I taught for the first time a few months after I’d graduated from university. I had a degree in International Relations and although I had a lot of experience being a student, I’d never stepped foot in an Education class. I learned how to make a learning plan mostly by myself, after my subject area coordinator passed along a copy of the textbook, a sample LP from last year, and a printout of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Even though passing LPs on time was one of my major failings, I like to think that I was able to make respectable ones, especially for someone without a background in education.
When I decided to start getting the 18 Education units I need to qualify for the licensure exam, UPOU was one of my top options. At the time, I had quite an unpredictable work schedule so I felt like distance learning would be better for me, at least while I was still working on that particular project, because it would allow me to work at my own pace. At the end of my first semester, at a point in my life where my work has gotten even more unpredictable, I can’t help but wonder if I made the right decision.
My younger sister will be going to college soon and recently she confided two fears with me. The first is that she would have difficulty fitting in and making friends. It sounds like a very typical worry for a teenager who’s about to enter a brand new chapter in their life, one that would take them away from the world that they’ve known for four (or more!) years, but my sisters’ circumstances are quite atypical. She’s 22 years old and has recently finished her Associate’s in Arts from UPOU, which means that she’s spent the last few years working from behind a screen, with minimal (if any) face-to-face interaction with her peers.
The second fear is that her new school is not accessible enough for her needs. The reason why she was a student of UPOU is because she’s physically disabled, and when she tried to go to a “regular” college the first time five years ago, she was overwhelmed by how inaccessible the school was. There were very few handrails, certain areas were not wheelchair accessible, and it would have been very easy for her to slip in other areas. Although her condition has significantly improved over the past year, she’s still disabled and her reality has made her more aware of how easily people forget the disabled.
The most difficult things about distance learning for me is 1) the fact that it’s very difficult to make time for it when you have a demanding full-time job, and 2) it’s very hard to pay attention to your materials when most of it is online.
It was easy to make time for my modules earlier in the semester; as a learning coach for a teacher training program (ironically, the program is also sort of a distance learning module, where most of my interactions with the teachers took place via chat), I was normally just waiting around for them during the day so I could read the material while waiting. But eventually, my work responsibilities got heavier and my only time to study was at night and on the weekends.
I know it’s common sense at this point but it’s actually really hard to study when you’re tired, especially because the internet can be an endless source of things to zone out to. At the end of my busiest days, I would often set my laptop up in my study area with the best intentions, only to end up scrolling through YouTube no more than 15 minutes later because I was so tired that I no longer wanted to put in the effort to focus.
As a child, my parents had my IQ tested. After discovering that it was quite high, they then bragged about me to their friends, asking me to spell long and complex words, and explain concepts that I’d read about in books that were beyond my reading level. I did well in school for a while but they said it so much that I began to believe that I could coast on my natural intelligence instead of actually studying when the subject matter became more difficult. As a result, my grades began to dip until I dropped out of the honor roll completely. I became an average student — one who got B’s, C’s, and even the occasional D, instead of straight A’s and B’s.
My intelligence is something that I struggle with even now as an adult. When I was a law student, struggling with the demands of the coursework, I would often feel angry — if I was so intelligent, why was I having such a hard time? Failures hit hard; intelligence felt like such an integral part of my identity that experiencing setbacks that would “prove” that I wasn’t as intelligent as I believed made me feel lost, like I had no idea who I was if that was taken away from me.
Going through this module, I feel like Carol Dweck’s TED Talk “The Power of Believing that You Can Improve” made the most impact on me given that background. I eventually want to teach at a high school level, which I think is really a preparatory stage for higher education, both mentally and emotionally. When I was still teaching, I remember students would come up to me in tears, telling me that they were too dumb to comprehend the material, and I was often at a loss as to what to say; obviously they weren’t unintelligent, but I felt like telling them that they weren’t working hard enough was like rubbing salt into an open wound.
The problem with talking about intelligence is that there’s often the implication of you either have it or you don’t. When we talk to our children or our younger siblings or cousins, it’s always “You’re so smart!” instead of acknowledging that intelligence is potential that’s developed through constant use. The idea of “not yet” really struck a chord with me because it implies that even though you’re at this level right now, you can still move forward, and being able to pick yourself up after setbacks is what’s more important when forming our learners’ identities.
I currently work as a Learning Coach, or a teacher trainer for a program developed to improve teachers’ digital literacy, and one of the new things we included in the plenary session is a sort of roleplaying activity, where the teachers in attendance are given student profiles, and my fellow coaches and I act as teachers who integrate digital technology into their lessons to varying degrees of success. The point of the entire exercise is to put the teachers in the shoes of their (very diverse) learners so that they can witness from a different perspective how the common uses of digital technology can be both a bane and a boon to our learners, especially when they’re elementary- or high school-aged.
For less than ideal ways to use digital technology, we had (1) a teacher who showed his students a video and then quizzed them on the content right after, (2) one who allowed his students to Google the answers to his questions, (3) one who used Kahoot! to deliver a straightforward game, (4) and one who tried to get their learners’ attention by using gifs and pop culture references in their slideshow. The activity was positively received by the audience; in the feedback forms we had them answer, many of them confessed to seeing tiny glimpses of themselves in some of the teachers, and they revealed that it had never occurred to them to try and empathize with their learners to see if the way they integrate technology in their practice is really effective.
Although many of the traits we exhibited in the roleplaying activity were exaggerated, I also couldn’t help but recognize flashes of myself in some of the teachers we played. Even though I haven’t taught since 2012, I still remember being so dependent on my PowerPoint slides that when my laptop crashed in the middle of the lesson, I was basically at a loss as to what I should do next.
Module 4 really helped me reflect on my own practice, as someone who started teaching without a background in education; using the TPACK framework, I was able to see that I was basically using technology as a crutch to make up for whatever I lacked pedagogically. I had a good grasp of the content, but I was delivering it in such a way that I was just spouting facts to my learners without really transforming the content, or coming up with activities that challenged them intellectually.
Using digital technology in class is becoming more and more important, especially now that we’re handling learners who can’t remember a time without tech or social media. Some people may feel pressured to integrate tech into their practice but it’s important to remember that it’s not the tech that makes a good teacher but knowing when and how to use the tech. Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with the traditional talk-and-chalk method, so long there are instances where the learners remain at the center of each session.
One thing that I’m looking forward to integrating into my own classes is a sort of modified Blind Kahoot that I used for my own part in the roleplay activity. Instead of using the app as a tool for assessment, I used it as a way to introduce a new topic, using the responses of the class to spark discussion and debate while also building on previous knowledge to see where they’re struggling.
If I had to choose which topic in the course that has really struck me the most, I would have to pick self-efficacy because reflecting on my life thus far, both as a student and as someone navigating adulthood, has made me realize that self-efficacy is something that has had a serious effect on me growing up.