Tech Topics

Google Classroom, GAFE and Genius Hour

google_classroom_logoI had the privilege of meeting another phenomenal teacher recently. Last Saturday, I attended one of the free professional development workshops put on by our wonderful Education Students Association at UVic. We learned about classroom management (FINALLY!) from Tina O’Keeffe, a teacher from Esquimalt High School and Social Justice Facilitator for the BCTF. And this morning, she came to my EDCI 336 class to teach us about Google Classroom and some Google Apps for Learning (GAFE).

Tina teachers about a million courses at Esquimalt including: Info-tech, ADST, Graphics, Animation, Business Education, Business Computer Applications, Marketing, Yearbook, Photography, & Science & Technology. She’s also qualified for Science 9 and 10, Biology 11 and 12, and for Inclusive Education. She started teaching only in March 2013, has a family, coaches Esquimalt’s competition winning robotics team (help fund their trip to compete at the FIRST World Championship in Texas), helps run a business with her husband, and runs summer camps. She’s also a master of analogies. So, she’s basically super human.

Tina’s also Level 1 Certified Educator – Google for Education and recommends that all pre-service or working teachers take this free certification. Check out the super informative Google Slides on Google Classroom and GAFE that she presented this morning (shared with permission):

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 9.10.02 AM

Here are some of Tina’s reasons for using Google Classroom:

  • Simple navigation and interface. 
  • No more lost assignments. In Tina’s district, SD61, all students have a Google account and access to GAFE and Google Classrooms. This means they can access their work anywhere they can access the Internet.
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Google Classroom is super customizable behind the scenes. This means teachers can assign differentiated assignments to specific students, and only they can see it on their Google Classroom (not the rest of the class).
  • Students can access the course from anywhere. Because students can access their Google Classroom from anywhere with Internet, Tina has uploaded all of her resources, lessons, assignments, announcements etc. on her. This way, students who are chronically ill or have valid reasons for missing class won’t fall behind. Also, students who have timetable conflicts with courses she teaches are able to take any of her courses during other blocks since everything can be accessed online.
  • You can invite TTOC’s into your Google Classroom. This way they can access all classroom resources and know exactly where students are in their learning when coming in to sub.
  • You don’t need a Google account to access a Google Classroom.

Because her students can access the course material anywhere, Tina’s classes are similar to distance education or online courses and she carefully customizes her Google Classrooms to fit the temporality of students’ learning. But, that doesn’t mean there’s no face-to-face teaching in her classroom. Here’s how Tina incorporates Google Classrooms and GAFE in her teaching:

  • When students arrive to class, she projects the agenda with the lessons and assignments for the day.
  • Because a large portion of course materials are available on students’ Google Classrooms, Tina is free to spend a lot of her class time conferencing, teaching 1-on-1 and supervising the learning in her classroom.
  • Tina doesn’t assign much, if any, homework; kids do mostly everything in class.
  • Tina also doesn’t upload assignments until she’s introduced them in the classroom with students. Otherwise, she finds that the keeners will do all of their work for the week ahead of time on Sunday night and the anxious students can become overwhelmed when seeing the assignments without verbal introductions.
  • For her lessons, assignments, resources, and tutorials, Tina takes a lot of screenshots and adds them to her documents or uses screen capture software to make everything more multimodal.
  • She embeds digital literacy and digital citizenship teaching throughout her classes. She discusses how to leave a good digital footprint.
  • She includes EA’s and parents in her Google Classrooms.
  • Like I said before, Tina is careful not to reveal everything in her Google Classrooms all at once. She chunks it up but is also able to reveal more to the students who are progressing quickly.


Tina’s a teacher through and through, and she has designed each of her courses and Google Classrooms to best serve students. Here are a few ways she begins each course:

  • Tina knows that many students aren’t familiar with Google Classroom, so she has designed an introduction module in each of her courses’ Classrooms.
  • Within the intro module, students are asked to fill out a Google Form and answer some get-to-know-you questions.
  • On day 1, students take a tour through the Google Webstore to familiarize themselves.
Tina's quick assignment for introducing apps and Google Webstore:
Each student chooses 3 apps that they would want to use in the 
classroom (1 fun, 1 for learning something specific, and 1 can be 
an educational game). Students then add them onto Google Slides and
the teacher scrolls through as each student describes their apps.
  • In the first week, Tina teaches a whole class on how to use Google Read&Write. This eliminates the stigma of using text-to-voice software from the get-go.
  • She introduces the idea of leaving behind a digital footprint.
Tina's quick activity for introducing digital footprints:
When introducing the idea of leaving behind a digital footprint, 
Tina bravely gets students to Google her. They then discuss what 
they've found and how she models leaving behind a professional 
digital footprint. She then asks them to Google themselves and 
evaluate what they find, prompting them with the question, "would 
you want your grandmother sitting beside you as you scroll through 
your digital footprint?"
  • She spends the majority of the week introducing genius hour.
Genuis Hour:
I love this so much! Very similar to Trevor MacKenzie's open inquiry 
projects, Tina's Genius Hour is based on the principles of open 
inquiry. Students in Tina's classes spend 20% of their class time on 
their Genius Hour project. They can make a project on anything they 
want, so long as they use technology in the classroom or it's about 
tech. She's had students write books, build 3D printers, make hundreds
of paper cranes. At the end of the semester, she invites Ministry 
professionals, admin, parents, other students, and officials to her 
class and students showcase their learning.

Tina spends the whole first week introducing Genius Hour and getting
kids excited. After the first week, students have decided on their 
project and have written their proposals.

Tina has decided to place genius hour on Wednesdays for a couple of 
reasons. First, Mondays and Fridays are often lost to Pro-D days or 
holidays. Wednesdays, for some reason, are also less likely to be
interrupted by assemblies. Secondly, this helps her chunk up her her 
lesson planning for the week; she doesn't have to do it all for Sunday 
night. She also uses Genius Hour project work time as a reward for 
students who finish in-class assignments before the end of class. 

Tina recommends Kevin Brookhouser's book The 20Time Project: How
Educators and Parents Can Ignite Google's Formula for Supercharged

Tina offered a lot of advice for us pre-service teachers, one of which really stuck to me. She said that early on she realized that she could have a conversation with a student who was attending all of her classes but not turning in any work. She wrote a list of questions and they had a long conversation. She used this conversation as her assessment of the student’s knowledge. Now, Tina uses conferences to assess her students’ Genius Hour projects at the end of the term. This totally relates to what Val has been teaching us about assessment.

Observation = True Score + Error
Observations, otherwise known as assessments, tell teachers what a 
student knows and can do but are entirely affected by all of the 
factors that could lead to a student making an error. These could be
lack of sleep or food, anxiety, physical pain, whatever. Val and Tina 
both advocate for conferencing with students as a way to mitigate these
often inaccurate observations.

After Tina’s visit, you could say I might be reconsidering my previous stances on LMS. But don’t quote me on any official change yet. That said, I can totally see the impetus for migrating resources, lessons, and assignments online for alternate education schools. My mum, who is an alt. ed. teacher, has been wanting to move all of her materials online for some time now. But, she’s overwhelmed by the prospect as her school is entirely paper based. Perhaps it will take an offer from someone like me to help her in this transition. We shall see!

Anyhow, here are some of my last thoughts on Google Classroom and GAFE:

  • Having asked Tina if any parents are averse to the idea of Google Classroom and GAFE, she said she’s only encountered this issue once. She called the parent and explained that, as per their district’s contract with Google, no data mining is done on any Google accounts, Classrooms, or GAFEs. She said this put the parent’s fears at ease.
  • Google Classroom will automatically make a Google Drive classroom folder for each of your Classrooms and will transfer all of your uploads and assignments.
  • While I don’t think I’ll be using Google Classroom or a LMS in my art classes as I want students to practice as much handmade process work in their sketchbooks as possible, I’m warming to the idea of using it in my ELA classes.
personal pedagogy Tech Topics

Using Minecraft to activate Core Competencies

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I am not, in any way shape or form, a gamer. I am an avid board game player, let me tell you. But, having grown up in a household sans video games, I am seriously lacking in that department. So, when a group of middle schoolers and their teacher Mrs. James came to teach us Minecraft today in our EDCI 336 class, I was pretty nervous about my abilities. No need though: this luddite is now a converted Minecrafter (…? Still learning the terms, guys).


I’d learned about Classcraft in my Multiliteracies class last semester, and I know from being immersed in the Ed. world now that gamification is a major trend in education. But, the great thing about Minecraft is that kids are already playing it, so as a teacher learning this new game, I can use my students as helpers.

Mrs. James introduced us to MinecraftEdu. This version has teacher controlled functions and can operate on a schools’ closed server. A teacher can set quests and assignments in Minecraft. She can keep track of everyone’s progress and completion of the assignments. She can also put constraints on the class’ ‘world.’


For example, Mrs. James teaches a Futile Systems unit in grade 7 Social Studies. For this unit, she created a medieval world where she allowed only two students to be in creative mode (they had no limits put on their worlds meaning they had endless resources at their finger tips and could build whatever they wanted). The rest of the students were in another mode (survival, or maybe adventure?) and needed tools to complete their team’s assignment. One can imagine how a social system might devolve when only 2 of 25 has access to resources and the ability to make tools. So, this was their challenge. Some teams devolved and imploded, some teams achieved their assignments, but that wasn’t what Mrs. James was observing and assessing. She watched as students ran out of their chairs and around the classroom, bartering and negotiating, locating lost members, trading with each other – all of which activate the Core Competencies.

Minecraft can also be used in education beyond a teacher simulating social situations. Students can use Minecraft to demonstrate their knowledge and learning. Teachers can easily offer Minecraft as an option for individual or projects. Some class based Minecraft assignments or activities could include:

  • Building bodily systems or trade systems. Imagine you’re teaching grade 12 biology. What a better way for students to understand the body than to build one! Students can be grouped by each system (immune, nervous, lymphatic, digestive, endocrine, circulatory) and must each make their own organ. Each organ must work together to simulate various processes, and each system must work within the body and could be made to work together. Same can be done for a trade system.
  • Create a story with a quest. Hello, ELA. Students can design a world and write a backstory and plot that their classmates would then fulfill by accomplishing a quest.
  • Geometry, architecture, building. Teaching a math or trades course? Have students learn the fundamentals of building, geometry, and structures by constructing them in Minecraft. My friend once built a fully functional calculator on Minecraft (but he’s a different species of genius altogether). At lower levels, Minecraft can be used for illustrating perimeters, area, other measurements, and more.
  • Simulate a plague or an attack on a village or resources. If playing in-class, a teacher can unleash monsters or random villagers onto the class’ world. In Mrs. James’ medieval world, she did this to simulate a plague and other infectious diseases.

Critical Thinking? Check. Creative Thinking? Check. Communication? Check.

Mrs. James is someone I definitely want to keep in contact with. She’s super passionate about Minecraft and teaching practices. Here are some of the ways she uses and approaches Minecraft in the classroom:

  • Freezing the whole class. Rather than waiting for everyone to detach, a teacher can pause everyone’s game to gather the class’ attention.
  • For proximity. Mrs. James always plays with her students in class time. She does this because it allows her control over the world’s settings, her students’ individual settings, and the class’s settings. This way, she can also use the proximity strategy. She can teleport to students to stand next to them, check on their progress, and help them out.
  • Disable the text/chat function. She does this partly because it slows down their server, but mostly because it allows for more richer, face-to-face communication. This way, students will also be up and out of their chairs, moving around.
  • No player vs. player… It’s generally unadvisable to encourage students to fight against each other.
  • Use it for fun at lunchtime and after school. She’s cautious about this though, as students need to be outside. She only allows it 1-2 times a week during lunch, but leads the Minecraft club after school. The Minecraft club, who came to teach us today, are awesome kids. One even advocated for getting Minecraft into the school and succeeded. They even support their teachers at school when using Minecraft in the classroom.
  • At home or at school? Mrs. James advocates for using Minecraft in the classroom. Students need to have protected time for the collaboration and Core Competencies they use while playing. Some projects might be designed to have some components completed at home.
  • To activate and assess Core Competencies.
  • Reflections. After using Minecraft, she asks students to reflect upon Core Competency prompts and their progress. This incorporates student feedback into the assessment process, and also helps with her data collection for assessment.


Mrs. James says it’s all about how you approach Minecraft and your classroom. She said to be open to student suggestions for alternative assignments/project formats – they will wow you! She also believes that it takes something like Minecraft to provoke the communication that can and should happen across all subject areas. (She mentioned how students will work silently on problems in math class, despite her encouragement for collaboration and team problem solving). More and more, she says she’s assessing and reporting only on the Core Competencies. She approaches the curriculum like a jumping off point: she uses the Content and Learning Standards as how she’ll integrate and teach Core Competencies (e.g.: She’ll be teaching communication by having students work through a futile system in Minecraft). She says that once you realize that every letter grade is based on subjectivity, you’ll be able to open yourself up to the freedom that that allows you in your assessment and teaching practices.

Mrs. James finds that some students and parents do push against Minecraft. But, that’s okay; she doesn’t use it for everything of course – maybe a few times a week. She advised us, as teachers, to do our research beforehand. Look at the studies and know the impacts of what you plan to introduce into the classroom. She used the example of integrated studies – which is totally doable in middle school, more so than high school. In fact, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m totally considering teaching middle school. It’s so interdisciplinary and relationship based.

To finish off, here are the first few things I loved about Minecraft:

  • It’s super simple design. For someone who is so unaccustomed to playing a computer game in any sense, Minecraft wasn’t overwhelming with graphics or endless options. The pixelated style of the worlds and avatars is simple and the menus are easy to navigate. Very intuitive.
  • Universality. I can definitely see how students could use this to demonstrate their learning in virtually every subject. Also, I love its capability for simulating events and social situations.
  • Closed server and teacher controls. Pretty self-explanatory.

Finally, here are some things I’d like to see when integrating Minecraft into the classroom:

  • Freezing the class for 5 minutes of movement and stretching.
  • Standing desks. I’m just all over this one. Let’s curb those sedentary habits for students and teachers.

Well, I know I’ll definitely be hitting up the Minecraft club at my future school for advice. Can’t wait to use this!

Tech Topics

Thinking about tech

pexels-photo-799443.jpegI was driving home from spin class one night this week when through the radio waves I heard a fantastically critical discussion about technology, the Internet, and what it means for our minds, democracy, and teens.

These interviews were on CBC’s Ideas. Those interviewed were Nicholas Carr (author of Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to our Minds),  Franklin Foer (former editor of The New Republic Magazine,  author of World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech), Dr. Jean Twenge (psychology professor at San Diego State University) and Clive Thompson (Canadian technology journalist and author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For The Better). 

Take a listen here.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve Foer’s World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech to my reading list.

ELA Tech Topics

Tech Tools and Oak Bay High School with Trevor MacKenzie

Today my EDCI 336 class met for a tour and class at Oak Bay High School with English teacher Trevor MacKenzie.

Oak Bay is unlike any school I’ve ever been in. Every classroom has its own garage door that opens to common areas within each ‘wing.’ Teachers and students are encouraged to roam the halls during class to make use of the space. Most classrooms even have moveable adjoining walls that allow for co-teaching.

A garage door? This ain’t shop class! 

First thing I noticed, aside from the design of Oak Bay, were the butterflies and heart palpitations in my chest upon re-entering a high school. Is this how I, a future high school teacher, am really feeling? I’m supposed to be in charge some day. Me. Ahh! School had already let out and at least 3/4 of the students had left for the day, but I still felt daunted by the amount of teenagers…all in one place.

Thankfully, this didn’t go unacknowledged. This was my first hint that Trevor wasn’t some ordinary teacher. He was truly perceptive. His first question: “how many of your felt a little sick walking in here today?” Three of us in my cohort raised our hands sheepishly. Trevor said he felt the same way when he first started his practicum. Well, thank goodness we’re not alone.

After our brief tour, Trevor brought us to his classroom. I was surprised by the size. I don’t know if my perspective has changed now that I’m an adult (cough*chuckling at the fact that I fall into that category*), but classrooms seemed bigger when I was in high school. Maybe schools are being designed to align with the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that included restoring class size and composition ruling. Trevor spoke to the design of desks in his classroom, which made a lot of sense to me. He’s a proponent of groups of 3; there’s no room to hide in a group of 3 (in other words, students will always be ‘forced’ to talk). In groups of four or more, the discussions can often be inequitable. Coming from an art and literary background, I know there’s something about the rule of three that just works in so many aspects of life.

We then got down to some of Trevor’s favourite edtech tools.

I love the placement of the podium and the screen – both front and centre. A visual metaphor for the equal importance of digital and live oral presentation skills and in-the-moment teaching.


Never thought I’d come around to a tech tool so quickly or so much, but I love Flipgrid! Flipgrid is a super easy online video posting and viewing site for student engagement and formative assessment. It is a transformative way for students to interact with course objectives beyond speaking aloud or writing their answers: they must consider their video quality and form in addition to their oral presentation skills. In other words, students will work on their digital fluency/literacy by producing digital content. Trevor makes sure that after he assigns a Flipgrid task, the class comes together to watch each other’s videos. This is an opportunity for Trevor to provide in-the-moment feedback where he incorporates digital literacy teachings and pointers such as, “you came across really personably, but the camera shaking was distracting.” If Trevor doesn’t use a Flipgrid activity in-class but assigns it for homework, he notices that students will watch and comment on each others videos, and students will upload a more polished video based purely on peer feedback. What a way to harness the power of social learning and motivation!

Here’s some things I love about Flipgrid:

  • Flipgrid allows for immediate, in-the-moment coaching. I can absolutely see its use for formative assessment and its potential, when used correctly, for summative assessment. 
  • It’s an easy integration of digital literacy competencies and conversations in the classroom.
  •  It’s simple design! Flipgrid allows for videos ranging from only 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and the teacher has control over the maximum video length for each task. Brilliant! Also, there’s no editing function for videos: it’s a one shot deal where the focus is more on what you say rather than the video’s form (though that’s important too).
  • Videos aren’t uploaded immediately after being taken. Students have the ability to watch and re-record videos. But once they click upload, the video instantly appears for the class or teacher to view.
  • Flipgird bypasses all the nonsense of platforms like Youtube. As an instructor, you can make your class completely private, invisible to outside users.
  • Trevor uses Flipgrid to scaffold into oral and live presentation skills. As students record and watch their videos in class while receiving live, in-the-moment feedback from peers and their teacher, they become aware of which skills to work on and become more comfortable with speaking in front of their peers without being penalized/before the summative assignment of a live presentation.

Task and activity ideas utilizing Flipgrid in my classes (English and Art):

  • Wheel throwing (a.k.a. the hardest thing ever). Have a student record my demo and post it to our Flipgrid page. Students can re-watch for form tips. They could also record themselves throwing for comparisson and notice any potential problems.
  • Painting/drawing/technique demos. Students record mine and their own. As an activity, have students teach a technique. Follow-up by having students watch 5 techniques, and record themselves trying one.
  • Slam poetry
  • Concise debate points
  • Rants (a-la Rick Mercer)
  • Storytelling
  • etc. etc. etc.
Trevor’s class’s guerrilla poetry project. The class looked at Shane Koyczan’s poetry for hope and perseverance. They then found textual evidence of these themes and wrote them on stickies. They placed this banner in the halls and watched as the stickies grew simply by students walking by and engaging out of curiosity.


This one’s not new to me, so I won’t go into as much detail. I’ll just say that I love the way Trevor uses it in his English class. We all know how tiring and time-consuming it can be to teach discipline vocabulary. And literary devices certainly aren’t the most exhilarating. But, Trevor’s found a clever way to use Kahoots to engage students in this essential and required learning. The BC Grade 12 English Provincial Exam, for example, requires students understand aprx. 200 literary terms and devices. Trevor scaffolds these throughout the year by distributing 25 terms/week. Students must then create a study guide of their choice (flashcards, online flashcards, rote memorization from writing definitions, etc.) to study only the terms they don’t already fully understand, thereby limiting their load. Trevor checks their study guides for completion marks throughout the term. Then, once a week he does a Kahoot quiz. As the quiz results appear immediately, Trevor is able of  to bypass terms students already understand to focus on providing direct instruction for the more confounding terms. Most importantly, the quiz is not a summative assessment. He uses it formatively for both his teaching and as a means of providing immediate student feedback. Best of all, students can re-take the quiz as many times as they want to practice the terms throughout the semester!

Explain Everything

Talk about a multimodal tool. As Trevor describes it, this is a digital whiteboard on steroids. Essentially, this is a presentation tool in which students can create videos using text, images, videos, and their own overlaid voice recording. It allows for more editing compared to Flipgrid, can accommodate longer recordings, and it’s use of multiple modes makes it a great tool for summative assessment assignments. Plus, it’s far more engaging than a PowerPoint or slideshow. However, it’s of course a recording, so students are not using live presentation skills. But, this makes it a great tool for further scaffolding into live presentations. Students will script or prepare what they’ll say, but will have the opportunities for revision and re-recording.

MORE tips and nuggets of wisdom from Trevor:

  • When asking students to ‘share out’ to the class after a group discussion, give them 60 seconds to re-cap what they’ve just talked about. This allows those who don’t feel comfortable speaking to the class to at least hear the mental processes that are used when surmising salient points, if not provide input to the speaker. Simple and brilliant.
  • Let go of the content, grab onto the personal. Get to know your kids, and design meaningful ways for them (or have them design ways) to harness what they know and are passionate about. This is where inquiry comes in to play. One of the best parts of open inquiry, students will self-accommodate/differentiate.
  • Consider Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and equity in your planning. Trevor uses the example of Google Classroom. He doesn’t assign work on Google Classroom (God bless. Neither will I.), but uses it as an accessible folder for students to download rubrics, assignment details, project descriptions, as well as access links, resources, etc. that he’s mentioned in-class. *cough* THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE USED! *cough*
  • Be flexible and aware of the ebb and flow of a lesson. Be present and in the moment. Stay attentive and perceptive to your students’ needs. Do I really need to elaborate?
  • Finally, don’t use tech just because it’s there. Tech must be transformative! If it’s not adding richness to an otherwise ‘simple’ or ‘analogue’ task, why use it?
Below the window in this very terrible photo you can see what Trevor described as a student’s inquiry project artifact (i.e. the evidence a student leaves of their term-long self-directed investigation into an area of passion). This student wanted to become a professional photographer. These are some of his before and after shots.

Okay, I think I know what Valerie was talking about when she said this was going to be an inspirational afternoon. Today’s session has made edtech, which has always seemed so abstract in my mind, so much more concrete. It was so affirming to see a teacher so committed to his students and so mindful of his pedagogy. I’m so grateful.

Tech Topics

Learning Management Systems (LMS) and FreshGrade Review

Considerations when using Learning Management Systems

From Moodle to Google Classroom, Learning Management Systems (LMS) have been in development and have been used in classrooms for over a decade – at least since I was in public school. Each have their own pros and cons, but a lot of the time they seem teacher-centric and/or seem to overcomplicate simple tasks. Teachers post assignments, share resources, post links, etc. Students upload completed assignments, read announcements, network with classmates, etc. On some LMS Parents can also have access. All of these components can be positive but can also be very problematic. If students are commenting on each others’ work or talking in chats, LMS can become another environment that teachers have to police. If parents have access, they can support their children’s learning but can also become problematically involved if commenting on their child’s uploads or other students’ work.

Another issue that I have with LMS is the temporal dissonance for learning that they can induce. (I’ve spoken about the temporality of learning in another blog post, and it is something that is extremely important to me and governs the decisions I will make in the classroom). If teachers abuse the capabilities of LMS – asking their students to complete work at a volume that doesn’t account for the time they need to do so or requiring students to check for updates and announcements that they, the teacher, have posted at a self-suiting time – they disrespect their students’ time outside of the classroom. Conversely, LMS create an environment where students and parents are able to post questions and comments, potentially at an unmanageable volume, which will contribute to expectations of immediate teacher responses and the teachers’ sense of guilt at being unable to meet these expectations. Enter: teacher burnout.

If using LMS in the classroom, teachers should be conscious of their potential for abuse and should set clear boundaries and expectations for student and parent behaviour on the platform. LMS that have been thoughtfully designed will have customizable settings the teacher can adjust based on these boundaries and expectations.

pexels-photo-313690.jpegAnother issue with LMS is their over-saturation in education. As a university student, I am currently using 3 LMS and am expected to check each plus email and Twitter for updates and announcements. These announcements and updates don’t come at any consistent times, and I am therefore expected to check them constantly to stay on track. There is no way to streamline all of this information either. Needless to say, I can’t keep up. Despite the university’s LMS, CourseSpaces, Education faculty have their own ideas about which platform they find most effective. The result: happy instructor, overwhelmed, thinly spread, and confused students. Now, add in the 4 group projects I have this semester and their accompanying and constant Facebook group chats, and university becomes a communication overload in addition to it being inherently extremely stressful. Enter: student burnout.

If using an LMS in the public system, it should be implemented at a district level. And, if teachers choose not to use it in their classroom, they should seriously consider the impact of introducing yet another platform for communication and information that may contribute to student overwhelm and anxiety.

As for me, I haven’t decided what LMS I find most effective. What I’ll use (if I use anything at all) in my classroom also depends on my future school and its culture. All I know is that I will ensure that I consider and respect students’ time outside of class, and I hope they and their parents do so for me.

FreshGrade Review

app-web-icon-genericFreshGrade is considered a BC success story. The Kelowna founders created FreshGrade after recognizing that, as parents, they received little to no feedback from their kids about what they did at school. So, FreshGrade was born to showcase student work in the form of portfolios (aka the student’s profile page) for parent observation, and, they argue, for students to take pride and ownership over their learning. But as with most LMS, the virtual classroom and all accompanying student work and content disappears at the end of the semester. Not super authentic if you ask me. At least paper printed work can last beyond a 4-5 month semester.

The Kelowna based company prides itself on hosting the platforms servers in BC. But as any digital citizen knows, companies are easily bought out, and servers and all of your data can move in a virtual instant to another country with differing privacy laws.

I am currently using FreshGrade in one of my classes. My prof’s sole argument for using FreshGrade was that it’s BC hosted. But from a student perspective, it is 100% teacher-serving and not particularly helpful.

I’ll quickly describe the interface from a student’s perspective. In my class, the prof set up a variety of cards (or tabs) that list an assignment’s brief description and it’s deadline. Nothing very exciting or innovative. The cards appear on your portfolio, you upload your assignments and comments, and the prof can grade and comment on your uploads. I’m not entirely sure how the parent function works as we’re of course not using that in our class. But from speaking to my Technology Innovation in Education prof whose daughter has used FreshGrade, the parent app allows parents to simply see their child’s portfolio. I’m not sure if they can or cannot comment on their child’s work or correspond with the instructor. Regardless, FreshGrade is riddled with problems from a student and future instructor perspective.

My problems with FreshGrade:

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 7.53.01 PM copy

  • Once a student uploads a document, video, or photo, they cannot delete it. Only the instructor can. (Comments can however be deleted). In this age where everyone’s personal information and photos are stored on their phones, an accidental upload is all to easy. And, if a student has no ability to delete it, this could open a whole other bag of worms with, and at the very least, make for a very awkward conversation between teacher and student. This just doesn’t make any sense especially because students can’t interact with each other on the platform so there’s no potential for abuse in this regard. Anyhow, thankfully no unfortunate uploads happened in my case. But I have accidentally uploaded assignments under the wrong card, and there’s no way to delete them. That brings me to my next point.
  • Students cannot move an upload to another card if uploaded accidentally. If the teacher’s cards are not clearly set up (as was not the case in my class), then it becomes labour intensive for both parties: the student must communicate with the teacher where they had intended to upload their assignment, and the teacher must then go in and fix it.
  • Comments are not synced with uploads. As seen above, comments appear on the card below its title, description, due date, and any uploads. There’s no way to attach a comment to a specific upload which can cause confusion.
  • Uploads don’t appear in a user-friendly manner and all uploaded documents must be downloaded to be read. This is fairly self-explanatory. It just seems to me that if the teacher has to download the document anyway, isn’t it just as effective to email the assignment?
  • Cannot upload albums or folders. There’s no way for a student to organize uploads into any user-friendly manner.
  • Everything disappears at the end of the semester. This has to be my biggest grievance. If the whole point is to showcase one’s learning, this is where FreshGrade really misses the mark. It actually enforces the idea of subject silos and the idea of learning for learning’s sake. There’s no continuity. Based on my experience in my current EDCI 336 course where we are required to blog about our learning, a WordPress or similar platform seems much more student centered than anything FreshGrade can offer.

Based on all of the reasons above, the potential for miscommunication is huge. As seen under the above “Participation/Weekly Portfolio” card, my prof wrote “no upload yet.” In fact, I had been uploading plenty, but not under the card. This is because there was no in-class orientation to the platform, and the professor’s descriptions below each card were very vague. So, I uploaded assignments independently from a card, and they appeared at the bottom of my profile which my professor didn’t check. I then had to use another channel, email, to communicate this to him because I know he doesn’t monitor comments frequently. So inefficient.

In the end, I would definitely not like to use FreshGrade in my class. I find it poorly designed and not very user-friendly. Finally, it’s extremely teacher and parent centric which is only reinforced by its superficial origin story: to provide parents with access to their child’s learning. If the child can’t effectively upload and showcase their learning, really what’s the point? And after all, what’s so wrong with the idea of a student bringing their homework home (a notebook, project, paper, or drawing) and showing it to their parent at the kitchen table? Call me old fashioned, but this just seems to make way more sense.

Lesson Plans & Resources Professional Development Tech Topics

Media Smarts: Digital Literacy Workshop

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend my first professional development workshop at UVic. Thierry Plane, Media Education Specialist at Media Smarts, hosted our workshop. It was free to attend and was organized by Dr. James Nahachewsky and the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the Faculty of Education. Bonus: it will go on my transcript and list the learning outcomes we covered!

I thought I’d share what we learned for those who couldn’t make it and as review for myself.

Who are Media Smarts?

media smartsMedia Smarts or in French, Habilos Media, is a Canadian non-profit company. It was previously called the Media Awareness Network and came out of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission TV violence initiative in 1994, which was spurred by the 1991 Citizen’s Forum on Canada’s Future (a.k.a. the Spicer Commission).  After their research showed that most children were on the internet, the company revised their focus from providing educational resources about media violence to becoming a leader in media and digital literacy (which are two different things – more on that in a bit). They became a non-profit to ensure their stability regardless of the federal government whims.

Media Smarts’ vision is “to ensure that young people have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.” 

Half of what Media Smarts does is research children’s and teens’ Internet use with their program Young Canadians in a Wired World (YCWW), which is Canada’s largest and most comprehensive study of children’s and teen’s Internet use. Their non-corporately funded Canadian research is crucial for everything they do; it grounds their framework and educational resources. All of their research and reports are available here. Thierry recommended we read their report, Connected to Learn: Teachers’ Experiences with Networked Technologies in the Classroom as it largely informs their  their Digital Literacy Training Program for Canadian Educators and its Digital literacy Implementation Guide. The other half of what they do is create free K-12 resources (yayyy!) and promote public awareness on the importance of media and digital literacies.

What’s the difference between media literacy and digital literacy?

Media Literacy

Traditionally, media literacy focuses on media consumption rather than media production. It’s about giving kids the critical thinking skills needed to not be passive consumers of media.

The key concepts of media literacy are:

  • Media are constructions
  • Each medium has a unique aesthetic form
  • Media have commercial implications
  • Media have social and political implications
  • Audiences negotiate meaning

Media Smarts made a playlist of Media Minute videos which I totally plan to use as an introduction to a media and digital literacy in my classroom. Each is followed by a question that you could assign to students.


Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is based on media literacy. But, rather than focusing just on media consumption, it involves learning to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media and is also about helping kids become active rather than passive consumers of media.

Digital literacy is comprehensive and this is why we are now focusing on it and required to teach it. Consider the equation…

Digital literacy = media literacy concepts + these key concepts:

Digital media are networked. 

The real difference between media and digital literacy is that media are now networked, which means everyone and everything is connected. There are no one way connections in digital media. Everyone can participate with media. Data is collected. This means you have to be careful about what you consume and produce. And, authenticity is difficult to evaluate. This concept also involves ethics: what is the ethical responsibility of consuming, sharing, and producing media? Should you share it? What are the consequences? The concept of cybercitizenship comes into play here.

To illustrate this concept Thierry had us take part in an activity where we tried to recognize which viral images and vidoes were real and which were fake. The point was to illustrate how difficult it is to authenticate something you see online, and that there aren’t always clear cut real or fake divisions. This clam, for example, is really on the table, but it’s not really “licking” the salt. It’s actually using its “foot” to move and the salt is irrelevant and potentially harmful.

Another, somewhat terrifying example of this the advent of live face recognition videos. This one made my stomach turn a little bit.


Thierry had us use The New 5 W’s  – a list of questions for analyzing viral videos. I, for one, will be printing this out and pasting it on my classroom wall. I also thought what a fun concept to integrate into a Photoshop unit. Have students create “fake” images with an intended purpose and explain their choices (with some serious talk about ethics, copyright, and online sharing!).

Digital media are persistent (permanent) and shareable

This one I am quite aware of and have started becoming very aware of my online activity and presence. The idea is that everything that is transmitted by digital networks is stored somewhere and can be searched for and indexed. Everything that looks temporary can and usually is stored on a server (e.g.: Snapchat) and is accessible not only by the platform company, but theoretically anyone else.

Here’s a great video from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada for illustrating this concept:

Digital media have unexpected audiences

This one’s pretty obvious. What you share online may be seen by people you didn’t intend or expect to see it. Thierry showed us this K-3 lesson plan for illustrating this concept.

What happens via digital media is real, but doesn’t always feel real

It has been proven that we respond to things online as though we were really there. The trouble with using media to interact is that the cues that tell us how people feel are often absent. It’s easy to misconstrue things. For example, if you’ve got a group of friends like mine, you know that emoji’s are necessary, or else your text sass can easily be misconstrued. And it’s also so easy to forget that there is a person on the other end of your interaction when online. Consider massive multiplayer online games (MMOG). Here, kids are often playing against adults – such a weird dynamic, ripe for trouble and abuse if you ask me – and online behaviours, whether negative or not, become normalized and manifest in real interpersonal interactions. So, it’s crucial to teach kids about about empathy.

Digital media experiences are influenced by the architecture of the platforms

As someone who has worked as a graphic designer and artist, this concept was not new to me. I’m constantly considering how my visuals will illicit certain reactions and create meaning for the audience. So, I definitely understand the importance for teaching this concept to my students. Thierry pointed out that in traditional advertising, the point is to influence our thoughts and behaviours. But because with traditional media you were only the receiver, it doesn’t affect your behaviour as much as digital media, which asks you to be both the receiver and the participant. In other words, digital media is performative.

This concept also made me consider how addicted we are to our phones, and how their designs and application designs are created to feed our addiction by producing calculated dopamine responses. Personally, I hope that I work in a school that allows phones with the teacher’s discretion. I can see the practical uses of phones for some very specific and controlled purposes. But, as part of my belief that learning often best takes place when the learner is calm and without distraction, I hope to be able to ask students to put their phones in a designated area during class time.

Thierry showed us this grade 4-6 lesson plan to illustrate this concept and we played the game created to accompany the lesson. The idea behind this lesson is that your representation will affect your behaviour and the behaviours of others in whatever platform you’re using.

How do I access these amazing resources and lesson plans?

All MediaSmarts lessons are available on their website, some with accompanying online games, links, and other resources. They area all available in French too! The best part is all of their lessons are print compatible – meaning you can teach the concepts of digital literacy without needing technology! While it would make sense to use technology to illustrate the applications of these concepts, the reality is that accessing the necessary technology might be difficult for many schools and teachers.

For someone who loves organization, searching for their lesson plans is a dream. USE, UNDERSTAND & CREATE is MediaSmarts’ framework for teaching digital literacy skills. It draws on seven key aspects of digital literacy (illustrated by icons) and is based on the principles that students will use, understand, and create media. The framework provides teachers with supporting lessons and interactive resources that are linked to curriculum outcomes for every province and territory.

Lessons are searchable in the following three ways:

  1. By the 7 key aspects of digital literacy 
  2. By media literacy outcomes by province/territory and subject. The lessons are laid out to correspond with the subject’s curriculum.
  3. By refining a search by grade, resource type, topic, and media type.

Arguments for and implications of using technology in the classroom

Thierry made a compelling argument for teaching digital literacy, one that I whole-heartedly agree with. He said, “since children have been using devices for so long, since birth practically, doesn’t it make sense to bring some education into the classroom about how to responsibly and ethically live with and use that technology?” We’re all guilty of poor digital habits – I know I am – so it’s fair to say that children will adopt these habits if they aren’t taught best practices for digital citizens. To ensure that all children learn these key concepts,  BC has their developed own Digital Literacy Framework which is integrated into the curriculum.

Thierry noted these positives of evolving technology for education:

  • The networked nature of digital media means that students can find information more quickly and easily. Students can access the world outside the classroom.
  • The shareable nature of digital media means that students can publish their work for wider audiences. Students can collaborate inside and outside the classroom.
  • The reality of digital media means that students can participate as full digital citizens (with proper instruction and guidance). Students can contribute to online communities.

The fact is that kids are not only consumers of media, but producers. To thoughtfully and responsibly produce media requires more skills than simply consuming media does. Thankfully, we now have the resources to do teach this responsibility.

While I absolutely believe in the necessity of teaching these digital literacy skills, I have several qualms about including a good deal of technology in my classroom.

Protected calm

There is an inherent irony in the teacher training program. We are constantly being told about the mental health epidemic affecting students and that their attention spans are shorter than ever. They are bombarded by information, and their personal devices feed the addiction centres of their brains with calculated dopamine boosts. The digital revolution has brought about immediate connectivity and the need for instantaneous responses. Yet, as pre-service teachers we are taught (and expected) to use and embed technology into nearly every aspect of our teaching. Could this not potentially contribute to the mental health problems for students (not to mention teachers who are now expected in this digital culture to be available at the drop of a hat and to be instantaneously digitally connected to not only students but parents)?


As someone who recognizes the inundation of information and connectivity that the digital age has brought, I believe in creating spaces for students where a sense of calm is protected. I would hope that I will be able to create an environment where mindfulness, play, and learning can coexist uninterrupted by the constant barrage of (often unreliable) information and that the Internet and personal devices can bring.

Of course I am not saying that I won’t use technology in my classroom. I am not advocating for completely disregarding the technology that students will use second-naturedly. But technology should be used for intentional, specific purposes and not because it’s simply there. I often find that the tools we’re being taught in the BEd program overcomplicate simple tasks that could be accomplished with a good ol’ fashioned blackboard and human interaction.

I am also concerned by the speed at which learning is expected to occur in this digital age. The common argument is that “anyone can learn anything off the Internet.” Partly true, but this assumption can lead to serious problems. This can be seen with online courses where the temporality of learning isn’t often considered. The volume of material often outweighs the time the student can allocate to their learning. I believe the temporal dissonance that technology brings to learning can be very detrimental.

By slowing down to prioritize human relationships in the classroom, thereby protecting the calm necessary for deep learning, I hope that I will best serve my students. They deserve the protected time to turn off, slow down, and just be.

*I should note that I believe my argument is more tailored to my teachable subjects, Art and English (rather than STEM subjects which largely require integrated educational technology). For example, I believe that the best way to deeply learn through literature is to slow down and participate in meaningful, organic conversations.

Protected practice and preserving the tactile

As an art educator, I believe in the importance of teaching and preserving the tactile. Students deserve protected time to take a break from the intermediary of digital tools, to use their hands and bodies as tools.

Part of my personal pedagogy involves setting aside ample time for students to practice processes and skills without fear of penalization by summative assessment. I was thinking about this the other day in relation to ceramics. As someone who has recently taken a university level ceramics course, I know the stress that can come from learning the entirely foreign and extremely difficult new tactile skill of throwing while under the pressures of the clay’s drying time, the bisque and glaze kiln schedules, the operating hours of the studio, and the assignment’s due date. I remember working at the wheel for hours and getting nothing but mud. I worked well past midnight sometimes with nothing to show for myself but a warped cylinder with no base. The pressures I felt totally disallowed me to enjoy being in the moment, to experience the simple joy of squishing clay through my fingers or to benefit from the meditative effects that I know throwing can have. An example of how I intend to implement protected practice in the art classroom is to offer time for students to learn throwing without require it’s application in an assignment. I would hold throwing demonstrations and offer in and out of class assisted practice times (not for evaluative purposes), demonstrate hand-building techniques, then assign a project (say, produce a vessel that conveys a personal narrative) where students are free to use whichever technique they prefer.


In terms of preserving the tactile, I often think of drawing as a point of concern. I worry about how images created through drawing software (and now AI) are often usurping hand-drawn and designed images. Drawing (by hand and on paper) requires thoughtful deliberateness: knowing where to apply the charcoal (for example) and how much to apply,  knowing where to let the white of paper show through, knowing what marks produce what inferences, and how to control and delicately shade a subject. The purposeful act of drawing by hand requires preparation, practice, and expertise that I don’t believe can be mimicked in the same way by using a drawing tablet.

In digital drawing, deleting mistaken marks becomes easy, tracing over a layered image is easy, and complex drawings can be achieved with speed. Also potentially anxiety inducing is how much detail can be applied onscreen. When limited to paper and charcoal, say, you can only achieve as much detail as the tip of the charcoal will allow. In drawing software, the level of detail is limitless and can be as precisely as pixel-by-pixel. While digital drawing skills are valuable for industry (of which I know all too well, having worked in graphic design), the ability to remain focused on a drawing for a sustained and limited period of time (for as long as a live model is posing, for example), to make purposeful marks, and to control the amount of material transferred to the paper, are skills that cannot be replaced by any software. The mental and physical processes required for drawing on paper versus drawing on screen are vastly different, and the benefits that come from drawing on paper cannot be replicated. The mindfulness and calm that can be achieved by simply observing something in the real world, for example, and attempting to transfer it to paper alters the way one moves through the world. I know from practice that drawing has taught me to truly see. Suddenly, a tree becomes more than a daily front yard fixture, it becomes a fascinating study of proportions, light and shadow.

On another note, I’m particularly curious about the haptic dissonance that occurs between reading on screen versus reading on paper. I know that I internalize and understand what I read far more when I read it on paper, am able to tell where I am in a book, and can write little notes to myself on the page. Dr. Nahachewsky and I chatted about this with Thierry after the workshop, and I would really like to investigate the research on this topic to see if prioritizing printed text would best serve my students.

An inclusive solution

Thankfully, after sharing my concerns with Dr. Nahachesky and Thierry after our workshop, Thierry offered me some consoling advice.

As a teacher, you don’t need to be an expert in technology. Your expertise lies in critical thinking, emotional regulation, and managing information, among many other things. Thierry said that’s the great thing about digital media: you don’t have to be an expert in the technologies to teach critical digital literacy. You can teach through the skills you have. And, as MediaSmarts’ lessons often don’t require technology, you don’t even need to use technology to teach the concepts.

In terms of my qualms about largely involving technology in my classroom, Thierry gave me the following questions which I advise any teacher to ask:

Are you teaching the technology? Or is the technology being used to support what you’re teaching and what the students are learning?

And most helpful for me…

Is the technology replacing something richer?

Richness. That is what students deserve. A rich education.

Tech Topics

CAD and 3D Printing Workshops

3D printed objects from the DSC. Check out those red gears, all printed in one piece!

Wow what another incredible set of workshops at the Digital Scholarship Commons led by tech wiz Rich McCue and jane-of-all-trades Dani.

We started with the TinkerCAD workshop where we practiced the software by making 3D text keychain models. We had prepared by watching TinkerCAD tutorial videos the night before and completed our models with the help of another set of step-by-step worksheets Rich had prepared. As I worked with TinkerCAD, I found its functions familiar as they mirror those I’ve used extensively in Adobe InDesign. It’s a simple software and I was able to transfer my 2D design skills into 3D designing.

MakerBot printing a chain.

We then had the 3D printing workshop and saw a chain and a chip-clip being printed. Just like any art making process, when designing for a 3D printer there are factors and limitations to consider. A couple crucial factors are object orientation on the build plate and whether the object requires support. Seems obvious enough, but until you watch a 3D printer in action, you don’t realize how crucial supports are. A 3D printer has a hard time connecting the first few lines of a dinosaur’s stomach between its legs if there is no support between them. With the chains however, there were no supports used. The printer knows what objects at what angles it can print without needing supports. Luckily, you can select the option for the printer to intuitively add supports as needed when printing.

Another potential issue is warping. The first printed filament layers will always dry quicker than those most recently printed. As they dry, they contract and warp, so flat bottoms can be hard to achieve on the MakerBot printer. But, the second 3D printer available at the DSC, the UltiMaker, has a heated build plate which mitigates this problem.

As we worked, I was questioning the need for plastic manufacturing to become domestically available. Do we really need more plastic? Rich pointed out that the filament they use is made of PLA (polylactic acid), which is a biodegradable polyester derived from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugarcane. It’s also food safe which is neat. The DSC charges only $.10/gram, enough to cover material costs, and their printing and payment processes can be found here.

PLA filament comes on spools of varying colours. But, it’s a pain to change them!

While you can find thousands of open source 3D designs online, from for example, if you want to measure and design your own 3D models, digital calipers are available for rent from the Music and Media desk at the McPherson library.

While the mind boggles at the possibilities of 3D printing, there is an incredible program using 3D printing right at UVic. The Victoria Hand Project provides amputees in developing nations with 3DD printed upper-limb prosthesis. They have also partnered with developing countries, establishing 3D print centers and training staff to create, produce, and fit prosthesis for patients (which cost 25x less than typical prosthesis).

I’m not yet sure how I would invite students in my Art to use 3D printing for their learning, as I hope to provide protected practice for students to build gestural literacy as they make art using primarily their own bodies. However, I can see it’s possibilities for STEM and trades classes. For example, Rich showed us the Einstein Fidget Spinner (design available on which is a representation of angular momentum. Having students investigate and design objects like this, putting their skills to real use would take physics concepts from the abstract to the authentic.

I have yet to decide if there are any projects that I would use the DSC 3D printers to complete, but knowing they are there and having practiced the necessary skills gives me the confidence to later seek out these incredible tools.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 10.03.06 AM
My 3D keychain design.
Tech Topics

iMovie Video Editing Workshop

Today I took part in an Introduction to Video Editing with iMovie Workshop hosted by DSC Manager Rich McCue at the Digital Scholarship Commons in the McPherson Library. What a fantastic space! The Digital Scholarship Commons offers workshops on a variety of tech topics such as Photoshop, Arduino, Audio Editing, Data Analysis, Twine, etc.  (Sidenote: I asked Rich if he ever has teachers or students from the local public school system attend workshops, and he does!) They have on-site experts ready to answer your questions about 3D printing, computer electronics, RStudio and data analysis, textual analysis, and visual design. They also assist professors and students in using digital tools in teaching and research. Finally, they have more hardware than I could wrap my head around, all available for student on-site use and borrowing.

I was particularly impressed with Rich’s pedagogy. He was very prepared and clearly had experience working with true beginners. We were asked to prepare for our workshop by looking over the following beforehand:

For the workshop, Rich had prepared 3 projects for us to choose from each with their own step-by-step printed instructions (which I have saved and plan to use in my own classroom!). Being a beginner to video editing, I chose the first project, “The Basics, In-Class Activity #1” and “Slow-Mo & Audio Editing.” Both gave me the practice necessary to complete a small video project I have in mind to complement my personal learning plan passion project (more on that later!). So are you ready to see my feature films? They’re pretty extraordinary:


Note: Youtube videos cannot be set to private if embedding on WordPress for others to see

Also notable, I asked Rich what was a Windows or non-Mac iMovie comparable software  that I could suggest to my future students for video projects. Since students will be recording videos on their phones or tablets, he suggested they use the Adobe Clip app for Androids and, of course, the iMovie app for iPhones. Both are free and easy enough to use for class projects. They can also be used on computers if students don’t have access to phones.

Rich also suggested another software, Video Ant, which was created by the University of Manitoba and is free to use. This is a tool for collaborative video annotating. He uses it to annotate game and practice videos for the sports teams he coaches. He asks players to review their performance and annotate one positive move and one move they need to improve. It’s efficient for teachers, players and students as annotations make for much quicker video reviewing. Video Ant is linked with Youtube, where you will upload your video and set it to either public or private.

Tech Topics

A novice’s experimentation with simple audio editing

In my earlier blog post, A friendly conversation about the implications of shifting models of education, I chose to include an audio file recorded at a casual gathering of friends. Our conversation occurred organically (i.e. not for any purpose), and for that reason and also because I have no experience with professional recording equipment, I grabbed my iPhone and used the Voice Memos app to record the tail end of our discussion. Here is the original recording:

I knew I wanted to include it in my blog. First I had to email the file to myself because I didn’t want to import it through iTunes as that would sync unwanted music to my phone. It turns out that the default file format for Voice Memos is .m4a.

After downloading the file to my MacBook I tried uploading it to my blog, but WordPress requires an upgrade from the free account for any audio or video uploads. I then debated whether I should upload the file using Youtube. I decided against it because I wanted the conversation to appear on my blog as a simple audio file. I then decided to use SoundCloud as I discovered that WordPress easily embeds from there. I also checked SoundCloud’s terms and privacy policy and they don’t own your content.

Having figured out the embedding process, I was on to the editing stage. I wasn’t interested in investigating any fancy production tools nor downloading software off the internet, because my only goals were to trim the beginning of the file and level out the volume (when I recorded our conversation, my phone was closest to me, so my voice was, of course, louder). I decided to use GarageBand, as it’s already installed on my computer, but I read that it won’t upload an .m4a file. I researched how I could convert an .m4a file to an .mp3 file (a universally recognized file type and compatible with GarageBand). I downloaded the open source software VLC media player and watched this video for tips on conversion:

After converting the file to .mp3, I opened it in GarageBand through iTunes (GarageBand wouldn’t let me start a new project with an .m4a or an .mp3 file directly from my computer’s folder). After watching the below video, though, I learned that it would take significant time to manually bring everyone’s voices up to an even level. This is because our conversation occurred at a table with people often talking over each other and everyone at varying distances from the microphone.

Thankfully, I found the below video which advocated for using Levelator, a free downloadable software that averages all sound. It’s intended for speech recordings only, not music. Perfect.

Problem. Levelator works with .wav or .aiff files only. Back to VLC where I converted my original .mp4 to a .wav. Then I was able to use Levelator to average the sound. Thankfully, GarageBand supports .wav files, so I was able to import the levelled file and trim it there. Last step was to export the file as a .mp3 (because it makes it a smaller file size than .wav) from GarageBand and upload it to SoundCloud.

Here’s the final product.

Some final thoughts on this experience:

  • If using an iPhone for recording a group, place it in the centre of the table (seems obvious)
  • If I were recording another group conversation (in an ideal world) it might be nice to have a mic for each participant
  • Levelator works well for voices and I could certainly see its application for podcasting, but if there are any ambient noises at all, it will level those to the same decibels as the voices. This is why the crunching and water sounds louder in the final version.

I’ve been a podcast junkie for some time now, and having gone through this experiment (which took 3 hours of trial and error!) I feel a tinge more confident in my audio editing abilities. At least I know some of the software out there and what to consider when recording.

Tech Topics

A friendly conversation about the implications of shifting models of education

As a teacher in training, I spend many hours a day contemplating the question “what does that look like?” Throughout my BEd program I am being exposed to many models of instruction and learning, some great, some less than acceptable. The trouble occurs less with the models that I have found unsuccessful –  it’s easy to know when something doesn’t work and the implication is that you now know you won’t do that – but more so when the models shake up what you have always known. Even with the opportunity to explore one of these models for myself, as I am in EDCI 336 with my open inquiry personal learning project, I still struggle to imagine how I could possibly implement them in a classroom.

In EDCI 336 we watched the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. The essential question the film poses is “how do we prepare students for a digital-age economy that values human capital over hard skills?” Using High Tech High in San Francisco as a model, the film suggests shifting the role of the teacher to be a guide in learning (rather than an transmitter of knowledge) and designing learning opportunities that prioritize student agency. In this model, students acquire soft skills as they use hard skills to solve open-ended complex problems with authentic projects. Most Likely to Succeed offers compelling arguments for this shift in education – such as students’ inability to retain inert knowledge studied for the purpose of a test, the lack of authenticity found in most classrooms’ accountability strategies, and the rapidly shifting and technologically fuelled economic landscape – but there is a skeptical, or perhaps tentative, voice in the back of my mind that questions the feasibility, reality, and implications of such a shift.

This voice was released from my the confines of my mind last night after a board game night with my friends. The group was a mix of students from a variety of faculties. We talked about our own experiences of teachers and learning in public school and university and the merits and implications of some of the shifts in education (and the world at large). Because the conversation started organically, I didn’t think to record it until it neared its end, and I missed some brilliant thoughts and questions but some have remained despite my faulty memory:

We spent a significant amount of time discussing the implications of a world that devalues retained knowledge. But we also talked about how knowledge retention is vital in many professions (doctors, nurses, lawyers) and how one’s ability to articulate knowledge is judged in social settings. We agreed that memorization ought not be discounted as a necessary skill.

We contemplated whether the model of open inquiry or open-ended project-based learning would ever be feasible in an elementary setting, or if these models could only be possible because students have acquired the knowledge and skills (literacy, numeracy, etc.) required to succeed in these settings from the factory industrialized model of their elementary experience.

We discussed how learning for a test is valid because of the soft skills learned when doing so (including the ability to persevere through learning something that’s not enjoyable). But we also discussed how this is also inherently problematic because if the purpose of learning is for an assessment, the quality of the assessment determines how our learning is observed and judged.

Someone also aptly pointed out that true education revolution can’t fully occur until universities change their pedagogical and epistemological models.

While the best bits of our discussion went unrecorded, I’ve included the tail end of our conversation because it has some strong moments and also for the sake of experimenting with audio-editing. Like I mentioned, the conversation occurred casually so you can expect some chip-munching noises and honest words. Note that I did my friends’ approval to post this audio.

As for me, I don’t know how I can implement open inquiry or predominantly student-driven while supporting all of my students and myself. I’m still navigating what I believe are necessary skills and knowledge to teach. And, as I contemplate the immense responsibilities required of teachers, I sometimes lose conviction and confidence in my abilities. Thankfully, last night I was amongst friends, and one said something reassuring that I sadly hadn’t managed to record. He said that while I don’t yet know what my teaching might look like, he knows that I will make a good teacher because I care enough to have the conversations like ours.