conclusion that I’m somewhere in the middle. My school hasn’t yet gone one-to-one. Instead, we have three computer labs and, being one of the IT teachers, inside lab 2 is where you’ll find me most of the time. Having a lab full of computers has enabled me to employ teaching strategies that just wouldn’t be possible in a typical classroom.  One teaching strategy I often use is to record a video tutorial of a particular skill (for example, how to make the background of an image transparent) and then upload the video to the Internet where it is accessible to students twenty four seven. Apart from being available anytime anywhere, online video tutorials can be replayed as many times as needed – meaning students can learn at their own pace. I’m a really big fan of Camtasia for making video tutorials but after reading about ScreenChomp I think I’m going to give it a try next time. The problem I have though with this teaching strategy is that it feels like I’m doing an old thing in a new way – instead of giving a live demonstration of a particular skill, I’m just doing that demonstration into some software that captures it and gives it back to me as a nice video. I need to start thinking about doing new things in new ways.

Changing the subject a little bit, it came to me that iPads are probably not as good as laptops in a one-to-one middle or high school because entering long strings of data into them (i.e. iPads) is somewhat tedious. Another way of saying this is, I don’t think iPads address the learning needs of kids today as well as laptops because they don’t have keyboards. Kids today need keyboards more than ever. They’re learning (and teaching) through online networks in which they want/need to have a presence and this is done through tweeting, blogging, commenting and other forms of communication – all of which require a keyboard. Some people might say “just hook up a keyboard (to the iPad)” and my response to this is, if you’re going to carry around a keyboard with your iPad all day, why not just buy a laptop? This way students won’t need to prop up the touchscreen in order to see what they’re typing. Others might say “it (the iPad) has a virtual keyboard” and to this I say, I think we all know that typing on a virtual keyboard is (a lot) slower than typing on the real thing. I don’t think (I’m quite sure) Apple didn’t intend the iPad to be used for writing long strings of text and that they put the virtual keyboard there just so people could enter in short things like web addresses, e-mail addresses and passwords. If we (teachers, parents, administrators) want to start opening up these online networks to our students so that they can learn through them then we need to make sure that we’re providing our students with the right tools to create and expand these networks.

EDIT (Oct 4, 2011): This afternoon, I attended the third and final meeting for course one of the COETAIL certificate I’m doing. In the opening address, the speaker summed up nicely one of the reasons his school opted for laptops over iPads in their one-to-one program, and it resonated with me: “iPads are for information consumption, laptops are for information creation.”


2 thoughts on “Somewhere in the Middle

  1. I need to start thinking about doing new things in new ways. Interesting statement. So what does that mean to me as an ES Art teacher. I mean I have some limitations in place at my school that make using technology difficult. Locked down and old computers, limited access to some of the tools available on the Internet and lack of PD related to technology. What I do have is access to 2 computer labs (old desktops), a great teaching partner, and new this year; a once a cycle meeting time with our tech teacher. So, what is the best way to move forward? The easiest answer for me was to do a Google search. I typed in “using technology in new ways and this is what I got; an article entitled David Hockney Uses Technology to Provide New Ways to See the World

    David Hockney is an amazing artist who became quite famous starting in the late 60’s/early 70’s. He is best known for his paintings and drawings. Now in his mid seventies he is pushing his learning and adapting technology to his Art. The article is all about using cameras, computers and large format screens to “see” a corner of the world in a different way. Usually when I teach the kids how to “see” I usually do a unit focusing on drawings. After reading the article I wondered how I could do something similar with my students in grade 4 or 5 given the limitations I have.

    My idea is to have a class walk from their classroom to the swimming pool on the other side of the campus and video it using some of the digital cameras the school has. The student would all follow the exact same route, which would take about 3 minutes. I would have each student do the walk in 20-minute intervals to “see” how they each view it over the course of a day. Another way of doing it is having 1 student do the walk at the exact same time over the course of a month and “see” the changes that happen. I would have to talk to the tech teacher and ask about the simplest free video editing program available to use (any ideas out there). I would then work with the kids editing their videos and lastly, set up a “wall” of desktop computers on a bookshelf? to play all the videos simultaneously. Lastly, I would have the students and their parents post their comments on the ES Art blog.

    I hope this is an example of doing new things in new ways. It would not have come about if I were not willing to learn and move forward within my discipline and as a teacher. Stay tuned to see how we do with this and the changes that come out of doing it.

  2. Great reflection here! I’m glad the article got you thinking about how you’re changing your teaching and learning environment. What if you had the students create tutorials to teach each other? Would that be a new thing? Certainly the way is new, the concept stays consistent, and perhaps the really new way would be that the tutorials would be viewed not only by your class, but by a collaborating class in another school that also created tutorials for your students to learn from? We do a project like this in my MYP technology class at YIS. Would love to collaborate if you’re interested.

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