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Endless Possibilities

Posted by jencassatodd Apr 20, 2016


Hi everyone,


My name is Jennifer Casa-Todd and I am a new Teacher-Librarian at Cardinal Carter CHS in Aurora. I am thrilled to be back at a school after having worked as a Program Resource Teacher and Literacy Consultant 7-12 for the passed 6 years.  Before that, I taught high school English, Special Education, Cooperative Education, Religious Education


I am passionate about student voice, global collaboration, and empowering students to use technology and social media to become Digital Leaders. I am currently enrolled in a Curriculum and Technology Masters program at UOIT, with a research focus on Social Media in Education. I am also in the process of writing a book which will be published in the Spring by Dave Burgess Consulting.


My blog is a place where I reflect on my learning, write out some of my research findings and musings, and share ideas for global collaboration. It will also be the place that will house supplementary resources for the book. I called it Endless possibilities because as teachers, I truly believe we can inspire our students to reach great heights and the possibilities for them are endless if we believe in them and support them.


I am grateful for anyone who stops by to read a post, as I know how busy everyone is. Comments and feedback are always welcome!

Reaching out for Opinions with Zaption



In mid February, after watching a video called 'The Voice of the Active Learner' during a presentation from the DPCDSB technology coaches, I put together a Zaption designed to find out how educators feel about the rapidly evolving world of digital learning. I specifically wanted to get honest opinions and responses from educators about the concept of the 'digital native' and how we can improve or, at the very least, alter some of our teaching methods to support the context that today's students are coming from. The original video is at the link below. You can submit your own responses at the link just below the video link.

The Voice of the Active Learner - Education From a Digital Native's Perspective - YouTube


Zaption discussion


Despite sharing this content frequently, over several networks, I only had 22 respondents. Even so, there are some interesting results that are worth discussing here.


Question 1 - When you hear about a "digital native" what do you REALLY think, be honest!


For this question, respondents chose either A, C or D with the overwhelming majority choosing D. In this case, D was a response that suggested that teachers believed using technology could improve their teaching and, of course, their students' learning. The actual wording of response D, in case you didn't watch the video, was: It makes sense; When used properly, the tools we have now can make lifelong learning MORE possible than ever. For this one, though I'm sure the answers were honest, I feel that respondents could easily determine that this was the 'best' answer; it's not tough to agree with the sentiment in this choice.


Question 2 listed several quotes, asked educators to select one and then asked them to "explain how you think and feel about it. Explain how the idea you've chosen will impact your teaching practice and professional development".


Educators chose various quotes, of course, for this response. The sentiments ranged from fully embracing the need for digital learning to questioning whether or not students have the critical thinking skills necessary for independent, online learning. Several responses included a concern for the lack of human interaction that may be a by-product of some digital learning tools while others shared a concern for the insatiable need for some kind of digital engagement wondering if it will ever "be enough". Here are some of my favourite responses; I've kept all respondents anonymous:


A balance is needed in learning going forward. Technology is out there and as I type this and you receive it and you read it, technology has already advanced and there is something new ready for someone to use. The balance is the teacher. Good teaching pedagogy is key to any new innovation and at the heart of moving learning forward is knowing the learner. The video is all about student voice!..The student is letting us; the teacher know what they are all about and how they learn and it is good teaching strategies that will move that student forward.



"To learn I look online..." Completely true. But I see students who are indeed connected, but are not literate in what they are interacting with. They don't know how to filter any searches they see (and I'm not talking Boolean - just seeing a response and knowing that perhaps it's an academic journal or it's relating to a synonym of their search or it's from the wrong country...) We don't yet seem to have a curriculum to learn the neighbourhood of searches and how to efficiently navigate or determine what's accurate out there. I hear, "But it says that so I'm writing it down," way too much.



I agree more with the second option. As a resident of rural Northern Ontario, we have relied on online digital courses. As teachers, we need to develop capacity for making these courses rich and relevant.


I definitely agree that the educator is THE MOST IMPORTANT tool in the classroom (I will be writing a post on this topic soon!) as stated here. I also see, from these responses, that we need to teach our students the basics when it comes to technology. For some reason many educators seem to believe that students already know how to use pretty much any technology; while this is sometimes true, it is often very far from the truth. We are still obliged to learn how to effectively use digital tools and make sure that we are proficient with whatever tool we expect our students to use. Again, the assumption that students "already know" will lead to the perpetuation of misunderstandings and ineffective use of technology.


Question 3 - What are your final thoughts about the challenge your future student (the narrator) poses for you? What are you looking forward to in the years to come? What are some limitations you expect to face? Again, be as honest as you can be! 


This question also provided a range of responses. Some educators described their enthusiasm for continued professional learning while others focused on the limitations of technology and almost seemed resistant. Some respondents pointed to a lack of funding and effective mentoring and professional development (obviously something that our TLLP efforts try to address) and their hopes for improvement.  My personal responses could never be as thorough as the collective I was able to gather so, with that in mind, here are some of my favourites. Again, respondents are anonymous:


The biggest challenge will be to keep up with the technology and to insure that all students have equal access, regardless of socio economic status.


I'm wondering how much knowledge will my future students be coming in with...from some of the experiences I've had in my classroom to date, students don't know as much as we think they know. The common assumption that kids know more about computers/ipads etc than their parents, and at an earlier age, is not always the case. Most students are familiar with these devices but have been introduced to them because that's the current form of entertainment - a babysitter for parents...(these are very general statements...I know) Students need to understand the power these devices hold and how they can assist with their learning.


Although students are digital natives there are some basics that they don't understand or do and because they think they are so tech savvy they are not willing to listen to suggestions. Since information is so readily available, students are overloaded and don't necessarily have the skills to sort through the vast amounts of information. We need to guide them through the process and ensure that they become critical thinkers. Our schools are not equipped with enough technology and we need to move to BYOD and embrace.


The biggest challenge I believe is keeping up. Using technology in as many possible ways to keep the students engaged and wanting to learn more. I look forward to educating myself on the latest trends in technology to strengthen my teaching approach. The biggest Limitation that I expect to face is access to technology. It's obvious that this is the direction that schools are heading in, but at the same time it can be quite difficult to get funding for devices like laptops and tablets



Having enough technology or the funding for improvements in resources seems to be a common thread and one that I'd agree makes sense. It was also clear that educators felt that we have no choice but to be able to 'beat students at their own game' so to speak in order to avoid the situation where students feel that they don't need to learn or, worse yet, that their teacher simply doesn't know what he or she "is doing" with the technology. While a co-learning stance is ideal and we definitely want to learn with, and often FROM, our students, we also have to "do our homework" and be proficient enough with the tools to determine whether or not students really do "know what they think they know".


The responses I received, though varied, allowed me to see the commonalities that Ontario educators have when it comes to our opinions on digital learning. It would seem that we agree on the idea that effective implementation of technology can lead to better student outcomes if and when WE are effective in using the tools. Along those lines, we acknowledge the need for great professional development and have our concerns around both accessibility of technology in our schools (BYOD doesn't seem to fill all of the gaps) and effective mentorships (several respondents mentioned that they felt they hadn't received enough guidance for implementing tools in practical ways). In addition,  'the students already know how to use it' philosophy seems to be rather thoroughly dismissed by respondents. Although I would have loved to have a much larger sample size, I'm happy to have found some validation for my own opinions, along with some nuanced perspectives to broaden my thinking - thanks very much to all respondents!

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