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Digital Citizenship… to teach or not to teach?

This week’s debate: “Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint.” Ultimately I understand the arguments that the “disagree” side was making: teachers are not fully equipped to teach about digital citizenship, and the responsibility should ultimately lie with parents. As well, the responsibility of teaching this adds more to a teacher’s plate, contributing to teacher burnout. However, I still firmly land on the side of “agree” as I believe it is part of our job as teachers to prepare students to be citizens of our community – a community that is both physical and digital. 

I would argue that teaching digital citizenship to students is not “extra” or an additional responsibility to our teaching load. Rather, it is part of the curriculum, a curriculum that changes as technology changes and our world changes. While I can’t speak knowledgeably to the elementary curriculum in Saskatchewan, there are a number of examples at the secondary level that easily encompass digital citizenship. 

Most obviously, citizenship is a core through line for the Social Studies curriculum. The Social 10 curriculum, for example, states, “Social studies in the school setting has a unique responsibility for providing students with the opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills and values to function effectively within their local and national society which is enmeshed in an interdependent world” (Social Studies 10 Curriculum – Ministry of SK, p. 3). I would argue that as part of citizenship education, teaching how to be an effective and responsible digital citizen is an integral part of considering how to function in our world today. Was this essential ten years ago, twenty years ago? No. However, our world has changed, and our digital lives are such a significant part of our individual and collective identity, that to ignore this considerable element would be irresponsible. 

Are we solely in charge of this? I don’t think so, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we, as teachers, be the sole gatekeepers of digital citizenship education. We are no more  no more than the sole responsibility of teaching citizenship in general falls on social science teachers. We have a responsibility to teach, but the buck need not stop with us; we are all responsible for our own actions, our own learning. Paul Davis very clearly lays that out in the Ted Talk that Rahima and Jessica shared. In teaching digital citizenship we aren’t excusing parents. To be clear, I recognize the problems with what I’m suggesting — as you listen to Davis’s knowledge, it is clear that I am not fully equipped to teach this. As teachers we need PD, we need training, and we need time. But, that is not the issue – this issue is should we be teaching this, and I fully believe that it fits into our purview as teachers. I would argue that our job is to prepare students to become responsible, productive citizens of our communities. It is our job to prepare students for the future. Digital identities and digital lives are a part of that future.  

I think another major reason teachers should teach digital literacy and digital citizenship is because we are asking students to engage with us in digital ways. For example, in ELA we teach students how to create blogs, and how to share their learning in creative and engaging ways. This might be via social media on any number of online platforms. How can we expect students to create digital content without teaching them digital literacy? Sisk and Stegman outline the ways this can be done in a “controlled, walled garden” – through closed Google docs and other protected apps. However, students are already sharing their lives (ad nauseam?) on a variety of platforms – it seems like if they are already having sex, we better teach them about condoms, right?

In another vein, one of the articles Alec shared brought me to another element of digital citizenship that wasn’t really discussed directly in the debates: parental oversharing of their children’s lives. The possible ramifications of such sharing really kind of scared me. The notion that you could one day be sued for sharing pictures of your own children is truly awful. And to be honest, when I think about it, my initial reaction was, “Seriously?! Come on. It’s your kids… you can do whatever you want! Don’t be ridiculous.” I mean, I love seeing pics of my friends’ kids online, and I feel more connected to them. Why is that so bad?! 

But… then I went down a TikTok hole of parental oversharing, and boy… my perspective has shifted a bit. I think when I initially read that article, I was picturing parents who are sharing a few pictures on Instagram, or Facebook, or whatever platform they are into. However, as I did some exploring, I found a lot of people had a lot to say about those parents who are making a living sharing their kids’ lives. 

Sharenting… parents who overshare their children’s identity.

TikToker her.atlas termed it “sharenting” – the oversharing of children’s identity. But one of the problems (among so many problems), creator Jess Martini  identifies is that in sharing so much information children have an identity created for them that is not their own. She uses the example of the Gosselin children (of Jon and Kate Plus Eight fame) as an example. So, one child is framed as “the academic” or “the problem child” etc. Martini comments that some of these students are now adults, and speaking out about the ways this constant exposure has impacted them.  In the Guardian article I talked about earlier, Professor Nicola Whitten says, “I think we’re going to get a backlash in years to come from young people coming to realise that they’ve had their whole lives, from the day they were born, available to social media.” I think this backlash is happening already. 


This is hands down the most important video I’ve ever made. Please listen. #familyvlog #fyp #letter #anonymous #story

♬ original sound – Caroline

Above, TikToker Caroline Easom shares the story of one teen who reached out to her to talk about the experience of growing up in vlogging family, a family that documents everything, and who earn their living sharing this content. In an anonymous letter to future vloggers, the teen vehemently discourages using children to create content. One quote stood out to me: “ You [the parent] will be their boss and they [the child] will be your employee … I’ve been an employee since I was five.” Whew! That’s tough to hear, and something I hadn’t really thought about. I mean, I have enjoyed watching content creators like the Dougherty Dozen, and the stories (and grocery bills and food prep!) of their twelve kids. But a little searching revealed multiple other videos dedicated to “revealing the truth” about the family. Some of the backlash is about the waste that the family creates ( 12 kids yields a lot of garbage?!), or the lack of privacy for their children, many of whom have disabilities. 

The Dougherty Dozen

After watching some of these videos regarding the sharing of children’s lives, I have perhaps a better understanding and perspective of this issue. The complexity of creating digital identities for children makes for a complicated problem, and again, I’m not sure there are any easy answers. Except maybe post nothing, and have zero social media. That’s an answer, I suppose.


The Digital Divide

Of all the debates so far, this one has inherently been the most difficult to take a stand on. The arguments are so complex, and so nuanced, and so NOT black and white. They are also very much based on location and circumstances. In some areas technology has lead to a more equitable society. It has given voice to individuals and communities that were previously voiceless. It has allowed for the amplification of voices that needed to be heard, but have perhaps been ignored by mainstream media. 

At the same time, the pandemic has also revealed the ways in which technology has made our own school community more inequitable. It’s easy, in the day to day life of school, and with the busy-ness and ease of access, to forget that some of our community does not have the same access to technology. As we started gathering data that week of March 20, 2020, we started tracking how many of our students had at least one device in the home, and how many had access to the internet. I actually still have the data from that time period, and in my own homeroom classroom I only had one student that did not have a device that could access the internet. She did have internet access, just not a device to do so. 

In my head that number was actually lower than I thought it would be. We issued laptops to those students who needed a device, and started the process of learning how to teach online. However, as we started meeting online, and as the weeks passed, the inequity became clear in different ways. While every student I taught technically did have a device, and access to the internet, it was not always available when we had a scheduled class. For example, I may have been teaching ELA 10 over Zoom from 9:30 – 10:30, but a student’s siblings may also have a Zoom class at that same time. All of a sudden families that had access to only one device – only one laptop or phone, became disadvantaged. Even time to work on homework became difficult for these families because literally everything was online, and students did not have enough digital access time. As I mentioned, the pandemic truly revealed the digital divide, and the Alyvia Bruce Harvard Political Review article suggests my own pandemic digital experiences is paralleled elsewhere: “Lower-income students are at a much higher risk of falling behind due to online instruction, with 60% of lower-income students receiving below-quality virtual instruction and 40% receiving no instruction at all, compared to 48% and 10% respectively for average students.”

It would be interesting to see how the choices made by Don Hall’s school community could impact students in my own school community.  To go to student homes and equip “their onsite community centers with computer labs” and provide students and families with tech support so that students could have digital access after school hours is a drastically different level of support. I don’t know what that could look like here; I do know that I still don’t have kids who can work on digital homework. Also, as I leave Balfour after night events, I see students in the back parking lot on their phones, sitting on the ground with their backs against the walls of the school, hooking up to the school wifi because they don’t have access. The divide is clearly still there. This is also reflective in the Bruce article as she discusses how students in rural Kentucky resorted to mobile hotspots in restaurants and other public places in order to access wifi. 

However, while much of the arguments and articles focused on digital access, I do agree that in many ways technology has made learning in the classroom more accessible and equitable in different ways. In the Benetech article, and in class Will mentioned how some of the tools we now have make learning easier for students who may have struggled in the past. For example, there are three or four students in my afternoon class that depend on Google Read and Write to help them with their ELA assignments. Specifically, they use the reader feature to have text read out loud to them. They use the voice recording feature to talk out their thoughts, which saves them a significant amount of time as they have some learning disabilities that make it difficult to translate their verbal thoughts into written form. In these ways some of our students are able to demonstrate their learning using these tools; this would have been significantly more difficult without these applications, and instead would depend on access to an LR teacher or an EA to help them. I can’t help but be grateful for the ways various elements of technology have made my job, and students’ lives easier, and made learning more accessible.

Check out this Podcast that discussed other tools for accessibility and equity. It discusses how tools like PowerPoint Live, Microsoft Translate, Immersive Reader can help both parent and student learning become more equitable. There were a few tools I was unaware of, especially regarding translation.

Is technology ruining childhood?

Honestly, as we were listening to the debate and the ensuing discussion, I just kept thinking about how I am so thankful I did not have a phone when I was a child or a teen. I got my first phone in university (yay T9!) and it was pretty exciting. As a person who is not inherently self disciplined, I think a smartphone would have been a disaster for me in high school. The combination of constant streaming and instant communication between groups of people would have been full blown stress. As a person, as well, who experienced FOMO for most of my life (40 was incredibly liberating as all of sudden nothing mattered), access to constant things other people were doing that I was not would have been just awful. 

However, beyond the simple ways a phone would have been terrible for me as a teen or pre-teen, I think it’s worse now, as pre-teens and teens are growing up with technology, and more specifically, with social media as a constant and as a norm. 

In one of the articles Alec shared BBC writer Sean Coughlan identifies that some mom groups are suggesting childhood now ends at twelve. While this seems bananas to me, it also rings true. I joined TikTok in the summer and quickly became moderately addicted to the non-stop short video format catering to literally any interest. While my TikTok exploration has been enjoyable (who doesn’t like 3 minute videos on food preservation and homesteading?), it’s also highlighted just how young content creators are, and the extent to which these children are sexualised. For example, I love watching dance videos, or TikTok dance trends. One recent trend was set to Meghan Trainor’s song, “Made You Look.”

I love this song, and I love Trainor’s music – her songs are so catchy, so fun, and perfect to dance to! But, what I noticed was that it wasn’t just teenagers and adults that were trying out this dance trend. It also became popular with pre-teens and even smaller children. And I think because the music is so catchy, and because “everyone was doing it,” lots of people didn’t really think anything of these young kids following  this dance trend. 

As I came across lots of videos of younger kids dancing to the same song, I didn’t really think too much about it at first — it just seems cute when young kids dance. In fact, I even thought it would be fun to recreate with one of our BAC classes. But then I spent a bit more time listening to the lyrics, and I couldn’t help but cringe. Who wants to see their teacher or students dance to these lyrics:

I could have my Gucci on (Gucci on)

I could wear my Louis Vuitton

But even with nothin’ on

Bet I made you look (I made you look)

Yeah, I look good in my Versace dress (take it off)

But I’m hotter when my morning hair’s a mess

‘Cause even with my hoodie on

Bet I made you look (I made you look)

Mhm-hm-hm (source)

So, yeah, the song is super fun to dance to and it’s very catchy, but it’s also about getting naked, and being looked at. Even the dance moves themselves are inherently sexual, even if they are not performed in overtly sexualized style. The comments in the video would indicate nothing is amiss: “Beautiful daughter!” (although that rings creepy) — “So fun!” — “Slayyy!”. And I know that these content creators are not intentionally trying to sexualize anything, but that’s the effect of social media, of technology, on these kids. I even feel a bit uncomfortable posting the links to these videos, even though they are all simply made in the vein of replicating a trend. But when did it become “normal” for kids to dance like this? When did ten year olds thrusting become a thing — become a “normal” thing? When did it become okay to dance to songs that, lyrically, are sexual?

And I think that’s the impact of technology – social media in particular here – on kids. Actually, on kids and adults. This kind of thing has become so normalized, so a part of our daily exposure, that we often don’t even think twice about what we see. These concepts are reiterated in the Ted Talk that Valeska and Bart shared. I couldn’t help but think of some of these young content creators as I listened to Sebastián Bortnik discuss the concept of grooming, and identify the changes in relationship between adults and children. What may start as something intentionally innocent can so quickly devolve as how these images are used is so beyond the creator’s control. 

This then got me thinking about other creators that use trends and vlog style accounts that ultimately monetize their children. I was watching this TikTok about a child who has been monetized. I thought this observation, written by a child to parents considering a family based social media account, was particularly insightful: “Any money you get will be greatly overshadowed by years of suffering and very hard work … to keep up with trends and with media, and if you do manage to do it, your child will never be normal. You will be their boss and they will be your employer, which is a horrible relationship to have with your kid.” Ouch. Wow. I have enjoyed watching these family types of vlogs – oftentimes these experiences are so different from my own! But, I never really considered the pressure these types of activities put on the kids.  

I know it’s not all bad. I know some of these social media accounts have lead to extraordinary opportunities for these families and for their kids. But, as the Evie article Valeska and Bart shard states, “we’re currently running ‘the greatest psychological experiment we’ve ever run on humanity’ — and kids are the guinea pigs.” That is scary — so scary!! The same article explains that “nowadays, 12% of children first use a phone between the ages of 1 to 2 years old, and most children now own their own phone before age 7.” With that kind of immersion in a world of technology, combined with the lure of money and fame that appear to be readily accessible and easy to generate, it’s really troubling to consider what the long term ramifications of this psychological experiment will be. I don’t know if technology, generally, is ruining childhood, but I can say for sure that I think social media might be…

Maybe we should just go outside.

The Debate: Bring it on!

This week Catrina and I debated Mike and Will. I enjoyed this experience, and I especially  enjoyed the mutual trash talking between Catrina and I, and Mike and Will in the weeks leading up to the debate haha. Initially I didn’t really agree with the side I was debating for, and I still would be on the side of “technology is beneficial in the classroom,” but I have to say, after reading various articles and preparing for the debate, I think I have (almost) convinced myself to believe what I was arguing. 

I think the most significant piece of evidence that impacted me the most was the recommended number of hours on screens. This master’s thesis explained that children should be exposed to less than two hours of screen time per day. I looked up the recommended time for adults, and one study found “showed that moderate or severe depression level was associated with higher time spent on TV watching and use of computer” – this was greater than 6 hours spent per day. Even more interesting to me was another study that asked participants to limit social media use to 10 minutes per platform, per day, for three consecutive weeks. The results “showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group” and “both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.” Really, I feel like this information just confirms what I know, and what kids know: the more non-purposeful time spent on screens, the worse you feel. I see that all the time. I FEEL that all the time. And the weekly reminder from my iphone chastises me as it reminds me I am well into the non-healthy amount of screen time. But, like, music doesn’t count, right? And podcasts? Right? RIGHT???

I do question whether this recommended time holds true for purposeful activities, at least as far as teens and adults are concerned. There are lots of people in the world whose jobs involve spending time on screens all day. It was difficult to find info specifically related to this in the classroom, or at least scholarly info. We probably read or reviewed upwards of around 60 articles but couldn’t find something that we thought was really perfect for our debate. Most articles focus on student health, but not on classroom usage. We did use a fair amount of this peer reviewed article in our debate, called “Four Ways Technology has Negatively Changed Education” but there were so many spelling and mechanical errors that it gave me angst to share :/. What I liked about it, though, was that one of its arguments focused on the dehumanization caused by in the classroom. 

Teaching has been ripped from the realm of human endeavours and morphed into a technological leviathan that is slowly usurping the soul of the profession.

In the article above, author Dr. Khadija Alhumaid cites a quotation from researcher Kemp, suggesting that in the last decade “teaching has been ripped from the realm of human endeavours and morphed into a technological leviathan that is slowly usurping the soul of the profession.” I would argue that this may be somewhat hyperbolic (but legit, fantastic imagery lol), but I definitely see the effects of technology usage in the classroom, in terms of students’ inability and lack of desire to verbally communicate. They would much rather do an online discussion using a shared Google doc, or using a platform like Discord than speak to each other in person. But, as Will mentioned in the debate, it has also allowed students who are typically more shy and quiet to participate more meaningfully and safely. It’s just such a difficult tension to navigate: the technology use helps some students, yet potentially hinders the growth of others. 

I guess the other question I have about the dehumanizing effects of technology is whether it really is decreasing human contact and communication. As per the image below, my new love language is obviously the sharing of memes and gifs, and honestly, it keeps me connected to specific people in my life that I maybe don’t see as regularly. And it bonds us! There’s something so enjoyable about receiving a meme that perfectly encapsulates who you are, or perfectly addresses some shared experiences. This also translates to the classroom. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to engage kids and create humorous connections. 

I think overall I just cannot say definitively, one way or another, that tech enhances or hinders the classroom. I couldn’t imagine my daily teaching life without it, but some days it sends me over the edge. But, as Scott Wideman discusses in the video we shared (see below), it really doesn’t matter. Technology is here to stay, so we have got to figure out how to use it effectively. I think my biggest takeaway from the debate, and the discussion that followed, was a reminder to me to make sure the pedagogy for using technology is in place before I implement it in the classroom. It was a reminder that I need to critically examine why I use what I do. In my reading I hadn’t come across resources like TPACK or SAMR, excellent resources for examining why we use tech. 

I leave you with one final meme. I was sitting in class yesterday, reading a short story from a book. I could not see it clearly. Thus, I attempted to zoom in. Clearly, screen time has affected me … lol.

Digital Humanity… harder than Human-ing Humanity?

Ok, I think being a responsible digital citizen might legitimately be more difficult than being a real, human citizen. And, I’m only being a little bit facetious when I say that. Why? The anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in humanity. Those things that we don’t say out loud, the videos that we don’t watch in public, the headlines we don’t share with others, the stories we don’t say we enjoy … those are the things that the internet has made available to us. We can say things, watch things, read things, and “like” things that we would not in real life. We don’t always have the checks and balances in a digital world that we do in reality. And that means we have to check ourselves. And, while I would love to say that as humans, we would naturally do good things, The Lord of the Flies clearly tells us that left to our own devices, “the world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.” Okay, that got a little dark, a little fast. No one is stoning Henry, and no one is decapitating a pig. Not literally, anyway. But reading that novel reminds me of the importance of teaching responsible digital citizenship. And while I think much of this education must take place in the home, it must also take place in the classroom.

Citizenship: How do our personal and collective decisions impact those around us?

There are so many layers to digital citizenship. At its core, digital citizenship asks us to explore similar ideals as national citizenship. The Saskatchewan Social Studies 9 curriculum posits that “citizenship involves the ability and willingness to contribute to collective well-being through personal and collective decisions and actions” (p. 3). Digital citizenship asks us to reflect on similar concepts: how to contribute to a collective well-being, and how our digital decisions impact that collective well-being. 

As I was searching “teaching citizenship in Saskatchewan,” hoping to find the correct Social Studies link I was looking for, I came across a document put out by the Saskatchewan Ministry  of Education: Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools: A Policy Planning Guide for School Divisions and Schools to Implement Digital Citizenship Education from Kindergarten to Grade 12. It’s a continuum of learning to help guide educators in teaching students digital citizenship, from kindergarten to grade 12. It categorizes learnings in three areas: Respect: Digital Etiquette, Digital Access, and Digital Law; Educate: Digital Communication, Digital Literacy, and Digital Commerce; and finally, Protect: Digital Rights and Responsibilities, Digital Safety and Security, and Digital Health and Wellness.  It’s an easy to read guide, and would be useful for teachers. But, I had no idea this even existed! Did I miss a memo? Was this shared with us as teachers? There are no markings as to authorship or date, so I actually went to the online Saskatchewan curriculum, and did a search there to see if I could find more information and verify the roots of the document. This yielded more information: it was published in 2015, and was written by Alec and Katia Hildebrandt. LOL. I guess if I have more questions, I could contact the authors!   

Anyway, two elements of the continuum were of particular interest to me in terms of answering one of the blog prompt questions: “In your opinion, what are the most critical issues concerning digital citizenship that students should be aware of?” The first is an action: “Find information with specialized tools…and weigh the value of online “filter bubbles”, their impact on search results, and their implications for society” (p. 5). We spoke about this in class last week as we discussed the dangers of simply seeing our own ideologies reflected in our search engine results. This is the “echo chamber” of social media that becomes so dangerous for us, and our students. We want to hear people that agree with us, who think like us.

Meme Source

I remember learning this lesson very clearly in the 2016 US election. My sister lives in rural Idaho, a very conservative, Republican area. While visiting in the preceding summer to the November election, I was out with a number of friends and other relatives. The conversation inevitably turned to the election, and I was blown away by how many of them planned to vote for Trump. However, the conversation didn’t really focus on Trump. In fact, most of them thought he was, well, an idiot. But, what was shocking to me, was the vitriol they had for Hillary Clinton. They spoke of things I had never heard of, and they spoke with such passion and sheer vehement dislike, nigh unto hatred. They weren’t voting for Donald Trump; they were voting against Hillary Clinton. My point in sharing this story is simply this: I never heard anything (significantly) negative about Clinton, because I follow people who think like me. That is such a dangerous place to live (in an echo chamber, not Idaho… though, boy, there are a lot of guns in the Idaho). I try now to follow voices that are not echoing my own. It’s annoying sometimes, and frustrating, and challenging … but so important! New learning doesn’t come from listening to different people say the same thing over and over.  I would suggest this lesson is essential for students to understand: find others who reasonably challenge your ways of thinking and listen to what they have to say.

The second part of the continuum that caught my attention was under the category of Digital Health and Wellness. It reads, “Lead a balanced lifestyle when it comes to digital technology.” Whew. A quick look at my weekly screen time report would suggest that I do not lead a balanced lifestyle. This is TOUGH to teach to kids, and yet, so critical. Over the past ten years, I have noticed a marked decrease in my ability to focus on one thing. I’m not sure I can watch a movie without also having my phone to play on. Going to the bathroom without a phone? Tragic. I don’t want to have to read the back of the shampoo bottle like it’s 1994. Forgetting your phone in the car and having to stand in line looking at tabloid magazines like it’s 1986? THE WORST. But seriously, the connection I have to my phone is problematic. And I grew up without a phone! Most of our students have phones coming into high school. They are addicted already… and I’m not sure how to help them (or me) break that cycle! I appreciated this video by a Youtuber named Nate O’Brien, as I often find myself sucked into the social media vortex. However, while I appreciated many of the suggestions as an adult, I’m not sure if his suggestions would work for kids. Does anyone have any great videos or articles about concrete strategies that would help students let go of their phones?

Wow. Just Wow.

My mind is blown. Those were my initial thoughts during and after last week’s class. Like, blown in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time. 

One thing my AP English students request is more multiple choice practice. The first part of their exam from the College Board is multiple choice, and typically we do much better on the second part of the exam, the essay section. In practice I typically stay away from multiple choice for two reasons: 1) it doesn’t yield the most bang for my assessment buck, and 2) they are time consuming and a pain to generate. After class last week I asked ChatGPT to generate multiple choice questions based on Gothic literature, which we had been studying in this unit. In one second it generated 20 multiple choice questions. I tried again and copied and pasted my own notes, and asked it the same question, but instructed it to use my notes. Again, two seconds later, I had 20 AP style, multiple choice questions that I literally used on my AP exam final two days later. It was honestly so exciting to see how this can be such a tool in the classroom. The day after class Catrina, Will and I were talking, and our conversations were similar. Will: “Look at this piece of expressionist art I generated! What does this mean for our vis art students?” Catrina: “In one second it generated a work out for my wellness class that included all these elements. It saved me so much time!” Honestly, I was (and am!) so excited about this… and I basically knew next to nothing about it as we started class. 

The excitement of a potentially powerful new pedagogical tool was welcome as, to be honest, my initial response to the things we could see it do was to immediately look at the negative, the potential for plagiarism and cheating. In general I’m not a negative person, and yet I automatically leaned into trouble shooting plagiarism issues. But, I do think being an ELA teacher and seeing plagiarism take so many different forms over the last 20 years has certainly colored my lens. Next week we are introducing a literary analysis paragraph to our grade nine group, using the text The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Our assignment and activities are very step by step as we take students through the basics of stating an argument, elaborating on that statement, exemplifying an argument, and finally – and most importantly – discussing the implications of said argument. We spend a lot of time talking about the “so what” of literary analysis – what is the impact or the learning that can come from your arguments. For reference, here’s the written part of the assignment we work through. 

As I was playing around with ChatGPT, I asked it simply to generate a character analysis paragraph on Christopher. Here’s what it came up with:

In Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the character of Christopher is a unique and complex individual. He is a 15-year-old boy with autism, who struggles to understand and navigate the world around him. Christopher is highly intelligent, with a particular talent for mathematics, but he struggles to understand social cues and emotions. He is honest, straightforward and literal in his thinking and his approach to the world, which often leads to misunderstandings and conflicts with those around him. He is also deeply loyal, compassionate and curious, which drives his investigation into the death of his neighbor’s dog. Throughout the book, we see Christopher’s character grow and change as he faces new challenges, and it is through his perspective that we gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of autism and the human condition.

This is a pretty solid paragraph. However, it doesn’t quite follow the parameters of the assignment. I revised my question, and asked ChatGPT to focus on only one aspect of Christopher’s personality, and to include specific examples from the text. Here’s what it came up with:

One aspect of Christopher’s personality that is prominent throughout “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is his literal and logical thinking. Christopher’s autism causes him to have difficulty understanding figurative language and abstract concepts, making him rely heavily on facts and logic. This is evident in the way he narrates the story, as he often explains things in a straightforward and concrete manner. For example, when he is trying to understand emotions, he states, “I know what I mean by happy and sad but I don’t know what other people mean” (Page 25). This quote shows how Christopher’s literal thinking causes him to have difficulty understanding the emotions of others and how they are conveyed through language. Additionally, when he is trying to understand the concept of death, he states, “I don’t like the idea of someone not existing” (Page 149) this quote highlights how Christopher struggles with understanding the abstract concept of death, and how it does not fit in his logical and literal perspective of the world.

While there are some minor errors, this is a pretty solid example of what we are looking for! It includes the state/elaborate/exemplify/implicate elements, without any instruction. After my initial reaction of amazement (and an immediate email to my colleagues), my reactions are mixed. One: what a fantastic tool to generate exemplars – this will save teachers a significant amount of time writing exemplars for paragraphs and essays. And then, of course, this reaction was immediately followed by the realization of just how easily students could generate these products on their own, thus missing valuable building blocks for writing.  

I suppose, as was discussed in class, that this simply means we will need to make sure we are teaching, assessing, and monitoring the various steps students go through as they learn these pieces of writing. But there comes a time when you hope, and teach for independence. By grade 12 students should be at a point where they don’t need these basic steps, and our learning is focused around the content and analysis elements. We spend less time on the process of writing, and more time on the thinking behind the writing.  It’s this I was thinking about as I mentioned in class that I feel like we are going backwards. We are not going backwards in technology, but it feels like I am going to have to revert to in class assignments and handwritten tests/essays to guarantee originality. Because even though you can put all of those critical thinking pieces in place, when it comes time to put words on a page, it’s pretty easy to deafult to AI technology.

I realize, as I reflected on this throughout the week, I need to move past the inevitable conversations about cheating and focus on how to teach students to use this technology effectively, and to use it to teach critical thinking as it relates to writing. I came across this thread that offers some support for teachers just starting to learn about ChatGPT, and I found it very helpful. And, another tweet by tech educator Brian Aspinall landed with me today: “On one hand we preach preparing kids for their rapidly changing future. Then on the other hand we ban things like #ChatGPT because it can write essays.” So, as one colleague today shared technology that detects AI in writing, (by the way it detected only half of the Curious paragraph), another is having the conversation about using AI to generate essays for learning purposes.  It is confusing, and overwhelming, and… a lot to process. 

On one hand we preach preparing kids for their rapidly changing future. Then on the other hand we ban things like #ChatGPT because it can write essays.

Brian Aspinall

And this leads to what I was grappling with this week. Throughout the week I found myself procrastinating the actual writing of this blog. And, I put off reading other blogs as well. It wasn’t for want of things to say. In fact, I feel just the opposite – I struggled to marshal my thoughts to write about what was most important as I processed this new information, and I want to share the multiple crazy examples I generated throughout the week and the conversations with colleagues that followed (“Holy cow you should see my AI generated Hamlet essay!” “Wow, that’s amazing… it sounds just like your voice!”). But again and again I found myself sitting down to write, but then stopping – I had this little stress ball in the pit of my stomach. On Sunday I sat down to try and write, and as I was browsing Twitter, I saw a tweet that caught my attention. I follow another AP lit prof on Twitter, Susan Barber, and coincidentally (or not so coincidentally given that my Twitter feed has become littered with AI tweets). Here’s what she said:

This immediately caught my attention and I noticed the little feeling in the pit of my stomach grew a little. As I started to consciously notice that ball of stress, I began to wonder why. Why do I find this new (to me) technology so disconcerting?  I think the crux of what I am struggling with is the fact that I have a sense of the momentousness of this technology as it relates to education, and I’m overwhelmed by the unknown of this, and daunted by the learning (and unlearning) that I am going to both need to do myself, and share with my students. This technology is huge. It seems huge. Is it as huge as I think it is? And, if I’m feeling this stress a little, what does this look like as we start to move beyond casual classroom and staff room conversations? What does professional learning look like for our staff, for our division? When does that happen? What is important to know? How can we create pedagogically sound practices for our students? And, how do we manage the stress for staff that will inevitably come with learning about the scope and power of this technology? These are pretty significant questions that we haven’t considered in any collective form at my school, or, I would guess, at many high schools. So, what happens next? I’m a bit overwhelmed. 

Me, Myself, and My Tech

My name is Janeen, and I am currently teaching at Balfour Collegiate, as part of the Balfour Arts Collective. Tech plays a pretty significant role in my day to day life, though I would say it’s pretty “low tech” tech, if you will. My day starts, obviously, with a quick scroll through Instagram, followed by personal hygiene accompanied by some TikTok scrolling. Anything I find interesting I either a) send to my friends or co-workers, b) screenshot and email to myself at my work email (am I 90?), or screen record and download. I intend to follow up with these cool lesson plans, neat recipes, and funny memes later… but I rarely do, simply due to sheer mass of information. Well, except for the memes.

Memes are my love language.

My school day begins by checking my email (now with full body scan authentication, due to the RPS hack of 2022), followed by checking of messages on Edsby, our attendance /grading /messaging platform. I usually check our staff memo – a Google Doc, and then get on with classes. Usually every class involves some sort of Google usage — I use a doc as a lesson planning template, and that is shared with my students on Google Classroom. I use Classroom and Docs, Slides, Sheets to share most material and assignments. We – my students and I – often work on a shared Google Doc together. I do use communication tools as well, to connect with my students – beyond Edsby and email and GC, I use Remind to contact students. 

In terms of other tech use at work – I often post on our Arts Collective Instagram or FB stories, as part of our program. Multiple times I have found myself watching tutorials (“How to include captions” or “How to stitch a video with pictures and add music”) on how to use features of these platforms … or I just ask a kid. It’s not my favorite task, editing, but it’s not my least favorite, either. The process of learning various capabilities of these platforms is just time consuming, and the days are so busy I find myself struggling to figure out how much time I should really invest in sharing our students’ work online. It’s difficult to measure the impact of that on our students, parents, or on program visibility. Surely there is some platform that could help measure that…

What is my current level of comfort with technology? Um… fine? Average? I can figure things out and am familiar enough with a variety of platforms that I can troubleshoot issues. The pandemic obviously increased everyone’s tech-ability, and I now am more comfortable creating websites, using a variety of screen recording platforms, and making rudimentary movies using simple iMovie or Capcut technology. Would I like to be more “techy,” more proficient at using technology to better enhance my lessons, and my communication with students and parents? Absolutely. I get frustrated when I can envision an outcome but cannot create it, and I end up going to my more skilled colleagues to fix my problems – annoying for me, and them. In our arts program we have many creative students, and my lack of tech skills limits how I can support them, at times, in terms of what they create, and I again end up depending on our other BAC colleagues to manage that element of a particular project. I’m also curious – and maybe a bit concerned – about how AI will impact our classrooms. I feel like all I’ve read about this week is GPT, and I wonder how, and when, this will impact my ELA classrooms… if it hasn’t already?

My day ends much the same way it began — a solid scroll through Insta, TT, then Twitter for news (now my main source). This may be followed by an Audible book before bed, maybe some Netflix on my laptop. Oh, and obviously I will likely need to stop at my grandma’s house to fix whatever technology ailment is currently befuddling her (last week she “lost Google”). To be fair, she’s 93 so I suppose, relatively, she’s doing ok, technology wise. Maybe 90 isn’t so bad?

week 4: assistive technology

My experience with assistive technology early in my career was limited. This is for a couple of reasons: 1) when I started teaching there wasn’t the range of options available in terms of assistive technology, and 2) the culture surrounding learning disabilities was very different than it is now. 

In terms of number one, there is not really a lot to say. When I started, we still did attendance on paper and sent it down to the office — this seems crazy to me now! If a student needed help — and there really were not that many, it seemed — they were sent to the Learning Resource Room. I can remember the names of most of the students from my first year of teaching, but I honestly am not sure I can name one student who needed any sort of academic intervention. 

 In reflection, the fact that so few students needed intervention I think speaks to the second reason: the culture surrounding learning needs. It wasn’t that there weren’t students who didn’t NEED extra help — it’s just that we did not recognize it, or we assumed it was a problem on the part of a student’s effort. As I write this, I realize I sound like a heartless teacher who just wasn’t sensitive to any student needs. I promise, this is not so! It just… was different. If a student didn’t have work done, it was not because they struggled, but because they were being lazy, or procrastinating. I’m not sure when our way of thinking about learning needs started to change — to be honest, I had not even thought about the way I used to view these issues until I started my research this week. But, it has changed — significantly! I am much more aware of student strengths and weaknesses, and work to give students choice in how they demonstrate their knowledge – certainly a much more constructivist perspective.

In the context of 1998, this seems to match the behaviorist teaching practices that reflected my early career. For as creative as I thought I was at the time, school was still just a space where ultimately, students needed to reflect the discrete learnings that I, and the government of Saskatchewan, decided were important. If someone could not do that, it was because they were not trying hard enough. 

I compare this perspective to the way in which I view education today, and I kind of want to go back and apologize to those kids in my early career who struggled. Yes there were probably many who were lazy and procrastinating, but if today’s numbers are average, there were many students who lacked the skills necessary to complete the outcomes, and who lacked the voice and knowledge to advocate for what they needed. 

Further, rather than looking at students from a deficit perspective, I now recognize the fact that the curriculum, and education in general, privileges certain ways of knowing over others. Instead of looking at students as problematic, I am much more critical of the space we are in and the outcomes we value, and how those spaces and outcomes may not align with the identity of my students. This perspective is much more in line with the principles of Universal Design for Learning, another concept that was new to me. CAST, the nonprofit education research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework, identifies the main goals of UDL:

“to support learners to become “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal driven. UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner. When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning.”

UDL is such an excellent example of growth mindset, as opposed to deficit thinking. As one of our readings identifies, the goal is to eliminate “barriers from the learning environment” (2), rather than focusing on a student’s disabilities. I think back to a conversation I had with a group of colleagues earlier this year. We were talking about a student that was unwilling to speak in public. The curriculum called for a formal multimedia presentation. Our discussion centered around how the ELA curriculum privileges (via the more extensive indicators) these formal speaking outcomes, as opposed to informal conversation and storytelling. This privileging is a reflection of the curriculum’s colonial structure, and the conversation certainly made me rethink the way I was asking students to respond. However, it’s such a fine line to tread. How can I value different ways of knowing and yet still prepare students to exist in the dominant discourse of our world?

This was a topic that came up in our assistive technology communication discussion. Jacquie asked a really important question: are we using assistive technology to force our students to fit into our curriculum? 

We need to ask ourselves, what is our purpose in using assistive technologies? What are we valuing?  Universal Design for Learning would suggest again that we go back and examine the curriculum, and see what the deficits are. This would be a better place to start, rather than focusing on our students’ deficits. However, this demands a significant shift in paradigm. Everything I do in the classroom starts with the curriculum, and the curricular outcomes. I work backwards from those curricular outcomes to plan my units and engage my students. However, I suppose a critical examination of the curriculum does not necessarily mean that it cannot still be my guide. What it does mean is that I need to spend more time examining the ways in which the curriculum privileges certain ways of knowing, and then deciding how to mitigate that privilege.

In doing this work, some of the assistive technologies may no longer be needed in the same way. However, if they are needed, Sue Cramner discusses the important role teachers play in how they implement technology in the classroom. She notes that AT has been used as an after the fact fix, and this practice has led to “the reproduction of exclusionary practices” (327). She talks about the importance of “develop[ing] inclusive digital pedagogy” (327).  This, I would say, is my biggest takeaway from my learnings regarding assistive technology. Rather than using AT as an afterthought, I need to first critically examine the curriculum for what I’m asking my students to do, then anticipate the needs of a range of learners, and finally, implement technology that will allow students to demonstrate their learning in a manner that best reflects their skills.

week 3, part 2: what’s my mark??

When I started teaching I gave very little thought to my assessment practices. I gave exams and my students wrote papers, and occasionally I assigned a project of some sort. I DID lots of projects and creative things in class, but I evaluated the traditional tasks. That was just what you did. In hindsight, it reflected a highly behaviourist theory of knowledge, an instructivist centred practice. I did focus my assessment on the outcomes, but students needed to reflect the knowledge that I transmitted to them. If their knowledge was different from the knowledge I was expecting, the answer was wrong. Again, my initial practice was so simple, and lacked thought and reflection. With the guidance of mentoring colleagues and further education, my pedagogy quickly changed. The choice I made at the time suggested that the teacher was the sole holder of knowledge. 

My assessment practices now mirror the change in my instructional strategies. I would consider myself now much more of a constructivist in my instructional design and so my assessments  mirror this. For example, I use learning contracts, which I wrote about in my last post. I have noticed that they do focus the students on assessments for learning rather than looking ahead to that all important summative mark. And because students have so much more choice in a learning contract, they have choice in their assessment tools as well. Learning contracts do pose some challenges for the practical elements of reporting, however, as they are designed for formative assessment over a long period of time, and then one final summative mark. So, it becomes a little onerous for the teacher to report regularly via the LMS so parents can see how students are doing before that final mark is entered. Our school and division asks that we update marks every two weeks, with a specific number of assessments over the course of the semester. However, inputting formative assessments into the LMS doesn’t impact the mark and so parents are sometimes unaware of how their student is actually doing because they don’t read the comments in the formative column — they only look for numbers.  I do assess so much more formatively than I used to, and unfortunately, parents don’t always appreciate that feedback as much as the summative assessment. In terms of my formative assessments, I did appreciate that the assessment group offered some tools that I had not heard of, and it was also reassuring to see the study conducted on effectiveness of these tools: “Plickers is an effective tool in aiding
the learning process.” As a classroom teacher I can see the effectiveness of these tech tools in formative assessment, but it is comforting to have the credibility of a study to back up what you think you know.

In the past three years as I’ve become a part of a teaching team that integrates ELA and the arts, I have been challenged multiple times to rethink the way students can demonstrate English outcomes. While some of the writing outcomes still need to be fairly prescriptive – after all there are a limited number of ways you can interpret “compose a 1500 word inquiry paper using external sources” – my team has definitely forced me to think about the way I design and assess other ELA outcomes, especially ones that are not necessarily written. 

Take, for example, one ELA A30 outcome: “Identify the various elements of style used in First Nations, Métis, Saskatchewan, and Canadian texts, and explain how the elements help communicate meaning and enhance the effectiveness of the texts.” I would typically interpret this outcome by reading a poem or short story or novel and breaking down the literary elements that work together to suggest the meaning of the work as a whole. So, we might look at narrative voice, author’s style, etc. and then discuss how these elements impact the whole work. My arts team suggested that we view “text” in a broader context, and do the same process for a dance or a work of art. The skills are parallel – you look at a piece of art, you examine the techniques and elements that work together to create a specific effect. Honestly, at first this was hard for me as it felt like I was somehow slacking, or not being rigorous enough in reading “real” texts – the written word. But as I started to work through these same formative assessments using fine art texts I noticed that we were using the exact same critical thinking skills that we use in analysing written texts. In fact, the two styles of text very much complement each other in terms of the analysis they engender. 

This also brought me to a place of self reflection where I needed to analyze why I privilege the written word over other types of texts. This privilege is certainly reflected in my assessment weighting. Of course, much of the English curriculum directs what we privilege in our assessment, and I’m not trying to devalue the written word. What I am trying to do is trouble how I view the colonialist structure of the curriculum. Why does a formal spoken presentation generate so much more page space than the informal narrative style of storytelling, and thus demand more marks attached to it? These are the questions that I now consider as a result of being a part of a team, and expanding my own pedagogical view. I would say that now, as a result of this class, I have the words to attach to some of these changing beliefs. In 20+ years of teaching, I haven’t studied the theories of knowledge. I’m sure I probably did in my first ed degree, but I was young and stupid and didn’t care about such things. I just wanted to talk to kids. To have the vocabulary to attach to the changes in my pedagogy over the years causes me to think again about my current practice.

week 3, part 1: education 1.0, 2.0, 3.0

In her article “Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0” (2014),  Jackie Gerstein compares the different iterations of the web to the pedagogical practices of “Essentialism/Instructivism through Andragogy/ Constructivism towards Heutagogy/ Connectivism” ( p. 83). So if Web 1.0 is the dissemination of information, the education metaphor would imply that students are merely the “receptacles of knowledge” (p. 83). Education 2.0 is a much more collaborative view of education, a constructivist approach where learners and teachers are partners together. However, as Gerstein notes, interestingly, that while Education 2.0 is much more student centred, “the technologies … used are still largely embedded within the framework of Education 1.0” (p. 87). So, while sometimes the intention is there to give students choice, the teacher perhaps still highly directs the learning path. The move to Education 3.0 is a highly individualised experience, where “problem-solving, innovation, and creativity drive education” (p. 90). 

What might this look like in the classroom?  Student choice and student-driven projects would be the norm. Learning might be inquiry-based, such as genius hour. Or, perhaps this might take the form of a learning contract. In a typical learning contract, such as the one below, students would be given a menu of options that would reflect the desired outcome. They would then choose the assessments that appeal to them. However, in true Education 3.0, students would not choose from a menu of options but would rather design their own assessment and their own menu option from scratch, according to their interest and skills and abilities. In this way the learner would completely be driving their own education.

In this heutagogical approach, a concept I was unfamiliar with before Katherine, Chris, Arkin, and Rae introduced it in their presentation, “learners are highly autonomous and self-determined and emphasis is placed on development of learner capacity and capability” (p. 93). It is interesting to see the examples Gerstein uses as technology changes so fast. Platforms that Education 3.0 students use, she shares, could be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram. Six years later, students are still using YouTube and Instagram, but Facebook and Twitter (in the world of my students, at least) have become adult platforms, and students have made their way through a variety of quickly trending and sometimes dying platforms – Vine, SnapChat, now TikTok. In their “Comparative Study of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0,” (2009) Dr. Naik and Dr.  Shivalingaiah suggest that in Web 3.0, “companies build platforms that let people publish services by leveraging the associations between people or special content.” Ironically, though touted as groundbreaking at the time, this has such negative implications and connotations now. We have a love-hate relationship with the tailored suggestions of our platform ads. They suggest media that I do like, but then I am disturbed by the lack of privacy, and I inevitably wonder how much of my data does someone else have? And, as the Canadian Encyclopedia article notes, “the pursuit of “likes,” the “infinite scroll,” and customized content (geared to the individual) can addict users.” So, the very element that defines Web 3.0 can serve to hinder students as well. It is this tailored, interactive experience that dominates Web 3.0, and the corresponding choice that dominates Education 3.0. 

Problematically, however, Education 3.0 certainly privileges the independent learner who has no special needs, who does not need scaffolding, and who has the technological and educational background to know what questions to ask and who knows how to go about finding answers. This speaks to Siemens’s argument that the “know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed).” As teachers in this connectivist world, we need to prepare our students to be able to ask the right questions that will get them where they want to go, and to know where to find answers they need. However, when I think of the practical realities of this highly independent, student driven approach, I can imagine that certainly at least half of my students would struggle, if not more. So many need scaffolding and chunking to guide them to the next steps. It’s hard to know if that’s because they have just never learned in this way, or if this is because they cannot process so much choice and information. Students who are not used to advocating for themselves, or articulating their own learning desires will struggle, and students who need deadlines and structure will falter as well. These are some of our most at risk students, and to exacerbate the education divide via instructional design is counterproductive. 

However, surely there is a compromise – surely teachers can structure their learning to give students choice and opportunity if they can handle it, and work to increase capacity for independence for those students who are not there now. But, in order for this student-driven learning to take place, “institutional arrangements, including policies and strategies, change to meet the challenges of opportunities presented” (Gerstein, 2014, p. 90).  This is not a thing.

Institutional structure and policy doesn’t seem to want to keep up with educational theory and it certainly cannot hope to keep up with rapidly changing technology.

Institutional structure and policy doesn’t seem to want to keep up with educational theory and it certainly cannot hope to keep up with rapidly changing technology. With the change in educational infrastructure instigated by the pandemic we have the opportunity to make some real changes to the 100 year old structure of school. By and large students at our school favoured the quint system over a return to a five class school day. There are certainly problems with the quint system — as an English teacher I struggled to have students keep up with readings,  and frankly three hours of math at a time seems akin to torture for me — the credit attainment data for the 2020-2021 school year was higher. Why would we not continue in this structure? Why would we return to the status quo? Why wouldn’t we take this opportunity to see how we can do school different and potentially increase student success?