Glitch in the Matrix: Digital Philosophy

Glitch in the Matrix is an ongoing saga of one teacher’s adventures to become more technologically incorporated. This episode we look at a digital philosophy.

Interactive Whiteboard University of Cumbria (...

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I want to be clear in this endeavor. I am not some true believer in the overwhelming power of technology in all aspects of our lives, including teaching. I am openly skeptical of iPads in the classroom if they become nothing more than a $600 textbook and I have found little use for interactive whiteboards.

That isn’t to say they don’t have uses. I have seen some great apps on the iPad for elementary schools, especially for remediation. I have also seen some great math and science apps for high school as well. As for interactive whiteboards, again, great for elementary and secondary math and science but what about English and social studies? (I’m just going to skip all the other subjects and focus on the core to simplify the issue.)

However, I think there is a bigger issue here that is being addressed. We have become an era obsessed with technology. We care more about if we could and not about if we should. We have moved to a point as Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” We are controlled by our devices instead of us controlling them. We are plugged in, tuned on and connected in more ways than ever thought possible.

But have we stopped to ask if this is the right direction? We never turn off the connection. It began with cell phones. We could be reached anywhere at anytime without ever questioning if we should. We camp for new devices without even knowing what use it has. We have become digitized.

Worse yet, we have gone to a point where those who create have stopped talking to those who evaluate.  Comedian Patton Oswald made a great skit out of this where he jokes about science creating things we don’t want and shouldn’t have. As he ends it, “We’re science: we’re all about coulda, not shoulda.”

This brings me to a great talk that brought up many of these questions for myself.

Anand Giridharadas, an author and journalist, spoke to the Innovation Forum a year ago. In his talk he brings up a few great points we should all think about before we jump head first into the latest technological trend.

First, Anand makes a point in asking “when should we focus on product instead of distribution?” Much of this has been found in the blogosphere. News has moved to media, dominated by ratings, not truth, justice and facts. Replacing it has been blogs, where facts and truth are shades of grey. We also have pushed more towards the idea of what sells and not what matters.

Next, he asks “to what extent that we can live the quantified life, do we want to live the quantified life?” As a teacher, I have felt this first hand. Can the development of the young mind be evaluated in a simple test? Can the success of a child in their post high school lives be quantified on a spreadsheet? It is bad enough that we Facebook and Twitter the specific details of our lives that we must then obsess over the numbers of every aspect of society?

Finally, he addresses the good and the bad to this digital future. From the opening of the third world and the access to other cultures to how vicious we can be when anonymous online. He addresses that there is nothing intrinsically special to paper verse electronic when it comes to news but has this movement hurt our ability to read long form or to sit down and focus.

As I move forward, I keep these ideas in my head and close to my heart. I need to find the balance in both my life and my students lives. As he ends the talk he mentions that we need more people who don’t know technology to embrace it and those who have mastered it to not all be in favor of it.

To watch the full talk (16min), click here.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

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Glitch in the Matrix: The journey begins.

Glitch in the Matrix is an ongoing saga of one teachers adventures to become more technologically incorporated. This episode we look at the back story that brought us here.

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For years I have wanted to become more of a technology teacher. For the most part I am considered the younger teacher by both my peers and students. I’m the teacher who loves Facebook, sees the potential for twitter and supports the idea of smartphones in the classroom. I also have seen how more and more jobs require a degree of technological understanding.

So with that I have been pushing my classroom more and more towards this endeavor. In my first year I made a class website through our district but it had great limits. It was held back in what creative control we were allowed and it had few tangible uses. In my next year I pushed the limits of that website, attempting to go a little more paperless, only to find failure but a learning experience.

Once I transferred to my new school, I came into a situation where I wouldn’t have a classroom to call my own so I needed to rely on a virtual classroom more and more. I went to Weebly to create that classroom and I found some success, especially for being a free site. I was able to upload files, create class discussions through a blog option and post resources and classroom announcements.

Unfortunately I was also hit with some security issues. I didn’t like that my student’s names were just published for the world. It was a great start and another great learning experience but it still lacked something. I had many questions and even more ideas than I was able to do. I was also limited in how much I wanted to spend for this, which was a whole $0. Back to the drawing board.

Over the summer I revisited some of the resources I used back in college to start a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at UNLV. I am currently advising some students on creating the nation’s first high school version and while planning it out, came back across Google Docs and all the new apps they have been creating. Feeling this might be the answer I have been looking for, I dug deeper.

About a month ago I went to a conference on 21st Century Skills where I was able to talk to many teachers who had already gone through the same trials and tribulations and were able to answer my concerns, help with some hurdles and clear up some of the confusion I was having. I’ve also begun to work with a fellow teacher who is currently completing a master’s degree in Educational Technology.

This whirlwind of resources has caused me to drop my Weebly adventures and I am currently pushing through bringing in many Google apps into my classroom such as Sites, Docs, and Groups. As I venture into the unknown I will continue to keep you all updated on my progress, failures and successes. I will also be evaluating the different elements to see what works in all schools or just certain schools. My goal is to come up with a basic list that would work in all schools.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate

I have decided that I will be posting this next to my door this year, followed by “…Unless you’re in Honors, then welcome.” Just to set the tone right. For those who don’t know, I teach Advanced Placement World History and Honors World History. I figure this will give us a moment of relaxation.

However, as for the coming year, it will be an interesting one. As with every other year and with every other teacher across the nation, we head into the darkness to find light and raise it high for all to see. We will also all be dealing with many new changes just as we always do. Changes to curriculum, changes to administration and with that, changes to policies and procedures, changes to job descriptions, changes to laws, changes to evaluations. I could go on.

With these changes, my school is also reeling from the effects of the budget cuts. One of the issues we ran into was what to do with so many students when we have to start cutting electives. Our limited schedule left far too many students (as young as sophomores), with holes in their schedules. Prep buyouts for electives to dump kids in that may never have even wanted the class can only go so far. To help offset this, teachers are all planning for what to do with too many student aides. At some schools you almost have to bribe your counselors to get one while we are all looking at having 2 or more.

Unfortunately most people may not realize how enormously useless a student aide can be. We would like them to do more but as rules, regulations and laws are written, there is little they are allowed to do. I’ve found that most people, and far too many teachers, don’t realize that these are students and not the dreaded TA we all cringed to deal with in college. They are not allowed to grade papers, even a simple multiple choice test, they can’t take attendance, enter grades or deal in any way with the private information of other students. We don’t trust them to operate copy machines, especially alone where they could goof off. They aren’t experts in our fields so pulling resources becomes more of a sad endeavor for both of us. They aren’t even allowed to run and get us lunch anymore. What’s the point of them having cars then.

With all of these provisions (I know, most teachers ignore them all) I have already heard many teachers questioning what they are going to do with their aides. Many are searching others out to see if there is some long lost storage closet to be reorganized in our long 5 year history. Some have even started wagering them in illegal underground poker games that we hold during school in the gym storage closet.

This got me to thinking about how this can’t be just a local issue and we have this new invention called the internet that lets us “search” for news stories from all across the nation. In my journey to discover how other schools are dealing with this issue, I came across an article from 2007 in the St. Ignace News. The article goes on to explain that the state cancelled the student aide programs if the work is not academic. With that they came up with 5 new models for the student aides:  physical education aide, teaching assistant in the secondary classroom, cadet teaching assistant in the elementary classroom, computer and technology assistant, and elementary mentor.

Three of these caught my eye as applicable to our schools. To preface, my school is a career and technical school and two of the programs we offer are teacher education and early childhood education. With that all 5 are applicable but the last two are actually what our program area offers for the most part. As for the others, we have a couple of options.

First is this new healthy living movement our school is on. What would be better than a physical education aide to help push this. As the article explains, the physical education aide:

The physical education aide position includes descriptions for physical education assistants and athletic director assistants. The physical education assistant will be in locker rooms before and after class while students are dressing and showering, will officiate games, remove and replace equipment, assist special needs students, keep track of daily attendance, and correct inappropriate behavior or bring it to the teacher’s attention. Aides will be graded on rules for each sport played in class during a nine-week period.

This falls right in line with our movement and will help alleviate the overload of student aides we have. They could be the student leaders in this healthy living movement and set the example for others.

Next is the computer and technology assistant. With the budget cuts, we have had a major hit to our computer specialist. For a school like ours, highly technological, we were struggling with just one full time. Now we are down to only having her 4 out of 5 days. To offset that, this program could become a vital part of the budget cuts. The article explains the role as:

The technology assistant curriculum includes extensive handson computer work, including updating the district Web site to teach basic Web design and programming. Students will learn network maintenance basics such as connecting a computer and printer to the school’s network. Personal computer repair, system and application software maintenance, computer skills, and more than 20 other lessons are part of the course content. The technology assistant will also help other students perform tasks, print, and use e-mail. The assistant will help staff connect equipment, and install, update, and use software. Students will also be familiar with accessing the school network and teaching others how to access and use the network.

These are all the basic day-to-day issues that bog down our computer specialist, getting in her way of dealing with the bigger issues. To have a small army of technology students to take this off her plate while gaining real world experience would in invaluable.

Finally is the teaching assistant in the secondary classroom.

The secondary classroom teaching assistant course is designed to expose students to the teaching profession. Students will learn about classroom management and work individually with students, among several duties. Student teaching assistants are now required to write an essay on the challenges public education faces today, write a piece on what has inspired them to become an educator, and write a journal about their experiences. The assistant will also create a lesson and teach it to the class. The student must demonstrate interest in the education field, and will also research public education topics.

Not only could this be a great addition to our current Teaching Education Program, but it could help fill the issue of what to do with all our aides. Through this, the “teaching assistants” might also gain an appreciation for the profession. It would be an opportunity to see beyond the curtain. It would give them purpose and a sense of pride as they are given greater responsibilities by the adults. Instead of just sitting at a desk stapling papers, they could be pacing themselves in writing about educational issues with a distant deadline but class time reserved for this. Exit interviews could serve as finals and it would be more impactful than the token A we always end up giving them just for showing up.

These were all great ideas I read and immediately started brainstorming how I could incorporate them into my class this year with my 2 aides. I know them both and I can’t wait to see how it works. While we may fear the unknown, I am excited at the possibilities of a new future that has a great affect on our students and our profession.