1. What do you teach and how long have you been teaching with computer technology?
I teach Year 3, which is I think is about grade 3 or 4 in Canada. I teach the subject of Math, Science, Geography, and History. I’ve been using technology in classrooms for about 8 years in one form or another, starting with smart boards and interactive whiteboards and more recently, due to the corona virus outbreak, I’ve been making use of conference calling applications as well, such as Zoom which is the main platform that I’ve been using. Prior to doing live lessons, I used a format called Seesaw, which is essentially a digital catalogue. They have activities and children can respond via video, picture, or kind of digital drawings, annotations, or voice speaking. It’s logged into their personal journals and I can also share that to a blog. Prior to zoom, we also looked at an application called ClassIn, which is very similar to zoom but it’s more classroom based and it’s got some very intuitive controls which enable you to upload and browse in an enclosed classroom and yeah…it’s similar to a whiteboard function on a Zoom meeting.
2. Which apps do you normally use with your students and how often do you use them?
In light of the current situation, it would have to be Zoom…just for the interaction, Zoom and Seesaw together. Zoom as a tool for having interactive conversations, being able to concept check and question children with live response, being able to share screens and go through presentations or look at images together…annotate together as well has been very important. And then Seesaw as a catalogue of their work, meaning that I can have a digital catalogue or portfolio of each child separated into different subject areas and we can kind of review those…yeah.
3. Do most students find it easy or difficult to use computer technology? How do you make your classes more accessible to students who aren't so technologically apt?
Erm…there were certainly teething problems and the apps having been without problems. I was very fortunate with my use of Seesaw because I was able to train my class on Seesaw prior to being separated from them and it’s something which I’ve used in my day to day class anyway. I’ve used it for kind of as a relief of stress when reading for lower level readers just to read to a camera instead of reading to an adult so we can review those and using that really helped the kids…we’ve been able to understand the app and I can support them. With Zoom, this has all been pretty new to myself and to the kids and the issues that we’ve had have been time differences. I’m in South East China at the moment and I’ve got students in Tunisia, students in Saudi Arabia…where we still need to conform to a Chinese school day-ish timing, so that’s been an issue. But also, countries which have poor internet connections like Syria and other Middle Eastern countries where live streaming just isn’t really…or the internet isn’t equipped for it really. That and logging on, logging off…coming together in a class of 14 children we have had generally about half the kids aren’t turning up for one reason or another so that is an issue…I’ve not had any major issue but that may be because a lot of parents assist in getting them into the classes or getting them into it. I have found…because we don’t have the paid version of Zoom at the moment—so we’re limited to 40 minute classes, which is more than our guidance anyway—but there’s been times when we’re discussing things and the 40 minutes is gone so the meeting has ended. When I’ve reopen the meeting, that shows me which kids have struggle to get back in because some kids come back immediately (they can find the link and come back in again) but some kids just don’t come back whether that’s because they don’t want to or they don’t know how to, that’s been an issue.
4. Do you think mobile technology today is safe enough for children under 18 years to use independently or do you think parents should always be informed or involved throughout the process?
I think it depends on the technology they are using. If it’s an encrypted meeting where only the children have access to it and there’s going to be no safeguarding issues with videos being exposed or with anybody other than the teacher in the meeting for example in Zoom, I think that it’s okay. I personally don’t mind parents observing but in terms of safety, as long as there’s a limit to the limited functionality to the children which can be managed by the facilitator or the teacher then I think, yeah, it’s okay. In the sense, like with the video calls, I don’t have any concerns that I wouldn’t have in a live classroom at the moment. The concerns come down to the children behaving themselves and being respectful to each other. But I feel quite confident with the encrypted Zoom lessons and stuff like that. It is safe. The thing with stuff like Zoom is, yes my presence isn’t there, but there’s things that I can do in Zoom that I can’t do in real life as well. If I could mute kids in real life (laughing)…Muting is—I kind of referred to it before—like when I’m presenting or anyone else is, everyone is muted and then I unmute the kids to be able to contribute. There is also the kind of thing of video as well. There’s been times this week when some of my students (when we’ve been discussing or talking about something) suddenly, some of my kids are flexing their muscles in the camera or pulling their face. Today I had to tell a student three times to stop playing with a toy. So, there are distractions, but with safety, if things were to get to…let’s say it were a bullying issue…is that the kind of thing that you mean with safety? On Seesaw…if anyone puts a comment which I feel is inappropriate or posts something I think is inappropriate it all goes through me. With those Seesaw posts, I have not had any issues with that. I have had some times when—without any mallets—some kids have maybe posted some critical comment, or comment which really wasn’t constructive to something like, “why do you always do this?” or something like that. With those, I just don’t approve them and essentially the next time I saw that child I kind of spoke to them about responsible digital citizenship and I think that’s something that really needs to be taught along with the use of technology...responsible digital citizenship. And for that it doesn’t just mean being respectful, it doesn’t just mean being positive or something like that, but it means being active as well. I think being active in if it is something we can comment and share that all children do comment and take part in their society…
5. Steve Jobs was famous for saying, "There's an app for that", but realistically speaking, do you believe there's still something that you need as a teacher where there isn't any "app for that yet"?
Well, maybe there is already an app for things…maybe there are probably ways which we, as a live school, could make better use of…in my school anyway…make better use of technology. Maybe, something like registers which are tracked by our student when they come in, they scan a QR code and they’re in. Or, students that come in they can digitally register themselves but then from there we can use that as a kind of more… like…communications and admin…I know those things exist but if there is a way we can take it further…and more personalized, yeah. So then if every child had a smart device which stayed with them at school which is a set number of apps on it maybe and from there that could be my feedback loop, it could be my way of communication with the child or to their parents as well. In education, feedback is the most important aspect to growth and development so if there was a way which I could quickly and kind of articulate my feedback to children in a way which maybe language wouldn’t hinder them…because if I write on a book and my child in the class isn’t really very literate, then that feedback could be wasted on them and I can speak face to face with the child but if I could have something which maybe log in a voice note to them and can have a catalogue of I mean—why am I saying that, you can do voice notes on Seesaw and they got it (laughs out loud).
Interviewer: Shua Her
Date: Apr 4, 2020