Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teacher Education In and Through Technology

As an instructional technology instructor for preservice teachers at UNL, I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion at NETA on April 24th, 2014.

The panel is titled: Teacher Education In and Through Technology.

In this session, panelists and the audience will weigh in on the direction teacher education should take in and through technology. Teacher educators, teachers, preservice teachers and school administrators will be included responding to three questions:

  1. What skills and capacities do new teachers need to teach in the 21st century?
  2. How can teacher education programs foster such skills?
  3. How can schools as practica sites help preservice teachers develop?

Here are my initial thoughts, in the form of big ideas/themes, along with links to resources that may be helpful.
  • Autonomy! In my classes, rather than teach step-by-step how to use a given technology, I focus on pedagogical themes and have students explore various tools. I show them how to find and use technology tutorials and help guides online. This enables them to be prepared to deal with new technologies as they continue to emerge. Students, especially those who want to be teachers, must learn skills that promote autonomous learning beyond the classroom. There is a big emphasis in my class on professional development opportunities and sharing knowledge. I end my classes with a mini-practice conference and usually offer some extra credit opportunities for attending conferences and submitting reflections of their experiences. 
  • Practicality! I focus on teaching students how to apply any given technology for some purpose to avoid using technology just to be using it and think more critically about how it can enhance teaching and learning. I encourage them to think of materials they might one day use when developing assignments for my course. I tell them to save everything they create and try to find ways to use those materials in the future. 
  • Patience and learning from mistakes! Unfortunately, technology doesn’t always work the way we want or on the first try. I encourage my students to learn from their mistakes, always have a backup plan and several ways to accomplish the same task. I point out valuable ways tech can promote learning and coach them to have patience when learning and creating new materials.
  • Creativity! I begin my classes by pointing out to students that the statement, “I’m not good at technology” is a choice they are making and not inherent talent they lack. With patience and creativity, technology is useful and fun for both themselves and their future students. 
My courses include, but are not limited to, the following themes:
  • Critical Evaluation - I always begin my course by guiding students on how to effectively search the Internet and how to be critical consumers of what they find. There's more to Google than just randomly typing in terms and it is important for preservice teachers to know how to evaluate what they find and how to guide their students to do the same. Kathy Schrock has a great site of resources for evaluation of information.
  • Creating, Sharing, and Curating Resources - There's so many wonderful resources online. Once my preservice teachers have some practice combing through and evaluating what they find online, they need somewhere to keep up with it all. There are so many different ways to do this, but since I work with elementary education majors, I encourage them to use the very popular, Pinterest. They can create boards, share pins with colleagues, and develop their own collection of resources for their future classes. As an added bonus, my students say it is both addictive and fun. If you're unfamiliar or wish to know more about Pinterest, here's one guide I give my students to help them see the potential of this tool. Not convinced? Hear why you should fall in love with Pinterest from one of my students:
  • Digital Citizenship - Helping preservice teachers understand how to be safe and responsible online by highlighting the importance of keeping their future students safe really helps engage my students with the topic. Here's one article that I use most often
  • Whose? - One nice thing about the Internet is how it promotes a participatory, shared culture. Unfortunately, understanding ownership in regards to digital media can be tricky. I developed this website to help me briefly illustrate to my students just how complicated the issues of copyright and fair use can be. I also use it to introduce the concept of creative commons. 
  • Assessment - While I do stress the importance of various types of assessment and how technology can be used to promote more accurate and beneficial assessment, one example I show to my students is Flubaroo. Flubaroo is a script that runs within a Google spreadsheet to turn a standard survey-style form into a self-grading quiz. 
There are so many great ways to incorporate technology into education but it is most vital to remember that content-focused pedagogy must drive how technology is used in order for it to be most effective for learning. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Potential: Multicultural Education & Instructional Technology

Recovery of Meaning (a summary of Diaz) 
Multicultural education’s primary aim is equitable educational opportunity for all.  Basic assumptions must be challenged and reform of current policies and practices must occur. Multicultural education must also educate all students to become successful members of society. A basic assumption of the author is that a democratic nation cannot survive without a populace capable of striving in pluralism (Diaz, 2001, p. 13). Multicultural education benefits everyone. Interventions focused on improving the performance of minority populations are also good practices for all students. Critique is changing the twentieth century’s Anglo-centric curriculum.
Challenging multicultural education is the fear of a monolithic insurgency against Anglo American culture. Ironically, those who have always held the power most fear subjugation. Language is subverted to maintain the dominance of those in power. Their interests are the common good while marginalized groups are special interests. This terminology allows the dominant discourse to further marginalize their experiences. Curriculum must be reformed to allow space for the voices that challenge this status quo.
A transformative approach to curriculum change allows for multiple perspectives and fundamental reorganization of normative assumptions. As opposed to the contribution or the additive approach, which employ broad representative examples, the transformative approach allows for genuine exploration of multiple ways of knowing. The decision-making and social-action approach allows space for students to extend understanding.

Reconstruction of Meaning (a reading of Diaz) 
In certain disciplines where rhetoric is more highly conducive to practice, such as literature, philosophy, or anthropology, multicultural education is enacted in classroom practice with easily identifiable effects. However, in other disciplines, those that might be considered more pragmatic in nature such as instructional technology, it is sometimes less evident how to actively honor multiple ways of knowing. I do not intend to imply that the potential is limited, only that the ties are perhaps not as overt.
Banks emphasizes that multicultural education should do two primary things: (1) promote equity and (2) develop awareness of plurality in order to promote successful democratic citizenship. I would contend if the goal is Nussbaumian ideals of democratic participation, instructional technology is a primary discipline for reaching that goal. The potential of technology is rich, pluralistic understandings and more equitable access.

Reading at the Edges (connections) 
            In her presidential address to AERA, Gloria Ladson-Billings (2006) developed the metaphor of educational debt instead of the achievement gap. Her metaphor allows for the articulation of responsibility and methods for repaying it. In instructional technology another gap exists, the digital divide. It describes the inequity of access to technology for all students. Instructional technology has a great power for supporting multicultural education but it faces the challenge of a “technology debt,” if I may transfer Ladson-Billings’ metaphor. The infrastructure in the United States is improving. The latest FCC report on broadband data (August 2012) stated that access to the most current broadband has risen from 20% to 82% since 2009 in American households. Unfortunately, access is often limited by financial concerns. As long as broadband and electronics remain prohibitively expensive for many marginalized American families, the same inequities plague our system. Ladson-Billings spoke to the responsibility of the community to support education. It is also our responsibility to support access to the tools that can power that education. While progress is being made through grants and other means, much will always need to be done to struggle toward bridging the digital divide.

Diaz, Carlos F. (2001). Multicultural Education in the 21st Century. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc. (Chapter 2- Multicultural Education: Goals, Possibilities, and Challenges, p. 11-22).
Ladson-Billings, G. J. (2006, April 9). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U. S. schools. In AERA Awards Presentation and Presidential Address. Retrieved September 8, 2012, from
Rapaport, R. (2009, October 27). The new literacy: Scenes from the digital divide 2.0. Edutopia. Retrieved September 8, 2012, from
United States, Federal Communications Commission, Chief, International Bureau. (2012, August 13). International broadband data report. Washington, D.C.: Federal Communication Commision. Retrieved September 8, 2012, from

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Collecting & Sharing Stock Photos

It is important when developing instructional materials to avoid potential copyright issues. One great way to do this is to take your own stock photos to save for future use. Think about things you might like to be able to post pictures of on a course website or use in a presentation. Science teachers might want a picture of a beaker or a lab or a tree, history teachers might want pictures from a museum, English teachers might want pictures to inspire poetry or writing projects, math teachers might want pictures that could be used to show how equations appear in real life like a half-built bridge or building, etc. You may want pictures of campus or the capitol or a pencil or backpack. Foreign language teachers may want to take some vocabulary pictures.
I used picasaweb to store and organize my pictures so that I can also share them with others and post them as part of my professional teaching portfolio. Here's how I did it: (be sure to click on the photos if all you can see are little gray icons)
  1. Start by logging into Picasa and clicking upload.
  2. Name your album
  3. Highlight and drag your images here 
  4. Click Ok at the bottom once it's done uploading 
  5. click on one of your picture and select add location 
  6. a map pops up where you can search for a place 
  7. zoom in and move the pin to exactly where you want to identify and click save location 
  8. click on the + tag symbol to the right of tags 
  9. type in some words that describe the picture to make it searchable (if you need to use a phrase or multiple words, use "quotes" around them) 
  10. Click on the title of the album at the top of the screen to go back to a full overview and choose "Actions" and them "album properties" 
  11. here you can change the title and description and other info but most importantly! check the privacy settings! You may choose "public on the web"; "Limited, anyone with the link"; or "Only you" depending on who you want to be able to see the album. If you wish to share it, choose one of the first two named options 
  12. save changes takes you back to the overview, now chose "captions" 
  13. this gives you an overview where you can tab through and create a caption for each photo 
  14. going back to the overview screen notice the options on the right 
  15. click on "link to this album" to get the link to share with others 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SIOT 2012 - Opening Day

For the next five weeks, I will be participating in the Summer Institute for Online Teaching (SIOT). SIOT is a Sloan-C award for Excellence recipient. Today we met for the first synchronous face-to-face meeting of the hybrid institute. Dr. Mandernach's presentation was titled "Teaching Online: Where do you begin?" She discussed things to avoid in an online class. The following is my (hopefully "accurate") notes on her top 10 list of Don't's:

10. Don't use the same teaching strategies you use in a face-to-face course! Explore the unique opportunities available online.
  9. Don't overload the course with too many resources. Point students to the most important information.
  8. Don't integrate all the tech "bells & whistles." Have a purpose for what you use.
  7. Don't monitor without participating. Be present in the course & discussions.
  6. Don't communicate primarily by email. Set up general question forums to avoid answering the same questions over and over again.
  5. Don't give too much freedom on due dates. Students need a schedule and deadlines.
  4. Don't save grading to the end of term. Students need feedback to be regular and formative. Set yourself due dates and let students know what they are so they will hold you accountable.
  3. Don't require a lot of synchronous activities. Most students take online classes because of schedule conflict. Whatever can be done with asynchronous tools, should be done that way. 
  2. Don't assume students know how to learn online. They need you to teach them to navigate the course and tools.
  1. Don't develop your course while you teach it. Plan ahead or you will be overwhelmed. 

Dr. Mandernach's full PowerPoint presentation will become available later and I will share that here. 

Dr. Williamson's presentation was titled "Getting Started in Our Quest to Instruct On Line: The Pep Talk." Dr. Williamson encouraged faculty to start by finding and utilizing the technology person that can help them through this process. She continued by encouraging instructors developing courses to try and view it from the student perspective and fix the confusing elements first. She emphasized the need to organize and label elements in order to guide students through the course. A few elements of teaching online that surprised Dr. Mandernach were the diversity of experience of her participants; the fact that groups often self-corrected; that three was simply too few for a group to have a meaningful and rich discussion, but that group collaboration works well. A final surprise she highlighted was that once the course was launched, the workload was not too overwhelming. 

I am excited to connect with the diverse group that the Office of Online and Distant Education has assembled. Hopefully we will all learn a lot as we work together. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Twitter for Educators

There are so many resources out there on using Twitter for educational purposes, it is sometimes difficult to make heads or tails of it. Here's a little mini lesson for my friends and colleagues interested in learning more about how to use this tool. I want to give you a few tips about hashtags and then share a list of my favorite educational tweeters and why I like them. I hope this is helpful.

Hashtags are those words you see with the # sign in front. They are the way information is organized and retrieved on Twitter.

  • One of the most popular hashtags is #FF and you'll see it often on Fridays. It stands for "follow Friday" and is a way in which people on Twitter recommend their favorite tweeters to their own followers. 
  • Within the scope of education, a very popular hashtag is #edchat and clicking on it or searching for it will give you a list of tweets related to education. Many education experts are discussing topics of interest in education at this very moment and you can get in on the conversation by replying to them and adding #edchat to your tweet as well.
  • At educational conferences a unique hashtag is often created to help participants use Twitter to communicate and network during the conference. Ask about a hashtag at your next professional development conference. 
A few of my favorite tweeters:
  • @TLTGROUP is the account for the Teaching, Learning, and Technology group, a non-profit organization that holds frequent online, free webinars on a variety of topics related to education. 
  • @EnglishRaven is an English teacher who blogs and often posts great instructional technology resources.
  • @EdTechSteve is a tech geek with a background in math and a desire to help teachers and students improving learning.
  • @BHobgood is a speaker whom I have had the pleasure to hear a few times. He is another technology person with a strong interest in culture and blended/online learning.
  • @ShawnTX is a technology expert at as school district in Texas and the co-host of a great podcast called the Tightwad Tech where they interview teachers and specialists to find great ways to exploit free/cheap instructional technology. I have spoken to Shawn a few times and was interviewed about social media once on the podcast. They are great guys with good senses of humor and fun to follow
  • @KathySchrock is a wonderful educator who publishes tons of resources online for free including her famous Bloomin' Apps! infographics. 
  • @ShellTerrell and @TomWhitby are co-founders of #edchat. Both post great links and lead the frequent #edchat discussions I mentioned before.
I could go on but this should get you started! Twitter can be a great place to find resources and discuss what is important to you in education. Explore these people and hashtags and see what else you can find. 

ps. If you want to follow me, you can find me at @_AmandaLWilson_

Monday, March 12, 2012

Embedding Advocacy Opportunities Into All That We Do

Embedding Advocacy Opportunities Into All That We Do: Lisa Lilley  On Twitter: @sralil  -- 

Lisa Lilley, the 2010 ACTFL TOY, spoke about ways to embed advocacy in what we do. She used the model big “C” and little “c” of culture to introduce a big “A” and little “a” of advocacy. The little “a” are the small things we can do. Some of the examples including displaying the “Discover Languages” logo in various places or sending out a classroom newsletter to parents. Big “A” ways included staying informed of the issues and keeping in touch with elected officials. Her ideas are well displayed in her handout which is called “Embedding Advocacy Opportunites Into All That We Do” and can be found on her website at this url: ( She also has additional resources on her website for foreign language teachers that are worth checking out.

Error as a ‘Positive’ Factor

Error as a ‘Positive’ Factor: John De Mado 
(all images below are the intellectual property of John De Mado and no copyright infringement is intended)

John De Mado spoke about the existence in language classes of not one, not two, but in fact three languages that any instructor a second or foreign language must deal with. The L1, the L2, and the student’s own interlanguage as he negotiated the movement from L1 to L2. 

He discouraged teachers from becoming editors of student interlanguage. Jokingly, he imitated the “gringo” accent of a typical American student learning Spanish (“tango” instead of “tengo” for example). While, as language teachers and language lovers, our natural tendency is to cringe or yell when we hear students say “grassy ass” instead of “gracias,” he begged us not to constantly edit our students. 

He asked us why we are afraid of letting students make errors. Overwhelmingly the answer given was fossilization. He shocked the audience of teachers by asserting that at the level that we teach there is no such thing. It was easy to hear the scoffs and see the rolling eyes. He repeated and insisted it was true! There was no evidence that our students were capable of fossilization because 1) they have such minimal language and 2) if they choose to pursue past level four or so, they won’t choose to fossilize. Choose to fossilize? Again, the audience scoffed but De Mado insisted that fossilization is a loss of facility and it is a choice to stop actively pursing and studying the language. It is a choice to discover and work toward correcting mistakes. 

Our students do not make mistakes, they make errors, he asserted. These are non-permanent. However, if we run students off they will never take ownership of the language and work to correct their errors. He asked how much we would spend to renovate an apartment that we didn’t own? Would we spend $10,000? $20,000? Of course not! It is not ours! So it is the same with language. As long as teachers are the editors and providers of language, it doesn’t belong to the student. They need put forth no effort to improve it. 

He suggested three strategies for facilitating language learning in a way that encourages students to own it. We need to create a safe space where risk-taking can happening. In the real world, students will need to take risks to use the language with native speakers. Second, we must leave room for intuition about language, as it would occur outside of the classroom. This means when a student pauses, we don’t give the answer, but give them time to work it out. Finally, we must let them be vulnerable. Help them understand that errors are a natural part of the process and that is how they learn.

He encouraged us to remove the word “mistake” from our professional vocabulary and always use the word “error” which basically carries the meaning of a learning opportunity. 
Another important strategy to make risk-taking, vulnerability, and intuition (RVI) successful in the classroom environment is to add it to the rubric and make it least worth as much as “accuracy” is. This way students take these behaviors seriously and you can encourage them to engage in the more readily because they are required. 

Returning to the metaphor of a language like a home, he asked what most people’s first homes look like. Most, he asserted, are “fixer uppers.” 

The role of grammar is to reduce error. It is largely non-communicative. It is identification, not communication. It doesn’t exist to create communication, it’s purpose is to avoid miscommunication. If students buy into the language in an upper level, then they can focus on grammar but at the beginning levels, the focus should be on communication with grammar serving only to support that communication. 
On a side note, if you ever get the chance to hear John De Mado speak, I highly recommend it. He is a high-energy and highly entertaining public speaker who really seems to know his stuff. Check out his website for some resources too.