Hello fellow #etmoocers!
My name is Kelsey (Bially) O’Byrne and I’m a third year English teacher at Thom Collegiate in Regina, SK. As a paper and pen girl by nature, I feared the integration of technology into my classes due to my own limitations with devices, programs, etc. Somewhere in my first year of teaching, I realized these limitations were also limiting my students from learning and expressing themselves in ways that may be more meaningful and engaging for them than the comfortable (yet, to many, outdated) formats I was using. Almost at the same time, I learned that some of my colleagues were interested in forming a Technology Integration Team. Naturally, I shuddered at the thought…but then snapped back to reality and said, “No, Kelsey!! This is not about you, it’s about them.” I signed myself up as a member and I’ve never looked back.
Comforted by the fact that there were teachers twice my age with half my technology experience, my fears subsided. It turned out the group was designed for all levels, almost like a mentorship program. From experts in the field, I was exposed to all sorts of programs, from the basic blog (which for me seemed like climbing Everest, let’s be real!) to the multitude of interactive apps available to students. I quickly learned that the desire to implement technology into the class can be overwhelming once one learns all that is available to her…but the time it takes to learn to use these programs to the point where she is comfortable teaching them is an equally overwhelming experience. Thus, I made the goal to learn and implement one new program into my classes each semester. And so I learned to blog.
In it’s primitive stages, blogging was a means of communication with students and their parents/guardians. Through daily descriptions and links to assignments, I streamlined the process of emails and phonecalls and follow-ups and photocopying and all those sorts of responsibilties teachers in schools with attendance issues encounter. However, the next year our attendance program became available to parents remotely, which meant that parents could track their children’s progress and grades without the use of a blog. Not to be deterred, I learned to put my blog to use as a means of communication between the budding writers in my Creative Writing Course. It was a fantastic experience and I am able to visit their written pieces over and over again. Some continue to post new pieces to the blog despite graduating.
While I was teaching this course, our Tech Catalyst Team paved the way for the classes of team members at Thom to become “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) classrooms. After all the contracts, surveys, letters home, research of needs, anticipation of obstacles, and implementation of increased bandwidth, we launched the program in March. The difference was felt immediately. Because students learn best when its “cool” or at the very least, fun, the notion of texting or emailing an assignment was a hit. I witnessed my nearly impossible to engage class of 14-year-old boys completing assignments at an increased rate, sometimes even the day they were assigned. They began to try new programs and learned how to use various apps and functions on their phones. I think it helped that I was upfront about learning with them rather than fluffing my feathers and pretending to be an expert. It was an unforgettable semester of learning together and all of us found our niches…whether students were on the low-tech end and ultimately preferred to work without technology, the high-tech end and became 100% paperless by the end of the semester, or found their place somewhere in the middle, using technology when it piqued their interest and sticking with more traditional formats at other times. By the end of the year, I had also incorporated Animoto, Xtranormal, Prezi, Socrative, and ComicLife into my classes.
At the end of August, despite much resentment, my boyfriend signed me up for Twitter. Believing it to be a waste of time, a distraction, and largely pointless, I let him get it out of his system so I wouldn’t have to hear about it anymore. However, within a day I had already made my first tweet. Within a week, drawing on my own belief in how important the skills of summarizing is, my wheels began turning about how I could incorporate this 140 character interactive tool into my classroom that September. And so my tweet-based novel study of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was born. Presented from the beginning as not required to be done over Twitter (paper copies would suffice), our class embarked on a journey of tweeting from the main character’s perspective each day after reading a chapter or two. Along the way, I taught them how “hashtags” were really just main ideas and “tweets” were really just the details, and the assignment took off. At the beginning, less than half the class had or were willing to use Twitter. By the end, only 5 students were still writing their ideas on paper. When we started out, I provided hastags and the students needed to provide the details. Slowly, the hashtags became less specific and, eventaully, I stopped providing them and forced the students to create their own. The moment I let go of the reigns is when the creativity truly flourished. Students who were formerly too unmotivated to bother writing “chapter summaries” or who missed too much class to be concerned with a novel study were now tweeting depth and personality on a level I’d never encoutered in grade 11’s because this assignment was designed AROUND THEIR NEEDS. They could do it from home, they could have their phones out (responsibly, of course), and the parameters were so broad. Others explored various uses of Twitter such as sarcasm, humour, satire, multiple hashtags, relating their tweets to pop culture events and trends, etc. It was fun to read the tweets and to see all the personalities and interests that manifested within them. It is my belief that the students felt valued, felt heard, felt free to take risks and, most importantly, to “write” from the heart.
Today, at the end of my time at Thom Collegiate, I am on fire for the meaningful integration of technology in my classes. Of course, it still terrifies me and learning a new program is often the last thing I want to do…but as soon as I get past my self-imposed rut, I take off and am fueled by the new levels of engagement and creativity that continue to present themselves once we embark on a new project together. That being said, you can see that I am blogging an hour before we begin…which means I have crawled out of the rut and am ready to be part of #etmooc!