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Teen Social Media Use, Addiction, & Education

This article, “13 right now” by Jessica Contrera came across my twitter feed via Fran Siracusa with the message, “This topic deserves a chat discussion.” It’s one of a few posts I’ve seen published by the Washington Post in their “Screen Age” series and captures the nuances of a 13-year old, Katherine Pommerening and her life online.

It definitely deserves more than a chat discussion as there are so many different layers and issues addressed about which ongoing conversations at the school level with teachers, at the District level, and with parents are necessary.  I may need a series of  blog-posts to work through it all.

Consider this paragraph written about 13 year-old Katherine:

She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.

It infers that teens today are “addicted” to technology and social media which is a common narrative.  In my recent talk to a group of K-5 parents in Mississauga, I was surprised by how many of their questions were around how much time is too much time online and what to do about their child’s “addiction” to technology.

This also touches on the idea that kids have few opportunities to sit and stare at a blank wall thinking about what they can do, because there is a whole world of stuff to do through their cellphones.   Think about a typical routine car ride: in the twelve minutes that Katherine is in the car with her father, there might have been some light banter but mostly silence.  Once upon a time, that silence would have been taken up with staring out the window, thinking about a variety of things.  Now, it can be taken up with reading, writing (texting), and connecting to others.   Adults see this outwardly as an addiction; as a bad thing.

But is it really?

When I talk to (or more aptly get grumpy with ) my own 13-year old about sitting on the couch and checking her feeds her response to me is:  But we aren’t doing anything. You could argue (as Katherine’s dad states in the article) that when we were young, we would be forced to go and do something–playing outside, playing a game, riding a bike, etc… But truthfully she does go out and engage face to face with friends. If we are having dinner, walking the dog, swimming, when she is horseback riding, etc… she is fully engaged and doesn’t have her phone.   To fill up her time, she’d prefer flip through her phone rather than watch t.v.  And truthfully, I have to admit that as a child who has always been a non-reader, she is reading much more on the Snapchat Discover feature than she has ever spent reading a physical book or magazine.  So this isn’t a bad thing either.

Is it addiction?


But are kids “addicted”?  And if so are they addicted to social media or are they addicted to being with her friends?

Cecilie Andreassen of the University of Bergen,  Norway who studied Facebook addiction, found addiction occurred more regularly among younger users than older users. She also identified that people who are anxious and socially insecure use social media more than others, possibly because those who suffer from social anxiety find it easier to communicate via social media than face to face. (Harvey, 2014, pg 1).  I haven’t been a teen for a long time, but there is no doubt that adolescence is the most significant time of social angst in one’s life!

In  “The Invisible Addiction: Cellphone Activities and Addiction among Male and Female College Students,” a study based the online survey responses of 164 college students,  found that approximately 60 percent of college students admit they may be addicted to their cell phone” (Baylor, 2014).

Yet scholars actually can’t agree as to whether or not the social media platform itself that is “addictive” or the functionality of the tool and what it does for the user.  The reality is that “[e]xcessive usage of social media is only beginning to be examined in a modern, media -laden world as a possible psychiatric disorder” (Harvey, 2014, pg 4) as the cultural adoption of these platforms are increasing so dramatically.

danah boyd, in her book, “It’s Complicated: The Networked life of teens is critical of associating the word “addiction” with teen’s engagement with social media. She states, “[t]he overarching media narrative is that teens lack the capacity maintain healthy relationships with social media.  It depicts passionate engagement with technology as an illness that society must address.  It is easier for adults to blame technology for undesirable outcomes than to consider other social, cultural, and personal factors that may be at play” (boyd, 2014, pg 79).  So in the example of parenting or education what are such factors that might be at play?

Cellphone/Social Media dependence the classroom

I have spoken to educators who are so frustrated because even with clear boundaries established in the classroom, teenagers cannot help but check their notifications as they pop up. The addiction narrative is intermingled with the distraction one.  Kids are constantly checking their phones, so we ban them as a common response.  There are so many NO CELLPHONE signs that still adorn school and classroom doors.

And then I read a chapter on Education and Flow, by  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi  which speaks to the theory of “flow”  (a pyschological state whereby you are so involved in an activity that you lose track of time or anything else) and started to think about flow and cellphone distraction and/or dependence.

In one of his studies, Csikszentmihalyi  gives teachers and students a pager.  When the pager goes off, both record exactly what they are doing and thinking at the time.  Take a look at the difference of the teacher response vs the student response:

Flow and Teaching

His conclusion is that the kids didn’t engage with the content in a way that the teacher did. He further goes on to say, “…people will seek out flow anyway. If they can’t find it in school, they will find it somewhere else. (pg 140)”

Today, I would argue that the “somewhere else” is the cell phone  where kids have a whole world of connections and entertainment in their pocket.

In the Baylor university study mentioned above, one college student said, “Cellphones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms” (Baylor, 2014).  This is a very harsh assessment but one that may give us pause to think about the extent to which our classrooms are places where learning comes alive for students and where they are involved?

My wonderings:

Are students less likely to continually check their cellphones if they are engaged in student-centered, inquiry driven classrooms?

Does teaching and learning which involves cell phones reduce the likelihood of students checking their phones for non-school related tasks?

Is it far better to have cellphones on desks and have conversations about dependence and self-regulation than it does to ban them completely (only to have students sneak them in their desks, take frequent bathroom breaks, and other potential behavioural responses)?

Is teaching self-regulation when it comes to technology use as important as any of the 6 Cs?

Despite the most engaging and interactive classrooms and reflective practices, are students still engaging in problematic behaviours when it comes to using their cellphones/social media excessively?  What are some effective ways to deal with this?

Would love to hear your thoughts and strategies!



Baylor university; cellphone addiction ‘an increasingly realistic possibility,’ baylor study finds. (2014). NewsRx Health & Science, , 60. Retrieved from

boyd, danah (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale
University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Applications of flow in human development and education : The collected works of mihaly csikszentmihalyi (1;2014; ed.). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9094-9

Harvey, K. (2014). Addiction, social media. InEncyclopedia of social media and politics (Vol. 3, pp. 18-19). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781452244723.n5

Thanks for your leadership and support!

I wonder how many people have misconceptions about what value people at  the “Board” or “District” bring to the system?  What do they do all day? Do they have any idea about the challenges in the classroom?  There is a movement for teacher-directed schools–why not extend that to the District level?   Teachers in classrooms are awesome and do amazing work for students, but I just want to take a moment to recognize the good work of Central staff and highlight their awesomeness!

Connecting the dots

There are definite benefits to being in a central position when it comes to professional learning and time.  In my role I have been able to dialogue about assessment, inquiry-based learning, technology-enabled learning, etc…in ways that classroom teachers often cannot.  I have attended workshops and conferences.  BUT, then what is significant is that this learning is shared.  Whether I am in a workroom, at a conference, on Twitter, or on Voxer, I am talking and listening to other Central staff who are constantly researching, iterating, reflecting, and trying new things.    District level central staff help connect the dots, make sense of all the policies, and create interactive learning opportunities for teachers who do not have the time to do this.

The power of “Co”

I love this expression by my colleague and friend, Lori Lisi.  When resource staff (regardless of their title) co-plan, co-teach, and co-debrief you have a learning partner: a critical friend.  And not one who has the answers, but someone who is on the journey with you, with whom you can try out something new, reflect on the impact it made, and then try again.  Sometimes, it only takes a minor tweak to get from good to great and an outside perspective can help.  And being in a classroom, means that theory and practice can come together in a way that makes an impact on student learning.

Beyond Resources

I had the privilege of chatting with Dean Shareski the other day and the conversation led to what he did as a Digital Learning Consultant prior to his role as Community Manager at Discovery Canada and how the value of the role is the human touch.  Just as technology cannot replace a good teacher, the value of having a human being that is a resource teacher cannot be underestimated.  Sure I can google a lesson plan and make it work well, but having a knowledgeable and passionate educator along with you on the journey, whose sole role is to support you cannot be compared to anything else.  As Dean so aptly put it, a person at the central level is the ultimate connector–they can offer a connection, a personalized suggestion or resource that is relevant to you at the moment when you need it.  You can’t get that from Google.

To all the Program Resource Teachers, Student Work Study Teachers, Teachers on Special Assignment, Digital Learning Resource Teachers, Consultants, whatever you are called…


For your leadership and facilitation.

For your tireless efforts to make learning visible for staff and students.

For your perpetual reading, reflecting, and dialogue about what is best for kids.

For being there at the right time to offer the right support to the person who needs it at that moment.

You are truly amazing!

If Everything is Social Media to teens…

I just read this excellent post by Carl Hooker, The Truth About Teens: Everything is Social Media, shared by George Couros. Hooker speaks about his experiences working with a group of students and the questions he asked them about their social media uses and habits.  You really should read the full post; the activities and responses are awesome!

A couple of the questions really resonates. One was whether or not they believed a deleted photo really disappeared and the other was about which apps kids were using including ones which parents should beware of.  I love the honesty of the kids.

What I found interesting:

-KiK was listed as a messaging tool in this list by the students, but not placed in the “beware” category.  This app has come under scrutiny for cyberbullying (Check out this CNN article) and when I hosted a panel of adults and teens, Tinder also came up as an app to be aware of.

-YikYak was listed (as perhaps it should be), and yet, as I learned from experience, that this is complicated.

One of the main conclusions that came out was that students are using platforms that would not necessarily be considered social media and using them to communicate with one another in similar ways to how they are using social media.

Obviously there are no right or wrong answers and each school community will have different experiences from which to draw their opinions.  It is however clear that there are a whole host of social media sites that can be used for nefarious reasons.  It’s not about the tool, but the user of the tool.  I can use YikYak (as my daughter does) to post silly puns about her day, or I can use it to demean someone annonymously.  I can use Twitter to promote awareness about an organization or an important cause, or I can use it to subtext and demoralize someone. And I can use Youtube to do the same thing.

Any social media tool can be used negatively or positively

And, if indeed teens use many spaces in the same way as they use social media, then is it really effective for us to spend so much time fear-mongering in schools about how bad social media is?  We arbitrarily block sites– I say arbitrarily because the list Hooker generated yielded some apps neither he nor I have heard of, so an IT Dept would not know to block it.  Shouldn’t we instead, be spending more of that time teaching kids how to communicate effectively online and in some of these spaces?

This is on my mind especially because of the events of the other day.  I tweeted out the link to a hashtag that kids had created for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy test. #osslt2016  My daughter and I got a real kick out of the very clever posts by students who had just written the test.  Even EQAO (the governing body overseeing the test) responded light-heartedly:

Then a friend of mine pointed out that there was an extremely inappropriate post in the feed. When I looked, I was mortified. Instinctively, I deleted my tweet and reported the tweet as offensive.  This student basically likened writing the test to wanting to be a suicide bomber and included a photo!

Then I took a closer look.  This was just a grade 10 kid trying to be funny and not really understanding the impact.  I looked at his Facebook page (easy enough to find) and realized from the very innocent profile and posts that he had just made a vast error in judgement.

I instinctively contacted him via Twitter.  It could have gone one of two ways: he could have responded maliciously, or he could have realized his error.  Here is how the exchange went:

Me: This is never ever appropriate. Nor is it funny.  And this tweet can come back to haunt you when you are looking for a job.

Student: (Liked, Retweeted) Thx

Me: You are welcome. Delete it and hopefully no one will see it for now. Good luck!

Student: Kk (Deleted the tweet)

If I wasn’t in this space, I would not have been able to help this student.

This experience has reaffirmed my conviction that we need to spend more time focusing on using social media in positive ways.  When we talk about social media, we can’t always use the fear narrative; but we need to be in these spaces to help students navigate the tricky waters!

Carl Hooker’s post and my own experience have me wondering:

Do we use Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…in our teaching and learning ? Or are we blocking them and having kids communicate in these spaces on their own?

Do we talk to students about apps that worry them and brainstorm ways to turn possible negative experiences into positives?

Do we explicitly teach students how to comment effectively online, in a variety of places? Give them strategies to respond (or not respond) to inappropriate comments?  Give them challenges to respond positively to change the trajectory of negative posts?

Do we allow our students to comment on the Youtube videos they watch in class or do we just share the link ?   Or do we block Youtube altogether?

Do we help students in school develop an online presence so that when they are “googled” they have positives that outweigh some of the gaps in judgement?

We need to focus on Digital Citizenship AND Digital Leadership in school simultaneously.


Innovative Change: FETC Executive Leadership Summit 2016

Last week I had the privilege of attending an Executive Leadership Summit organized by Jennifer Womble and hosted by Tom Murray and Eric Sheninger, along with George Couros who played an integral role in the learning over the two days.   The summit itself is an invitation-only event which occurs prior to the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida.  It is designed to bring thought leaders from across the US and other countries together to talk Education: this year’s theme: Innovating Education for the Future.  Because I was accepted to the summit and subsequently to the conference, I chose to take a personal leave to attend;  I’m certainly glad I did.

As is the case with connected learning today, many people from my District and province (Ontario) followed the #fetcexe hashtag to learn virtually which I highly recommend you do even now!  My reflection here represents a consolidation of the big ideas and my own learning from this incredible event.


Building a Culture of Innovation–George Couros

Big idea: Everything you need to innovate and transform learning can be found in your own District, you just need to tap into it.

To me, an effective keynote is one that inspires, entertains, but ultimately is thought-provoking and challenges thinking.  Despite having seen Couros speak several times (he spent time at our District last Spring), he never fails to make me laugh, cry,  and push my thinking. He expertly weaves his own experiences while sharing examples of innovation and transformation which he sees in his work with schools.  The first day, George set up the “why” with his keynote on Building a Culture of Innovation and then on the second day, he set up the “how” very effectively by having us engage in guided conversation based on some his prompts & examples. His keynote served as the foundation for many of the conversations and subsequent presentations throughout the summit.

He also had us engage in an activity around competitive collaboration which I am totally stealing and using in my next Professional learning session!

Couros had me thinking about:

  • a few of the ways we can make the good work happening in pockets in our District go viral
  • the dramatic impact on actions and decisions at every level that would happen if everything we did began with student learning at the centre
  • how technology can be tranformational in the hands of a good teacher
  • ways to build collaboration and connections within our organization
  • how the 8 things to look for in today’s classroom can provide a user-friendly framework for innovative change

Here is a copy of the guiding questions  with accompanying resources he provided which will serve useful for our own conversations back home in the coming weeks and months.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.36.30 PM

Reimagining Learning Spaces–Pam Moran and Ira Socol

Big Idea: Do you change the learning experience or the learning space first?  Like the chicken & the egg:  Does it matter if you end up with a chicken?  

Pam Moran, Superintendent and Ira Socal, Director for Innovation & Ed Technology, Albemarle County PS spoke about Creating an Innovative School Culture by focusing on these elements: Invention (curiosities questions ideas that fuel creative rapid prototyping),  Innovation (scaling creativity as prototypes across the system), Strategic (moving creativity into systems-thinking), and Operational (embedding creative solutions into expected practice).

They used a YELP framework:


Get to YES

Engage Team  

Leverage Resources  


From transforming distinctive offices for Central Staff, to reimagining libraries and hallways, Albermarle believe that different spaces for learners can be transformative for learning.  They even built a Treehouse in the Cafeteria!  Most of us agreed that having a Superintendent as open to the diverse ideas posed by students is remarkable and goes a long way towards making change.  Their presentation can be found here.

Leading Change with Less–Dwight Carter

Big Idea: Instead of doing something brand new, do something better.–Rastor Joel Kovacs

Carter focused a great deal on the ways in which relationships impact his role as principal, a nice complement to the ideas posed by Couros earlier in the day.  He says, “You can’t grow them until you know them.”  His talk focused primarily on How to Lead Change with Less:

  • Be Compassionate-Relationships Matter
  • Communicate Concretely/Succinctly
  • Reexamine Your Vision
  • Think Different (Innovate/Reinvent)
  • Collaborate at all levels

Carter shared  a few of the innovative ideas being implemented at his school including the fact that every senior at his school asks someone to give them their diploma, as well as the fact that the student body is organized into houses (yes, like in Harry Potter) for building community.   His idea that, “the teaching cycle is not complete until students learn,” also really resonated.

IT Panel Discussion

Big Idea:  IT works in the service of student learning

It was awesome to hear IT Directors speak about the fact that they serve learners first! Some of the choices often made by IT Departments don’t necessarily subscribe to that!  Equity of access for students once they go home has always been a concern for me and so I was really interested in hearing about the many partnerships school Districts are making with business and community partners to increase opportunities for access to wifi outside of school.  Here are  some examples.

Future Ready Schools–Tom Murray

Big Idea: Is your school or District Future Ready?

Murray, a champion for the Future Ready movement in the U.S. showcased many examples of how schools are embracing innovative ideas and changing learning environments for kids.  He spoke of the cemetary effect by projecting an image of a cemetery, juxtaposed with a classroom: it was quite eerie.  His presentation showcased some of the innovative ways schools are transforming learning environments for students, including this example from Elizabeth Forward High School.

In particular, I really appreciated learning about the Future Ready Schools initiative and the links to the resources and Framework; an incredible resource for any District in any country.  Check it out here.

Here is a link to all of the resources from the summit.

If you are a leader in your school or District, I urge you to apply to next year’s Executive Leadership Summit @FETC.  If it’s anything like this year’s experience, it will be a great investment of your time.

As for the rest of the FETC conference, I learned lots, but most importantly connected with so many amazing educators; many of whom I’ve known only virtually.  That’s what it’s all about though, isn’t it?


It doesn’t have to be complicated

At 3:59 pm today, I got a Skype video call from Ms. Rose’s grade 5 class from Weatherford, Texas.  A few minutes prior, their teacher, Jacqueline Rose had sent me a Direct Message on Twitter asking me if I was available to Skype with her class.

Her grade 5 students took turns introducing themselves and asked me a question which they had pre-composed in their Social Studies class.  They asked me:

  • what time it was in my time zone
  • what my “state” flower was
  • how big my state was
  • what region I lived in
  • what colour my flag was
  • what the closest ocean to me was
  • what my football team was (which I think was a little bit unfair as they were immediately able to guess after that answer)

Skype with grade 5's

Once they discovered I lived near Toronto, one of the students asked me about the show, Heartland which apparently Texans have to wait for to be released on Netflix.  We talked a little bit about that.

Ms. Rose said the kids loved it.  I thought it was awesome!  It took about 15 minutes in total.  I wasn’t hard-wired. I just accepted the Skype call, but it could have been Facetime or Google Hangouts.

It really isn’t very complicated to connect our students to others in the world.

And it didn’t take very much time.

They practiced searching, questioning, map-reading, and oral communication in a more meaningful way than doing an exercise in a textbook.

So why don’t connect kids more?

Connected Student



Move over Twitter, I kind of love Voxer now

Ok, maybe the title of my post is a bit of a misnomer, for those of you who know me and my Twitter addiction.  I really do love Twitter as a platform for connecting, sharing, and learning.  BUT, I have to say, that Voxer, the walkie-talkie app that seems to have been taken over by the Education world, has become my new favourite affinity space.

James Gee (2004) defines online affinity spaces as “the virtual places where people interact to promote a particular shared interest or common goal…They include a range of different online spaces, such as websites that promote particular kinds of fan fiction writing, online games, social networking sites, knowledge building sites or sites catering to the interests of particular professions or workplaces” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, page 116).

These spaces often develop their own culture as the participants are often from diverse cultures and backgrounds, age groups, and genders (Jones & Hafner, 2012).  Voxer definitely fits the bill.

What is Voxer?

Voxer is literally a walkie-talkie app which allows participants to talk in real time (if people are on line at the same time), send a text, a picture, and now even a video.  Messages, not listened to in real time, are stored on your device and can be listened to when you are in your car, getting ready for your day, or instead of watching re-runs on television.  There is a Pro version that allows you to recall messages and personalize groups, but the free version of the app is available in iOS, Android, and online and has suited me just fine.

Why Voxer?

Voxer really allows for more intimate community building than Twitter, Linkd’in or Facebook.  This is because there are no character limits, but especially because when you hear someone’s voice and intonation as they speak, despite the fact that you’ve never met this person face to face, you feel as if you really know them.  There is also an immediacy to it if a person is online at the same time as you are as you can have a conversation as if you are on the phone.  Not to mention that when you hear a person laugh, cry, or squeal with excitement (all of which my Voxer group has endured from me), you can’t help but feel you know them.

My #Edumatch Voxer group: A mosaic of cultures and Religions

I belong to an Edumatch voxer group created by Sarah Thomas.  One of the most fascinating aspects of this group is its diversity.

During one chat session, we learned that we had the following religious denominations represented: Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Presbyterian.  I’m not sure why the issue of religion had never come up before, but it was really neat to know that despite our very different religious backgrounds, our common interest in education, and meeting the needs of our learners trumped anything else.  Rachel Pierson shared a similar poster to the group which I modified below.

A Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, and a Catholic walked into a coffee shop. They ate and drank and had a good time. It's not a joke. It's what happens when you are not a jerk. (1)

We are also diverse in terms of geography.  At the time of writing, I am the only active educator from Ontario in the group, but we have almost every state in the United States represented, as well as having members from the Philippines, Ghana, and Brazil.  For me it has been fascinating to learn about what teaching and learning looks like from those various perspectives.

How is this Professional Learning?

Voxer as Level 2 EdcampI really only checked out Voxer because I had attended a virtual EdCamp on MIT’s Unhangout platform this summer and Matt Frat told me that Voxer was a Level 2 Edcamp.  This is because, I soon discovered, discussions about technology, teaching practice, assessment, professional learning, etc…happen organically and on a per needs basis.

Our Voxer group has one commonality:  we are all educators.  But because of the range of expertise and grade levels within the group, the knowledge base is incredible.  We are constantly sharing resources and ideas.  We challenge each other’s thinking and we support each other’s “eduwins”.  There have been several times when I have been stuck with a technical issue or needed an opinion about an idea or a tool that would work best for my needs and I’ve gotten a response almost immediately.  Shout out to Christy Cate from Texas, Craig Yen from California, and Justin Schleider from Jersey, who have been in the right time zone when I am in desperate need of assistance on more than one occasion.

But I could literally each of these Edumatch Rockstars  have been cheerleaders, resource sharers, confidants, and advice-givers over the past few months.  I feel as though I have known many of them forever and yet I’ve never met a single one of them in real life.

How to get started

  • Download the app on iOS, Android, or create an account online.  On your phone you will automatically see any contacts who have the app show up on your phone.
  • Twitter seems to be a common conduit for Voxer chats to begin as Voxer groups can act as a continuation of a twitter chat.  You may have seen references to Voxer groups on Twitter without realizing what that meant.
  • Because Voxer groups are closed groups, you need to be invited to a Voxer chat by a current member or if you are really adventurous, you can start your own and invite a few friends with common interests or who teach the same grade.
  • Check out these resource videos created by Justin Schleider on how to use Voxer.
  • Tammy Neil also has some great resources on using Voxer for PD. Her post, Anatomy of a Voxer Chat is helpful, but feel free to check out her website for lots of other great ideas and posts.

Here is a list of the Educational Voxer Groups curated by Sarah Thomas, Karen Corbell, and Heather Gauck which will provide you with ideas about how Voxer is being used by Educators already.  Just contact the group leader if you are interested.


I would say the only drawback to being a part of a Voxer group would be time.  Fostering a community (whether online or offline) takes dedication and time.  Because I feel I know these educators so well, I feel terrible when I don’t check in,  but more than that, I truly miss the camaraderie, the learning, and the support when I’ve been away for a while.  There are, however, only so many hours in a day, so our rule is “no guilt”.  We check in when we can and need to and everyone is welcoming when you do come back after a hiatus.

Other Resources

Voxer, My new summer love! by Valerie Lewis is a great post about Voxer.

Amy Heavin also has a great post, Find your Tribe on developing a PLN using Twitter and Voxer.

Voxer is definitely not for everyone.  And it may not be right for you right now.

What questions or experiences do you have with Voxer? Would love to hear about them.


Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding digital literacies: A practical introduction. London: Routledge.


Assessing non-traditional assignments

There has been much talk in education about removing grades and how grades detract from learning.  The Globe and Mail article, Why some schools are giving letter grades a fail, by Erin Millar explains the discussion well.  In my own experience I have seen a grade (particularly a low grade) hinder learning.

We can have all of the discussions we like, and perhaps at some point things will change, but at this moment in time, an educator in the majority of schools in North America, K-20, has to report achievement of Curriculum expectations using grades in some shape or form. 

Another complication: How can we capture learning that is non-traditional, using traditional methods?  Most of our evaluation techniques might work effectively in an analogue world, but   when we consider the variety of product options for students which are multi-modal, what does the assessment of that learning look like?

Thinking it through

Triangulating Data

In Ontario, the Growing Success Document (2011), has given teachers some flexibility with the idea of triangulation of data.  We arrive at an evaluation by not just evaluating  final products, but by using professional judgement informed by observations (anecdotal notes, checklists, process work), and conversations with students.   Triangulation of Data (1)

(Growing Success, 2010, page 34)

Triangulating data really helps a teacher to assess the process that might go into a multi-modal project which requires a different kind of working and thinking. The problem most teachers have in this regard is how to do I take all of those observations and conversations and actually get a mark?

Sandra Herbst has an interesting approach to this.  While students are working on an assignment, she closely observes what each student is doing and how that meets a curriculum expectation.  She codes the expectations using the first letter and then takes the most consistent to determine a level/grade.

Sandra Herbst final pic 1Sandra Herbst final pic 2


This is a real shift for some.  It moves the teacher into a position where she can actively engage with students while they are working so as to provide specific descriptive feedback and support to students who need it while paying particular attention to the Curriculum expectations being met in the process.  It may not be plausible to get to every student every day, but certainly it is possible to check in with each student over the course of a few days.  Consider how much more a teacher might learn about her students vs the traditional method where we wait to grade the final product only at the end.

So when I think of a multi-modal product (an infographic, a video, e-literature, an interactive poster, etc…), I may not be able to necessarily evaluate the product, but the thinking (aligned to the Big ideas in the Curriculum), could very well be captured using the triangulation of data.

Metacognition and Reflection

One of the arguments I’ve heard is that students who create multi-modal work can do so with very little thought.  Denise Nielsen in her response to my post, Can we move beyond the literary essay, states:

An infographic, or any creative project (and I use many varieties of digital projects as culminating activities) can absolutely demonstrate the kinds of critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis that demonstrate deeper understanding, and by remixing, students can repurpose information for multiple audiences thus moving to the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. 

Having said that though, I am a mother of high school kids and I know just how easy it is to do a digital or multi-media project without any in-depth learning or knowledge of a subject. The ease of the Internet means a savvy teen can skim the surface of any topic and create something that looks impressive but is superficial and does not demonstrate the deeper learning and critical thought process of a truly engaged learner. I’ve seen it. More than ever, there is no need to read the book or poem or play, or to understand the historical significance of an event. Wikipedia is there to do that. What we need then is a reimagining of assignments.

And I think….to return to the start of this discussion….that starts with the research and the inquiry, involves writing that is ideally both evidence-based and creatively authentic, and only then, armed with the depth of knowledge and understanding, can the infographic, video, podcast, Twitter-broadcast, or presentation be created. 

I agree with this whole-heartedly.  Students engaged in multi-modal creations (e-literature, infographics, films, etc…) need to make thoughtful decisions about structure, format, font, space, colour, etc… If we do not ask students to pause and reflect on the decisions they are making and why they are making them, we lose out on the opportunity for students to think critically about the work they are creating.  Metacognition (thinking about thinking), or Assessment AS learning (in Ontario), therefore can also be an invaluable assessment strategy for multi-modal texts.

Big Ideas in the Curriculum

Rather than being bogged down in the minutia, does a multi-modal product created by a student show that students “demonstrate an understanding of…”  Whenever I see this phrase in a Curriculum document, I realize that though we may have traditionally assessed this expectation using a pen/paper task in the past, there is flexibility in the way that students actually demonstrate an understanding of a big idea in creative and innovative ways.

Heather Theijsmeijer writes an interesting post, Ditching Effectiveness, the Miracle of page 18, about rich tasks and assessment in Ontario which may be also be applied to this discussion.

What about Learning Skills?

I think that we can all agree that learning skills are essential to success.  When I look at 21st century competencies (I use Fullan’s: Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, Citizenship, Character), I see much overlap.  So, can we agree that fostering these skills and competencies through a variety of creative projects is completely worth the time and energy?


I definitely do not have all the answers here; this post is an attempt to work through my ideas about the topic.  What I do know is that if we consider the potential of technology to help students demonstrate their learning in a variety of new and innovative ways, then we need to grapple with how we can allow them this freedom while assessing them fairly.

Would love to hear your feedback and comments!

Is new sexting handbook for teens useful?

Common Sense Media, a resource I use frequently for resources as a parent, learner, and leader, recently released, A Sexting Handbook which is designed to support teens to better understand the risks and facts about sexting.  This is what the overview states:

  • What others have done when faced with the decision to engage in sexting
  • How the technology works and what the actual risks are
  • What steps you can take to gain back some control over a situation that feels out of control
  • Whether your fears of getting into trouble are realistic
  • The impact on your future and what you can do about it
  • How to get support and advice from organizations that are there to help with just this sort of issue

I was interested to read how many kids are actually sexting.  The handbook states:  “A recent study out of the University of New Hampshire [2012] found that less than 16 perfect of teens have created, appeared in, or received a sext” (page 7).  Don’t most adults think that teens are constantly sexting when they are on their phones??

The resource itself combines common sense, facts, cautionary notes, and some guided questions.  When I first read through it, I immediately thought it would be useful to promote conversations in classes or in families about being safe in our connected and digital world.

But, when I showed it to my daughter, she said there was no way she or any of her friends would read it. My thirteen year old did read it but said she was absolutely not sharing it with her friends.  My fifteen year old (after I begged) did show it to a couple of her good friends.


Some of their comments:

“Who talks like that? Nudies??”

“As if we don’t know this stuff”


Their reactions made me wonder whether or not they have (or need) a teen voice on their writing panel.

And yet, this is a very important topic!  in a recent panel discussion hosted by the Bully Free Community Alliance of York Region, Sargeant Phil Moreau from the York Regional Police, when asked about the most prevalent criminal cases regarding teen use of technology, stated that it was “the sharing of inappropriate pictures”.

At home

I am really struggling here.  Sharing it with my kids with the guise of, “why not show it to your friends and give me feedback” was pretty underhanded on my part.  And I can only get away with it because of my role at the District level.  I wonder if my kids did feel pressure to sext, that they would have looked at the handbook a little differently (a big mom sigh of relief).  When they were just hitting puberty, I remember giving my kids the American Girl book, The Care and Keeping of You and not forcing the issue.  Might this be the best approach for this topic and resource as well?

In school

Based on the feedback my daughter and her friends gave me, I might use this in an English class and have students look at the handbook with a critical lens.  What is the purpose of the text? Who is the perceived audience?  Does the handbook succeed in its purpose for its audience?  What would you change so its voice is more authentic? The content is important, how else might this message reach teens?  I can see lots of potential for follow up inquiry and the creation of other artefacts (podcasts, PSA’s, posters, etc…).  I also think it might be worthwhile to have the students contact

Being in the know

The adage, knowledge is power pertains here.  Knowing the handbook exists and reading about some of the guidelines and facts will better equip me to have natural but informed conversations with my teens if and when the need arises.

Download the handbook here:

Would love to hear your feedback and thoughts!

Creativity, Remixing, & the Law

“Remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings. Instead of that being hidden, as to some extent it was previously, this has been foregrounded as a positive thing in the web era” (Belshaw, 2015 pg 54).

The positive impact of this can be seen in this excerpt from George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity.


How do we reconcile the idea of taking the ideas of others and making them our own which can clearly be of great benefit to others with copyright laws that govern the analogue world?

Lawrence Lessig (2005) argues that culture as a whole can be construed as remix. Whenever we comment on, say, a film or a book and discuss it with others, we take the original author’s creativity and remix it in our own lives, using it to extend our own ideas or to produce an evaluation. Lessig explains that “every single act of reading and choosing and criticizing and praising culture is in this sense remix, and it is through this general practice that cultures get made” (n.p.). Remix has not simply emerged with digitization. It has always been a part of any society’s cultural development (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008, pg 22).

Lessig, in his Ted Talk, Laws that Stifle Creativity speaks to this well:

As we incorporate a variety of ways to demonstrate learning using technology, I frequently, get asked,

Is it ok if my students… ?

Some questions I have been asking myself include:

  • What are the legal ramifications of using work that is not your own?  What are the copyright laws governing remixing in education?
  • What is the responsibility of educators when it comes to modelling and teaching ethical ways to remix?
  • What are some resources and tools teachers can use worry-free in their classes?
  • What is the Creative Commons and how can I control how my own work is shared?

To attempt to answer these questions, Tiffany Lee and I modeled  remixing by remixing the helpful resources found below to create an interactive seminar.

The grey slides are ours, the others come from the following presentations with Creative Commons permissions:

Gail Desler’s Google Doc: Can I Use That?  A Guide to Creative Commons

Rodd Lucier’s presentation: Creative Commons: What every educator needs to know 

Jessica Coates Creative Commons in the Classroom

Donna Fry’s blog post: Are teachers taught about Creative Commons?  

Here is the Google Slide with notes.

Feel free to remix it!


Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2008). Digital literacies: Concepts, policies and practices. New York: Peter Lang.

Belshaw, Doug  (2015) The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies.





So many tools!

As we begin a new school year Ontario, I am grateful for the opportunities I have had over the summer to read blogs, engage with other educators on Twitter and Voxer, as well as re-connect with so many friends and family members.  I also learned about a whole new slew of tech tools!

The beginning of the new school year is very much like New Year’s Day.  We look forward to a fresh start and make resolutions.  I often hear teachers speak about the new tools they are going to try in the class this year.  But I am also so keenly aware of the fact that for every tool I learn about or try, there are three others that do a similar thing.  I often feel overwhelmed because I feel like in my role, I need to know the best and greatest tool.

Here is just an example of an exchange that happened on Twitter a short while ago around interactive quiz tools.

We all say, it’s not about the tool, but we get so caught up with them sometimes don’t we?   The best solution of course is to focus on the learning goal and select the tool that most effectively gets the job done–even if that tool is a pen or pencil.  In this case, though, all of the tools mentioned would help students create something to interact with a text, which is the learning goal.

So then, can actual let the selection of the tool become part of the learning? As Dina Moati suggests, it brings in student choice and voice, but I would add that it also allows for critical thinking.  If there are a few tools that do achieve the same goal, why not have the students do the following?

  • have students compare two to three tools and determine which one they would like to use;
  • have students justify their responses and choose what they think is the best tool;
  • reflect on their choices at the end to determine if they made the right decision;
  • review the tool in the app store.

The assessment would look exactly the same as it would be based on the curriculum goals, not the tool used.  What do you think?