Wednesday, April 21, 2010

EDUC6715 - A Final Reflection

Two years ago, I anxiously looked forward to the day when I would complete this Masters program. Now that we are in the final week of our final course, it seems to be a sad occasion, as well as a happy one. I have learned so much from the course material, our wonderful instructors, and my fellow classmates that I hate to see it end.

The economy is dramatically affecting public education. School funding in our state is reverting to the 1995 level for the coming year. Even that amount could decrease, as each day brings more bad news. As we continue to do our best to provide a first-class, 21st Century education for our students, financial support is waning. We have all heard the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I would like to change that slightly to “when the going gets tough, the dedicated get going.” After all, it takes true dedication and commitment to swim continuously against the tide. It is no secret that technology now plays a critical role in our present and future. It is also no secret that the newest technology can be costly. It is our responsibility to prepare our students to be productive, caring citizens of the 21st Century. They need technological skills that our parents never thought possible. More than ever, they need to communicate and collaborate with an increasingly diverse society. Every assignment we have completed through the Walden program has given us the knowledge and skills that we need to make that happen.

Not very long ago, I thought the answer to effective use of technology in the classroom required heavy funding. I suppose it is easier to think that way, since it allows us to blame the lack of progress on the lack of money. Now, I know that there are ways to give my students the access they need on a shoestring budget. Prior to beginning this program, I saw the benefit of using mobile devices in the classroom. Throughout the program, our resources have supported that position. However, I have learned so much more about how I can take full advantage of the mobile technology my students bring into the classroom each day.

More than once, my fellow teachers and I have made casual comments about our students’ fascination with video games: “If we could only put the content material into a video game, they would be more motivated to learn.” Prior to this final course, the “educational” video games I had seen were either drill and practice or merely entertainment. As I completed the application for Week 7, I realized that it is, indeed, possible to educate through video games. The role-playing game in my lesson covers all six math standard areas for middle school students. Given a choice between a digital game and a printed textbook, there is no doubt which one our students would choose. The only ones who will need convincing are other educational professionals and, perhaps, the parents. A major focus throughout this program has been on our ability and responsibility to encourage change in our schools. We must be the pioneers, the leaders, the ones who guide our students and our schools into the 21st Century.

I had taken a few online courses before enrolling at Walden. Most of those experiences were good, but there were also a few challenges. Walden’s instructors are dedicated professionals who are committed to helping us become the best educators and change agents that we can be. It is because of these instructors that I have decided to pursue my Ph.D. through Walden. Whether you call these classes distance, online, or virtual courses, they are rapidly becoming a major part of post-secondary education. Many middle and high schools also offer the opportunity to take courses electronically. This new education frontier holds many benefits and many challenges. I have been able to apply most of what I have learned, immediately, in my middle school classroom. That, alone, makes the Walden experience extremely valuable. I love teaching and I love technology. Walden has given me the opportunity to join the two in providing the best education possible for my students. Until recently, wikis, blogs, podcasts, videocasts, MUVEs, social networks, online communication and collaboration, mobile devices, GPS, and other digital applications were foreign terms in the traditional K-12 school classroom. Today, these technologies are becoming much more commonplace. The Walden program has given me the tools I need to influence and lead the adoption of new and emerging technologies in my school. With this knowledge and continued education, I will be able to better prepare my students for life in the 21st Century.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Reflection on Technology, UDL, and DI

As a teacher, I have experienced the frustration of sitting through yet another 'training' session on the latest educational philosophy. I know how it feels to focus so much energy on what else I could be doing that I really do not get anything out of the meeting. The courses in Walden's M.S.Ed. program have been exactly the opposite. By the end of each course, I have gained more than I expected. EDU6714 was no exception. At first glance, it may seem that learning to use educational technology to incorporate both Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction into our instructional methods may be a bit overwhelming. After all, how will I find the time to apply the three principles of UDL, meet the goals of DI, and incorporate technology into my lessons? It didn't take long, however, to realize that UDL and DI are designed to reach the same goals and complement each other nicely. In addition, new technology makes it easier to implement both UDL and DI.

Sharing ideas, suggestions, and feedback within our social networking group ( provided access to many new resources which I may not have found otherwise. As a group, we worked together to locate information, share our experiences with interactive tools, and collaborate on the Differentiation Station assignment. We created presentation materials to share with other teachers at our schools. The Ning site allowed us to gather feedback and suggestions from our group members on these presentations, as well as lesson plans and classroom activities. Although I was already familiar with social networking sites, this was my first experience using one to collaborate with other educational professionals. Throughout this program, I have found that the weekly discussions provide a wealth of knowledge and ideas. Now, I know that I can continue that same type of collaboration through a social networking site, such as Ning.

As a direct result of this course, I have added quite a few tools to my collection of educational resources. I administered my first true online test yesterday. My seventh grade students came to class expecting the typical weekly test. Instead, I had created their test using an online survey tool and reserved the laptop cart for this purpose. They were quite surprised when I explained it to them. One of the first things I noticed was that the students seemed much more focused as they took the test. They did not complain about the requirement to use complete sentences, since they could type their answers instead of writing them on paper. Once they finished their test and submitted it online, they completed a short feedback survey on the test. I was interested to know their opinions and they provided more feedback than I expected. I've tried adding the same type of feedback questions to a paper test without much response. Perhaps the anonymity encouraged them to be more expressive. They did not have to include their name and there was no handwriting that might be recognized by the teacher. I also believe, however, that they are just more comfortable - more at home - on a computer. All but one student expressed their desire to take more tests in this manner. It was an encouraging moment and, as one student put it, it seemed like we were "finally moving into the future." With the knowledge I've gained through this and other Walden courses, I believe that I can now make the changes necessary to use technology to differentiate and enhance presentation, expression, and engagement to meet the diverse needs of my students.