I conducted two interviews, as I was interested to see the differences between the uses of digital technology in elementary and secondary classrooms.
Key words: accommodation, accountability, communication, collaboration, engagement.
Abstract for Interview #1 (Teacher T, Secondary, Senior Sciences):
Interview #1 (Interview length: 21 minutes 12 seconds): Teacher T is a teacher in a small town in northwestern British Columbia (population between 5500-6000). The interview with Teacher T took place in the afternoon, after students had been dismissed, in Teacher T’s classroom. Teacher T is a secondary science teacher who is teaching Biology 11&12, Chemistry 11&12, and Science 10 this school year. Teacher T has been teaching for twenty-five years and considers herself seven years away from retirement. Teacher T did not review the interview questions ahead of time.
In the interview with Teacher T, three significant themes emerged: The ability to accommodate learners who lead lives that include travel (i.e., extracurricular sports, vacations) or who are ill and are unable to attend class, and at the same time increase accountability in her learners; the importance of decreasing anxiety and providing review for students outside the classroom; and the opportunity digital technology provides for the teacher to move more freely around the classroom in order to assess learning, as well as misconceptions, during class time, rather than waiting for a submitted work assignment or test.
Teacher T began using technology when some of her students, who were on the school wrestling team, were going to be absent in the week leading up to a provincial exam, and would be “missing some crucial lessons.” In order to provide the students with the lessons, the teacher recorded and uploaded the lessons, sending them via a link to enable the students to prepare for their exam during their absence. From there, Teacher T’s use of technology to provide recorded lessons for students to access away from the classroom has grown to include the Camtasia program, Moodle and YouTube platforms, a class set of iPads (through a $10,000 grant), and lessons delivered in a Flipped Classroom style. With the posting of lessons online, Teacher T is able to accommodate learners during absences. In addition to this, Teacher T points out, “it keeps them accountable because often they’ll say, “Well, I wasn’t here” but the lesson was loaded…So that’s not really an excuse anymore and for those kids, you know, that are doing those extracurriculars…they don’t get quite as stressed because they know the lesson’s there.” Today, Teacher T records most lessons and uploads them to YouTube, then posts the link on her class Moodle site for students to access. The addition of a YouTube link allows students to access lessons using their phones from anywhere with internet service. Students without internet access can download lessons to a stick (using KeepVid) prior to leaving school, so accommodations are made for students without internet access.
As Teacher T teaches primarily senior science classes, many students deal with stress and anxiety around learning concepts, or being absent and getting behind quickly. However, with the lessons posted online, students are able to access the information needed from the day’s class. “Kids will come back after being sick and they’ve already watched the lesson, so I don’t have to reteach; I just get to help them with it.” Teacher T has also developed Moodle lessons which provide practice questions online that students can watch and pause, as they work through the questions and answers, step-by-step, outside the classroom “…they’re hearing me, and they’re hearing what I want, they’re hearing what I want to see.” Students receive the review they need, and class expectations are reinforced as well. As Teacher T pointed out, “the kids enjoy it. They don’t panic as much when they’re missing classes. They rewatch them too. Especially those who are really anxious students.” Teacher T has also integrated a Flipped Classroom approach into some of her more difficult lessons, allowing students more time to prepare for classes dealing with challenging concepts. For example, students might be given three to four days to prepare at home by watching lessons and taking notes before a lesson on a particularly difficult concept, “Because it’s a difficult concept, so they’ve had time to look at the words and be familiar with them and then have a major discussion.”
Finally, the use of digital technology has allowed Teacher T the opportunity to move around the classroom to check students’ comprehension and misconceptions. Because most lessons are recorded and Teacher T now has some backup lessons, there are days that she can have students listen to a pre-recorded lesson (each student or partnership has access to an iPad and headphones) while she goes around to each student individually to discuss their understanding and answer any questions, providing her with valuable one-on-one time with her students. This has also provided her with the opportunity to work with small groups on practice questions, diagrams on whiteboards, and so on, to check and assess learning and comprehension, “So they’re still getting that lesson, but they’re getting more group time…”
Full interview transcript for Interview #1: Interview 1 – Teacher T – interview transcript
Abstract for Interview #2 (Teacher A, Elementary, Grade 5/6 split class, French Immersion):
Interview #2 (Interview length: 19 minutes 27 seconds): Teacher A is also a teacher in a small town in northwestern British Columbia (population between 5500-6000). The interview with Teacher A took place during Teacher A’s lunch hour in a learning support room in the school where Teacher A works. Teacher A is in her 30’s and has been teaching for eight years (with some time away in between due to maternity leaves). She originally trained as a secondary science teacher, but has taught in classrooms as young as kindergarten. She is currently employed as a full-time French Immersion teacher in a K-7, dual-track school (French/English), teaching in a grade 5/6 split class. Teacher A requested, and was given, questions ahead of time in order to prepare some notes for the interview.
There were three significant themes that I felt came out in my interview with Teacher A: Enhanced learning experiences for students (which included increased engagement); the opportunity to engage with peers to collaborate in group project environments; and an increased ability to communicate with parents, and to include parents in their child’s learning.
Teacher A began our interview by referencing a quote (uncited) that she had heard, “…about teaching kids nowadays for a future that doesn’t technically exist yet…so you’ve got to teach them the skills to be able to work in a future that doesn’t exist.” In order to do this, Teacher A ensures that her students have access to a variety of technologies and programs, such as iPads, iMovie, Scratch, Plickers, Mr. Naussbaum (math games), math manipulatives games, YouTube, and [Class]Dojo. She also emphasized that she uses her digital projector and document camera daily and considers those two pieces of equipment the “two top technologies” for her classroom. Teacher A pointed out that today, “…education isn’t just about memorizing facts and vocabulary words. It’s about solving complex problems and being able to collaborate with others. So working using that technology as that piece to collaborate with others and how am I going to teach them to use those tools that don’t exist yet.”
To collaborate with others, students are given many options to complete group assignments as assessments of learning. For example, students are currently completing culminating projects for their French verbs, with groups completing iMovies (“How do you teach French verbs to make it fun? You make an iMovie, right?” ~ Teacher A), posters, songs, and so on. Teacher A keeps only six student iPads in her room, which ensures that students learn to share and work collaboratively to complete assignments and projects.
To communicate with parents and increase parents’ ability to connect with her classroom and stay informed about what students are learning, Teacher A uses both Facebook and FreshGrade on an ongoing basis. At the beginning of each week, Teacher A lets parents know what key concepts will be covered, as well as posting spelling words, major school events, and so on. In addition to this, videos of activities or projects taken during the week may be posted as well. Teacher A attempted to create a class blog (first two months of this school year), but found Facebook “…way more accessible for parents because not a lot of people check a blog… Everybody checks Facebook and so it’s just, it’s an easy way to communicate with parents…and students.” While Teacher A admits that FreshGrade is time consuming, she says it has been “a good way to communicate” with parents and has allowed her to see which parents are accessing their children’s work through the system. In addition to this, these platforms have allowed parents to provide comments and feedback regarding class activities and student work.
Full interview transcript for Interview #2: Interview 2 – Teacher A – interview transcript