Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Using Slack in a High School Class

In the short time I've been teaching high school I've had hundreds of opportunities to witness students in my classes log into their email accounts. It's always quite shocking to see the multitudes of unread emails that wallpaper their inboxes, but I'm no longer surprised. The fact is that they don't like email. Email was very late in providing a friendly mobile experience; it's not really a format for synchronous communication; and its form is associated with an adult world of formalities. Plus the emoticons suck.

This bothers me because as a teacher, and particularly a teacher with a background in online technology and eLearning, I feel a strong need to be able to communicate via online channels with students, and up until now email has been my core communication tool. Email is embedded not only into my way of working but it is a fundamental feature of many of the other services we use in education. Google Classroom fires off an email for almost every interaction available to you.

So my dilemma has been: how to communicate with students online without hammering them with the message of "check your email, check your email"? I decided this year that I wanted try a space that would work for the both of us, rather than forcing them into spaces that worked for me. I entertained the idea of Facebook, but not for long. Not only are the teenage stats for Facebook declining, but I find the privacy settings to be quite confusing and I didn't want to use a platform that blurred the lines between our school lives and our personal lives that much. I considered Instagram and its new chat / group function, but the focus on pictures and almost no options for linking out or adding files dissuaded me. Snapchat? I asked #edchatNZ about that on Twitter and was quickly warned about the fact that the quick deletion of posts led towards an ethical quagmire around accountability. Part of me also didn't want to colonise another of their spaces with school stuff. They need spaces that are free from teachers.

Enter my experiment with Slack. Slack is an online platform partially promoted as a replacement for email for teams. Slack has many of the features of a social media platform: direct messaging, the ability to quickly create channels for unique discussion topics, and more importantly it has a seamless mobile experience and notifications. This last feature is possibly the most important one. Notifications are key. If it's not sending out notifications it may as well not exist. Our Year 9 English Slack team (that's what groups are called in Slack) is by invite only and you have to have an email from our school domain to join; this keeps us safe and creates a space that is private to us. I've integrated our class Google Calender into Slack so that reminders of upcoming events are sent into a channel, and I've added the Google Drive integration so we can quickly share docs from inside our Drives. Slack makes me available to answer questions from students from 8:00am to 5:30pm. I've set that time myself and told the class; after 5:30pm notifications are off, and my status is set to 'away'.*

Not only does this class use Slack outside of class times, but we also use it inside of class as well. Our silent writing sessions (this is a BYOD 1:1 device class) are only silent vocal chord times. Having an efficient platform for quick communication allows us to maintain a quiet environment for writing or other study, but at the same time doesn't shut down communication completely. Students can ask me questions on Slack during this period, or they can talk to each other about work. They can create their own channels on the platform, invite who they want, then delete them when they're done. There are already a couple going that I've not been invited to (although as admin I can actually see them).

Here are the stats after 9 weeks of the use of Slack in our class of 31 students:
  • Approximately 3,000 messages have been sent.
  • 469 (16%) messages are in public channels (public to members of our team),
  • the rest (2,500+) have been Direct Messages (DMs, private between individuals).
  • 146 files have been posted. 
I feel as if that's a pretty good indicator of engagement, and I also wonder if the platform is enabling students who are a bit too shy to ask questions in class more opportunities to engage with me one on one.

There is a lot of potential for the use of synchronous communication tools and social media in education. Slack is working well for me in this respect and I will continue to use it in the BYOD class. The free offering of the platform is adequate for our current needs and we're still exploring and finding new ways to use it as we become more familiar with it. Plus, the emojis are awesome.

(I'm leaving talk of the slackbot for another post.)

* I've modified this post since originally authoring it and I think it's worthwhile mentioning that here. Originally I had my 'office hours' set to be from 8:30am to 10:30pm - essentially the hours that I'm awake, but it's been suggested to me by an adviser at school that I reconsider this practice. He alerted me to ethical considerations around making myself available at night, as well as considerations about 'teacher burnout', etc. My rationale was that these are the hours that I'm online and that being a fully connected individual for the majority of that time I am available and willing to respond to student requests for help during these times. This has made some teachers quite uncomfortable as they see that it may raise expectations on them and the profession at large. There was also some discussion around the remunerative aspect of being available over this period, but the elephant in that room seems to be that all teachers are working far beyond the hours they are remunerated for anyways. But, for the time-being I've modified my 'office hours' to be more in-line with the normal work day.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

George Siemens' Five elements for edtech

  1. Does the technology foster creativity and personal expression?
  2. Does the technology develop the learner and contribute to her formation as a person?
  3. Is the technology fun and engaging?
  4. Does the technology have the human teacher and/or peer learners at the centre?
  5. Does the technology consider the whole learner?
Read the full article here:
Is Education Technology Losing Its Humanity?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Panic and Pedagogy

Panic. There seems to be an awful lot of it in the staff rooms of schools these days. Either you’re a teacher panicking about the digital world, or you’re not. Not that panics are new. In the 1950’s people panicked about comic books - comics were destroying the youth. They were banned for a while, censored essentially. Before that radio was destroying youth; then TV, video games, the Internet, social media. Catholics thought the printing press was going to destroy their version of God. Do we really have such little faith in youth? Is media really the great destroyer? Age destroys youth. Most of us are still here. Un-destroyed? by media. Perhaps it’s just change that adults are afraid of. Youth isn’t afraid of change, they don’t have enough context to even sense it. It just is. Like Heraclitus said,“The only thing that is constant is change.” They live in the stream. Adulthood tries to set itself up against the flow. You “settle down”. You become a sort of rock, rather than a leaf. Eventually though it will wear you down. I’m trying to be a cork.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Digital Pepeha

Here are the Digital Pepeha that I've had permission to upload to YouTube so far.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Antonio Gramsci

"The history of education shows that every class which has sought to take power has prepared itself for power by an autonomous education. The first step in emancipating oneself from political and social slavery is that of freeing the mind. I put forward this new idea: popular schooling should be placed under the control of the great workers’ unions. The problem of education is the most important class problem."

Gramsci, cited in Davidson's (1977) Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography. London: Merlin Press., p. 77.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Digital Pepeha: an enquiry into technology and tikanga Māori

Tangata Whenuatanga

Socio-cultural awareness and knowledge. Recognising that learning occurs within a cultural context. Knowledge of whakapapa; knowing who children are; where they are from and who they belong to. Our Identities, our languages, and our culture.

My enquiry consists of the planning, development, and teaching of a unit for Year 7 and 8 Digital Literacy classes where students will develop a “Digital Pepeha”.

The project acknowledges the worldview (whether Māori, Pākeha, or whatever Iwi) of our rangatahi (youth) and their digital realities. There is a naturalisation of sharing and the forming of social bonds (Manākitanga), often across physical distances, present in their lives as digital citizens. This enquiry aims to combine a contemporary aspect of their worldview with a particular piece of tikanga Māori - the pepeha.

The pepeha is a way to introduce yourself in te reo Māori. It delivers a brief historical, geographic, and genealogical overview of the speaker’s background. The pepeha’s narrative journey back in time culminates in the speaker’s name, and lastly his or her marae.

It is easy in a class focussing on Digital Literacies to be obsessed with the future. Such contemporary courses align well with our developing “future focus”, a pedagogical strategy embedded within a particularly Pākehā cosmology that privileges the future over the past. The Digital Pepeha aims to explore how digital literacies may intersect with an aspect of a traditional Māori worldview, particularly the tradition of walking backwards into the future, “Ka mura, ka muri.”?

81.5% of Māori know which “iwi” they belong to, indicating that whakapapa might still be a strong influence in the worldviews of most Maori.

Where I’m at so far:

To accomplish this required me to explore and develop my own pepeha. To this end I have consulted with Whaea Te Ao Marama Hau, and Whaea Huhanna Davis regarding the pepeha form. I have also developed the Digital Pepeha Generator, a Google Form that enables students to enter the specific elements of their pepeha (maunga, awa, moana, etc.,) online in order to generate both English and te reo Māori versions of their pepeha automatically. We are currently compiling the text and images for generation of the final products.

My Pepeha (so far):

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ko te Whitirea te maunga
Ko Pipitea te awa
Ko te Titahi te moana
Ko Ngati Pākehā te iwi
Ko Simpson te hapu
Ko Roger tōku matua
Ko Thomas tōku whaea
Ko Glenn tōku tungane
Ko Jackson raua ko Georgia ōku tamariki
Ko Michelle tōku wahine
Ko Brent Simpson tōku ingoa
Ko Piritahi te marae

No reira,
tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.