Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Actually, it’s Virtual Reality.

The first few lyrics to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is all I can think of when I think about virtual reality (VR). If you aren’t already familiar with virtual reality, to put it simply it’s a type of technology that allows you to experience another environment through sight. This happens by using a headset that tracks your head and eye movements to change the image you are seeing within the headset changing the environment you are experience. Our brains are triggered through the image and movement to make the experience more lifelike. Why might someone use virtual reality? There are a variety of reasons for using VR that go beyond simply entertaining ourselves. There are 9 different industries that use VR for training, education or experiences. Sharon discusses some VR tools that Sask Polytechnic use here in Regina to train their nurses. VR is being used to help treat patients with dementia and for teaching someone how to walk again. For an overview of virtual reality and how it works check out this video.

Amy found a really great Ted Talk discussing how virtual reality should be used to develop empathy through experiencing the lives of others around the world. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes in a war torn country or a country where children must walk miles to get to school. Yes I have seen videos or documentaries, but those videos do not give me the same experience that VR could. I had never thought of using VR in this way before and I think that this would is an incredible way to use the technology.

Photo Credit: bmward_2000 Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bmward_2000 Flickr via Compfight cc

Augmented Reality (AR) is another type of reality that can be experienced using technology. This is when we experience reality by combining the real world with overlaying information. Some forms of AR I am familiar with are found while watching TSN or other sports on TV. The first down line on an football field is an augmented reality, it can be argued that slow motion is a form of augmented reality as well because it helps us examine a clip more closely to see what happened. Charles Arthur provides a thorough description of AR by discussing the development, AR apps and the future of advertising using AR. Bill and Logan introduced us to Aurasma which is an AR app that has so many uses within the classroom. Rochelle described how she uses Aurasma at her school by having students create book reviews for the books in the library. A book review is just one example of the many ways AR can be used in education and within our classrooms.

Of course we can’t forget about the digital divide when we think about integrating these experiences in our classrooms. We must always remember that all students come from different socio-economic backgrounds and that the access to technology among them might vary. The cost to implement VR technology in our classes can also be very expensive (unless we use Google Cardboard which is reasonably priced).

I can definitely see myself using a word wall for my math courses and integrating some of the virtual experiences into my technology class. I am really interested in Google Expeditions and want to find a way to integrate that into my technology class. This might be something that I could collaborate with another teacher to make it a cross-curricular activity mixing technology with social or science class. I was happy to hear so many of you already have experience with these different realities and I love hearing how you integrate them into your classes. If there is anything you are doing that uses these technologies I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Assistive Technology Doesn’t Just Involve Technology

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks Flickr via Compfight cc

I was a little apprehensive about having to write this post discussing the topic of assistive technology. I wasn’t sure that I would have a lot to say because I didn’t think I had a lot of experience with using assistive technology but after reading a few of my classmates blogs this week I was able to think about assistive technology from a new perspective. I teach at the same school as Andrew so my experience is much the same in the fact that I don’t have the variety of students that many other teachers have. I have had very few students with disabilities that need adaptations however there have been instances in which I have had to make adaptations. In my internship I had a student who was unable to read from anything printed on white paper so I had to print everything for them on yellow or green paper.  Another way that I have accommodated a student with a disability is by chunking their work. This involves breaking a big assignment down into manageable pieces for them so they don’t get overwhelmed and fail to finish the assignment.

I didn’t think that any of these adaptations could fall under assistive technology until I read Amy and Heidi’s blogs this week. Each blog discusses ways that we adapt that might not involve technology. If you check out the Understood website there is a large list of assistive technologies that don’t actually involve technology. After reading through some of the items in the list I realize that I do a lot more adapting than I had originally thought. In my math classes, students use calculators, graph paper, rulers, protractors and manipulatives. These are all assistive technologies. Other examples include chair cushions, fidgets, spell-check, timers and graphic organizers.

Dave Eayburn describes assistive technology as: “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability”. I feel like it’s a pretty good definition of assistive technology but I do think it assistive technology can help everyone, not just those with disabilities.

Assistive technologies (or ATs) are specialized technology (software and/or hardware) that are used by people with and without disabilities to adapt how specific tasks can be performed.

Photo Credit: DiegoMolano Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DiegoMolano Flickr via Compfight cc

I think that assistive technologies go beyond hardware and software and include any object or device that allows us to be more efficient or productive. We all use assistive technology everyday; computers, phones, word processors, Siri, microwaves and cars are just some examples of the daily items we use that assist us. Obviously there are some devices (hearing aids, braile, sensory objects to name a few) that are more helpful to those who have disabilities and which impact these individuals more in their daily life than my everyday life. For example, could I get by without a computer? Sure I could, but my work life would be a lot less productive. I appreciate having the technology to use but if the computer was never invented I wouldn’t know any different and I would be able to carry out my job no problem. However, someone who is blind and never learns to read braile will have significant issues reading and learning.

Google Read and Write was discussed a lot this past week and it was interesting to read teachers discuss their experience using it in their classrooms. Roxanne is able to integrate it into her daily language lessons and I think that it is a great tool to adapt for those who struggle, but is also a great tool for students who may not necessarily need the tool. There are a variety of features and two of them that I thought were really great were the vocabulary list and the word predictor. The word predictor is great for students who may be learning English or who struggle with reading.

I haven’t had any experience with the add on, but after watching this video there are a few suggestions that I have. The first is that when the picture dictionary is used it would be nice to have real, lifelike pictures to choose from as opposed to simple cartoons/clip art. My second suggestion isn’t just for Google Read and Write, but for all Text-To-Speech (TTS) software. It would be nice if the audio didn’t sound so robotic. Is it too much to ask to have it sound more like an audiobook that is read by a real person? Now I know that it isn’t as easy to develop software that can do that but my hope is that sometime in the future we get there. I can’t imagine having to use TTS often and having to listen to Mr. Roboto talk to me. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a sample from the article we were asked to read this week. It had a listen option so I decided to click it to see how it sounds. Let’s just say I didn’t listen to the whole file and can’t imagine having no option but to listen to it.

One final thought is based on a recommendation from the article Rethinking Assistive TechnologyThe article has seven recommendations for rethinking assistive technology and the one that stood out to me the most was that we should consider using “technology enhanced performance” as a replacement for the term “assistive technology”. The reason I like this so much is because it breaks down the barriers and stigmas that might be associated with students who use the assistive technology. The adaptations shouldn’t be something that makes users feel singled out or different and changing the name of it might help break down those barriers a bit.

What are your thoughts? How do you adapt for your students? Do your adaptations always involve technology or are some of the adaptations less sophisticated? Have you had any experience with TTS software and did it involve a Mr.Roboto? Do you think TTS software will ever sound ‘human’?

You have to walk before you can run.

Tuesday night it was my turn to take part in the Great Tech Debate for my EC&I 830 class. The debate statement was: Schools should not be teaching anything that can be googled. I was arguing in favour of that statement but to be honest when we signed up for the debate topics I was planning to argue against the statement. So it was actually quite interesting to try and argue against my own feelings on the topic. I can’t say that I came around and was fully convinced that schools shouldn’t be teaching anything that can be googled, but I think that my team was able to argue some valid points.

It is important to understand that although it seems that almost anything can be googled, it cannot be the be all and end all as Jeremy also noted. Google is a tool. We need to teach students how to use the tool properly in order for them to benefit from using it. We need to teach students that not everything they see online is true and how to evaluate the quality of online information. Before our students can evaluate the information on the internet, they need to have some foundational knowledge. This is where I agree with Amy in that the “cart can’t come before the horse”. Now I know what you are all thinking — didn’t she argue against that in her debate?? Yes…yes I did. But I had to come up with something to argue in favour for the statement. Isn’t this why we are taking grad classes?? To be challenged haha. Anyways, I agree that students do need to have some basics before they can jump into the whole evaluating and analyzing part of learning.

In my own little world, I would argue that the focus should be on developing basic skills but we cannot be okay with simple memorization of facts. We need students to go beyond memorizing and move towards deeper understanding and thoughts. In order to move beyond the basics, we should be trying to “google proof” our questions.  We should be working towards questions that make students think as opposed to allow them to find a simple answer online. Terry Heick describes three ways that google impacts the way students think and I think they are very valid points. Terry suggests that Google creates the illusion of accessibility, naturally suggests “answers” as stopping points and obscures the interdependence of information because it is linear. I think that the first two points are especially true. We feel like we have instant access to everything because we can use google but we have to remember that not all answers can be found on the internet. Some answers have yet to be discovered. We need students to be curious and seek to find answers that don’t exist on google. We need them to use their basic skills and knowledge to be creative and use their imagination to find the answers.

As a math teacher it is hard to say that students don’t need basic facts. Yes students can use calculators to help them, but a calculator doesn’t help students quickly remember their multiplication facts. A prime example is teaching students how to factor. Students who are able to factor easily are the students who have their basic 12 x 12 multiplication times table pretty much memorized. I have students who need to use their calculators to attempt to find the factors of an equation, but most of them take a long time to do it. For many of my students (most of which are in grade 10 and 11) who struggle with their multiplications tables, I have to give them a chart to help them out. This video hits the nail on the head when it says that some things should be automatic. They need to be automatic before we can move on to the more complex problems. For my students that have the basics down the higher level thinking questions are MUCH easier for them than their classmates. Thanks to Amy and Heidi for the great find.

I can’t argue against the fact that students do need the basics before we can move to a higher level of thinking. I think that we need to do a better job of creating opportunities for students to think outside of the box and go beyond the simple memorization of facts. We need to foster skills that will help them be employable in the future by providing different learning experiences.

Employability Goes Online

Just as other classmates have done this week, I too Googled myself. Logan discussed a key point that I have always thought about when thinking about doing a Google self search or Egosurfing. When he searched for himself he was able to find some information relevant to him, but when he searched other classmates he was unable to find a lot of information directly related to them. Why is this? I think that it depends on the uniqueness of the name being searched. For example, if I search myself under my maiden name Ashley Dejaegher, I find a lot of information about my hockey life. There is some information from my undergrad work but most is related to hockey (a small portion of my life). If I search myself using my current name, Ashley Murray, I have a hard time finding a lot about myself. There are some links to work I had completed last semester in EC&I 832, but not a whole lot more. There is a however lot of information about other Ashley Murrays.

It’s pretty obvious that Ashley is a very common name but I wasn’t sure just how popular it was so I decided to see if I could find out. I found a site based on the population of the United States and there are 510,770 people in the US alone with the name Ashley and it’s the 114th most popular name. I also search the last name Murray and there are 213,130 people with that last name so chances are there are quite a few people who share my name. In the United States there are fewer than 120 people with the last name Dejaegher so it is quite uncommon. Chances are if you have a more common name you may not find as much information about yourself.

Luke brings up a good point about how we can make ourselves more visible online. If we have a common name, how can we make sure that people can find our twitter pages or our blogs? I found myself wondering the same thing and basically found that it all boils down to the popularity of your blog for example. The more people you have visiting your site or twitter page, the more popular it will come which will bounce it up in Google searches. I also came across how to use a search engine optimization (SEO) to increase the visibility of your blog on search engines by using different techniques while blogging.

Photo Credit: arbyreed via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: arbyreed via Compfight cc

I am among the percent of social media users who changes their privacy settings on my accounts. My Facebook and Instagram pages have high privacy settings. The reason I have my settings this way is because I use Facebook and Instagram to connect and share with people who I have personal relationships with. My friends list on both platforms is quite small in comparison to others. On Facebook I have 201 friends of which probably 50 are family. On Instagram I have 133 followers. This is because I have chosen to keep my friends lists limited. Every so often I go back and delete people who I no longer feel a close connection to. I don’t add people easily either. I have decided to keep it limited because I don’t want everyone and anyone knowing about my personal life. I think that teachers are held to a higher standard so I tried to keep things private just in case anything that might be thought of as inappropriate pops up. But sometimes it would be nice to just be an average person too. 

Just like Vanessa I believe that online identity is only a small portion of our actual identity. Our identities are made up of so many different things and each part is as important as any other part depending on what you are doing. That being said, I don’t believe our online identity should make or break us as a person. Something we need to realize is that what happens online stays online…literally. Luke argues that it should be considered a digital tattoo as opposed to a digital footprint and I would have to agree. In order to prevent our students from an array of negative/inappropriate digital tattoos we need to work with them to create positive online images. We need students to showcase their work and demonstrate their learning so that they can create a reputation for themselves that is positive.  It should come as no surprise that employers use social media to hire people but keeping that in mind I do think that resumes should reflect your online image and vice versa. We have seen instances in the last few days where candidates running for the Saskatchewan NDP have lost their jobs because of posts. I think that in order for the NDP to maintain a positive reputation they had no choice but to eliminate those candidates, but in the case of a person going to a job interview I do think that their online identity can be brought up and questioned before making a final decision. Perhaps it was something that happened years ago when the candidate was young and immature.

I think it’s important to keep an eye out on Google and search yourself every now and then to see what comes up. Maybe you’ll notice more posts showing up in Google as your blog becomes more popular. If you’re worried about how your online reputation can hurt your job hunt check out these tips.