Better Reflection Paper Outline

December 9, 2007

paper-outline.doc       I’ve attached a more comprehensive outline as a Word 2003 document because WordPress didn’t save the formatting. I posted it because I thought it might be helpful to other people and also to get some feedback if anyone is still reading these posts.

~Chris

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Final Thoughts

December 7, 2007

So, what are my final thoughts about this experience? For one, it was definitely a detriment and a source of frustration throughout the semester that I was tied to working with one individual at one location. This meant that if either of us had a schedule conflict, I ended up missing out on service-learning time. I was pretty busy this semester, so I don’t know that I could’ve worked something else in, but I should’ve tried. I may be able to work on the Digital Divide Wikipedia article before the semester ends, so that may help diversify my experience. 

This experience also reinforced my conviction that my technology teaching skills (and my teaching skills more generally) need a lot of work. Teaching technology as someone who’s relatively tech-savvy to someone who is less so is very tough. For one thing, it’s a pedagogy requiring a lot of experimentation and failure to learn how to do things, which is different from how we learn to do a lot of other things. This was a big problem with Sharon, who tends to be very task-oriented and isn’t accustomed to making the deviations where learning usually happens.

I also discovered that learning and teaching tech tends to be very idiosyncratic. I was surprised that Sharon had difficulty with some things (such as wikis) but was relatively adept at others (such as PowerPoint). Getting proficient with technology requires a lot of trial-and-error and failure, admittedly more than a lot of people are comfortable with. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that computers frustrate the hell out of me at times, but when that does happen, it’s usually because of hardware or software installation/configuration issues, not conceptual issues. But as far as getting around the Web and using a computer to its fullest potential, everyone learns differently. Therefore, teaching tech to newer users like we teach reading or algebra is probably not the best approach to take.  

Sixth (and final) Visit

December 7, 2007

Well, I had my last visit with Sharon today. We worked a little bit on PBWiki, with mixed results. First, however, I wanted to mention that I FINALLY remembered to bring an extra mouse with me, which I’d been meaning to do since our first visit. The fact that Sharon’s mouse was jumping all over the place was driving me nuts. The mouse I brought, a nice four-button MS IntelliMouse, worked just fine, so I recommended to Sharon that she get a new mouse, as I took mine back home with me.

Anyway, on to PBWiki. I set up a PBWiki of my own late last night just so I could show Sharon how to play around with Wiki editing. I also found a well-done video on YouTube that explains the concepts and uses of wikis for beginners that I was meaning to show her (you can see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY&feature=related). However, the Pittsburgh School District’s website blocked the site when I tried to view the video, which I should’ve foreseen. The web filter said YouTube was categorized as EXTREME content, which I disagree with. There is certainly some questionable material on YouTube, but my experience has been that most stuff is pretty tame and appropriate for middle-schoolers, assuming you’re viewing it with them. The comment boards do turn into flame wars far too often, though, which I wouldn’t want kids exposed to.

After that roadblock, I logged into my PBWiki site and wanted to show her how to edit it. She wasn’t really interested in experimenting, though, and she wanted to set up her own wiki from scratch. I logged out of my wiki and we went through the registration process from scratch. She set up a wiki page and wanted to create a table that other teachers could fill in. She tried the “insert table” utility in PBWiki, but she wasn’t happy with the results (though I suggested she change the table size when creating it), so she created a table in Word and pasted into PBWiki. This turned out decently, so she wanted to save the page and go live with it. This is where things went downhill, as she was confused and dismayed by the site’s prompting her to email the wiki to associates. She didn’t want to take the time to type in all the email addresses, even though I explained to her that the system could grab addresses from her address book if she wanted it to. Also confusing was the password/permission system for other users. Since PBWiki requires a password to edit anything, getting the password out to others is key.

To make things worse, we then found that she had created her wiki using my email address, even though she created her own account. I’m still not sure how that happened. In the end, she decided to delete the wiki entirely and give up for the day (and perhaps forever), as she felt PBWiki wasn’t entirely user friendly, which is true. I was nonetheless disappointed that she had a bad first experience and that she soured on the thing so quickly.

Fifth Visit

November 30, 2007

I had my fifth and next-to-last visit with Sharon today. I didn’t have anything planned (which has been a consistent fault on my part), and Sharon wanted to know if there’s anything that would be useful to her that we hadn’t gone over yet. Fortunately, wikis came to mind, which is what we spent the remainder of our time working through. It was kind of tough to start with, though, because I had to try and explain the concept behind wikis. I’ve never been the best at verbalizing things (though I’m apparently a pretty good writer), so it took me several attempts to get my idea formulated. It was also difficult because I’m not very familiar with wikis to start with and my conceptualization of how they’re different from blogs is still fuzzy.

Even after I explained it, Sharon still had a tough time getting her head around why anyone would want to use a wiki (or blog, for that matter). She looked askance at such communications because she felt that many of them were rambling (like my own); poorly written;  pointless; and self-centered, all of which characterize many, many blogs on the Web, and probably many wikis, too. I think she was too focused on the negatives, though, for a well-constructed blog or wiki can be a very powerful tool. By the end of our time together, I think she had a pretty good understanding of the benefits of wikis and blogs and when each is most appropriate to use.

My visit also brought up two themes that have run through all our sessions–conceptualization and patience. First, conceptualization is very important to Sharon, as would be expected with a teacher. I’m often poor at explaining concepts, though, which is a problem. Analogies and common understandings are key to that explaining, but I can’t think of any teaching analogies because I have no experience with them and I feel that Sharon and I really don’t have similar enough backgrounds to get common understanding.

I’ve often been surprised at Sharon’s lack of patience. She’s the type of person that wants the gist of things right away and then moves on to the next thing. I understand where she’s coming from, as I’m the same way, but I don’t think my impatience is as pronounced as hers. Were our roles reversed, though, I might well act similarly. In any event, this impatience makes my teaching more difficult because my poor explanatory skills and her limited knowledge means it takes longer for us to come to an understanding and ends up becoming a frustrating experience. With regards to wikis, I’m not sure if Sharon has the patience to learn the (admittedly limited) syntax required on most wikis for formatting purposes. We’ll see next week, when I show her how to use pbwiki (http://pbwiki.com/).

Reflections Paper

November 28, 2007

I know this was supposed to be an outline of my paper, but to be honest, I haven’t gotten anything together for it. This is partly because I have no idea what I’m going to do with the paper and it’s kind of got me panicky because I’m overwhelmed by it and everything else I have to do before the semester ends. I also feel like I don’t have anywhere near enough service-learning time to draw on due to logistical conflicts, and I don’t know how much of the wikipedia articles I’m going to be able to edit. 

For what it’s worth, these are some of my random thoughts:

  • disconnect between readings & service learning (learning very basic, readings very theoretical/cerebral
  • what are the long-term fruits of my service learning (will the teaching trickle down to the kids)?
  • what I learned in service learning
    • patience
    • tough to know what people know & what they don’t
    • people are really good with some programs but not others
    • organization is key for inexperienced users so they don’t get overwhelmed
  • unsatisfying service learning experience
    • i was first to set up my experience, but perhaps got least out of it

 Here are some articles & books I think I might use:

“Service-Learning as Postmodern Pedagogy” by Dan Butin in Service-Learning in Higher Education, ed. by Dan Butin

The Academic Citizen by Bruce Macfarlane

Learning to Serve: Promoting Civil Society Through Service Learning

Perspectives of Five Library and Information Studies Students Involved in Service Learning at a… in Journal of Education for Library & Information Science | 2001-0442:2, | 86(10)

Where’s the Library in Service Learning?: Models for Engaged Library Instruction.
Riddle, John S. | Journal of Academic Librarianship | 2003-0329:2

Service-Learning and LIS Education.
Yontz, Elaine; McCook, Kathleen de la Peña | Journal of Education for Library & Information Science | 2003-0144:1, | 58(11)

Pre-Turkey Thoughts

November 20, 2007

I was supposed to have another visit with Sharon at Frick last Friday, but she was at a conference. I will perhaps be able to see her one more time before the semester ends, which is disappointing, as I thought I would get a lot more visits in. Oh, well.

We were talking in class a couple of weeks ago about how blind people use the Web, and I was wondering how that works. One way that usability is improving is by describing images and then having a text reader give the description. It’s interesting we were talking about it, because I just read an article in a recent Smithsonianmagazine about a computer scientist named Luis von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon University who’s using “participatory Web” technologies to help label images for the disabled. It’s interesting work, though I was a bit dismayed by von Ahn’s utopianism. The article can be read at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/innovators/von-ahn.html.

Well, I have to go catch a bus now. Hopefully I won’t go too crazy over break thinking about all the stuff I have to get done before the semester ends.

Fourth Visit

November 10, 2007

I had my fourth visit with Sharon at Frick last Friday (November 2). It was a really good meeting. She wanted to work on a PowerPoint presentation, which made me nervous initially, as Power Point is not one of my strong points. However, I need not have been worried, as Sharon found her way around PowerPoint pretty well, much better than I thought she would. I helped her out with some formatting and presentation issues, but she more or less did it herself, which was encouraging to see. I think PowerPoint may be among the most user-friendly Office programs, though, since it’s used so extensively. And it turns out that Microsoft still has the edge as far as presentation software capability. While it sounds like the Google office software is good at just about everything that MS Office is, it still hasn’t cracked PowerPoint: http://www.slate.com/id/2176549/

I also wonder if my initial trepidation wasn’t influenced by my cumulative experience so far. What I mean by this is that I’ve become so accustomed to assuming that things are going to be complex and difficult to explain to a newer user, but there are times when things are really simple, and maybe I’ve forgotten that. I think the Digital Citizenship class, with all its hard questions about technology, has complicated IT in my mind, too, which is probably affecting my service-learning outlook.

Today I was supposed to teach some of the other teachers at Frick the things I’ve taught Sharon. However, Sharon emailed me earlier in the week and called it off. I’m glad she did, but now I’m wondering how I’m going to fit my hours in. I’ve only got 8 so far, and I need 20, which is a lot when you start to think about it. I’m hoping to squeeze in the teacher symposium, because that will give me a ton (Sharon was thinking I’d be at the school from 9 am to 3 pm).  We’ll see.

P.S. The WordPress spell check doesn’t recognize “Google,” so maybe the company hasn’t conquered the entire Web yet.

Third Visit

October 30, 2007

I had my third visit on Friday with Sharon. I’m beginning to see that interoperability with Windows programs (and the Microsoft Office suite in particular) is a concept that a lot of people probably don’t understand. For example, Sharon wanted me to show her how to cut something from Excel and paste it into Word. Now, this is second nature to us “native” digital citizens, but it didn’t occur to Sharon that she could do this. Of course, cutting and pasting isn’t enabled in all programs, which annoys me to no end. This lack of complete interoperability therefore requires the user to have a rough idea what software programs are published by the same company to ensure cut-and-paste capability, which is oftentimes too much to expect of people.                                                   

This also speaks to the lack of knowledge of multitasking capability that I see among many users, as well. Sharon often closes out a program before going to another to look up information she needs in the first program. For all its other flaws, Windows does make it pretty easy to multitask. I wonder if older individuals don’t multitask because they grew up doing one thing at a time, whereas we youngn’s are used to doing 5 things at once.         

Sharon also wanted me to show her how to create a new worksheet in an Excel workbook. I felt sympathy for her in this case, because I feel like this is one of the Office functions that don’t make much sense to me. When I first wanted to do this a couple years ago, I went to the “New” menu in Excel to create a new spreadsheet, but it wasn’t there. It turns out it’s under the “Insert” menu because the geniuses at Microsoft thought of course that’s where people would look. Why not have it in both places? I know Office doesn’t have commands under multiple menus, but I’d like to know their reasoning why. I don’t know if this particular situation has been fixed in Office Vista, but I doubt it. One thing that has always puzzled me about computers is why people put up with crappy hardware. I’m guilty of having done this in the past, but there’s one thing I won’t stand for—a balky mouse. It’s the height of frustration to have a mouse that either doesn’t move smoothly or that jumps randomly all over the screen. Sharon’s mouse does this and I don’t think it ever occurred to her to do something about it, especially since mice are a dime a dozen. I’m going to bring an extra mouse that I have at home and try it, and if there’s a problem with the driver I’ll try and fix that, too. I think this is another example of the passivity that is on exhibit when people use computers. In this case, you have someone who doesn’t take any foolishness from any of the students in the building and yet accepts a bad mouse.

Second Service Learning Visit

October 18, 2007

I had my second service learning visit with Sharon Smith at Frick International Studies Academy last Friday. It went pretty well, though I didn’t feel like we got as much done as on the first visit. One thing I have learned about Sharon is that she’s most definitely a disciplinarian. The two times I’ve met with her so far, there have been kids running and screaming in the hall between classes, both of which they’re apparently not supposed to do. She’s then brough a couple kids into her office to talk to them, which is really uncomfortable when I’m still in there! She then proceeds to browbeat the kids. Not to say they don’t deserve it. Far from it. It just dredges up some bad memories from the few times I was on the receiving end of such harangues in school and the numerous times I saw other kids getting chewed out. It’s weird to see her do that and then to have to pick up where we left off. It has made me appreciative that I’m working with her as opposed to the students themselves, because a lot of them seem to have behavior issues.

No meeting with Sharon tomorrow due to some scheduling conflicts, so I’ll update this again in a couple of weeks.

First Visit

October 5, 2007

I had my first meeting with Sharon Smith today over at Frick Middle School in Oakland today. It went well, and we got a good amount of stuff done. The next visit will take a good bit of preparation, as she’s looking to get my thoughts on what middle schoolers and their teachers should learn about the Internet and ICT. That’s a tough question to answer. For example, I think evaluating websites and content is an important skill to have. However, how do I articulate how evaluation should be done? I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t even think about it any more!