Reflections on a Deep Dive in Equity

A friend and colleague reflects on her experience with Deeper Learning and equity in this post. It has also left me wondering, how does equity play a role in blended learning? Who is blended/online learning working for and who is not yet being impacted? Why? What role does race and class play in the online learning environment? Also, given the current structures of most online programs, can they ever really get to deeper learning if there is more fact regurgitation than analysis and construction of new ideas? How are online programs and blended learning tools encouraging a more in depth look at disciplinary content designed to prepare ALL kids for college and careers?

Language Learning Apps

Have you ever tried to learn a language outside of a classroom setting? It’s an ongoing challenge in my life. I lived, volunteered, and taught in a Spanish-speaking country for 18 months right after college. I acquired language through a natural approach of understanding, speaking, reading and then writing. When I came home, I was conversationally fluent, but still wanted to learn more. About a year ago, I discovered the Duolingo App on my phone and loved it for learning or refreshing certain skills I had either missed by learning without formal means or acquired incorrectly.

Now is the time of year when two things language related are happening. One, we are due for an Army move which could potentially send us overseas and two, I am busy preparing to facilitate a world language session for new PBL teachers. The latter usually involves one component facilitated in a target language other than that known by most of the participants. Enter the problem: I speak Spanish and most of the teachers speak Spanish. Eek!

Knowing that there is a possibility, albeit small, of us being relocated to Germany, I thought I would peruse other language learning apps to see which I liked best for helping me (hopefully) acquire enough German to facilitate my upcoming session with fluency. Here are my reviews of three other apps I found.

1. Busuu.com

  • I really like that it allows you to set goals for yourself and predicts when you will finish each course if you follow that time frame. The dashboard has a language garden with a tree that grows as my language skills grow. That’s fun and makes me feel like I am accomplishing something. I also like how the content is phrase based in the beginning, which is more real world as to how we learn language.
  • I don’t particularly like the structure of the courses and the ways in which I interact with the content. I get embarrassed very easily when learning new languages, so I don’t necessarily want to converse with strangers online as my practice for pronunciation. I also found it hard to navigate in the beginning. I want to dive right into the learning, not necessarily into figuring out the platform.

2. LingQ.com

  • Honestly, there was not much I liked about this tool. It looks so simple on the login page, but then kind of becomes a mess inside. The courses wouldn’t load and then once I was finally in one, I couldn’t figure out what to do. sure, there are little pop up hint boxes, but that still didn’t help me understand how I was to engage with the words on the screen. My computer also kept wanting to translate the whole site into English which was not fun. It also looked like I was supposed to learn word by word, which is not a great approach for my own learning. I moved on quickly.

3. Memrise.com

  • I love that this one appeals to imagination and actually applies to pretty much anything that you want to learn, not just languages. The user interface is very easy and the learning begins immediately. I think it is hysterical that the first lesson, which they call “German Basics” is the sentence: Ich möchte bitte ein glas wein, or I would like a glass of wine please. I also like that it does the growing concept as well, but this time, I am planting seeds in a garden. That makes me happy.
  • I don’t love the timed feature that it has because I feel pressured and it increases my anxiety. High anxiety is one of the paralyzers for language learners. I also don’t love that I haven’t gotten to any pronunciation yet. I am not sure when that will come in, but since that is vital to my goals, I need to get there quickly.

Overall, I think Duolingo is still my favorite, but Memrise comes in a close second. Which language learning tools do you love?

Marshmallows, the time has come….

My husband thought I was crazy. About a year ago, I decided to participate in one of the biggest Kickstarter projects to date. Not because I wanted to be able to say that sentence, but because I love “Veronica Mars”. The smart, well written episodes entertained me during a strange life transition that found me as a newlywed sleeping on a futon in a 400 square foot apartment on an Army base in southern Georgia in June. That sentence should simply be read as: unemployed, cramped and hot. Like really, really hot. It was the summer of 2011 which had more than 100 days over 100 in a row down south.  See, the magic of Netflix brought me Veronica as I missed it the first time around. It began airing during my 18 months living in Ecuador and I am not usually a fan of jumping into a series mid-run. But my husband and I watched and loved that series for three weeks that June.   And now, it’s here. The next chapter in Veronica’s story arrived in my email in box earlier today.

What I think is amazing about the way Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell have approached their Kickstarter campaign is that they are really trying to engage the backers in the project their money supported. They have tackled the challenging job of creating a community of 91,525 project supporters and countless fans by encouraging public participation in all aspects of the movie. As a backer, I have received 86 email updates to date with information ranging from the casting updates to behind the scenes video clips and photos to the trailer release and movie premiere special access. The amount of work that has gone into making the movie is evident, but the time they have dedicated to thanking, honoring, and communicating with their backers is impressive. They really are taking a blended approach to film making.

Thanks to my current geographical location and the toddler running around my house, I probably won’t find time to drive 90 minutes to the nearest Austin theater showing the movie, but luckily I won’t have to. As part of my backer pledge, I will receive a digital download of the movie on the day it is released in theaters. So while other backers may get to see it on a big screen, I am just appreciative that I will get to see it at the same time, but from the comforts of my couch with a sleeping kiddo, and not have to wait months to view the final product. I can follow social media on it and participate in the community this movie has generated without worrying about my location impacting that experience. As a new mom and a fan, this makes me love the movie and project even more.

So while Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas are thanking backers, I want to thank them. Thanks for being innovative in how you reach out to the public; for generating a community on such a large scale; for supporting charities important to you; and for including all fans in this project. From this Michigan native/Austin transplant to @IMKristenBell and @RobThomas, thanks for making the #veronicamarsmovie and letting us be a part of it.

This Michigan girl/Austin transplant greatly appreciates it!

EdTech Women: One Night in Austin

SXSW is in full swing here in Austin. Music and films are lined up for two weeks bringing in amazing talent and unforgettable events. But in my opinion, the best part of the SXSW festivities took place last week during SXSWedu. I had the opportunity to participate in an Ed Tech Women networking dinner. The night started out with a bang – delicious Mexican food and a rousing welcome from Margaret encouraging all attendees to network and brainstorm how Ed Tech Women can build women’s leadership through inclusivity in the coming year.

Co-founder Margaret Roth @TeachingDaisy
Co-founder Margaret Roth @TeachingDaisy

Three rounds of discussions with inspiring, edgy, empowered women left me feeling excited about the possibilities for engaging with the ed tech community in the area and lucky that I am close enough to an existing chapter of EdTechWomen. It also left me pondering some pretty big questions. How do we get support for women’s leadership in education from the types of people who were underrepresented that night (ie. men, parents, investors)? How can groups like this raise awareness of women in ed tech and encourage membership and activism on their behalf? Those were the questions we were asked to think about at our networking tables.

The Ask
The Ask

My group didn’t get very far in answering the prompt, but we did have some some fantastic conversations about what women’s roles in ed tech looks, sounds and feels like. In a word, it is diverse. I met national bloggers like Elana Leoni from Edutopia and Alison Anderson from Getting Smart. Business CEOs and leaders from torsh, Beyond Business, Get Schooled, and edMosphere. Women from higher ed consultant groups to pre-K focused designers. There were gamers, thinkers, makers, and innovators.  And that was only a few amazing women in a short amount of time. There really is power in a network of people. How are you accessing your network to seek the changes you desire?

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Are my expectations too high after all?

Last week, arguably one of the largest education conferences SXSWedu took place in Austin. This is the second major conference I have gone to this school year. The other was the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium, this past October in Orlando. My expectation of both conferences was to be inspired, motivated, engaged, and to see creative ideas for moving education in more blended ways. Unfortunately, that was not my experience.

What I heard and saw in Orlando was a lack of innovation. There seemed to be a lot of talk about blended and online learning, but not many action steps to help change teacher practices and make classrooms more engaging. The conference was filled with buzzwords like “disruptive”, “blended”, and “personalized”, but those conversations usually centered around a vendor pushing a product to alter a learning space or environment, not necessarily giving concrete strategies on improving student centered outcomes.

So when I saw the list of sessions for SXSWedu, I wondered if that would be the same experience. I noticed many of the same vendors and even some of the same presenters and topics for the conference. I didn’t attend any of the general sessions, but followed the Twitter feed on Monday. I was underwhelmed by the chatting and quotes by people who were live tweeting. Not a good sign. Then I headed down to Austin on Tuesday for some networking meetings. And this is where my real learning took place. The conversations that seemed to matter were not the conversations happening in the sessions. It looked like all of the really good work – generating ideas, brainstorming, wheeling and dealing – was happening in the common areas. The Starbucks was packed. The convention center main areas were full of small clusters of educators buzzing with excitement. The hotel lobbies were standing room only. Even my own purpose for being down there was not to see the sessions, but was to network. Was that the real value of this conference? To finally meet people face to face who may be part of your PLN?

My very unscientific research indicates that yes, the value of these conferences may not be the sessions (which are most often dry, sit and get, lecture style presentations) but the opportunity to converse and reinvigorate your own passion for education by meeting others who share that passion. I like this idea. However, these conferences are expensive! What I want is the opportunity to not only network, but also be engaged in the sessions that are offered. I don’t want to be pitched product. I don’t want to watch someone read off of a Power Point or Prezi. I don’t want to sit and listen to a lecture for every single session. Kiddos don’t like when we teach that way and most adults I know don’t like to learn that way.

Instead, I think it is the responsibility of the conference to be sure that participants have a good mix of opportunities to see interactive sessions that give concrete strategies to educators and allow for time to collaborate and network. So, back to my original question: are my expectations too high? No. But it is time for conference planners to meet them.

What was your experience like at either conference? How valuable did you find the sessions vs. networking?