Confessions of a Secret Luddite

I first heard the word “Luddite” my freshman year of college.  I was taking a course on media history with our infamous department chair, Neil Postman, who is often associated with Neo-Luddism movements. He hated being called a Luddite.  He would clarify:

A take-away from the class was that computers were no more advanced an invention than the pencil.  They were both revolutionary.  Or something like that. At any rate when I heard the term “Luddite”, I had to admit that even if it didn’t describe him, it was kind of describing me. 

The official definition of a Luddite is “a person opposed to new technology or ways of working”.  I do not look like your typical Luddite.  I regularly post on Facebook and Instagram.  I Tweet out blog posts.  I built my website.  I know how to screencast and mute myself on a Zoom call.  On the surface, I appear to be modern and with it. But I have a paper planner.  A “bullet journal”. I invest more in markers than I do in apps and just can’t get the hang of digital calendars and to-do lists. I also still have an iPhone 6.  I tell people it’s because of the insidious cobalt mining industry, but really, I don’t want to give up my home button or audio jack, even though I’ve finally figured out how to work Bluetooth headphones. I just don’t appreciate technology the way some of my more connected friends do.  I get everything late – Nintendo 64, Blackberry messenger, touchscreen, a stylus. I’ll never be an innovator or an early adopter.  I am a comfortable laggard. 

Like Dr. Postman, I have long been suspicious of educational technology and overreliance on digital tools to provide “modern” learning experiences. I am from the revolutionary pencils camps. I fear a school day that contains too much screen time and just because it dings doesn’t make it progressive or relevant.

On the other hand, I am trying to provide a distance education to my students during a pandemic of indeterminable length, and our computers are pretty much all we have.  While I used to be able to whip out post-its, build giant graphic organizers, pass out real books, and call on kids at will, everything is different now. 

Over the last two months, I have begun to dabble in a wide array of technological platforms so that we can recreate some of my favorite routines, activities, and strategies. A few of these have been around for a decade or more, and I knew about them, however I’d never used them.  (Early adopters, I already know.  I am late to the party. It’s practically over. And yes, I would like to sign up for your webinar to learn more).

But someone out there is probably even more of a luddite than I am.  This post is for you.  Here are the applications and websites I am finding the most useful and how they are helping facilitate collaboration, conversation, documentation, and assessment in the distance learning classroom.

Padlet » Arlington ISD

Padlet is super user friendly for both teachers and students.  You can easily post questions or a topic.  There are many designs to build virtual “bulletin boards” full of your student’s ideas.  I have used them both synchronously and asynchronously.  Everyone can write at the same time, read each other’s work, and comment.  Padlet can help facilitate visible thinking routines or organize collaborative research processes.  Sometimes I post a math problem where multiple answers are possible and collect the responses.  It is easy to project a Padlet and summarize the conversation.   You can also print and save Padlets as a record of student thinking or participation. 

I thought Desmos was for too old for my Grade 6 math students, but a lot more has been built for them since I last looked at this resource.  The site has pre-made activities, but it also lets you design your own and share them with the community.  That should probably be an aspirational goal of mine – we’ll see.  This blog was very inspiring. So far, I use the search function to find activities that match our current topic.  This week we did inequalities and there were several pre-made options.  These activities are especially great for my early finishers who need to be productively occupied while I work with other students.  The few I used were self-directed and self-checking. If you link it to a class code and have students sign in, the individual answers are collated and displayed so there can be a group discussion about an activity students did independently or asynchronously. 

Canva is an infographic maker, but this week I used it to create graphic organizers that students can type in as PDFs or as word documents. They have a ton of templates and ideas. I love a good GO so I have a feeling this will become a staple. Students can also use Canva to demonstrate their learning as an alternative to a slideshow.

I made my first PowToon this week – it was an explainer video giving a definition of Ethical Citizen.  It came out so cute!  I don’t know about you, but quarantine life has made me super reluctant to video record myself doing anything.   PowToon made it possible to use my voice without having to do my hair.  It also wasn’t completely obvious that I was trying to avoid being on camera.  The interface could be intimidating if you’ve never played around with video creation apps before, but otherwise it was pretty straight forward.  There were quite a few options in the free version and, of course, more with a subscription.  You can upload and post them to various platforms, so they are easily shared.  I could see using these to review directions on a big project or give a unit overview.  If we open online in the fall, I might record a weekly organizational video to highlight our priorities.  PowToon seems like a tool to use sparingly and deliberately, but it makes otherwise mundane or joyless topics a little more fun. Here are some more ideas from the app.

Flipgrid seems to have a lot of potential. My coworkers love it.   I love the mottos about social learning and empowering every voice, and I can see how this platform could support a wide array of students who learn and express themselves differently.  It is a great resource for collecting many videos without clogging up your inbox or storage.  There are a lot of customizable settings.  I really need to dig into the feedback possibilities.  I am always looking for more efficient ways to assess students and offer comments.  Flipgrid lets you grade, score a rubric, offer written notes, or record a video.  Another potential use is portfolio creation and this blog has other great ideas like inviting guest speakers to drop a line asynchronously, something that might support our project based learning.  It is also easy to share student work with an outside audience like administration or parents. 

Whether I every become completely comfortable with them or not, my recent forays into new applications have made me more empathetic towards struggles reported by students and parents. We are all having to innovate and adapt.  Too many widgets and gidgets can be overwhelming, but thoughtful integration of the right ones can improve teaching and learning. I secretly can’t wait to use my Bali collection Post-it stack again, but in the meantime it’s nice to have an authentic reason to test out some of these well designed platforms.   

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