Final reflections on CONT-702

As I wrap up the final module of my summer AQ, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2, I am prompted to reflect on my learning. And what better place than a blog for doing that? 

Module 1: A Vision of 21st Century Learning

Module 1 focused on setting the stage for technology integration by emphasizing the philosophical and pedagogical basis for integration technology in the classroom. For me, this was really valuable, as one of my primary goals in the course was to develop my understanding of what it really means to integrate technology in a meaningful way, and not just as a fun add-on or an excuse to try out new tools (because, let’s face it, I really like trying out new tools!). Using technology can help to shift the classroom environment from the traditional, factory model of churning out clones to one that values innovation, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration. As the technology integration specialist at my school, I have a particularly important responsibility of vetting technology tools before introducing them to my colleagues, and so it is key that I ensure that I have this framework in mind at all times.

The suggestions of my fellow candidates of a couple of specific technologies piqued my interest as well. Anchor FM, a tool for creating and distributing podcasts, got me thinking about how easily podcasting would fit into my Comm Tech curriculum, and further discussions and modules really solidified for me the value of podcasting for developing student skills of communication and critical thinking. 

Module 2: The 21st Century Classroom

Module 2 focused on exploring inquiry-based, flipped, and blended learning. In this module, I was able to solidify my belief that going fully “flipped” in my classroom is not the way to go, but at the same time, I recognized that there are so many more ways of blending learning than simply using screencast videos to teach concepts. The value of blended learning was made more apparent, not just in its ability to support more personalized learning for students, but also in the way it takes advantage of existing resources and tech tools to free up the teacher to do impactful work beyond direct instruction, like providing more feedback and personalized support to students.  

The major assessment for this module was the creation of an inquiry-based lesson plan, and I was so excited to be able to take a couple of loose ideas that had been rolling around my brain for a while and fashion them into a coherent project plan that I will actually be able to use come September. 

Module 3: Instructional Strategies

The third module brought with it two more tasks that had immediately practical implications for the upcoming academic year. I got to explore augmented reality as a new instructional strategy and developed a project for my work with the grade 7 guidance classes next year. I also was tasked with creating a teacher workshop using one of several instructional strategies, and so I was able to create a complete resource for a Tech Breakfast for teachers in the fall, a practice I started this past spring and plan to continue. Two birds, one stone! 

Module 4: Connect!

This was another valuable module that focused on various ways of connecting – to students, to other teachers, to parents, and connecting our students to the wider world. I had two major takeaways from this unit. First, I want to be more proactive with my communication with parents to ensure that positive communication sets the tone for the year. Rather than communicating with parents only when something is going wrong, I want to share good news stories and successes from our class. Second, reflecting on the PLN that I have, between Twitter, blogging, reading blogs, and using Google Hangouts, I realized what a huge impact that my PLN has on my professional learning on a daily basis. I feel gratitude for having the opportunity to participate in these forums and learn from others who are far wiser and more experienced than I am. As a result, I want to share my experience with the faculty at my school, so I plan to run a Tech Breakfast all about dipping your toes into the PLN water in order to start taking charge of your own professional development. I got some great feedback from fellow candidates about making sure that this is done in a low-pressure way that is not intimidating.

Module 5: Skills for a Digital Age

Finally, module 5 focused on digital citizenship and 21st century skills. I got to explore new resources to support digital citizenship in the classroom, and I uncovered several ideas (from course readings and other candidates’ posts) for embedding these lessons as a regular part of my Comm Tech class. My work with the grade 7s on digital citizenship as part of their Guidance classes will benefit from the variety of resources, especially those from Common Sense education, that I discovered. 

Final reflection

At the start of this course, I made a commitment to myself not to use any existing projects or activities as a basis for my coursework. Instead, I would create something new for each task, and try to use new-to-me technologies, or tech tools that I wasn’t very comfortable with yet, in order to stretch myself. Although it meant that several of the tasks and assignments took me longer than perhaps they could have, I feel as though upon completion, I now have a whole new set of classroom activities that I can implement next year. Because I’ll be teaching a new course, doing this also helped me to get more familiar with my new curriculum and set up several activities and projects that I will be able to use in my planning. Going beyond what I already knew and did in my class forced me to think creatively and try new things, and I’m grateful for having done that. 

Going forward, I still hope to explore many of the instructional strategies that I didn’t have a chance to explore in depth, and I still feel like I could continue to hone my criteria for selecting and using technology in order to ensure impactful and transformative learning for my students. But I’ve expanded my PLN, engaged in meaningful discussions with my fellow candidates, and used a significant portion of my summer to grow as an educator and renew my commitment to life-long learning. So I would call that a success. Thanks for everything, CONT-702!

My go-to tools for building and maintaining my PLN

I wrote this reflection on the value of PLNs for my AQ course, but my blog seemed like an ideal place to cross-post it given the content.

I already have a fairly well-established PLN, and I can pretty confidently agree with the sentiment found in one of the articles: “Interestingly, many teachers who are active online have remarked that they’ve learned a great deal more from their PLN than from any professional development session they’ve attended.” (Step 1: What is a PLN? Teacher Challenge) That said, much of my PLN has been established and built thanks to in person professional development experiences as well, and my PD experiences have been enriched thanks to the connection with my PLN. 

I have been on Twitter since 2012, though it was not until about 2015 that I started really exploring the possibilities for taking advantage of it for professional learning. I discovered Tweetdeck, which is a service/website that allows you to manage your Twitter feed more effectively, and that made all the difference. With Tweetdeck, rather than just seeing a single stream of all of the accounts that you follow, you can also follow “lists” (groups of people that you or others can curate) or hashtags. This allows you to choose what you see. While looking at Tweetdeck can be overwhelming, for me, I have found that it is the best way to really curate and find that you’re looking for. Twitter in general can be overwhelming, as well. The best advice I ever received about using Twitter is that while it can be a firehose of information, you are free to dip your cup in to collect a bit of water every once in a while. Like many of the articles mentioned, you can spend as much or as little time as you choose to. For me, it is five to fifteen minutes per day. By following the right people, I am able to discover articles, resources, and news that are up to date and relevant to my interests. Participating in or hosting Twitter chats, as well, can open up discussions and get me reflecting personally about my practice. Follow me here.

Tweetdeck can appear overwhelming at first glance but it is actually a really useful tool for sorting tweets by groups or hashtags.

I have also been blogging since the fall of 2015, when I was prompted to start a blog as part of a full-year professional development experience called Cohort 21. It is an integrated experience that basically allows you to work on a particular area of your teaching practice for the full year, with four face-to-face sessions with facilitators, coaches and other participants, while remaining connected throughout the year by blogging, Tweeting, and using Google Hangouts. For me, the main benefit of blogging is that it forces me to be a reflective practitioner. I don’t blog as much as I’d like to, but I love being able to share successful projects or classroom experiences, and I find so much value in reflecting on those activities that didn’t go so well, and hearing from others who have had similar experiences or suggestions for improvement. Obviously, student privacy is a big concern, so I do not post any photos of students or any details about where I work or particulars of my students. I have in the past posted some student work with the students’ and their parents’ permission. You can follow my blog here. 

I also use Feedly to read and follow a large collection of educational blogs. (I have a personal Feedly account, as well, for following non-educational blogs.) Feedly allows me to see all of the unread blog posts in one place, rather than having to visit each site on its own. My only complaint about following a lot of these educational blogs is that many of them have become monetized, and so there are a lot of sponsored posts and self-promotion that I find I have to wade through. I’ve had to start unfollowing some of them for that reason – not enough substance, too much selling.  A couple of my favourites: Seth Godin (not necessarily education-related but he’s got such good stuff!), EdTechTeam, and Cult of Pedagogy.

Google Hangouts is the third of my secret weapons in my PLN. Hangouts lives in my Gmail, which I always have open on my computer. Often when you think of Hangouts, you think of video chatting, for which it is a wonderful tool. However, I am a part of several group chats through Hangouts, which allow a group of people to communicate asynchronously but without having to navigate to a new page in the browser or check in to a different website. In particular, I am part of a Canada-wide educators chat that is one of the most valuable tools that I have. I have had to turn off notifications or else my devices would be pinging constantly as this particular chat is extremely active. But if I have a question – about what tool would be the best for the job, or a troubleshooting question about a particular app or service – I usually get the answer I need within ten minutes. For example, a teacher at my school might ask me if there is an app out there that does x y or z. I post my question to the chat, and the teacher thinks I’m a superhero when I have an answer for them before the end of the day. I am so lucky to be a part of that chat, and I am included because I made personal, in-real-life connections with some of these educators while attending and presenting at professional development conferences. 

Finally, I know that the next frontier for being a connected educator is podcasts. I simply don’t find that I have the right blocks of time to listen to podcasts regularly. (My drive to work is 30 minutes, but a lot of podcasts are longer than that, and I hate having to stop mid-podcast!) However, the one podcast that I do try to stay on top of as much as possible is Cult of Pedagogy. Jennifer Gonzalez does great work and tackles really pertinent topics. 

All of these above tools are my “go to” ways of fitting in professional development wherever I can. Having a PLN is all about a mindset of lifelong learning, and I don’t have to wait for the budget to allow me to attend a massive national conference in order to learn something new, nearly every day. I can’t say enough about the benefits of developing a PLN like this. 

One last thing that really resonated with me from the readings was this quote: 

“Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what , and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.” (Tom Whitby, The Connected Educator Culture)

I can certainly attest to this, as it seems like many of my colleagues just close their ears when I start talking about using Twitter. Does anyone have any tips or ideas for not coming across as overwhelming or preachy when trying to get colleagues to start exploring some of these PLN tools??

iPads vs. Laptops: the Showdown

N.B: I am currently enrolled in (and neck-deep in course content for) a summer AQ course on “Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2” and decided to post one of my assignments as a blog post. I’d love for my Cohort 21 community to weigh in on the discussion and fill me in on any arguments I may have missed! 

Inspired by a previous discussion in this course about the merits and drawbacks of iPads vs. laptops in the classroom, I chose to explore a series of articles that discussed this very topic. 

Here are the links to the articles I read:

For the love of laptops: As learning tools, tablets don’t cut it by Gary Stager, 2013

Day of the tablet: In classrooms, it’s the right tool for the job by Dan Brenner, 2013

IPads for College Classrooms: Not so fast, some professors say  by Ben Weider, 2011

The iPad in Education: Uses, benefits and challenges by Thierry Karsenti and Aurelien Fievez, 2013

My essential question that guided my inquiry into this topic was “Are iPads or laptop computers a better choice as a learning tool in classrooms?”

Interestingly, on, not one article that I could find on 1-to-1 computing was published after 2014. This leads me to believe that this site has not been continuously updated, as I am confident that there are many, many articles and research summaries out there that have more up-to-date information. Because of this, several of the arguments made in the articles, especially those that argued against iPads as a learning tool, were outdated and no longer relevant. Here are my summaries: 

For the love of laptops: As learning tools, tablets don’t cut it by Gary Stager, 2013

This article argues that laptops are the best choice for learning in schools. The author begins by talking about how he has been providing professional development for schools implementing laptop programs for many years now, and how the adoption of the laptop in schools “embodied a school’s commitment to realizing the dreams of John Dewey, Seymour Papert, and John Holt: to embrace learning-by-doing anytime, anyplace, unencumbered by the traditional curriculum or bell schedule.” Herein lies my first concern with this article. This seems a very overly optimistic understanding of the actual impact of the use of laptops in schools. While yes, laptops in schools provide teachers with the opportunity to do new things in their classes, the examples of where schools have radically transformed their entire structure and pedagogy thanks to the possibilities of laptops are few and far between. I can think of a few examples – High Tech High comes to mind, for instance – but I would say that as a general rule, so far, technology use in schools has been less than transformative of the overall structure of schools. 

However, the author redeems himself somewhat when he states that his “work has been guided by a desire to help kids learn and do in ways and in knowledge domains that were otherwise inaccessible. Computing, the act of using a computer to make things—programs, novels, art, video, robots—is the game changer.” I appreciate that he recognizes that transformation is possible in the things we ask students to do, thanks to technology, because that, to me, has always been the end goal of technology integration.

The author’s principal arguments against the iPad are these: 

  • “The iPad can’t do the things I most value in a computer for learners” such as the creation of executable files, programming, robotics, and filmmaking. 
    • I would argue that most of this represents an outdated argument that does not take into account the many new apps and tools available on an iPad for filmmaking (iMovie, Adobe Clip) or programming and robotics (Scratch, Dash & Dot, etc.)
  • “The iPad is a consumption device” suitable mainly for consuming videos, e-textbooks (which “reinforces a quaint view of education that transfers agency from learners to publishers”)
    • Again, this is no longer the case as the number of apps available for creation of content continue to grow.
  • “The iPad provides an illusion of modernity with no real challenge to the nature of schooling” and is a “tool of compliance, not empowerment.”

Day of the tablet: In classrooms, it’s the right tool for the job by Dan Brenner, 2013

This article represents the opposing viewpoint to that of Gary Stager. Brenner argues that given the demands of schooling and student needs, the iPad is the ideal tool for the job. He ensures that he is clear in his assessment that there is a time and a place for laptops (for example, he mentioned that he typed this article on his laptop, not his tablet), but that iPads check all the right boxes for use in schools including portability, creation and production of work, communication between teachers and students, and going paperless. 

The portability of iPads, as compared to laptops, is Brenner’s first arguments. It’s hard to disagree with this. The battery life, size, and weight, especially for the price (when compared to similarly sized and weighted laptops) are difficult to match. Score one for the iPad!

One of my own primary arguments against the iPad, and one that came up in the iPads for College Classrooms article as well, is the fact that typing on an iPad is not ideal. For writing an essay, taking down notes, or doing any length of written communication, iPads are frustrating. However, the author pre-empts this argument by indicating that during the iPad pilot project he is discussing, students were provided with keyboard iPad cases. This, I think is a good thing. Without a keyboard, an iPad is nearly impossible to do any writing on. 

The ability to go paperless in the classroom, with iPads facilitating both teacher-student and student-to-student communication, is another good argument. In the pilot project he is discussing, all student work is submitted digitally, assesses it, and returns it digitally, cutting down on paper clutter and the possibility of misplacing work. Again, this is a valid argument, though I would also argue that this is more than possible with the use of laptops as well. 

Finally, Brenner argues that iPads provide the tools to allow students and teachers to be “researchers, questioners, creators of ideas, and producers of innovative thought and knowledge.” In particular, he talks about iBooks Author, iMovie, and iTunesU as particularly useful tools for teachers and students to create content. IMovie came up as an important tool in our discussion in this course as well. The ability to use the camera and immediately edit clips into a professional-looking movie, without all of the barriers to entry of a high-end editing suite, is a real plus. 

Summary and conclusion

I am not going to summarize the other two articles but simply reference some of their arguments in my conclusion.

First of all, all of the articles that I read were too outdated to be of much value, in my opinion. Many of the arguments against iPads included data that was no longer true. In particular, the iPads for College Classrooms article argued that since iPads require slow finger-typing, they make written coursework difficult. However, that argument is rendered moot if students have access to Bluetooth keyboards connected to their iPads. Similarly, the same article continues that the “finger-based tablets are passive devices that have limited use in higher education”, since professors and students cannot use them to easily annotate resources. Again, with the advent of the Apple Pencil, this argument is no longer based in reality and does not apply. With the advances in technology and the addition of new apps and accessories, iPads can take a strong advantage.

Advantage: iPAD 


IPads have always had the advantage over traditional laptops due to their portability, weight, and cost relative to similar-sized laptops. However, to really make an iPad as useful as a learning tool as possible, an Apple Pencil and a bluetooth keyboard are almost indispensible. The addition of these accessories does two things: they add to the overall weight and take away from the portability of iPads, and they add to the total cost. (A single Apple Pencil alone is worth $115!) 

Secondly, none of the articles were written recently enough to take into consideration the development of a new type of laptop – the netbook – such as Chromebooks, whose cost is considerably cheaper than an iPad, and whose portability is just about on par. 

Advantage: NONE 


Another argument that should be made in favour of Chromebooks (I’m moving away from laptops now, as my experience is almost entirely limited to Chromebooks in the classroom rather than traditional laptops) is that they are ideal for a school setting because of the ease of managing and updating them. Updates can be completed remotely and services can be added or removed at the click of a button from the administrator’s console. 

Adding and removing apps from an iPad, and updating the iOS, is a different story, and I have the emotional scars to prove it. Every time there was an update, or a teacher wanted another app added to the iPad, each device had to be physically handled on an individual basis to do the updates. Not ideal when we’re thinking about the manpower and time required to do this. (If there is a management system available that I am unaware of, then please do let me know!)

Advantage: CHROMEBOOK 


IPads are intended as a personal device. If every student has their own iPad, then this argument is moot. However, at my school, iPads are a shared device. We have carts with iPads on them that must serve multiple classes at multiple grade levels. The difficulties encountered with this are numerous. Students are constantly leaving an account signed in that causes conflicts with another student’s account. Students have to worry that a work in progress might not be there the next time they go to work on it. 

Chromebooks, on the other hand, are designed to be shared devices and they eliminate the conflicts that occur when a student forgets to log off. A student’s preferred Chrome browser setup automatically appears when they log on, and all traces of that student are removed when they turn off the device. This is a huge win for Chromebooks for me. 

Advantage: CHROMEBOOK 


The sheer number of apps available for iPads is staggering (and sometimes overwhelming!). Chromebooks have traditionally been limited to apps that can run on a browser, but more and more software companies are developing Chromebook friendly versions of apps. For instance, a couple of years ago, you would be hard pressed to find a browser-friendly video editing tool. Now there are several. 

Advantage: NONE 


While many Chromebooks now have reversible cameras, I have yet to encounter a Chromebook that is as easy to use as a video camera as an iPad. For quick content creation, using sophisticated apps, the iPad wins in this department. Additionally, there is no version available for Chromebooks of the highly technical Creative Cloud software by Adobe, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Premiere Pro. There are iPad, apps, however, which, although limited in their scope, can provide a starting point for this software suite. 

Advantage: iPAD 


An iPad, by its nature, is a touch screen environment. Chromebooks are not, which can add accessibility issues, especially for young students not accustomed to using a mouse or trackpad. However, more Chromebooks are being developed that have touch screen capabilities, which could lead to the Chromebook catching up in this department. 

Advantage: iPAD 

So with that, you’ve heard all the arguments. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Leave me a comment to let me know where you stand! 

Oh, and full disclosure from me: I wrote this blog post on my desktop computer, with my Apple Pencil-annotated articles open in OneNote on my iPad beside me. I created the illustrations below (my terrible first attempt at sketchnoting that left me with a terribly kinked neck!) using Adobe Draw on my iPad.

For me, the clear winner would be a combination of both, as I truly believe that both the iPad and the laptop have their place in different situations.