I’m doing something I said I would never do: I’m going back to school. Grad school, that is. I can’t make a judgment call yet because I’m at the beginning of this long journey. It’s possible that my second grader will get his Masters degree before I do. But. I started.
I’m taking a course called Literacy and Technology, which I find both fascinating and helpful because tech intimidates me. I am certainly no pioneer, eager to try every new thing put out by Apple or Samsung or Microsoft. Once I get comfortable with a particular technology, platform, or device, I’ll stick with it until it dies or I do.
I understand that I’m admitting to be a paradoxical, Millennial dinosaur. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may remember that I love physical books—you know, made of this archaic material called paper. But I happen to have a son who is dyslexic, and paper books are a trial for him. This does not mean, however, that he has to hate books. He’s almost 12, but I still read aloud to him, sharing some of my favorite stories that I don’t want him to miss out on. Fortunately, current technology has progressed so that he doesn’t have to put me in his backpack and take me everywhere when he needs to read. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that, and he has a handy one called Learning Ally that can read texts for him, both fiction and non-fiction. And that’s just one example of many that can help people like Peter.
How appropriate that my first class is introducing me to all kinds of tech and new ideas about how to best utilize it in the classroom. This week’s focus: creating educational content via blogs, microblogs, and video. In a time when schools either have some sort of computer device in most classrooms or actually require students to bring their own, this is a hot and often controversial topic. Cyber ethics and safety and online research are normal parts of children’s curriculum now. It’s not just Solitaire and Oregon Trail anymore, which were the main reasons I used computers when I was a tween.
The advantages of creating and using online content are many. If you’re curious about an educational topic, someone else has probably already posted something about it. All you have to do is search. And then comment. Or retweet. Or subscribe and share. Then give it your own personal twist; use it; post the results. The information accumulates, is shared again, and this is the beauty of live content, versus a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica that cost a pile of money in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated since then because of said pile of money.
Instead of debating whether this kind of technology would be allowed at my school, let’s go by the assumption that it would, and I have a classroom of students who are old enough to use blogs, microblogs, and videos. In this scenario, which medium would I prefer, and why? After studying all three methods, my answer today is a little different than it was this time last week.
Going in to this topic, I was very familiar with blogs. I mean, here I am, writing one. And despite being less active this year than I’ve been since starting Full-Time Writer Mom in 2012, I am still most comfortable with this medium. I pride myself on thinking carefully about each topic; that’s why I no longer write weekly. For a while, coming up with a topic felt forced. I decided to only write something when I felt moved to do so. The problem, of course, was that when I got out of the habit, it was easy to make excuses, to continue to not post.
But what if I were able to use this platform in the classroom? I discovered a couple new blogs this week that spoke to the book lover in me, A Mighty Girl and School Library Journal. I am seriously considering going back and re-certifying so I can teach 4th, 5th, or 6th grade language arts (I’m currently only certified through 3rd grade). Not only would these blogs and ones like them be a great resource for me in the classroom, but what if I could expand this blog to help other teachers? This is very appealing to me, something I feel I could do well and with relative ease.
Next: Twitter and microblogging. As the name suggests, microblogging is blogging, but on a tiny scale. And I’ll admit that, although I do have a Twitter account, I never use it. Why? I guess because I’m unfamiliar with it, intimidated. Please refer to when I said that I get comfortable with something and like to stick with it. I’m comfortable with Facebook. Not Instagram, not LinkedIn, not Twitter. I have accounts with them all, but I’m sadly MIA in most. My fault. I know they’re all good resources, so I need to make myself become more familiar, push myself out of my comfort zone. But Twitter specifically really gets me because I’m verbose. If the rule were to keep tweets down to 140 words, I’d still have a problem. But 140 characters?
This is a challenge I need to tackle, and I became convinced of this when I read about English teacher and author Kate Messner and how she got her class involved with Twitter. By creating an account for her class, she was able to have them join in on a conversation about one of the books they were reading with the book’s author and editor. While an argument can be made that social media isolates people, when used correctly, Twitter can connect people who, otherwise, might never meet. While I think it’s cool for the occasional author to comment on one of my reviews on Goodreads, that’s nothing to having a real-time conversation like Messner’s class had. This would have been a dream come true when I was a kid. (Okay, it still is. I really need to get busy on Twitter.)
The last medium, video, is the one with which I am least comfortable, although I certainly appreciate its uses. My children have a few people they follow on YouTube, mainly adult gamers who play Minecraft or Roblox (MC Naveed and Pat and Jen are the biggies). My seven-year-old has learned how to create some amazing structures on Minecraft just from watching their videos. Are they entertaining? Undoubtedly. Do they also happen to be instructional? Actually, yes. I think a downside is, however, there’s so much inappropriate video content out there. Sometimes Ian will be in the middle of watching someone build something (not from the two mentioned above), and then a swear word comes out. And Mom Police immediately shuts it down.
Still, could I preview content and share what I deem appropriate in the classroom? I could, as well as use it for professional development. But could I create my own YouTube channel, my own content? Well… that’s where I’m unsure. I can do live videos on Facebook within a closed group, where my audience is small, familiar. Do I want to put myself out there, have my face on everything I produce? Because that’s what I see whenever I view someone else’s YouTube channel: faces. It seems kind of narcissistic. I know this bias shouldn’t make me leery of this medium, but it does. For now, let’s just say that I am more willing to be a consumer than a producer. But do I dare say “never”? Well, look at what happened when I said I wouldn’t ever go back to school…