Slacktivism with Students

Social media platforms have given users unprecedented access to a world-wide audience, at almost no cost to the user. It has given a voice to those who were previously muzzled. It has brought issues to the attention of people who would not normally know anything about it. Social media has changed how we address justice issues in our world.

With such a strong push for social justice to be taught in our classrooms, we regularly discuss how social media has opened the doors for so many to speak out. We talk about what things must have been like before these tools. We talk about if we would even know anything about these issues if it were for these social justice heroes using social media.

One thing I haven’t talked about with my students yet is slacktivism, a word I’ve had to right click and “add to dictionary” a lot over the last few days.

A recent report from UBC found that if Facebook users click “Like”, they are less likely to make a donation to a charity (LINK). A charity that has clearly caught their attention if they are clicking “Like”. The thought being that your network of friends has seen you’re supportive of a cause is just as useful as donating to the cause.

After the attacks in Paris this past year, Facebook made it even easier to support the cause, by just clicking a button to overlay a flag on your profile picture. You don’t even need to open Photoshop or Paint to do this yourself now. Click. Done. Was there any suggestion of what you can do to help others? Not that I saw. Was almost every Facebook friend covered in a French flag? You bet.

aaanew_facebook_3501243bPhoto: Facebook

I think the problem in a lot of cases is just that we want others to be aware that we are aware. It’s difficult to know how you can contribute to a lot of social justice causes online and there isn’t a lot of information. It’s impossible to engage with all of them. It’s easy to look like you are.

There is a lot of debate about whether or not slacktivism is a good thing. Some find it not just useless, but counterproductive. Others say it is changing the world. Personally, I think both sides make solid points and have challenged me to rethink my interactions with activism online. As a classroom teacher, I’m more interested in how slacktivism is seen by my students. Is it their normal? Are they conscious of it, and changing their behaviour because of it? My students have been around a digital world their entire lives, born right around the time I first use the internet myself.

Do they see “liking” something just as valuable as going out and donating time or volunteering to help a cause? The big questions, the ones I will pose to my own students when we talk social justice and slacktivism next, are:

  • Is clicking Like better than no support at all?
  • Are we so conditioned with all the causes online that we don’t take them all so seriously?
  • Is it even possible to fully engage in all the causes we see?
  • What can we do make our presence online more meaningful?
  • When is it necessary to take activism offline? Or, is it?

These should prove to make for an interesting conversation with my current middle years students.

I think it’s important that we make our students aware that their actions online can impact their world online. It’s easy to click Like, feel good, and move on. I’m guilty of doing so in the past and will probably do it many more times with causes I support. But, now that I’m more aware of slacktivism, I’ll start looking out for opportunities to engage further with the causes – online or offline. I hope to get my students to the same place.

Image from Flickr: Anti Government Protest (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Amazing Pushbullet

If you are anything like me, you are constantly juggling multiple devices throughout your day – phone, tablet, computers. Each one of these devices serves a different purpose and I use them in different situations.

What I have found quite often is that I’m browsing Twitter or reading articles on one device and I realize that I really want to be able to look at it on another device. Or, I find an app for my phone while I’m on my computer or a program for my computer while I’m on my phone.  It never fails that I find myself using the incompatible device when I come across something I’d like to explore more.

Normal the following would happen next: Find the link to what I needed.  Open up my email and paste the link into the email.  Email the link to myself.  Get on my other device. Open up my email and get the link going.  I know this doesn’t sound too complicated or exhausting, but when you do a large number of times in a given day it does get a little old.

Then came Pushbullet to my rescue.  It has been around for a while, but I haven’t realized its true power until recently.  Pushbullet describes itself as:

“mak[ing] your devices work better together by allowing you to move things between them easily.”

It’s so brilliantly simple. All you need is a Google account to log in.  And, it supports almost everything now.  The only device no supported is a Mac computer, but any of the browser extensions will do the trick (I use it in Chrome in my iMac).  Here is a list of compatible devices.

After you set up your devices, all you have to do is share with the app and it will instantly pop up on the device you choose to send it to.  I was astounded with how fast it was.  And, even if you like sending yourself those emails for old times sake, you can add an email address to send whatever you have to it.

Here’s a quick clip that shows how it works


You are not just limited to links either.  Pushbullet can send addresses with maps, files from device to device (a tad bit slower, depending on size), and can even be configured to allow your texts and calls from your phone pop up on your computer, a neat feature which I do not personally use.

Head over to Pushbullet to find the apps for your devices.

“Don’t just consume things, create things” – Hour of Code 2014

I am writing this post a little late, but decided it was worth sharing my experience with the Hour of Code in December. The Hour of Code officially took place during the week of December 8th – 12th.

The entire purpose behind the Hour of Code was to introduce kids to computer programming and address some of the stereotypes associated with computer programming.

When I initially told my students we would be participating in this project, there were a lot of “are you kidding me?” looks on their faces, aside from the few students that were already interested in programming and build games during their Genius Hour projects.  I knew it would be an uphill battle getting my students sold on the idea of coding during class.  I pleaded for them to take a risk, something we’ve been discussing all year, and try to see what they can come up with. No marks, just trying something completely new out.

However, that quickly changed when I told them they could build their own Flappy Bird game or create an app that they could open up on their own phones.  To kick things off I showed them the following video:

This excitement to get going on this was met with some internet issues – a number of applications not opening or just not working.  For a couple of students they were able to use their own phones to access some of the activities.  I even gave up my phone to a couple of students to use too.

Just as I was about to completely lose them, the internet connection pulled through and we were flying!  Until that point in the year, I had not seen such a high level of engagement and interest from every student in my classroom.  This was differentiation and engaging learning at it’s best (for me anyways!).  Students that have a tough time getting excited about anything at school were ecstatically sharing their games and apps with classmates.  Collaboration and the desire to share and work with one another quickly emerged as each student learned something “cool” that they needed to share with everyone, so they could use it.

My hour of code quickly turned into 2 hours of code.  Why would I interfere in such a powerful and interesting learning experience for them?

By exploring this one hour of code in my classroom, I now have students who are making apps instead of Powerpoint presentations for their work – building their own games to play and share, instead of mindlessly playing what they download.  This made me think back to President Obama’s quote during his introductory video to students for the Hour of Code:

Don’t just consume things, create things

I think that’s something we all want in our classrooms. More creating, less consuming.

Luckily, the Hour of Code tutorials and activities are still live and can be used in your classroom tomorrow if you want. There are even activities that can be done without computers and without internet access, if access to those resources is an issue in your school.

I highly recommend trying the Hour of Code with your students – you won’t regret it and your students will be super thankful.  If you do, please let me know how your experience goes!

Image: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by The Prime Minister’s Office

Are We Digital Dummies?

(Image from Flickr)

(Image from Flickr)

Last night, I watch a documentary on CBC’s Doc Zone called “Are We Digital Dummies?“.  The program discusses the  dependence many people have developed on technology, especially Blackberries (but also applies to any other phone or mobile device).  Many people seem to be under the assumption that all these new technologies are increasing their productivity and ultimately improving life.  The documentary investigates this assumption through various interviews and a number of results from research studies.

If you’re interested, you can watch the documentary online for free on’s Video Player here.

As I progressed further and further into the documentary, I began to realize how most of what was being discussed applies directly to myself, and most of my peers.  Just yesterday, my phone stopped receiving text messages (for some unknown reason) one, once I realized what was happening, I almost instantly begin to panic.  What if someone needed to see me?  What if there was an emergency?  What if someone had to ask me a question?  Less than an hour later, I realized how ridiculous I was.  It was only my text messages that weren’t working.  I could still make a phone call if I needed too, which, now that I think about it, I rarely do unless I’m calling home.

How many people actually use their phones to make phone calls?  I’m lucky enough to have a smart phone capable of (too) many things.  I use mine to text, Tweet, play games, check my email and Facebook.  It has become a way to get through a boring lecture, kill time between classes and, I’ve come to realize, a distraction when I need to get something done .

Technology taking over (from Flickr)

Technology taking over (from Flickr)

There have been countless occasions where I have sat at my desk, turned my phone off in an attempt to accomplish homework that needs to be done, usually due the next day.  But if it’s not my phone, it’s Facebook.  If it’s not Facebook, it’s Twitter.  There is always something else I find that distracts me. I have realized that I have essentially lost my ability to concentrate and complete one task by itself. Heck, I’ve checked Facebook at least 4 times, sent probably a dozen text messages, and watched a YouTube video since the time I started writing this blog post only twenty minutes ago.  This non-stop connectedness is stressful and I often feel as if I cannot get away from it.  I want to get my homework done, but my attention span has become so pathetic, it’s near impossible at times, or takes ten times longer than it should.

I remember listening to CBC’s Spark podcast (Episode 120) about a month ago when they dicussed the idea of a “Digital Sabbath”.  The idea behind the digital sabbath is to have one day a week where you do not use technology at all.  When I originally listened to the podcast I thought that it was such a good idea that I was going to try out the next week.  A month has passed, and the closest to doing this was when my cellphone stopped receiving text messages.  I can find any excuse to justify my use of technology: I need it for homework, I need it to find something out from someone… the list goes on and on as I’m sure it does for many people.

I look around in my university classes and the number of students using their cellphones secretly under the desk or using their laptops to “take notes” (using Facebook) and I begin to wonder what I will do in my classroom when that day comes.  Over the past year, I have come to see the great potential of technology in education.  I’ve always been somewhat aware of the potential misuse also, but I have never really thought deeply about it until now.  I had always thought I would allow my students access to their mobile devices during classes, but now i’m not so sure.  I want to teach my students how to use these technologies responsibly and effectively, but I need to learn how to do so myself first. I have some work cut out for me.

I think Jack Grushcow sums it up our use of technology best at the end of the documentary.

It’s a tool. Is a hammer good? It’s good if you build a house with it, it’s bad if you hit somebody over the head with it. It’s a cop out to call it good or evil. It’s each individual making a decision for themselves: Our choice is to use them wisely or to use them poorly.

It’s time we all begin to think about when, where and how often we are connected and using our technology.


Computer Frustrations (from Flickr)

Computer Frustrations (from Flickr)

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has ever had extreme frustrations with technology.  This evening, I was supposed to do a show and tell activity with my ECMP 455 class in Elluminate.  I spent the last few daysday attempting to make my presentation interesting and making the slides appealing, and was even tweaking it until a few minutes before the class began.   I sat through the first few presentations from my classmates, they were very good, one about art and the other about computers.  In Mike’s computer presentation, I added in the I have really liked how Windows 7 (my current operating system) has worked for me.

Then it came time for me to share my presentation.  I went to click the button that would give me the mic to begin my presentation.  Everything freezes up. Uh oh.  Quickly restart, try again. Frozen. Great. I repeated this process for an hour while my class went on without me.  Eventually the time came where everyone else had completed their presentations and my computer still hadn’t started to work.

This was extremely frustrating for myself.  I spent the next hour Googling possible reasons as to why this might have happened.  Everywhere seemed to have the same solutions, which must have worked for others, but not for me.  Eventually I just uninstalled a bunch of programs and reinstalled some.  Ta-da! Just like that, everything started running smoothly again.

This isn’t the first time my computer or a piece of technology has buckled under pressure for me.  It seems that whenever I need it to work, it refuses.

I have great plans to incorporate technology into my teachings and my classroom in the future.  When problems like this occur, it makes me worry somewhat about how using technology in my classroom will go.  What if every time I go to use it, it crashes or doesn’t work as planned?

I don’t have very much experience in a classroom as of right now.  In my field placement for this semester, I am planning to utilize and test out the SmartBoard in the classroom.   I know last semester, I ran into quite a few problems work with Ms. Ionno in my mentorship.  I understand that I will have to have a plan B when I start using it.  I am sure this is why many teachers are so reluctant to embrace and use technology in their classrooms.

How has using technology worked for you?  Any horror stories to share?  How did you handle it?

Three Great Ideas

Last Wednesday, we had three awesome presenters for ECMP 355.  They discussed how they are currently technology in their classrooms and warned us about some of the myths about teaching and technology.  I’m going to share with you one large idea that stuck with me from each of them.  Our presenters were Kathy Cassidy, Clarence Fisher and Darren Kuropatwa.

Students using technology for their work (from Flickr)

Students using technology for their work (from Flickr)

Darren Kurpatwa talked about scribe posts.  He explained how his students create their own textbook through scribe posts.  At the end of every class a certain student is nominated to create the scribe post summarizing the class.  He said that he had no part in creating the scribes, he simply comments on them the next day telling them what he liked about it and what could make it better.  This idea really stuck with me.  Today, in my field placement, I encouraged one student who knew what was going on to tell the other students what he knew.  Within minutes the students who did not understood were well on their way to grasping the concepts.  I would take at least twice as long myself for just a single student.  This really goes to prove how incredible students teaching each other can be.  I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s the social factor, perhaps they understand each other better, who knows.  What I do know, is that this works.  I will definitely be incorporating this concept into my teachings in the future.  I love the idea of the students creating their own text book and making as good and useful as they want it to be.  I really think that this will be a powerful teaching technique, especially when you have access to the resources and technology capable of this kind of work.

Child using iPhone (from Flickr)

Child using iPhone (from Flickr)

Kathy Cassidy discussed how she has been able to incorporate technology into her grade one classroom.  I was really skeptical to think that students that young would be able to use technology effectively enough.  She also discussed and dismissed various myths regarding using technology in education.  The idea that stood out most for me was when she discussed how students need to have a balance of online work and pencil and paper work.  In this day and age, being able to write with a pencil and paper isn’t good enough.  Students will need to be able to type, text, and use video tools in their every day lives.  No doubt paper and pencil skills are essential, but now, more than ever so are these technological skills.  Education should being preparing students for the real world, the world outside of the school.  The real world is no longer limited to pencil and paper.  A student who is able to use these new skills in a productive manner when they graduate school will be one step ahead of his peers who did not get the opportunity to do so.

Students in Papua New Guinea connecting (from Flickr)

Students in Papua New Guinea connecting (from Flickr)

Clarence Fisher talked about his class and how they use blogs.  The idea that he talked about that got me thinking was that we need to give our students a sense of community.  We need them to know that it’s OK to look at other people’s work and to get information from others.  When I was a student, I wasn’t given this luxury.  If my thoughts didn’t come originally from my head it was as if I was cheating.  We weren’t encouraged to build off of each others work.  I can’t imagine how much better some of our projects or papers could have been had we been encouraged to work with one another.  We need our students to not only know about the resources around them, but how to use them.  The best resource they have is not the internet, but people.  The internet has the ability to connect them to people who know things that may be interested in.  Things that teachers may not be informed on.  I will never know everything as a teacher, but I do not want that to hold my students back.  If we, as teachers, can build this sense of community for our students, they will never have limitations on their learning.

I am really glad that our class was able to hear from these teachers.  They’re words of wisdom and ideas will no doubt affect how we teach in the future.   I hope other teachers will be able to get their message in some way as well.