Monday, 16 April 2012

School Holidays - The Biggest Procrastination

Finally. The school holidays. Only one more week of sanity left before I'm back in front of my loyal students.

There are a few things I want to discuss in this post:

  1. Introducing Facebook as a learning platform
  2. Over-thinking the quality of my teaching
  3. The Challenge - Enjoying the holidays but still getting school work done

Introducing Facebook as a learning platform

I have discussed this with a few colleagues and friends over the past two years. Friends at teachers college were all for it. We were new, inspired, enthusiastic and not weighed down by school technology policies and protocol.Colleagues at schools I have done practicum at were also all for it, but slightly nervous about using it, although they still did it because they knew the experience and learning outran the risks involved. At my current school - I feel weighed down by policies and protocol. I struggle every day with a very slow internet connection at school (which is beginning to be changed and updated - after a strenuous process) and also struggle with myself and my knowledge and understanding that my students as am I are from a technologically advanced generation - and by using it, we can evolve in our thinking much more quickly. However, I do believe that learning through print media is absolutely important - but it seems that electronic versions will soon become the way to go. 

My struggle with using Facebook is this: I want to use it, and therefore add an extra dimension to my teaching space but the technology policies and protocols at school seem... outdated. 

Billions of people every day use Facebook. It is one of the main ways people can connect throughout the world and share information. Why do we limit our teaching spaces to just in the classroom? Or rather, why do we have to? I believe that it is important to 'move with the times' and change and adapt as new information and technology evolves. In theory, Facebook provides a fabulous platform to control a class page - which yes you do have to monitor (just as you would in your own classroom), and yes you do have to reply to students' messages and questions (just as you would in your own classroom) and of course there is the obvious literacy aspect - students writing. Sure, they may be typing - but doesn't this work just as well in finding spelling errors, grammatical errors, and syntax errors? Typing is also a much quicker way (for today's students at least) to get their ideas down on to paper. 

Of course, with any new initiative there will be concerns and issues surrounding student safety and privacy, and also teacher privacy and safety. If controlled correctly, this need not be an issue. Facebook has a variety of ways to enforce safety on its site, though sometimes it is difficult to quickly navigate and enforce particular settings on each individual page. Though it is possible, if you take the time and energy in learning how to do so. - Isn't this what we teach our students? To challenge the new and difficult? Why do we as teachers, (well some at least) refuse to move with the times, refuse to change, and reflect on our teaching and refuse to practice what we expect our own students to do?

I believe that Facebook is a fabulous tool - if used properly. In the last year, I have created four Facebook group pages for each of my classes. Each group was used in a different way - mainly because of the different age groups I was teaching. I would be slightly more cautious in involving younger students to partake in an e-learning environment (even though I introduced myself to the World Wide Web at a very young age) only because there seem to be more risk factors involved with them. I read bits and pieces of a fellow blogger today - (LINK - Invisible Teacher) in which she mentioned that she had created a Facebook page for her class - following Claire's instructions (something I will need to follow up on after this post!) which stated to email the parents about the Facebook page. Something I had neglected to do in the past. With my Y9 class this year in my introductory letter I did mention we were creating a Facebook page for our class and that it would be one of the platforms for homework and discussion. So far I haven't had any objections to this. Though I do not know whether the letter got home to my students' families - something which a quick email home would alter. 

Last year, I created three group pages. One for my Y10 class, and one each for the Y11 and Y12 classes I was relieving for my colleague on maternity leave. My Y10 class loved it. They would post relevant information, videos, ideas and stories on the page through comments, Youtube, pictures and posts. The Y12 class (top of their year) were a bit more reserved, but did use it to ask specific questions - things that they thought about coming up to their mock exams and NCEA exams that they had forgotten to ask me. I thought that having this extra platform for them was useful - but was basically the same as them emailing me on my school email address. Some students did use the page as a discussion/forum board to talk about issues, quotes, relevant key ideas and concepts from the texts we had studied - which to me, seemed a lot more relevant and important. The Y11 class on the other hand - either I didn't push it enough or play it up as being useful - but not many 'liked' the page - or found it as being very useful. (Though sometimes I feel Y11's are trying to be grown up like Y12's but still behave like Y10's because they don't know how they should be acting - which I suppose is what makes Y11's so interesting an age group to teach!)

I have trialed Facebook pages with my Y9 class this year - to a varying degree of success. The higher ability students are using the page the same way as my Y10s did last year - reacting and thinking about posts I add, pictures, and videos - relating to what we're studying. The middle ability students seem quite blase and use the page as if they're still in class and chatting away. The lower ability students do not seem old enough or able to react appropriately for their age group or adequately interested in learning - so play up and be stupid. I have yet to figure out a way to involve my lower ability boys with this Facebook group as at the moment, it is merely for homework tasks and questioning prior knowledge. 

Regardless of the varying degrees of success and failure for all of the pages - I still have the resounding issue where I am - I suppose - unable to actually use the platform because of our policies and protocols. My HOD agrees with me that our school should get up to date with technology policies current today - yet also seems a little nervous to actually engage with the process or allow it. We have a school interweb platform, which some Y12 students were interested in last year, as was I, but nothing ever really happened in creating it. Which is why I turned to Facebook - as it is an obvious answer to my problems in creating an extra teaching dimension. I have also trialed Wikispaces this year with my Y9's, the only problem is getting into the computer labs - though it has been a very trying time with them so far this year, which is why I have yet to launch the site with them as of yet. I have tried other platforms and Facebook is always the obvious choice for me. It's easy to use, navigate and teach from. I feel like an idea for my hons dissertation is working its way out from this post actually!! 

Anyway - that's how I feel about using Facebook as a platform to teach from - an invisible teaching platform. My questions to you are - 
  • how do we as new (and experienced) teachers navigate the issues around school policies and protocols when wanting to use new and exciting initiatives
  • do you use facebook or other teaching platforms and how?