21st century learning

pre-COETAIL blog post

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It’s like throwback Thursday (#TBT), only it’s Tuesday! However, I am doing a little digital housecleaning and have stumbled upon some great files from my past. One is a picture of a fave student who just graduated from university last month. In the picture he’s in 9th grade, slightly chubby with short hair. He’s now tall, thin, with long metal-rocker locks.

Among the gems, I found the following document chronicling a workshop experience led by a certain Mr. Jeff Utecht at the 2010 NESA Spring Educators Conference in Bangkok. Not a surprise that this document was submitted to SUNY Buffalo (with a check) in exchange for graduate credit. I was COETAIL blogging before COETAIL was a thing! Note the hyperlinks. Those were there in the original Word document. 🙂 (Only the NESA link gets an error message.)

I think this is evidence that my life could not have been complete without the COETAIL experience.


Christina Botbyl

NESA 2010 Spring Educators’ Conference – PAPER 1

Buffalo State University

April 24, 2010


Thoughts on the Changing Role of the Educator in the 21st Century

At the NESA 2010 Spring Educators’ Conference in Bangkok, I (finally!) had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Jeff  Utecht of the International School of Bangkok.  I walked away from his workshop entitled “Building Student Centered Blended Learning Environments with a wealth of information.  The role of technology is changing the delivery of education in significant ways.  In truth, technology’s impact on the changing role of the educator is even more considerable.

Technology itself doesn’t change education, the classroom, or teaching practices.  The problem with any pedagogical movement is often that it is touted as the thing that will transform education.  This is the misconception that often sinks sound pedagogical ideas.  A laptop cart that sits locked in a storage room doesn’t change teaching.  Sparkling new computer labs that are used to teach PowerPoint don’t necessarily make for a productive learning environment.  Something more than just having the technology, or access to it, is required.

It’s not about having access to the technology.  The majority of my high school students carry around a mobile phone (mostly smartphones), an iPod touch, or a laptop.  They own technology, they use technology, but it’s not currently impacting their learning in positive and productive ways.  Students are left to their own devices (literally and figuratively) to make sense of the technology that surrounds them.  Their misguided and uneducated misadventures into 21st century technology often find them making a lot of mistakes (i.e. cyber/text bullying, copy-paste plagiarism, etc.).

I find that most of my students haven’t independently moved beyond very low-level educational uses of 21st century technology.  These misuses include:  reading Spark Notes or Shmoop instead of actually reading George Orwell’s 1984, following bizarre urban legends via their BBM network, texting gossip during classes, looking up words on dictionary.com, creating mash-up essays with excerpts lifted from various free essay sources on the web, and the list goes on.  In fact, there is even a small minority of serious students who seem to be anti-technology because they see it misused and abused by students around them as tools for distractions and gossip mongering.

Pedagogy must change to shift the focus of 21st century learning environments.  Educators must make the leap into the 21st century (hey, it’s already 10% over!).  Schools need to stop reacting to students’ misuse of technology in the classroom and teach them how to become better learners while using a smartphone, laptop, or iPad.  There is often an outcry from community groups when books are banned from libraries and classrooms.  It’s time to hear the outcry when students are deprived of using 21st century technologies to become better learners.

My experiences in education now span two decades.  I’ve been in the business long enough now to have seen my share of educational change.  I have a better understanding of those been-there-done-that veterans from my early days of teaching who always stated smugly, “This new bandwagon is just like the one from x years ago.”  One aspect of teaching that never changes, regardless of the bandwagon du jour, is that there is not one easy fix that will revolutionize education.  Technology itself is not going to revolutionize the field of education, classrooms, or instructional practices.  The key is how educators and their pedagogical practices must change in order to remain relevant in the lives of the 21st century learner.





COETAIL, Part Deux

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Now that I have successfully completed the COETAIL program, I feel compelled to blog!

I already find myself anticipating the next course…only there isn’t one.

Really? No full Master’s or PhD? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be “Dr. COETAIL”? Hey, one can dream, right?

The good news is that COETAIL, Part Deux does exist…as an independent study of sorts. The bad news challenge is that now I’m driving, planning, and organizing what it looks like. This is both exciting and intimidating. Through the COETAIL program, I have developed some real skills and habits that, at a minimum, need to be maintained. These include:

  • a regular blogging habit: weekly blogging reflections were definitely motivated by the requirements of each course. However, in the process, blogging has become a way to put myself, my thoughts, my ideas, and my actions “out there.” As a result, I gain feedback that challenges my thinking and connections with others who only make me better at what I do.
  • a solid, ever-expanding knowledge base: this began with building up a personal (now ill-fated) Google reader. I regularly use other aggregators and curation apps (like Zite, Flipboard, and Netvibes) that help me to mine the gems within a variety of my interest areas as an educator, a runner, a vegetarian, and a tech geek.
  • an amazing PLN: via Twitter, I have crazy access to people with all kinds of knowledge, talents and interests! I am often humbled by the projects that are proposed, acted on, and shared across the globe. Of course, this doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction (although some days it does the trick!), but let’s face it, most of us only come into contact with a very limited number of the same people on a daily basis. Regardless of how collaborative and creative these people might be, it’s a bubble that can be very limiting.
  • Presentation Zen: this has been a game-changer for me. I can no longer create, nor sit through, slides of text. Presentation Zen is a concept that should become part of every school’s taught curriculum! There is still far too much death by Powerpoint happening in today’s world.
  • Doing and Sharing: integrating technology to enhance student learning is definitely something that I am very passionate about. I think that I have typically been a very good sharer of ideas and resources. COETAIL has provided me with a new  perspective on what can be shared (images, ideas, opinions, presentations) and how to share (Twitter, blog posts, iMovie presentations, YouTube, blog comments, Google Hangouts).

So, the big question is: how will I go about maintaining these skills and taking them to new levels?

  • Blogging. Well, here I am blogging without the extrinsic motivation of a course grade. 🙂 I see myself continuing this habit, but I will admit that maintaining a regular schedule concerns me.
  • Learning. Reading and keeping up with professional, eduction-related blogs is something that I see as being very easy for me to maintain. This is a habit that has become something that I do every day at some very predictable times.
  • Networking. I was getting great ideas and recommendations from Twitter connections well before joining the COETAIL program. Now I have a deeper and wider PLN which includes COETAILers from all over the world, at various stages in the program, and at different levels of tech integration. Within my PLN I am not only a learner, but am also a teacher at times. The really fun part of having a PLN is establishing a virtual connection that becomes a real live connection at a NESA conference, IB training, or some other professional meet-up.
  • Presenting. This is a new level of challenge that I would like to explore. I think that my learnings , activities, connections, and reflections that resulted from the COETAIL program have been significant confidence builders. I have often thought about presenting at a conference, but a lack of confidence has been a significant obstacle for me. I think some of the behind-the-scenes activities like blogging and tweeting have been really helpful for me in taking some risks, sharing my ideas, and being met with positive feedback and encouragement. Presentation Zen has also been instrumental in helping me to develop concepts and ideas on deeper levels. The power of using visuals to communicate big ideas has had a great impact on me. The search for the “just right” image to convey meaning requires me to dig deep into an idea. An in-depth image search leads me to clarify what it is that I am presenting. The end result is that I feel more confident in the knowledge and ideas that I am using to engage an audience.
  • Doing and Sharing. My current position finds me interacting far more with teachers than with students. I will need to be creative in how I continue to integrate technology. Integrating technology has a slightly different context in the ways that I work with teachers in collaborative groups. However, these opportunities will provide me with occasions to model and encourage the use of technology. How I go about doing this will be worth sharing through blog posts and the occasional summary video presentation. I think the challenges here are remembering to share and taking the time to organize projects worth sharing into an engaging presentation format.

So, there’s my vision for my COETAIL, Part Deux.

What is your plan for Part Deux?

How will you maintain and build on your COETAIL learnings?

COETAIL Final Project – IB French, Collaborative Writing

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cada macaca no seu galho
photo by mondopanno

FINALLY!!!! I am very pleased to announce that I got the COETAIL final project monkey off my back! I refer to it as a monkey in the most affectionate of manners. This was a really long process. The first step of just settling on a project topic seemed like an amazing accomplishment.

The next step was actually planning the tech integration project. True to the life of an educator, it just never seemed like there was enough time to get this thing done.

Then, the project was done. I had photos, video footage (MERCI Lissa!), student work, and student testimonial videos…which I sat on for too many weeks to count. It was tough work scripting and summarizing. Then the hours spent in iMovie seemed never ending.Until I turned that magical corner of no-turning-back. What a sense of relief! What a sense of accomplishment!

The COETAIL journey was well worth the time and effort. I now have a solid base of information on which to build my approach to technology integration. In addition, I have a phenomenal PLN to consult for further information, developments, advice, and examples. I am certainly a better educator as a result. 😉

Necessity, the mother of…flipping instruction?

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Call !
photo by redwood 1

The week of March 3…fully booked during teaching time to record Individual Oral Assessments.

The awkward part of a week of Orals is that only one or two students become the focal point of my attention during class time. This leaves the rest of the class to their own devices (literally and figuratively). Talk about a teacher’s worst guilt trip on so many levels.

This week through a combination of using Edmodo and Google Drive apps, I am going to attempt to flip instruction. Although, is it still flipping instruction if students are left to work independently during the regularly scheduled class time? 😉

The biggest challenge is that they are beginning a new unit on the environment. I have been scouring the internet for resources that they could use to independently learn the vocabulary and expressions necessary.

The first theme will focus on Recycling.

  • Preparation: I sent students a notification via edmodo to bring a device to class and to be sure that they have a Google account. I also posted a Youtube video for them to watch either before, or upon, arriving in class, their choice. The beauty of the Youtube video is that students can turn on the subtitles in French to follow the dialogue. They are not 100% correct, but should help to support students as they begin.

  • Class 1: Today’s success hinges on a couple of factors that I can’t necessarily control: student motivation/engagement, devices present, and internet connection. I was able to snag Lissa, the French speaking tech coach to support students and help them with troubleshooting.

I posted two flipped assignments and scheduled them to open just before class begins. One is a collaborative presentation in which student are to add 3 slides each representing a different vocabulary word or expression. The other is a document that students will copy to their own Google drive and use to work with new vocabulary. There are two internet-based reading activities linked in this document with simple comprehension activities. It’s a lot of learning for them to complete in 60 minutes, even if everything runs smoothly.


  • Class 2: Not convinced that too much is getting done during class time…
  • Class 3: First student shares completed assignment via Google doc. I notice that answers about reading article were often copied and pasted from said article. Not what I really wanted, but kids often answer questions by copying by hand from text. Maybe not the end of the world, as students also need to comprehend in order to choose the right text to copy/paste.
  • The night before class 4: Second student shares a completed assignment via Google doc. Not a total surprise that I am receiving requests from many students regarding sharing the Google Presentation with them so they could add their slides. Numerous edmodo messages asking for details and clarifications on various expectations. (Without technology, students wouldn’t be able to get answers from me outside of school hours.) I am compiling a survey in Google Forms for students to provide feedback after tomorrow’s written formative.
  • Class 4: Today students will complete a formative assessment based on the previous three classes of flipped instruction/independent learning.

Well, this was an experience for all involved. The majority of students did not complete/submit assignments in the time frame allowed. Flipping instruction. It’s like flipping a coin. Will they? Won’t they? On time? Late?

Is Handwriting Threatened by Technology?

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Handwriting! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing????? Well, it seems to be good for producing tears.

Crazy conversation this morning with a colleague that began as a discussion about my 10th grade son’s handwriting. It was his French teacher (a French native) who brought up the subject. We discussed and debated the subject all in her native language, my second language. Oh, là, là!

What is the Role of Handwriting?

Oh, là, là! I enter the French classroom and immediately recognize the handwriting of my 10th grade son.

Her concern was that his handwriting needs work practice. This was certainly not the first time I have heard this in the almost 16 years since my son entered my life. At this point, it’s hard to know if I am approaching the handwriting conversation as a mother, a colleague, a tech enthusiast, or an active member of the 21st century. Whichever hat I wear, I have some very strong feelings about handwriting.

Very quickly I sensed that the conversation was becoming a debate, mostly because she and I were coming from different vantage points. She began by seeking my support in handwriting practice, that having nice handwriting is important. She argued that handwriting is important and students should be required to first demonstrate neat handwriting before being allowed to use an iPad or a laptop. (Have I mentioned she is of a different generation than mine? A younger generation than the one I belong to.) She even complimented me on my lovely handwriting! <Blush> (At that moment, I slightly regretted handwriting those sub plans for her back in January.) I may have burst her bubble when I told her that I often prefer typing since I can type much faster than I can write (neatly) by hand.

Handwriting refers to a person’s unique style of writing characters created with a writing utensil such as a pen or pencil…Because each person’s handwriting is unique, it can be used to verify a document’s writer.

So, his handwriting is challenging to read, but by definition handwriting is “unique.” His just happens to be uniquely challenging to read. 😉 Because his penmanship style is not aesthetically pleasing, the expectation is that he change. I digress and head off into questionable territory here…The Land of the Mama Tiger! 😉

Kids These Days

Of course, it is important to note that technology was blamed more than once during this conversation as being the cause of the downfall of handwriting and of a growing inability to give handwriting its proper respect. It’s the age-old “kids these days” argument, that is rarely really about “kids these days.” As the BBC news magazine video above reveals, hanging onto handwriting may be more motivated by nostalgia than anything else. Is it more important for my teenage son to increase his fluency in the French language or that he write neatly in cursive? As a parent and and an educator, I know which one requires greater cognitive ability.

I know that I have very strong feelings about the role of handwriting and the role of technology in the lives of kids and how each enable us to communicate our ideas. Some of these feelings (o.k., maybe all of them) are definitely shaped by my experiences as a parent. My son’s handwriting has been a bone of contention with teachers ever since he began school at the tender age of four. Despite his manual agility with the tiniest of Lego bricks, the dexterity required for handwriting and using scissors has always seemed to elude him. We worried that maybe he just didn’t try hard enough, so spent summers forcing him to work in handwriting workbooks. He has suffered a few poor scores from teachers who couldn’t get beyond his handwriting to uncover the ideas that he was trying to communicate. Luckily this has been rare. Sometimes, he can’t even read his own handwriting. His handwriting has become a point of many jokes in our family. He owns that his handwriting is a cross to bear.

a handwritten note from my son, age 10
(I still carry this in my wallet.)

The biggest problem is that his handwriting only serves as a handicap to his ability to communicate his ideas. He is a fast processor with lots of creative ideas that come to him at a speed that his handwriting could never support. Technology has become his best friend in this regard. He is very passionate about writing and produces a daily average of around 2000 words between blogging, writing his first novella, and various projects and assignments for school. Most of his teachers over the past few years have been very understanding and he uses an iPad in class to take notes, produce journal entries, and complete assignments.

Without technology, I wonder how his life in handwriting Hell might have been different. Would his handwriting have improved eventually? Would he be in a constant state of frustration? Would he have creative ideas left unshared and undeveloped? Would he actually love creative writing and blogging?

Straddling Two Worlds

If we lived in the States, I’m sure we would easily be able to have an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) that allowed for the accommodation of technology to assist him in written assignments. That would be nice for the times when he has to write a summative essay by hand in class or when he has to write exams by hand. Using an iPad or a laptop is not yet accepted as a means for exam writing due to potential academic honesty hazards. That said, he never complains and his teachers seem willing (maybe even able?) to decipher his handwriting. Some even joke that it really hurts their eyes, but they make sense of it, and I’m sure that he is able to make the shift to writing as legibly as possible because he realizes the necessity.

Many of us, adults and adolescents alike, straddle two worlds. We live a hybrid existence in which we use technology to facilitate numerous tasks in our daily lives, while still reaching for a print copy and a highlighter or jotting a to-do list on a Post-it note. Yes, I believe in handwriting. It’s not as if we’re talking about the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, here. Handwriting exists, we learn how to do it, we teach children how to do it, we use it to communicate. However, it is not the end-all be-all format through which we must communicate our ideas. For that, I know at least one 10th grade boy (and his parents) who are very happy!

More Lessons Learned While Geeking Out

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© All rights reserved by zacretz

So, I was recently inspired. This inspiration led to the realization that maybe I haven’t been very inspired lately. I blame this recent inspiration on @klbeasley and @intrepidteacher (and, of course, the ever-inspirational PLN that can exist only as a result of the 21st century and Twitter). They recently shared (via Twitter) their recent addition to the iBooks collection entitled Twitter: A Cultural Guidebook.

I’m not really sure why I promptly downloaded this iBook. Maybe it was because these are two Twitter handles that I have come to associate with quality 21st century learning. Maybe it was because I was curious to see what others had to say about the Twitter experience. Maybe I was just avoiding something on my to-do list that day. Whatever the reason, I was led to an absolutely amazing example of what an e-book can be!

From the opening video sequence using the extended metaphor comparing the use of Twitter to the experience of traveling, to the interactive widgets to test knowledge, to the personal testimonial videos, I was in awe. Be damned the poor excuses for e-texts that are nothing more than flat .pdf versions of the original hard copy. In my opinion, Twitter: A Cultural Guidebook is the exemplar of the redefinition that technology can provide.

So, enter inspiration…I, too, would create an iBook that would support the next unit of learning for my DP2 French ab initio students! I shall outline the steps (and challenges) of my process…

It’s very cool to see your work in progress show up in iBooks on your iPad!
  • I began by searching out resources to support my independent learning using iTunes U. I found a series of 21 vodcasts in a course called “Creating Impressive, Interactive Books” from Michigan’s MI Learning by Craig Van Ham (@baldtechteacher). Each vodcast addresses a particular aspect of using the iBooks Author app. Most vodcasts are under 10 minutes long and provide straightforward explanations and examples of how to use the tools within the app. I watched the first five or six topics and felt that I was ready to proceed.
  • After opening iBooks Author on my MacBook, I chose a template and promptly got to work. “Getting to work” only served to remind me just how time-consuming it is to a.) grow technologically and b.) CREATE! Oh, and there’s that thing called copyright that gets in the way of putting an iBook together. Did I mention that I was also creating it for a French class? Because that means that I was writing and creating in my 2nd language. I’m fairly fluent, but that’s a far cry from being bilingual.
  • Pictures are key to any e-text, but visuals are really important in learning a 2nd language. Where would the numerous weather, environment, and natural catastrophe visuals come from? When considering copyright infringement, the obvious choice was my personal collection of digital photos. (Ummm, about those natural catastrophe shots…) I love using the Gallery widget where I uploaded photos from my personal collection to reinforce French weather expressions.





  • Text is another piece of the learning environment of an e-text. There are so many great resources that exist to support student learning. I never think twice about referring students to a website or printing and copying an article from a website for use in class. However, when considering publishing and distributing to my students via iBooks, I am confronted with copyright infringement. My intention is for this iBook project to be offered to my students (and anyone else in the world) free of charge. What are the implications of using sources that I would not really hesitate to share with my students in a resource packet of photocopied material? As a result, I began writing text. The problem? It’s not authentic. I’m not a real French writer, nor are the things that I wrote real in the way that the front page of the Actu Environnement website is.
  • I have currently abandoned the project.

This was definitely an example of the process being far more valuable than the product. I was reminded of the all-important planning process. I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do, but it turned out to be a bit fuzzy when I was trying to make it real. My goals were also unrealistic. I thought that I would accomplish the greater part of this project over a five-day holiday (please don’t laugh!). I now see that perhaps this project is really a series of smaller projects. In the end, however, what may be perceived by some as a colossal waste of time got me thinking about where I will be going and what I will be doing with this next unit. Ultimately, the iBook thing won’t be my COETAIL course 5 project. The creation of iBooks by teachers really is a viable option to feed the e-text revolution, if/when it ever does come to fruition.

On My Way to Tech Integration Nirvana

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It’s way past time for a brief update on my most recent forays into technology integration. I have not necessarily begun my full-on COETAIL final project, but since inheriting a section of DP2 French ab initio in November I have managed to integrate some forms of technology with my students.

I will give a brief description of what I am doing followed by my assessment of where the use of technology falls on the SAMR model of technology integration.

  • Edmodo. I regularly use Edmodo to record what we did in class, assign homework, and to share a variety of documents with students. As a former heavy Moodle user lover, I find Edmodo to be useful, but lacking some of the features that I loved in Moodle. Edmodo doesn’t seem to have improved on the “scroll of death” format, either. I can tag all of my Edmodo posts, but my students just broke it to me a few days ago that tags are personal, so they can’t search my tags…which are well thought so as to be helpful for students.
  • S? A? M? or R? Good questions! On the one hand, Edmodo is a technology that is simply a substitution for a teacher writing assignments on the board that students then copy into a paper agenda. However, due to various sharing and connectivity features, Edmodo is an augmentation that offers functionality that the student agenda does not: distributing paper copies, passing around a sign-up paper, providing feedback for students outside of schools hours.
  • Google Apps. I have created a couple of key documents for my students to use thus far. These are all in support of understanding an IB external assessment know as The Written Assignment.
    • One is a collection of linked sources that they can choose from for their upcoming Written Assignment, which is an external assessment required by the IB. I continue to add sources that I find or that students find and share with me. It would probably be easier to give them the rights to edit the document, but I’m being a bit controlling at the moment. I am considering sharing this document to the IB’s online curriculum center where other French ab initio teachers could have access. At that point, I would strongly consider allowing other teachers around the world to add to this collection of links. The biggest problem in doing this is that in Kuwait we deal with censorship issues and do need to be cognizant of what topics are being shared with students.
  • S? A? M? or R? This document of linked resources is a substitution for a hand-out with a list of articles or URLs. With the increase in functionality that the links within the document provide by taking students directly to an online resource, this document moves up to augmentation. If it were an open document that students could add to, it would become a modification since the task would be redesigned through the collaborative nature of the input beyond one person.
    • Also for the Written Assignment, I have created a practice template for notes and outlines. This is meant to help students to understand the format of the task and can be used throughout the program in order to familiarize students with the requirements of this assessment. My original intention was for this to be a document that students copied and saved to their own Google Drive. Then, at that point, students would create a written collaboration with a partner. This idea is still on the table, but I haven’t moved forward with it just yet.
  • S? A? M? or R? The way that I am currently using this template, it is purely substitution as students are using paper copies of the template that I created. They can follow the link to the template through Edmodo which is, perhaps, a higher level of substitution. If I were using the template for a collaborative brainstorming/writing project, then it would arrive at the modification stage. This would be a modification of peer editing that would happen in real time with the chat option used for discussion during the process.
    • Students also submitted their initial topics for the Written Assignment using a Google Form that I created. The beauty of the form is that the information submitted by each student populates a spreadsheet where I can quickly check everyone’s topics. This is really helpful as it allows me to provide individual feedback and to assist students as they seek resources to support their topics.
  • S? A? M? or R? The way in which I used the Google Form was simply a substitution for passing around a paper on which student would write the same information.
Nirvana Dr.
© All rights reserved by Donny Paulter

Arriving at redefinition is the goal to achieve meaningful use of technology to enhance student learning. However, this is no small task! I feel my examples of technology integration outlined here are simply small steps that will move me forward to achieving technology integration nirvana. 🙂