Watching the wheels go round and round

My experience with students’ use of technology has been frustrating here in China.

I can’t sugarcoat it.

Photo Credit: Frits Ahlefeldt – FritsAhlefeldt.com Flickr via Compfight cc

Having been in China for the last 6 school years, I’ve experienced and witnessed tech nightmares. I feel, as though, I’ve spent a third of my time spent in China watching the wheels spin, waiting for pages to load. It comes with working in a rapidly developing country, I suppose.

For example, I designed an interactive book display with QR codes a couple years ago. Between the low broadband and the great firewall of China, I had a difficult time not losing my mind.

I don’t want this post to come off, as being negative… Is it too late?

Rather than look at my experiences as failed attempts at trying to augment or redefine learning, I’ll say this: it’s been a growth experience. Be prepared with a backup plan, and be patient, always.

At my previous school we had developed a BYOD policy, and things were starting to get better, as far as speed and broadband.  I remember inspiring students to share their book reviews with each other and offer recommendations, using our library management system

In hindsight, it was actually pretty cool. Students recommended books to each other, and I think they really enjoyed connecting with each other in that context. However, I couldn’t help but notice how limited the platform was. Sometimes kids would want to reply to certain comments, and it wasn’t possible. Eventually, they got tired of not being able to continue the conversation. I haven’t used Follett’s Destiny in awhile – it may have been upgraded so that students recommendations and reviews are more apt for continuous dialogue.

Having taken this course, though, I learned not to let that platform hinder progress. Instead of using Follett Destiny, this time we tried wordpress (the software and it’s housed on our server at school, alleviating the winding wheel issue) And we’re calling it interactive book reports. Kids are writing book reviews, and their friends are commenting. I’m thinking about extending this for my course 5 project. Stay tuned.

Another experience this year: I collaborated with a teacher on students writing their own stories. We used office 365. Thankfully, my colleague was super patient. The kids were, too. All the kids wrote their stories out, using pen and paper. BUT, to officially publish, everybody had to eventually type their stories on word. You’d think this would be easy, but they were using Word in the cloud with their school accounts. It seemed like we wasted a great deal of time looking at the wheel — for simple edits and saving.

One thing I have noticed from teachers who have been teaching a long time, for better or worse, don’t seem to use technology all that much in their teaching. I see most of the best work being done by students and teachers in the absence of technology — not in its presence. Outside of managebac and office, it doesn’t work for most because of the country we’re living. I think this has to do with the firewall, more than anything. I should also mention that some teachers do claim (I just haven’t seen it from the library) that they use office notebook successfully as a platform to exhange and deliver with students.

In looking at Larry Rosen’s Tech Breaks, I don’t see it being all that necessary with our students.  I certainly see its place and value, but I see kids checking in on their phones during lunch, between classes, and in the halls. Isn’t that enough? It could be that I’m too far removed being in the library.  The library is usually the place where students do come to have their tech breaks. Last year students would often come to our library to check in on Instagram or gaming platform.

Really, libraries can be the necessary place for tech breaks for students. A warm, welcoming environment, allowing for some along time with their device and social media. Students seem to really enjoy that.

Within the classroom, I’m not sure I’d be ready to experiment until I knew more about my students. It might even be a good idea to ask them what they think about the idea. Maybe they would want a few minutes to check in. 

 

I take back what I wrote earlier, asking the question “is it really necessary for tech breaks?”

After having read the articles and watched this video above.

Science doesn’t lie. If students are anxious after 15 minutes, having not checked in, maybe results will be better, if given a tech break. This is something I will investigate further.

Focus and attend – calm the brain That’s the point of a tech break. Give them one minute. Check back in 15 minutes. Larry Rosen stresses giving our brains practice. I do think it would be a good idea for students to practice this idea of taking a break with tech and then focusing on class work, whatever that might be.

I know from own experience, that I do have to acknowledge what distracts me and why. I’m 34, just figuring out how to best practice tech use with my phone and computer. I practice shutting everything down. I try to mind when I check in on social media. And, I especially look to when I should not check in on my phone. If I’m stressed and anxious and go to my phone for relief, I practice saying to myself “There aren’t going to be any answers to my problem on this thing”

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Watching the wheels go round and round

  1. Troy White says:

    Hey Mike,

    Very thorough post – lots of insight and sound observations.
    The Great Firewall, China – I get it, it’s such a paradoxical place. So many good things about it, but internet, with regards to education, not generally one of them. I completely empathize with your frustration, and I had a bit of an easy time of it as my school had a direct connection to HK. The LMS & CMS was the issue, because, due to obvious equity issues, we couldn’t ask our students to access anything outside of school that would require a VPN. Of which, it seems like the VPN might be a problem for everyone soon enough. How are things right now and how do you see things unfolding? Even Apple seems to be O.K. with the Great Fire Wall, “For some reason Tim Cook thinks China will allow VPNs to return to the App Store”.

    Like the interactive book reports. This has been something I’ve pushed over the years, along the lines of the “Reading Rainbow” book reviews from back in the day.
    I feel the intrinsic motivation is there for both parties; the students who create the reviews and those who will consume these. If their friends will see them, then maybe they’ll up their game and create a more solid product. Equally, they’ll be more inclined to read and comment on their peers’ work.

    Thought the statistics from Larry Rosen’s Technology and the Brain, the Latest Research and Findings were interesting. Some of the numbers regarding students ability to pay attention over a fifteen minute period seems pretty good if you ask me. But, for those who struggle, perhaps a nice Chrome extension, xTab“… allows you to limit your tabs to a maximum number of tabs”.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Troy.

      It’s not looking good. Personal VPNs are up and down, depending on the political climate. Not having Google here hurts education so much. Seems like countries are fighting globalization, and it just doesn’t make sense now that we’re all connected through the Internet. It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. China seems to be getting tighter, as far access to “outside” information.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the comment, Troy.

    It’s not looking good. Personal VPNs are up and down, depending on the political climate. Not having Google here hurts education so much. Seems like countries are fighting globalization, and it just doesn’t make sense now that we’re all connected through the Internet. It’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. China seems to be getting tighter, as far access to “outside” information.

    Reply
  3. Ouch, you certainly have a little bit of an uphill struggle on your hands – but you are not alone and I admire your grit and determination to hang on in there. Now I would interpret a tech break as a time not to use tech – not a time to reconnect! Ha I left a comment on another blog talking about how great it would be just to put up a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your phone or computer. But there you are, we are conditioned to think that tech in the hands of our students is bad if they are using it for non academic endeavours… but it is. I’m with you, the science doesn’t lie!

    “Focus and attend – calm the brain That’s the point of a tech break. Give them one minute.” I wonder how this would go down with a staffroom of teachers? If I stood up and said, instead for taking phones from your students to improve focus and concentration, let them have them – in fact stop the class and let them all check their messages and chats… Interesting….

    Reply

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