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What does it mean to blog?

(To my fellow classmates – feel free to read and respond to this post, but the one I did for this week’s assignment is the following post titled “Whiteboards and the CSI Effect”)

Though perhaps not an existential question, I want to discuss briefly what it means to blog. In the course of blogging in this educational technology class, there has been some discussion about what we should write in our blogs and how to write them. For example, some students, out of academic habit no doubt, feel the need to include citations in their blog posts in proper APA format. Even my professor has some doubts, writing in her final blogging instructions:

So, I am not sure about you but I have mixed feeling about my blogging experiment.  It has been more work than I imagined, but I also feel like everyone is getting a lot out of it.  I definitely need to rethink the logistics if I decide to do this again.”

I understand and share her feelings. I think everyone has gotten something out of it, but I do think that the experiment needs to be redesigned for future classes. How? Let me ask (and answer) a very simple question:

Q:           When does a blog become a Blackboard post?

A:            When you tell your students what to write.

Blogs by their very nature are an individual expression of thought and opinion. Students in my course created several blogs with imaginative titles, including:

http://exploringtheworldofeducation.blogspot.com/

http://technoblogistics.blogspot.com/

http://historiansaregossips.wordpress.com/

Just by their titles, I expected to explore the world of education, learn about new technology in the classroom, and hear the dirty little secrets of historians. But I think the requirements of the blogging experiment constrained that creativity. Instead of being free to write on any topic (perhaps with some loose or minimal guidelines), we instead had to respond to prompts in our blogging, such as:

Sweeder (2007) states, “Video projects may also help teachers more fully differentiate their instruction and assessment. Videos are by their very nature multimodal; thus, such projects help to meet the needs of visual and auditory learners.”  Do you agree?  Can videos be a medium for differentiating instruction and providing universal access to the curriculum? Are there any learners that might be left out?

What does that have to do with the world of education, technology, historical gossip, or law?  Not much. This is not asking for a blog post, this is asking for a Blackboard post – and we all know how much we love those!

What was the learning objective with this project? Was it to familiarize students with blogging? Was it to have them read and think about these articles? Was it both? If both goals were to be met by this assignment, I would argue that those objectives are perhaps incompatible.

Here is my suggestion: trust your students. If the goal is to get students comfortable with blogging, then the way to do so is to provide them with loose guidelines and let them decide what their posts will be about. This way they will be much more engaged with and interested in blogging. If you go that route, I would have students blog more than twice during the course (which will be easier in a semester-long class). Save any reflections on articles for the Blackboard page, or ditch the Blackboard posting altogether.

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Whiteboards and the CSI Effect

Remember how I warned that from time to time I might have to make a blog post to fulfill the requirements of my educational technology course? This is one of those times.  Run scared if you must.

Keeping in the spirit of the purpose of the blog, I will compare the educational issue with a technology issue that some lawyers are facing today.

A British researcher named Victoria Anderson and several of her colleagues researched the use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom, claiming that some teachers perceive the interactive whiteboard as a presentation tool only. In response to that article, the question my professor posits is:

How can we get teachers to embrace the interactivity of this tool and make more engaging experiences for their students?

There are certainly several ways I could suggest that would perhaps get teachers to “embrace the interactivity of this tool” … some of them practical, others, well, not so much.

  • Offer more training, both in schools and in teacher education programs.

People are not comfortable using technology they do not understand, partially because they are afraid of it. But with training and frequent use, people become more comfortable with the technology, are more adept at using it, and are more willing to find more uses for the technology.

I am nearing the end of my master’s degree program at UC, and I’ve had the opportunity to work a whopping grand total of one time with this technology – for the class I’m taking now – and only because I am doing a presentation on it. If it is to be an expectation for teachers to use interactive whiteboards interactively, then programs such as the one at UC should give students more experience using the technology.

  • Make interactive whiteboards ubiquitous in schools.

“Why should I learn to master an interactive whiteboard if I’m not likely to get a job at a school that has one?” Good question. No good answer to that, other than teachers (and graduate students), despite the perceptions of their supervisors and peers (and professors) have a limited amount of time and resources to learn how to use everything that they are expected to learn. If it’s unlikely that a teacher is going to have regular and continued access to a whiteboard, then there is no incentive to develop interactive lessons incorporating the technology.

I distinctly remember when microwave ovens came out. People were afraid of the new technology, and microwaves were relatively expensive. My mother actually took a class on how to use it (despite the fact that the only control feature was a timer dial). Now that microwaves are ubiquitous, everyone knows how to use them because they use them all the time.

  • Make a more compelling argument why teachers should use them.

When someone tells me they want to go to law school, I usually try and dissuade them from doing so, and one of my arguments against their going to law school is the amount and complexity of reading that is expected of a law student.

After reading Anderson, et al.’s article, and several others like it in my masters program, I can no longer make this argument in good faith to budding law students. Why? Nothing is more inaccessible and less compelling than your average educational journal article. Reading English cases from the 1600’s is much more stimulating than this drivel.

My point is this: if you want to convince teachers to embrace this technology, you have to make an argument that is compelling to them. This is not to state that teachers are intellectually deficient – far from it – it’s that they have no need, no time, and no desire to read a paper that is written in such a way to only be interesting (if at all) to other Ph. D.’s.

I think my last point raises a bigger question. Let me remind you of the question presented “how can we get teachers to embrace the interactivity of this tool and make more engaging experiences for their students?” There is an assumption imbedded in that question – that just because I can use this tool interactively and create a more engaging experience for my students that it therefore will improve their learning. I’m not so sure that the two are necessarily one and the same.

Again, an ugly specter raises its head – is this good teaching, or could it be technology for technology’s sake?

I read many journal articles in education whose thrust seems to be something to the effect of “you must embrace and use (insert technology, teaching method, etc.) otherwise you are a terrible teacher.” Oftentimes it just so happens the author of the article is an expert in or creator of said item all teachers must then use and adopt. Is that the kind of expectation we want to create in the teaching profession? That everyone must immediately adopt the newest and latest thing? Or does that somehow diminish us as professionals, or make our job more difficult?

Let me jump over to the legal profession and illustrate my point by discussing a technological issue facing lawyers – the so-called CSI Effect.

In a 2006 article in the Yale Law Journal, the CSI Effect was defined as “a term that legal authorities and the mass media have coined to describe a supposed influence that watching the television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has on juror behavior. Some have claimed that jurors who see the high-quality forensic evidence presented on CSI raise their standards in real trials, in which actual evidence is typically more flawed and uncertain. As a result, these CSI-affected jurors are alleged to acquit defendants more frequently.”

The article goes on to say that there is no evidentiary basis to support a claim that there is a CSI Effect as defined above. However, it is fair to state that because many lawyers perceive that there is a CSI Effect, they are changing their trial practice to include more technology in the presentation of their cases, and in some cases might argue that a failure by the opposing party to introduce technologically-driven evidence might indicate that their case is weak.

We often deem technology to be categorically good. But is a lesson or a legal argument better just because technology is employed in its delivery? Not necessarily. I am not anti-technology, in fact I consider myself a bit of a geek – so I understand the desire to use technology in all things. But sometimes, perhaps more often than we realize, incorporating technology into a lesson can actually get in the way of learning, no matter how interactive and entertaining it may be.

Can I write an excellent lesson using my interactive whiteboard as a presentation tool only? Absolutely. Can I write a lesson that makes wonderful use of the whiteboard, with students moving things around with their fingers and all other sorts of interactivity, and yet have the students learn nothing at all? Absolutely.

Teachers are craftsmen and craftswomen, and whiteboards are a tool. In my opinion it’s okay for teachers to use such a tool, in their professional judgment, in whatever way they deem it best advances the learning of their students, whether interactive or not. What do you think?

Blogging reflection

As noted in my introductory post, I have created this blog in part to fulfill the requirements of CI776, a technology course that is part of my master’s degree program. Part of the requirement is to post my thoughts on the whole blogging process, three questions specifically. Here is your opportunity to gain some insight on the life of a graduate student in education!

What is your experience with and what are your impressions of blogging?

The sum total of my experience with blogging is contained in the two posts above. My impression of blogging is that it is not for everyone; a good blog not only requires thoughful, insightful, and useful comment, but also requires that posts be made on a somewhat frequent basis. Blogs that fail to possess these qualities, or are simply to self-absorbed, are not worth reading.

How does it feel to be the person behind the blog?

It feels like work. Again, if one lacks the passion for it, it is yet another thing to do that you don’t feel like you have the time to do.

Based on your blogging experience so far, what do you think of using blogs with your own students?

If I were going to have my students keep a journal, I might consider having them use a blog format – then I will likely reject that consideration unless I could limit access to the blog to specified users. The kind of things I could use a blog for in the classroom would all likely be better handled by another application, like course management platforms such as Edline or Blackboard.

A former student is threatening me, what do I do?

This past year I dealt with a case where a former student was engaging in a pattern of harassment of a teacher, which culminated in a death threat being made via text message.

What do you do? My advice: do everything you can as soon as you can to address the issue.

I am not one who believes that every transgression committed by a student should be met with harsh punishment, but when it comes to threats of violence or actual violence, the problem must be dealt with immediately. If you wait too long to take action, the police may not be interested in pursuing the case, your school may not support you, and the courts might be disinclined to give you the protection you may later need.

So what should you do? I would consider at least the following three things:

(1) Call the police and make a report. Provide them with all evidence of the harassment (notes, text messages, etc.) Give them a detailed account of the time and method of the threats that were made. The more information you can provide, the more likely it is the police will be able to make an arrest.

(2) File for a Civil Stalking Protection Order (this is what it is called in Ohio – other states may call this something different but will likely have a similar procedure). A CSPO is a restraining order against the individual ordering him or her to stay away from the victim and their family. In Ohio, to obtain a CSPO, the offender must have committed one of the two following violations:

  • “No person by engaging in a pattern of conduct shall knowingly cause another person to believe that the offender will cause physical harm to the other person or cause mental distress to the other person.” R.C. 2903.211(A)(1).

  • “No person, through the use of any electronic method of remotely transferring information, including, but not limited to, any computer, computer network, computer program, or computer system, shall post a message with purpose to urge or incite another to commit a violation of division (A)(1) of this section (above)”

Some key words one should pay attention to are “pattern of conduct.” More often than not, a one-time event will not qualify as a pattern of conduct – there typically needs to have been two or more events that give rise to a pattern that would enable the court to grant a CSPO.

The procedure is fairly simple. One goes to the court and fills out an application for a CSPO. A sample of one county’s form can be found here, along with the instructions to fill out the form. Don’t wait to long to file for your order; it will diminish your chances of convincing the judge that you have a reasonable belief that the offender is going to harm you. The court will schedule you for an ex parte hearing, which means that you will explain your reasons why the order should issue without the offender being present. If the court finds that there are reasonable grounds to issue an order, the judge or magistrate will issue you a temporary order of protection, which will be valid until a final hearing can be held in the matter. At the final hearing, both sides will be able to present their case, and if the court agrees that the offender has violated one of the two provisions set forth above, then the court will issue a protection order to you, which can last up to five years.

You do not need an attorney to apply for a CSPO, but you may wish to consult one to guide you through the process and help you make sure you submit the correct evidence so that the court will issue a permanent order of protection. If the offender hires counsel to represent him or her, then I would strongly advise you to hire an attorney as well. If you are a member of a union, you may want to check and see if they have funds available to you to assist in paying for counsel.

(3) Ask your school to take action. Schools may be reluctant to take action once criminal or civil proceedings are initiated. However, they are in the best position to put policies and procedures in effect to protect all members of the school community during school hours.

In my case, the school and police detective were quite cooperative, except ironically for the school resource officer who, in my opinion, could have done more to ensure that we would receive our CSPO. Our success in obtaining the order was due to the fact that each of the steps outlined above were promptly taken by the victim of the harassment.

As stated above, this posting is specific to the law in Ohio; procedures in your state may vary. For more information on obtaining a civil protection order, call your local clerk of courts… but if you are being threatened, call the police first!

Welcome to edulawblog!

ImageHello! Welcome to edulawblog!

My name is Douglas Haman, your blogger. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am an attorney licensed in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. I am also a master’s degree candidate in cirriculum and instruction at the University of Cincinnati.

The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, it is to explore and discuss the intersections of law and education – not just lawsuits involving education, but also teaching law in the classroom, and how legal matters affect the decisions made in education.

The second purpose of this blog is to fulfill the requirements of CI776, a technology class I am taking as a part of my master’s degree program. Expect a post or two to be devoted to this end in order to meet the requirements of the course.

And with that out of the way, here we go!