We are experiencing a time when educators are pioneering with tech tools to make a bigger difference in student learning. Educators in the United States face a variety of challenges since we serve a culturally diverse and multilingual community of students and parents. Tech tools for education offer opportunities to bypass many of our struggles, frustrations and give motivation to our students publish and share with others their finished works. Learning about and implementing tech tools in our classrooms can be challenging at the beginning but study groups such as Fordham Digital Literacies Collaborative (DLC) make that process easier.
On Nov. 3, 2016, DLC study group met via video conference to discuss Chapter 1 in Blogs, Wikis, Podcast, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classroom by Will Richardson. Dr. Kristen H. Turner, Margarita Battle Zahl, Ivelisse E. Brannon, Lauren King, Joseph Pizzo, Gordon Van Owen, Anne Lenzini, Tricia Clarke and I talked about how we have been using tech tools covered in the chapter to support our teaching, parent engagement and professional growth. Among the tools discussed that came up were Blogs (WordPress & Google Blogger), Google Classroom, Google Hangout, Google Communities, Wikispaces, Facebook Groups, Twitter, YouTube, Teaching Channel, Pinterest, Doctopus and Goobric.
Publishing Sites: Google Classroom, Wikispaces and WordPress and Blogger sites are useful, free or at a low cost publishing websites that allow teachers to upload, post content material and assignment information so that students can access it to finish their work from anywhere at anytime. These also allow students to publish their finished work.
Parent Communication: Everyone agrees that parent engagement is essential and key to student success in school. In the past years, tech developers have made tools available for teachers to easily use them to share student progress and assignments. In making parents our best partners our members use Remind, Google Hangout and Closed Facebook Groups.
Professional Teaching Development: Teaching is an ongoing learning process and in this Digital Age educators connect, learn and collaborate with one another using Google Apps and Social Media tools. Not only do we learn about the latest useful EduApps but also how other teachers make it work in the classroom.
Using tech tools for education require time, dedication and practice, however, it’s worth the effort since we connect with amazing educators who help us improve our teaching craft and stay relevant.
September 2013, one month after completing my graduate studies at Fordham University, I began my teaching career at Urban Science Academy (MS325) in the Bronx, an urban high-needs middle school. A new beginning in a new profession, I was excited to begin but nervous for I knew it demanded attention, focus, lots of reading and practice to give the right service to students and their families.
Becoming aware about Professional Development (PD) sessions offered to teachers by the New York City Department of Education, I happily began to attend them to learn something useful for my teaching in Special and General Education classes across content areas. As a new teacher attending those sessions, I was interested in the presenter’s sharing of teaching strategies, tech tools and resources. I became deeply interested to learn how teachers were utilizing various technology tools available free of charge for us to support teaching content and use them as platforms for students to produce and complete assignments. I began to play with and test the tools I felt more comfortable with and soon began using them in my classrooms to teach more effectively, motivate my students to want to learn and give them voice by letting them choose their favorite tech tool to finish tasks and major assessments. My new learnings helped me grow as a teacher, flourish along with my students and make a difference in their lives, especially to those kids hungry to learn and take advantage of what is taught and shared with them for their own intellectual growth.
Fordham Digital Literacies Collaborative (DLC) has been the first group of educators that has helped me become a better teacher and a better public presenter. I entered the teaching profession with great optimism and joining DLC has enlightened my practice and extended my teaching digital skills. Learning and collaborating with DLC has strengthened my courage to find ways to overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities that come our way to improve our craft to address the needs of our students who come from diverse, cultural and racial backgrounds. Listening to my peer’s teaching experiences during our online google hangout and in person meetings for the past two years have motivated me to let my kids use tech tools to demonstrate their reading comprehension and improve their writing skills. And now I am in a position where I can share with other educators teaching digital literacy so they can also make use of tech tools to address their kids literacy gaps and enjoy seeing them make progress, explore, discover and appreciate their gifts and talents.
Last July 22, 2015, I had the opportunity and pleasure to give my first public presentation as a teacher to other educators at Fordham DLC Conference. It was my first presentation where I started to feel become a more professional player in education, a more participant in our field. My session entitled “Going Paperless in the Classroom!” was about how my 7th grade ELLs/ICT Science students used Google Docs to complete an essay assignment on Human Body Systems and Class Wikispaces to provide a variety of scaffolded readings below and at grade level. My students received continuous guidance and feedback to edit their essays and selected human body system readings I put together from books, readings, videos and images I found online for them to use and support their essay main points. Two of my students had the opportunity to share with the audience their experience using these two tools. It was a happy moment in my life to hear my students talk about their learning and how we all grew together as learners. And most important, other teachers felt encouraged to play with these tech tools with their students in the future.
I had a second opportunity to be a presenter at Fordham DLC Conference on July 13, 2016 and share with others how I used new tech tools available to teachers, students and parents. This time, I presented, “Expanding the Walls of my Self-Contained Classroom: Connecting with Parents and Students to Increase Literacy Skills,” a session about using Google Classroom and Wikispaces to post task/assignments and resources and Remind App to communicate with parents about the assignments their children had to complete in class and for homework. Again as an active player, I got to share and answer questions on how these tools worked for me and my students and how these helped me motivate students produce works that put forward their language and artistic talents. After two years of presenting at DLC conference, as a teaching in a challenging middle school, I get to inspire teachers try innovative teaching practices and transmit that positive attitude many teachers have passed on to me.
I’m still the student and teacher who will continue to learn from other educators, help me grow and empower me to perfect my craft and do a better job when I’m in front of students. And those moments of enrichment will continue to transform me be a better professional educator to support our students become better functional adults in a fast changing world. And in a closing note, my colleagues, I invite you to experiment with digital literacy with your students and join us to share and present your knowledge and experiences at conferences. It can look daunting at the beginning but all it takes is practice.
Spoiler Alert: We’re launching a DLC Badge Program!
I had the pleasure of leading the DLC’s July Hangout on Digital Badges, which was an opportunity for us to consider the application of digital badges in our own classrooms, and for our use in the DLC.
Rather than selecting a book for participants to read in advance, I shared a list of online resources on digital badges, asking DLC members to read through several of interest in preparation for our conversation.
To push my own digital literacies—something DLC members do regularly—I experimented with YouTube’s annotation feature, adding annotations to the video recording of our “Hangout on Air”to highlight moments of interest. I’ll summarize a few highlights of our discussion, here:
Benefits of Digital Badges
Joe P. (8:00) shared that digital badges could be “acknowledgements of different accomplishments that the students have made throughout [the year].”
Ivelisse B. (12:15) added that we could use badges to acknowledge a range of skills: “We could use them in such a way that some students who would otherwise not be included could be, so that you could reward students for things that aren’t necessarily on the rubric.”
I raised a question about the value of issues badges to all students for a general accomplishment (such as participation), versus more specific or advanced badges: Joe P. (15:25) suggested we recognize participation with an entry-level badge, and issue more specific badges for bigger accomplishments: “Gateway badges for participation are great, and that helps to engage, but I think we need to think in terms of how do we go beyond those for accomplishment?”
Clemencia A. (24:52) added that badges could be a positive incentive to motivate students: “I think it can work as an incentive to encourage kids to do work or to put effort in their work. I think as a teacher, it can be used as a cheap way of rewarding kids. I know some teachers have suggested buying cheap things just to recognize their work. But sometimes you know we have to be careful how much we spend. But if we create these digital badges and give it to kids as a reward for the effort that they put on their work, I think that sounds like a good idea.”
Badges for the DLC
After I previewed a few of the websites we could use to create badges (e.g. Badgelist, Credly) and shared some prototypes I’d designed with the group, we decided that we wanted to move forward with a badge program for the DLC. We discussed a few specific badges, including one to recognize attendees from our 2016 Summer Conference, and played around with the design features on a few badge websites.
We also shared our goals for using badges this year. Clemencia A. (41:39) plans to create and issue badges with Credly for her students.
Ivelisse B. (42:38) is interested in learning more about badges through DLC before trying it in her classroom: “I’d like to try it out first in the DLC. I think it would be helpful for me to play with it a little with the adults before I started to do it with the kids.” One of the advantages of working with a group like the DLC is that we can learn from each other’s experience with new technology, and rely on each other’s support if we choose to adopt something in our own classrooms.
Joe P. (42:51) hopes that our badge program will get more people involved in the DLC: “I like the fact that this is just an opportunity to reach out to others who are either in the DLC right now and maybe would benefit from a little recognition. The fact that we’re looking to expand. This is another little pat on the back. It’s a way to get PD credit because you can prove that you’ve been part of a group and that you’ve accomplished certain things. [ . . . ] So I think it might be beneficial if someone wants to join us, that this is another way to be recognized.”
Badge Program Update
We are currently finalizing the designs for our first set of digital badges, and setting up the program on Badgelist, which will allow us to create an invite-only group for the DLC, and designate multiple members as badge issuers. We are excited to launch our program in the next few weeks, and look forward to sharing the results of our collaborative efforts with current and future DLC members!