Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hot N’Cold - Wet N’Dry - Final Post

Just a little over fifteen months ago, my husband and I packed our bags and jetted off from Kingston, Jamaica to Alberta, Canada. The experience has been quite like a roller-coaster ride since I landed here, hence, the title of my post. I left from a hot and wet climate to a cold and dry one. I heard that Alberta was cold and I thought I knew what cold was, but when I came to Alberta I learnt how cold ‘cold’ could be. Jamaica is quite humid and naturally resulting in one’s ability to sweat. As a matter of fact, I thought it was humanly impossible to go without sweating couple of weeks, until I realized that nearly twelve months I never had a drop of sweat.

I started searching for the hot n’ cold on the internet and I found this song on Youtube by Katy Perry (my apologies for one inappropriate line, there was no code to embed another version that was edited). I listened to the song and when I heard the chorus, I thought, “this sounds like the relationship I have had with Alberta”. If Alberta was a guy and I was his girl, we would constantly be playing this song to each other as it would be the theme of our relationship. I have decided to draw on some fitting themes from this experience, as I parallel my stories with my reflections on this course.

1. Hot N’ Cold – Highlights and lowlights of my learning

As Albertans already know, the weather here can change in a heartbeat. Today it’s hot, tomorrow it’s cold, at 10am it’s hot at 2pm it’s cold. This constant dynamics in weather was a new phenomenon for me, since I never experienced it or heard about it, I never thought about it. But now that I am living in it, I have learnt to adjust and dress for it – I walk with a jacket, a pair of gloves and a scarf, pretty much all year round, just in case I need it.

The course EDES501 was new to me in two main ways. It was the first course that I had taken with TL Department and it was the first totally online course that I had done. Well I was excited to begin the course, as I really wanted to know about these technologies and how they could be used in the classroom; a friend of mine had signed up to take this course too, and I had read the 1st Edition of Richardson’s Blog, Wikis and Podcasts text and thought, ‘whoa these web tools are awesome’.

This euphoric feeling was temporal, as my friend had to withdraw from the course and I soon started feeling isolated, as I knew no one, and I wasn’t a TL, and there was no one else from my department that was enrolled in the course. For me, it was rough doing a course totally online and asynchronous. May be because I am less of verbal linguistic learner it was a challenge for me to negotiate the virtual classroom that I was in. But, what else could I do? A friend of mine said, ‘just withdraw from the course’, I responded, ‘I will not quit, I must be able to adjust’, and that’s what I started doing. I didn’t post as frequent as I would talk in an actual classroom; instead I read a whole lot more than I would. In a short space of time I was forced to start dressing for the EDES501’s ‘virtual weather’.

As I mentioned in my last post, it was sheer pleasure for me to not only do the introductory blog, but to create my very first blog. After whetting my appetite with personalizing my blog, signing up for Twitter (which I really had some apprehensions of) and setting up an RSS feed, a cold wave swept over me when I saw my first grade. But then, I was consoled when Joanne told us our blogs would start getting better once we got comfortable and began to find our style. My grades are telling me that my blogosphere voice still needs a lot of work. But, I am licking my wounds, as I reflect on 3 particular suggestions that I learnt from TechMiso’s blog:

1) It is normal for a new bloggers voice to sound bland, robotic or even voiceless – I’m still fairly new at it, so my feelings are quite natural. It is also important that we share these with our students and colleagues when they embark on using Web2.0 technologies. Even though I may be considered an ‘expert’ with technology in my circle of colleagues, it’s great when I can share my ‘slip-ups’ or ‘apprehensions’ about these tools. As I would constantly say to the persons I train, don’t be afraid to explore the software, messing up the first time does not mean you’re doomed for life.
2) Practice makes perfect: the more you write the more your voice will begin to naturally appear – this cliché has stood the test of time, if I intend to do well I have to spend valuable time, learning the ins and outs of the tools.
3) Listen to the criticism, both the good and bad from friends and family because it will be an invaluable resource to your ultimate goal. – Of course this is a tough pill to swallow, who wants to hear especially bad criticisms. Our ego seems to get the better of us sometimes. But then how else can we grow if we are too conceited to value someone else’s opinion?

Ok, to my final highlight and lowlight of the course. Highlight – the exploration of some awesome tools, video-sharing, photo-sharing and social bookmarking were the most exciting for me. Lowlight – not enough time to process all the information that came my way.

Thinking about it now, it seems our discussion questions were deliberately set to address the possible lowlights of our journey. There were at least two questions which spoke to information-overload and the techniques we used to manage such issues. The practical suggestions from my group members really helped to deal with that lowlight. We had spoken at length about being focused, but Dawn’s statement to “stay focussed on the intended goal of each lesson, and the grades will take care of themselves” really gave me some food for thought, I honestly stopped caring about the grades and shifted my focus to learning about the tool and how they impact teaching and learning. While I failed miserably after two days of following Annabelle’s strategy of keeping one window open and a limited number of tabs, I picked up my graduate handbook and started writing my to-do lists as Renae had mentioned she had done. I wrote down all due dates for all the assignments that I had to do between those times. It really helps to have to-do list to be reminded of all that needs to be done both in the physical and virtual world and it gives so much more satisfaction to have those items checked as completed.

2. The more you know, the more you realize that you don’t know –Where do I go from here in terms of learning about technologies and integrating them into my classroom

In doing my Master’s program, I have come to realize that the more I learn, the more I realize there are lots more to learn. Whether it’s the nature of a Master’s program or it is the place at which I am currently pursuing the program, I am unsure; arguably, it could be a little of both. There are so many assumptions and social values that I have come to question now that I am doing this program. One that stands out in my mind most is the reason why we get an education. It may be due to fact that I have spent most of my life in a developing country, but the main reason why we have been encouraged to get an education is to improve our social status, get good jobs and contribute to or sustain the economic viability of our country. Now that I am in a country that promotes education for social justice, transformation and environmental sustainability, I am left at a crossroads in my life.

Davies and Merchant (2009) suggest that we need to think of “Web2.0 as a text to study, to explore and to think critically about” (p. 104). Integration of technologies in my practice now has a more loaded meaning as I also have to consider ways in which technology can be taught with a focus on social justice. I have to think about the transformative potential that its use can have on students. I have to be conscious of using technology in a more eco-friendly manner. As Richardson(2009) states “learning in this environment is about being able to construct, develop, sustain, and participate in global networks” (p. 8).

More than just integrating these technologies in my classroom, I am thinking about the integration of these technologies in institutions of higher education across Jamaica. In coming to the realization that the pedagogical experiences here are different from those in Jamaica and in seeing the need to share in the growth of my fellow Jamaicans, I have focused my research at the university that I last worked there. For my master’s thesis I will be researching the challenges encountered by educators at the university, who are facilitating technology-mediated learning. Technology-mediated learning is already being used, but not to the extent of institutions of North America. However, in working within the confines and socio-cultural realities of Jamaica, and in exploring and mediating the challenges that educators face, we can in effect harness the power of available Web2.0 technologies.

I definitely intend to continue my professional development in using Web2.0 technologies, particularly social networks. Previously I had joined AACE and EDUCAUSE, but I depended on just getting emails on what was happening. Now in getting their RSS feeds, I am taking less of a laid back approach to fostering my professional needs. I have also recognized the significance of forging professional networks. Even in doing research, it’s just a matter of requesting papers and prior research from experts in the field who are a part of the network that you are a part of. The common threads which bind members of these organizations are education and technology. These are my two passions and in order to determine the depth and breadth of potential, I need to be informed of like happenings. Even though I will not be able to keep abreast of all the changes that are happening in the world of technology I can chose to engage in the ones that are more applicable to my situation.

3a. Sunshine does not equate to hot - Consider what tool(s) you will want to share with your colleagues in schools and/or libraries.

When I was researching where to do my studies in Canada, I remember checking out Alberta on the web and seeing a quote which spoke of this province being one of Canada’s sunniest. So I thought, surely, if it is one of the sunniest provinces then maybe it was not that cold after all. I have come to witness sunny days at -30C, which were anything but hot. Now when I tell my friends from back home that I am cold and they tell me they will send some sunshine for me, I tell them I don’t need the sunshine as I already have it, instead what I need is some heat/warm air.

Not every tool that I have explored this term can be easily incorporated in the classroom. By extension, some tools are more applicable to K-12 learners than adult learners and vice versa. According to Kop (2008) "over the past decades technological change has instigated a debate about the future of adult education. A dichotomy has appeared between the position of adult educators and that of learning technologists on the need for and nature of change under the influence of technology." It is time that the dichotomous relationship change to a more dialogic one. Adult educators need to be communicating with learning technologists in order for the field to exploit the tools that are most appropriate for adult learners. Social bookmarking, RSS’s, podcasting, wikis and social networking sites are tools that I have already and will continue to share with my colleagues. Some instructors are exploring the possibility of incorporating the use Facebook in their classrooms, but maybe an awareness of social networking sites such as Ning and how it works may cause them to reconsider. The creation of their own social network may be a way to harness the potentials of a Facebook page, while not detracting from the subject at hand.

3b. Reflect on why this tool would be beneficial for other teachers and librarians to learn about.

I think these tools would be beneficial because of the nature of them. They are less intimidating or intrusive in nature when used pedagogically. They also have great professional development potential. With the exception of podcasting, all the other tools are simple to use and foster a collaborative environment as they usually involve the effort of a group of persons with shared goals or interests. Lamb(2004) speaks of the readily adaptable nature instructors will have to these tools owing to their cost-effectiveness and knowledge management feature.

Although podcasts mainly feature a do-it-yourself approach, instructors who are confident with how they sound, may find it easy to just record lectures and have someone edit it. Since podcasts also mimics the traditional didactic instructional method of teaching, some instructors may be interested in using this tool. Also, as Roy and Roy (2007) note, using podcasts enhance the adult education environment as it:
1. Facilitates self-paced learning and allows a restructuring of the use of class-time
2. Allows for the remediation of adults who may be slow learners
3. Learners can listen and multi-task

4. You can live in communities and not be a part of the community - Highlight a couple of the key things you learned from others in the class.

The final parallel that I wish to draw from my experience living in Alberta is on the concept of communities. Back home it is quite normal for persons living within a community to know all other community members by name or even by face. Common courtesies are usually exchanged on a daily basis and the failure of children and youths to extend these courtesies to adults would be deemed as disrespectful. In speaking to individuals who were raised in small towns in Alberta, I get the feeling that they too lived in a interactive communal setting. Things are so different here in Edmonton. I live in an apartment and have never spoken to some of my neighbours. Others I may recognize by face, only three I can recognize by name. It’s such a strange feeling to say ‘hi’ or ‘good-morning’ to persons and be completed ignored by them. I have moved to a very individualistic society and that leaves me longing for home at times. I sill marvel at how much persons yearn to be a part of social networks and can be so open and casual to meeting total strangers online, yet so seemingly callous to persons in their physical environment.

It’s a similar feeling doing classes totally online; while I can recognize some persons by their writing it is highly unlikely that I would be able to recognize persons from this class if I saw them in the mall or on campus. My classmates and I are joined by our experiences in the virtual classroom of EDES501. It sometimes felt awkward for me to exchange pleasantries with my classmates, so I mostly dialogued on course related matters or just read the other conversations that others were having. I have learnt some key things from my classmates especially from our discussions where we asked questions and challenged each other to think outside the box. Some key points that I learnt from my classmates were:
• The blogs that we have created serve as a starting point and a place for us to share new learning and reflections.
• Becoming efficient blogging navigators will also have broader implications for students as they move about the digital world outside of the educational setting.
• We are required to address the ethical and intellectual property rights issues with students as they have been magnified with the Web2.0 technologies.
• Injecting humour in our blogs is a way of extending ourselves and sharing our different selves.
• Exercising and keeping to-do lists are practical ways of managing information overload
• We need to equip students with digital literacy skills that will enable them to negotiate the virtual learning environments
• Building student’s confidence will help them to find their own voice when they begin blogging.

5. Reflect on the whole process - from day 1 to the end of the class

Based on how I chose to do this blog, I think I have already done a holistic reflection on my experience in this course. Overall, it was a tough course for me, as I already shared with Joanne it was physically and mentally exhausting based on the quantity of it. I have just completed my last set of courses and considering I opted to do this course just for the experience of asynchronous learning and getting the feel of Web2.0 technologies, the grades I got (which were the lowest) was the hardest pill to swallow. That still does not detract from the invaluable experiences that I had. If I were to do it again, I would not take this course with a full load, as it is very demanding.

For the most part my interactions with classmates were limited to my group members, it would have been great to hear and engage in what the other group had to say on the discussions. Twitter presented the greatest challenge for me as it embodied information overload which I was unable to adequately sift and focus my energies on. Podcasting was the most intimidating; I cringed at the sound of my voice, even though I enjoyed creating the podcast. Video-sharing and photo-sharing seemed to have unearthed my hidden photographic skills; I took pleasure in doing them. For further research, voice-thread is at the top of my list. I didn’t do as much I wanted to with it, but I loved the whole interaction process that this tool offers. Learners can construct knowledge and deliberate on topical issues using their own learning preference.

Finally, I am beginning to hear my blogging voice, it still has a way to go and my level of blogging still needs to rise to the level of complex, but I can say they both have developed with practice. It was a hard course, but it is so easy for me to now say ‘I’m finished’. Similarly, it has been a hectic Master’s programme but I will soon be handing in my thesis and doing the happy dance. I consider EDES501 as just another chapter in my book of hot n’ cold of being in Alberta and remember that ‘when life gave me lemons, I chose to make lemonade’.

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