Final Portfolio and Final Reflection

Introduction

This post will serve as a collection of select artifacts that I have created or collected throughout this semester as I worked through the INTE 5340 course at the University of Colorado Denver. As I present the following pieces I will explain how my thoughts and outlook changed as I explore the course’s summative question, “How and why is it important for you to tell stories?”

As a part of this course we were asked to select a focal theme that we would like to pursue through the lens of digital stories as well as academic readings. For my focal theme I chose to narrow my scope to technology in the classroom. I chose this theme largely due to the fact that I am about to enter my first year of teaching and am hoping to utilize the technological tools that will be provided in my future classroom.

The INTE 5340 course aligned much of itself with the online course DS 106 which is based out of the University of Mary Washington. The course’s objectives are to have students:

  • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression
  • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking
  • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres

We used the DS 106 online structure as a base to explore different digital storytelling applications through their assignment bank which provided 8 different categories to choose from. Each week we were asked to select an assignment from a specific category and tie it to our individual focal themes (with the exception of the last two weeks when students were given the freedom to choose from the category of their choosing.

One of the hallmarks of the INTE 5340 course was the degree of freedom in which students were allowed to explore their focal themes and the concepts of digital storytelling. This was certainly not an accident and it demonstrated a shift from a teacher-centric learning environment to an environment in which the teacher and students work cooperatively to explore, learn, and develop an understanding of the course content. With this freedom and the collaborative nature of the course, students were able to discover on their own as well as share these discoveries with their colleagues. The potential for learning was multiplied as the course moved from an individual venture to a joint venture.

DS 106 Assignments

As mentioned in the introduction, each week we were asked to select an assignment from a specific category from the DS 106 assignment bank. Further, we were asked to select assignments that were potentially relevant to our focal themds106 Assignments Bankes. For me, finding assignments that related to “technology in the classroom” was not a difficult task. many of the assignments in each category lended itself well to identifying with my focal theme. I tried to narrow my search to assignments that could be used in a middle school social studies classroom (this is the class that I will begin teaching this fall).

The most recent assignment I completed came from the “Visual Assignment” category of the bank. The assignment was called, “What’s the Meme?” and it asked the student to create a meme. There IMG_0895were no specific instructions as to what type of meme you had to create or what the content needed to be related to, just to simply create a meme. I chose to make a meme featuring Thomas Edison in which I poked fun at the fact that Edison was known for creating frivolous patents, while playing off of the popular Dos Equis commercials.

I chose this assignment because of the potential it had for being used in the classroom. I could certainly see designing a similar assignment for students in which they would create a meme to demonstrate their understanding of the content, and could be used a relatively quick formative check. I believe that this type of assignment would be engaging for students considering that most students have background knowledge regarding memes, and there is a large presence of easy-to-use (and free) meme generators online.

Similar to week 7, the week 6 assignment I chose came from the Visual Assignments category of the DS 106 assignment bank. The assignment was titled, “Create a Warning Poster.” Students were asked to create a warning poster about any danger of their choosing. The assignment encouraged creators to find a dangCAUTIONer that was slightly absurd, so I decided to create a warning poster regarding the dangers of Netflix. To create this poster I used a combination of Google Image searches and PowerPoint.

Again, I was trying to find an assignment that I could possibly adjust to use in my future social studies classroom. I felt that adjustments could be easily made to this assignment in order to make it relevant to the content. For example, students could create a poster serving as a “public service announcement” about society’s Constitutional rights. This could be used as a formative check or even as a summative check depending on the construction of the assignment. This activity could be completed individually, or collaboratively with other students in the class.

The connections between my week 5 and week 3 assignments to my focal theme was a little more abstract when compared to weeks 6 and 7. The assignments themselves were not readily adaptable for use in a social studies class, but the inherent concepts behind the assignments were certainly relevant to my theme.

My week 5 assignment was a “mash up” assignment titled, “This Doesn’t Belong Here” which asked me to combine stills from two iconic movies into one picture. The point was to combine two scenes jurassic park sandlot 2which did not belong together. To accomplish this I chose a still from the movie The Sandlot with the infamous T-Rex from Jurassic Park. I used Adobe Photoshop (with the assistance of several online tutorials and forums) to create this image.

I tried to think of ways that an assignment such as this one could be used in my future classroom; however, nothing immediately jumped to mind. But, the idea of creating mash ups certainly has a place within the classroom. Students combining elements (even seemingly unrelated ones) to create new works allows them the opportunity to explore the content via their creativity. For example, (continuing with the idea of Constitutional rights) students could create mash ups of Constitutional rights with examples of current events in which these rights were infringed on, or upheld.

For week 3, we were asked to select an assignment from the “Video Assignments” category. The assignment I chose was, “Watching TV with the Stereo On” which asked students to combine the soundtrack from one film with a scene from another (essentially a video mash up). I decided to combine the soundtrack from the movie E.T. with the floating feather scene in Forrest Gump. Like the week 5 assignment, this activity did not have a direct relation to my focal theme. However, I found the process of learning new programs valuable, an I believe that this concept has a place within the classroom.

In completing these assignments (as well as assignment from other weeks) I made two discoveries. First, I found several possible activities to possibly implement in my future classroom. Second, I was able to fully explore the collaborative environment that the internet provides. For every one of these assignments I had to consult “experts” that I was able to easily find in the cyber world. I found help through tutorials, forums, and other examples of similar works. This process demonstrated for me the concepts and theories that were presented throughout the course especially regarding collaboration and affinity spaces.

Digital Story Critiques

Each week we were asked to find a digital story that related to our focal themes. I was able to find several stories that were related to the theme of technology in the classroom. The majority of the stories provided first hand accounts of teachers implementing new technologies and describing how those experiences went. Some stories spoke very highly of using technology, while others were a bit more apprehensive. I  wanted to get a well balanced view of the issue so I tried to find stories with varying perspectives.

For week 7, I wanted to focus on using technology as a differentiator (I might have made this word up) of content. The story I found was produced by a teacher of a “gifted” class. In this class, the teacher used a computer program in which students controlled digital avatars that moved around a map and completed quests. The quests were created by both the teacher as well as the programmers in order to follow the curriculum. The teacher remarked at how engaged students were when using the program because they felt like they were playing games. At first glance I was concerned with whether or not the students were actually learning through this process, or if they were simply playing games. My concerns were put to rest as the story continued and the students discussed how they transferred the learning from their quests to an assignment in which they had to recommend allocation of funds in a struggling African village. This showed me how engaged students can become when the learning is accessible and authentic. Of course, technology as a differentiator is not exclusive to gifted students, it can also help when making content accessible to English language learners, students with special needs, as well as the general student population.

The story I found for week 6 came from a blog hosted by the site Edutopia. This particular blog posting provided several concise pointers and guidelines when it comes to using technology in the classroom. The first point was seemingly obvious but was still worth mentioning, the teacher should be familiar and comfortable with the technology being used in the class. A lesson could quickly become derailed by speed bumps that could have been avoided (or easily navigated) had the teacher been familiar with the technology being used (this is true for both hardware and software). With distractions such as these, the learning becomes lost in the frustrations created by the technology. The second point emphasized that the focus of the lesson should be on the content as opposed to the technology (this concept was discussed in several different readings and stories from this semester). The technology is the tool that allows students to gain access to the content. Lastly, the author discussed how teachers should not be afraid to allow students some degrees of freedom when it comes to exploring with technology. Again, this demonstrates a shift from a teacher-centric learning environment. The teacher should not be afraid to let students create their own learning or avoid situations in which they can take the opportunity to learn with their students.

For week 5 I found a digital story that followed a teacher who was relatively new to using technology in the classroom. Her story shows her process in implementing new technologies such as Skype in a unit she was creating around the life of Anne Frank. Throughout the video, the story pauses to give pointers regarding technology usage. For example, it discusses cultivating a working relationship with your building’s technology professional, as well as having a “plan b” in case the technology fails. I liked this story in particular because it had a lot of student involvement. It had interviews as well as artifacts created by the students.  This story also showed how authentic work drives students engagement. The students have the opportunity to create questions for a Skype interview with a curator at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I feel as though the questions created by students would not have been as in depth as they were if they knew that no one was going to read them. Students were much more excited to produce thoughtful questions when they knew that they would have a public audience outside of the school building.

I chose to include a digital story that was critical of using technology in the classroom because I feel that it is important to consider varying perspectives. I found and reviewed this story during week 4 of this semester. I tried to remain objective as I watched this story, but that proved to be difficult considering the style and production of the story itself. The story attempted to provide the pros and cons of using technology in the classroom; however, in doing so the video created more questions than answers. This was frustrating as an audience member due to the fact that none of the questions that the author asked were answered, and there was no space provided for viewers to answer the questions themselves. I think that with digital stories such as this one it is important to allow for audience members to interact with other audience members (as well as the author) so that they can attempt to navigate the questions proposed. One point raised by the author that I did wonder about was, “How do you motivate a generally reserved student (shy) to post their work in a public setting?”

Weekly Reading Responses

Each week during the semester students were asked to read selected chapters as well as locate supplemental interest-driven articles related to their focal themes. My search for supplemental readings was very similar to my search for digital stories in that I wanted to find articles that discussed implementing technology in the classroom.

During week 6 I chose to read and respond to a report produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The purpose of the report was to identify areas for improvement in their learning environment. The report itself is over 200 pages, so I chose to focus specifically on the introduction. What resonated with me in reading the introduction was the fact that a university that is renowned for being on the cutting edge is constantly self-reflecting searching for strengths and areas of improvement. I think this is a sentiment that should be adopted by all teachers, we should be constantly assessing the effectiveness of our instruction. If the students are not responding to teaching strategies, then adjustments must be made. For the university, part of this reflective process involved collecting input from the student body. For example, students were asked what types of learning activities motivated them the most. After working through this course I was not surprised by the majority of the students who said that authentic, real-world problems are what they found to be the most engaging.

The article I chose to review for week 5 was another attempt to consider varying perspectives on the topic of utilizing technology in the classroom. The article was from the Wall Street Journal and included commentary from two educators regarding technology, one opposed and one for. This article was much more effective in examining both sides of the coin compared to the week 4 digital story that I critiqued. The author of the “for” section echoed most of the concepts presented in this course: authentic work, collaboration, teacher as the learner, public audience, etc. The author of the “against” section was concerned with the distraction factor that can accompany technology. He was also concerned that students would not be able to navigate the vast expanse of the cyber world to find the information that they are searching for. While these are both valid points, I believe that with effective classroom management and intentional planning/scaffolding, both of these concerns can me alleviated.

My week 3 reading response  was to an article that discussed the importance of striving for a “seamless” classroom when considering technology. A seamless classroom is a classroom in which the technology is used solely as a tool to access learning. Students in a seamless classroom are not distracted by programs and hardware and are able to use them as a second nature in order to explore and complete assignments. They can use technology to demonstrate their understanding of relevant topics and content. This is the ideal classroom.

These supplemental readings were beneficial in that they provided real-world examples of the content we have been learning, and shared varying perspectives on the issues being discussed.

Social Media

In reading the syllabus at the beginning of the course I was apprehensive at the amount of social media interaction I would be required to have. Prior to this course my social media skills were limited to monthly Facebook updates. I had never used online services such as Twitter, WordPress, or Hypothsis. Once I began interacting with these platforms I realized their significance. I was able to collaborate with students in my class as well as individuals outside of my academic world.

Through Twitter I was able to promote my blogs as well as my creations for the various DS 106 assignments that I completed throughout the semester. At first, I was unsure as to the purpose of Twitter, but as I started to explore other handles and links I discovered how quickly I was able to access new information and content as well as connect with groups that shared similar interests with me. Untitled 1

I also found how satisfying it was to see that other Twitter users were looking at and “liking” my content. This reinforced the idea of motivating students to create for a public audience in authentic ways.

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I used WordPress to create my blog. I enjoyed its user-friendly interface, and was able to easily learn how to import pictures, create links, as well as include “widgets” on my blog space.

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I had never heard of Hypothesis before taking this course. Hypothesis allows students to publicly  or privately annotate online media. This was useful considering that I could ask questions regarding difficult readings that my peers could respond to. I was also able to respond to questions raised by other students. These interactions generally led to conversations which ultimately allowed for students to dive more in-depth into the articles and generate greater understanding of the concepts being presented.

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We are also able to use Hypothesis to respond to one another’s blog posts. This helped to affirm/contradict/expand our thoughts regarding different content in the course.

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Why is it Important to Tell Stories?

Telling stories is important because it allows people (students) to share and develop their thoughts. Having the opportunity and ability to share these stories on an online platform grants access to a larger network which can help refine and hone the skills that individuals seek to achieve. Considering my focal theme, technology (and story telling) creates an authentic environment that will drive student motivation and engagement.

Final Reflection

You as a learner in this course

As a learner in this course I felt the freedom to explore the content as it best suited my needs. This is an important concept when considering what authentic learning truly entails. Learning is only authentic from the perspective of the student. The teacher is responsible for providing the appropriate amount of scaffolding to ensure that the student has the tools necessary to explore the content. It is up to the learner to take advantage of these opportunities.

Your co-design of this course

This course was vastly different from other graduate courses that I have taken given the degree of freedom that I was allowed to take in exploring the content. The majority of the learning was left up to me as the student to undertake. This is not to say that I was not provided the tools and a starting point to begin this process. A collaborative culture was readily instilled from the onset of the course, and was effectively carried out throughout the semester.Through applications such as Hypothesis, students were able to share and develop one another’s ideas and thoughts towards the content.

Your understanding of pedagogy

My biggest takeaway from the design/pedagogy of this course was that it is absolutely necessary to ensure that the learning is authentic to the student. We were given freedom in our focal themes, assignments, and supplemental readings all while adhering to the curriculum of the course itself. I would not have developed the same understanding of story telling (and technology in the classroom) had I been required to stick to a strict regimented reading cycle. I appreciate the fact that the instructors of the course respected the students as intellectual colleagues and deviated from a teacher-centric approach to education.

 

 

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