ChatGPT: The Ultimate Learning Companion?

8 May

A few weeks ago, I was asked to substitute for a 12th-grade modern history teacher. I was told that the students were on Unit 4, which covered the causes that led to World War II. With no previous experience in teaching Grade 12 history nor the time to explore and learn all about WWII and its causes, I decided to ask ChatGPT to outline the main causes for me. Minutes later, I was given the list of causes. With that in hand, I prepared lessons and several activities to use with the students that delved deeper into the topic and incorporated the critical and analytical thinking that Grade 12 students ought to be doing. Although I had up until that time thought there was some great potential usage for Chat GPT in teaching and learning, the experience left me not only more confident about taking on less familiar teaching topics but also led to a desire to explore in depth this tool and its potential for teaching and learning.

What is ChatGPT exactly?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot, a conversation-capable technology that uses data from the internet to assimilate human-like conversation, process requests, and formulate answers to inquiries. The GPT stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer,” which refers to how ChatGPT is trained to learn from all the languages it encounters from a wide range of texts available on the internet.

In November of 2022, ChatGPT made its debut. I was teaching online at that time and began hearing from my overseas students about ChatGPT and its popularity with learners. The mixture of reactions to its presence was such that while students marvelled at the ease with which they can now get their questions answered, many instructors were crying out for its ban from education institutions altogether. There were also those who feared it, as the human mind tends to fear all that is new and different, and who didn’t know what this was all about. There were even those who wondered whether we were now all going to be replaced by these virtual encyclopedias. Still, there were some who were curious and wondered how exactly this changes the way we teach and learn and how and where it will affect us the most. Being in the latter category, I began reflecting on how best to integrate this tool into my online teaching sessions and started the conversation with my student-teachers, who joined my online class from all over the globe. The more I spoke to students and played around with ChatGPT, the more I understood its abilities and limitations.

What can ChatGPT do exactly?

Without a doubt, ChatGPT can gather a vast amount of information and eloquently spit it back at us, but lest we forget that the validity and value of that information are as good as the information we make available or train it to absorb, as well as the wording of the inquiry we ask of it. Nothing more, nothing less. Contrary to our innate ability to reason and think creatively and intuitively about the world around us and to use our personal experiences and cultural history to better understand and analyze data, with ChatGPT and artificial intelligence in general, these abilities do not come into play, and without these abilities, information can potentially be void of meaning and value.

Notwithstanding the fact that ChatGPT only has access to information up to 2021, it is important to once again state that ChatGPT does not have the ability to either filter or identify biased content and does not comprehend the true meaning behind words or text. Yes, ChatGPT can understand and generate language in a conversational manner, can help individuals and organizations streamline processes, can save time in mining large databases, and probably can write this blog in a more efficient manner than I can, but can it and will it be able to replace the value of a human teacher?

ChatGPT and Teaching

Playing around with ChatGPT, I could identify a few ways that this tool can add to teaching and learning:

ChatGPT can help automate administrative tasks for educators, such as grading, providing feedback, and answering basic questions. This frees up time for teachers to focus on other tasks, such as student engagement and relationship building.

As an assistive technology, ChatGPT can generate content tailored to a learner’s specific needs and interests. It can also provide an alternative way of interacting with course material for learners with disabilities and other challenges. However, while ChatGPT is capable of providing generic responses based on the inquiry and input it receives, it cannot give students personalized feedback or assessments that take into account the learner’s strengths and weaknesses, cultural background, personal struggles, and history.

For language learning, ChatGPT could also be used as a tool to help students learn a new language with language translation, writing assistance, and even speaking and listening practice. However, it is a known fact that non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, is key to conveying meaning and emotion in an exchange. This cannot be replicated by ChatGPT, which relies solely on text-based interactions.

ChatGPT does not high-five learners.

Last, but not least, the relationships that we build as teachers with our students allow us to understand their unique needs, interests, and motivations. These relationships create a positive and supportive learning environment, which is key to enhancing students’ engagement and achievement. ChatGPT, as an artificial intelligence language model, does not have the capacity to build relationships with humans. Nor can it explain and engage students in complex concepts, provide hands-on activities, or give guidance on moral and ethical issues to help them understand the values and principles that, for example, can lead to world wars. Yes, ChatGPT can provide information on such topics, but it cannot provide the nuanced guidance and support that a teacher can. Although rich in artificial intelligence, it lacks emotional intelligence, which is at the core of all human interaction and relationships. ChatGPT does not know empathy and compassion. It will not care whether a learner fails or succeeds.

Ensuring that the data that ChatGPT references is diverse, representative, accurate, and ethical will ensure the responsible use of ChatGPT. Being aware of its limitations and the potential danger of its misuse are key factors as this tool makes its way into teaching and learning. By fine-tuning that balance of great technology and good teaching skills, we really can make the most out of ChatGPT because our strength and intelligence as human beings lie not only in creating these great tools but in our ability to use them to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Teaching in the Time of COVID

1 Apr

Re-reading my last published post, just when COVID hit schools, it reads outdated and from long ago. Without a doubt, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of educational technology and has placed us on new ground in every facet of our daily lives, setting in motion a new way of living and interacting. In no other field did it have a greater impact on our interactions and ways of doing things than in health and education.

As a traveling international teacher, the pandemic brought me home to a new world of teaching and learning. As I attempted to gain ground in a stumbling and often chaotic environment, I, like almost all teachers and students, had to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning. Since my return to North America, I have taught virtually, in-person, hybrid, one-on-one, and in clusters of 4 and 6 to whole class teaching, ranging from kindergarten to graduate level courses, and switching between Zoom, Google Apps, and Microsoft Teams.

Here’s what teaching in the time of COVID taught me…

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on

My first position was working in an elementary school, where most of the time was spent teaching the art of disinfecting properly a work area or oneself. Significant time was spent on teaching kids how to properly wash their hands, disinfect any and every object they touch, properly wear their masks, and walk on the right side in a straight line while keeping a distance between each other.  

Overnight collaborative learning and teaching were a thing of the past, and students were to remain in their seats do work silently and independently while masked at all times. Playing tag was a no-no, and sharing an eraser became a major offense. Whispering and chatting were frowned upon even during snack time. Here we were, in 2020, proud of the advancement of technology that we have made as a society, reduced to basic hygiene and worksheets.

Schools closed, and schools reopened just to close once again. Teach virtually;  just get online, check in with students, have them move around a bit, provide worksheet practice, and don’t worry if they don’t show. Continue the dance and don’t ask questions. Everyone talked about the lack of engagement and students’ boredom while we bid our time for schools to reopen, thinking that all will be as it was once we are back, face to face. For those teachers who had the training and felt comfortable with the tools available to them, they developed new ways of engaging students, providing feedback, and assessing learning outcomes while learning about new learning management systems, online learning platforms, and video conferencing. We googled our way into looking presentable on platforms and gave it our best shot.

My experience of working from home and attempting to reach all of my learners brought home the awareness of how real and deep the digital divide is, with some of my students not having access to the technology and/or internet connectivity to take part in online learning. Added to that reality was the evidence that those same students were going hungry and lacked proper breakfasts and lunches now that schools were closed. Depression and loneliness were setting in for young people and older ones as social isolation became the norm and social interaction a thing of the past. As much as we wanted to be invested in teaching, and as much as students needed to be invested in their learning, we were all slowly moving away as anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed took hold of us.

Teaching Today …

The pandemic disrupted traditional teaching and learning models, resulting in changes in the way teachers deliver instruction and in the way students engage with the material and with one another. Schools are now back to traditional in-person teaching and learning, but there is a little resemblance to what once was… A shortage of teachers is now the new pandemic. Having either retired or altogether changed professions, the teachers that remained are now faced with a student population that is academically struggling to catch up and lacking in its desire to either collaborate or even converse at length with one another. Students, when given time to play, opt for a tool instead of a pal.

During these struggles, I remain hopeful and insistent as to the abilities of technology to provide personalized learning and to engage learners from all over the globe to learn and collaborate together, and it is with this in mind that I opted to teach online and to explore and experiment with the types of activities and strategies I can use to engage and entice my students to want to learn more and create collaboratively.

In my next blog entry, I will share some of the online challenges I’ve had along with the successes I’ve enjoyed as I worked with teachers and student teachers in different parts of the world wanting to innovate and learn new ways of learning and teaching. As GPTchat is the topic of the hour, I will share some perspectives on its place in teaching and learning in my next blog entry.

Chat GPT and its quote on learning …

“I like to learn about, analyze, and understand complex systems.”

ER Solutions for Online Teaching

3 Mar

Our school, as with many schools in this part of the world, has switched to online teaching amid the coronavirus outbreak. For the past few days, I have witnessed many conversations about the challenges and time required to find simple to implement and easy to use tools to create engaging activities that learners can do with little or no help, particularly in a class of English language learners.

My online teaching experience has been with full time working adults that are pursuing graduate work. I have always loved the challenges that come with online teaching platforms and it is precisely for these reasons that I decided to research online learning communities and their effects on teaching and learning for my doctorate work.

Through my research and online teaching experience, I have found that communication regularly is key to the success of the online experience for both learners and teachers. Communicating with a guardian or a parent of a young learner is vital for the success and ongoing commitment of your student to the online learning platform.  Also, to be effective, online teaching practices must include a healthy mix of group and individual tasks and assignments to enhance the learning experience and nurture a helpful and encouraging online community. In other words, when thinking about online teaching, we need to think of active learning.


Engaging learners, especially second language learners, without the physical presence of a teacher in the learning space, requires that instructors embrace multi-media assignments to ensure that a mix of discussions, collaboration, video, and audio clips are employed.  After all, good teaching practices that we use in physical learning spaces are the same instructional strategies that have been proven to be effective in online environments with the added bonus of the freedom and ability to teach and learn at any time and with anyone around the globe. The key is to design a learning environment where interaction between learners and learners and between faculty and learners is fostered, developed, and supported.

Managing my Google Classroom

GoogleClassroomHow, then, is a teacher who has not previously taught online makes the shift? Most schools today use Google Classroom which is an online platform developed by Google for schools.  The good news is that Google Classroom makes engaging and interactive teaching possible and for those who would like help with getting started or becoming experts in teaching with Google Classroom, there is free online training. Google’s online Teacher Center has many lessons with videos and step by step instructions to help you on your journey to online teaching using Google Apps in Education. Check out this page for training specifically for Google Classroom.

Google Classroom works best with Google Chrome. To personalize your online teaching experience, you can add extensions to Google Chrome. Extensions are small software programs that enable you, the teacher, to tailor Chrome to meet your needs and those of your students. Each extension has one purpose with the goal of making things more convenient and easier to see and use. In this blog entry, I will share with you some easy to use Chrome extensions that will ensure that your online teaching in Google Classroom is collaborative, engaging, and interactive.

rwAs a language teacher, one of my favorite Chrome extensions is Read&Write. Although originally marketed for learners with literacy needs such as dyslexia, the text to speech feature of Read&Write benefits ALL learners. Students can listen to long reading passages, thus improving their listening comprehension and engaging their auditory and visual senses or have directions of an assignment read to them. It can also act as a digital proof-reader and even a bedtime storyteller.

For those reluctant writers whose ideas are often halted by their need to know how to spell words, the Talk&Type feature of Read&Write offers them the opportunity to orally dictate their stories, brainstorm ideas, share notes and comments, or record observations as they are happening.  There is even a highlighter option that can be used to stress keywords, important passages or record voice notes as students read a website.

Read&Write is also a great tool to help develop second language learners’ writing skills. Its word prediction feature offers students suggestions to build sentences based on their current words as they type. It also is great to work collaboratively to write paragraphs on a given topic.  Students can create and listen to voice notes directly inside of their Google Docs as they research and summarize information.

All in all, it is truly a tool that can empower learners to take more responsibility for their learning and apply self-differentiation to achieve their learning goals.

DeckPearPearDeck is another extension that I use. It is an add-on that takes presentation slides and turns them into interactive activities for the learners. Once installed, you can open Google Slides or a PowerPoint presentation and use PearDeck to add questions to each slide. These can be multiple-choice, short answer, or numbered questions. In giving students access to add their contributions and write/draw their responses, they are taking ownership of their learning while giving you, the teacher, an opportunity for formative assessment and/or self and peer assessment. In addition, the ability to share anonymously your students’ responses is a great trigger and incentive for reflection and discussion. Check out some of the examples online.

Engaging students with PearDeck can happen in so many ways. PearDeck has a slide library that has some pre-created activities for the beginning of a lesson (check prior knowledge, ask a question, invite curiosity), during a lesson (summarize key points, assess learning and gauge understanding), or at the end of a lesson (reflect, share what they learned, or retell). You can check out Pear Deck Vocabulary to customize and create an interactive way to do flashcards with your learners which can then be uploaded to Quizlet.


The last extension I would like to share with you today is Insert Learning which transforms websites into interactive lessons. Teachers can add sticky notes, links, videos, discussion questions, multiple-choice questions and more to a webpage of their choice. Another way to create a blended learning online space for your learners.

Extensions can enhance your online teaching experience and turn Google Classroom into a wonderful online community of learners and teachers. There are many extensions online and many more are being created. Why not try one today and see the places it will take you! And don’t forget to stay tuned for my next blog entry when I will share with you other extensions and some Apps that I have been experimenting with that work really well with Google Classroom, and enhance the online teaching and learning experience for you and your learners.

Happy online teaching!

Language Through Legos

11 Dec

Legos are very popular with boys and girls at our elementary school. No matter the grade level, kids love building things. When kids are asked to build collaboratively, they are given opportunities to not only be creative but also to collaborate.  The ability to collaborate with others is one of the most sought-after skills in both education and the workplace. Giving children a fun way to collaborate and create is what I was after when I began experimenting with using Legos for language teaching this past semester. So far, it has proven to be a wonderful way to get my reluctant learners to participate and speak in English.

The first session I met with students, I found myself facing a group of 16 boys and 2 girls from 4 different Grade 1 classes. The first task I assigned was for children to write their names using Lego pieces.

Once the kids completed the task we then sat in a circle and introduced ourselves to one another. To guide the kids, I had the following sentence stem on the board: My name is … Once we had gone around the circle, I then modeled what I wanted the children to do next. I began by saying my name then I introduced the child to my left: My name is _____ and this is _______. By the end of the first session, I knew almost all of the children’s names and so did most of the kids.


I spy with my eye a name that starts with C and has 3 vowels. The name is ?

At our next session, I began by having a mini competition for the kids to write their names as fast as they could using Lego pieces and come to the circle. We then played “I Spy.” After a quick review of the names of the vowels in English, I modeled the activity by choosing a name at random and gave the children two clues to try and find it. The clues were the first letter of the name and the number of vowels it had.

In doing this activity, I noticed that some of my first graders were struggling with beginning sounds and vowels. As a follow up, I gave each child a consonant and their task was to build an object that starts with that consonant. We then sat in a circle and shared our designed object with the group followed by a brainstorm session of other objects that could have been built with the same beginning sound. I decided to wait on working with vowels for another session.

For the third session, the children were asked to make a replica of themselves. We then displayed the replicas and tried to guess which one represented which child. We looked at words we use when describing people and children were expected to use the following sentence stem: I think this is …. because… For example, one of the children had red hair and all the kids guessed which replica was his because the top of the head was red. The girls’ replicas were also easy to identify because they chose a round instead of a square head or they decorated the head.

In January, I am planning to divide the group into 4 smaller groups. Our first activity will consist of assigning each group a season to construct. We will then talk about what are some of the characteristics of each season touching on weather vocabulary and seasonal activities.

Based on the activities I’ve completed thus far, I’ve noticed that these children are quite motivated by timed activities, competition and movement so I’m thinking of dividing the group for the sessions on vowels into 5 groups. I will then have 5 stations with different activities to complete with each vowel sound. Students then rotate around the room and in so doing complete all five activities.

By the end of the semester, I would like to have the students build popular story scenes collaboratively. I will start the session reading a story and then the children will be assigned to three different groups to build the scenarios. One group will be assigned the beginning scene, one the middle of the story, and the last group the ending scenario. Maybe as a follow up, I will ask the children to decide as a group how/what they would like to see as the new ending of the story. We can then compare/contrast our endings.

Using Legos for language teaching has proven to be a success. Not only is it motivating the children to work either independently or cooperatively in a group, it has also given them authentic opportunities to take risks, negotiate, and use English for different purposes. I would definitely encourage teachers at any level to use Legos for language teaching. It does not require a lot of prep time and it is a great way for integrating 21st century skills into language teaching.

Schools Without Borders: Collaborating in the Digital Age

9 Feb

I was inspired to share my presentation with my blog readers after witnessing participants’ enthusiasm about global collaboration following a talk I recently gave at the Just Learning Conference in Jeju, South Korea, on teaching in the digital age.

In addition to sharing some of the global collaborative projects I’ve guided and piloted throughout my teaching career, time was spent:

  • Discussing the steps involved in carrying out projects for global collaboration;
  • Describing and recommending projects that are easy to implement, and
  • Sharing a comprehensive list of resources that includes digital devices and online global organizations.

To gauge participants’ views on the role of global collaboration in teaching, I conducted a survey using Poll Everywhere. Results were compiled in a Word Cloud format with the larger words being the most frequently mentioned ones.


GlobalCollaboratorThese responses confirm that educators know and agree that connection, unity, peace, and diversity are some of the compelling reasons to conduct global collaborative projects in their classrooms. Their responses align with the International Society for Technology in Education’s  (ISTE) Standards, which include global collaboration as one of the essential standards for learners today.

global-collaboratorGlobal collaboration has been part of my teaching practice since the late 90s when I began teaching.  I was an English as a Second Language instructor at a middle school in a small rural suburb of Quebec, Canada.  Technology, at that time, meant a dust-collecting PC in a corner of the classroom, with DOS as its operating system.  There was no internet at the school but there was this abandoned PC and I decided to use it as the motivating tool for my learners, who were reluctant and not excited about learning English.

Using PowerPoint, I had each student prepare a slide about himself/herself.  I then placed these slides on a floppy disk and sent them via snail mail to a colleague who taught English as a Second Language in another region of Quebec.  In return, she sent me her students’ introductions.  Hence my first collaboration. We then had the students write letters to one another and at the end of that academic year, the students met in person. It was so amazing to witness the transformation in my students’ level of motivation and desire to learn English. Providing authentic opportunities to interact with fellow English learners fostered a culture of learning and increased their enthusiasm for studying English.

Global collaboration has been and will always be part of my teaching.  Working across the boundaries of time and location, connecting with teachers and learners from around the globe, and providing opportunities for my learners to interact with peers in other cultures and countries, not only enlivens and fuels learners but also develops their digital citizenship and global competence, much-needed skills for this beautiful interconnected world we call Earth. Needless to say, collaborating globally also enriches my experience as a teacher and as a world citizen.

I invite you to develop your own global collaboration whether you are a novice or an expert collaborator. Happy Collaboration!



Korean Learners Learning English

21 Nov

There are approximately 80 million people worldwide who speak Korean.  The Korean alphabet is called Hangul and consists of 14 simple consonant sounds and 6 simple vowels.  Hangul can be written either vertically or horizontally and capitalization does not exist in Korean writing.

Differences between the Korean and English language make learning English a challenging task for many Korean EAL Learners.  This blog entry will highlight some of the most common challenges that Korean learners are likely to encounter when learning English.  I’m drawing from my own attempts to learn Korean, combined with conversations I’ve had with colleagues and Korean speakers who have embarked on the journey of learning English.

Stress and Intonation

English, unlike Korean, is a stress-based language where context dictates which word is emphasized in a sentence. Stress and intonation create and change the meaning of a word.  For example CON-test vs. con-TEST, or per-MIT vs. PER-mit. Korean, on the other hand, maintains the same stress on every word. This explains the monotonous-sounding English spoken by Korean English learners, particularly in extended pieces of oral language such as presentations.

Challenging Sounds

There are some sounds which are difficult for Korean learners to hear or repeat and are therefore substituted or omitted. Practice and special attention to these sounds would benefit Korean learners. These sounds include:


Think or sink?

The ‘th’ Sound
/θ/ and /ð/ as in there and three do not exist in Korean. The sound /θ/ as in ‘three’ tends to be replaced with a sound closer to /s/ and the sound /ð/ as in ‘there’ is replaced with a sound closer to /d/ making words such as think sound like sink and those sounding like dose.

B vs. P Sound
The b sound is often replaced by a p sound resulting in words such as bees sounding like peas.

V vs. F Sound
Korean learners of English will often substitute the /v/ and /f/ sound with the /b/ and /p/. Berry and few sound like pew, and coffee sounds like copy.

Z, TS, and TZ Sounds
The letter Z will likely sound like a J or a CH sound. This also happens with the TS and TZ sounds, making words such as pizza sound like peaches.

la-la-landThe L Sound
In Korean, the L sound changes based on where it falls in a word. This is why Korean learners will sometimes pronounce the L sound as an R. It is therefore vital to make learners aware that in English, L is L no matter where it falls.


Sheep on a ship

Vowel Sounds
The short /I/ sound as in the word SIT is often pronounced as the long vowel /iy/ sound as in TEEN changing words like grin to green, slip to sleep, and sit to seat.

The words ‘go’, ’no’ and ‘show’ all contain a double vowel sound /əʊ/ (a diphthong). Korean speakers often pronounce these words with a single vowel sound. Practicing these sounds would, therefore, be beneficial for Korean learners.

What is altogether omitted?
In Korean, words must end in vowels or certain consonants, but never with an /S/ sound. This often leads Korean students to add a vowel to English words such as Miss which becomes missy or nice-uh instead of nice, or simply not speak the sound. This is particularly an issue since Korean does not have a plural form for words but uses numbers to indicate plurality. A special attention, therefore, must be given to S in order to give Korean English learners the practice needed to remember to use the S, where needed, and sound the S, when speaking or reading.

Grammatical Differences
There exist three main grammatical differences between Korean and English:

Word Order in a sentence
Whereas in English we tend to have a subject+verb+object structure, as in the boy eats a banana, in Korean, the order is actually: subject+object+verb, or boy banana eat, with the verb placed at the end of the sentence.

Subject and Object Markers
Because Korean has what is referred to as subject and object markers to indicate which is the subject and which is the object in a sentence, the subject is often entirely left out from a sentence when Korean English learners write. Sentences such as banana eat may actually mean the boy eats a banana, the girl eats a banana, they eat bananas, or we eat a banana, etc.

Words such as a/an, and the are not used in the Korean Language and will therefore likely be omitted by Korean learners or placed in places where they are not needed such as “I went to the Seoul last month.”

As teachers of Korean English learners, we can:

  1. Encourage our students to listen and imitate spoken English. Practicing pronunciation, intonation, and voice stress while having the subtitles turned on will help learners in their speaking ability while also increasing their vocabulary and reading skills.
  2. Provide focused practice using minimal pairs as in light-right, file-pile, base-vase, zoo-Sue, czar-jar, pill-peer, bleed-breed, sheep-ship, pool-pull, not-nut, and knot. Saying these out loud and listening for differences would help learners identify and produce the two different sounds.
  3. Partner students with language buddies. This provides them with opportunities to practice out loud, thus giving their vocal chords opportunities to produce those sounds that are not in their native language.

Low-stress activities are a powerful resource when instructing English language learners of any language. Korean learners, like other English language learners, benefit the most when instructors provide ample opportunities to hear and use the target language.  Whether we are using karaoke singing, role playing, watching English shows and commercials, or acting out theatrical skits, learners increase their awareness of the differences between English and Korean sounds by paying close attention to those highlighted sounds in a low-stress environment. This allows for long-term retention and guides learners on their journey as they acquire English as an additional language.



Here’s What Happens When You

22 Mar

unplugfor a Week

After reading a blog entry entitled the world UNPLUGGED, I was inspired to write up a small study of my own to conduct with my students during a service trip I was leading during spring break. After all, we were going to be in the middle of nowhere with no Internet access. I was curious to see whether the experience would be enhanced by the fact that we were going to be unplugged from the rest of the world.


I presented the study to the students who were taking part in the Alternative Service Experience during Spring Break and they all agreed to take part. We were to spend one week volunteering with Eye on the Rainforest, staying at Las Casas de la Selva, in Patillas, Puerto Rico. Using recycled paper, we created journals to write our reflections. Students were to write one entry just before leaving, one in the middle of the week, and one at the end of the trip. At Las Casas de la Selva, we organized the sheds and wood workshop, deconstructed an old roof, and even dug a ditch for a new floor. I was mostly in charge of cleaning and organizing the library. The days were long and the work was strenuous. In the evenings we were all pretty tired but we still managed to find time to reflect and share on our daily activities.

aliadahlanimagebefore leavingon FacebookThe first entry that the participants had to write was about the fears, uncertainties, and misgivings they were having in the face of no Internet access once we arrived to our destination. At the airport in San Juan, upon landing, I reminded the participants to send their last messages and to sign off.

Their comments were not surprising and mirrored my own fears. They were all wondering whether they would feel alienated, lonely, lost without their familiar surroundings, their constant check ins with families and friends, their cherished connections, and their daily routines. They felt that their world without texting and IM-ing would be lost and unbearable. Some feared missing their loved ones and wondered how the week will pass without their one constant, their IPhones.

coquiHowever Las Casa de la Selva was a feast for the eyes and the soul. It is easy to forget about the world when one is in the midst of majestic trees, with the Puerto Rican coquí frogs lulling us into slumber with their songs from dusk through dawn.

During the middle of our stay, after having had time to relax on a beautiful beach and visiting Old San Juan, students’ reflections on being unplugged were so rich and encouraging. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how happy and relieved they felt without the technology. Most expressed comments that said they felt they had more time, lived more mindfully, and felt more connected and alive than ever. When one student admitted she felt so relieved and had not realized how enslaved she was by her IPhone, others echoed in agreement.

Following are some of the comments from their journals

In the beginning…

I will have so many messages when I come back. I am not looking forward to that.

It is going to be very hard to go from Skype-ing my boyfriend every day to no contact at all. 

I am nervous about not being able to get online, mainly because I wouldn’t be “in the loop” of social media…

The last time I was Internet-less and phone – less was… I can’t remember if that ever happened.

Midway into the week…

This isn’t so bad, but I’m sure I’m missing a lot of emails and group messages. 

I feel extremely relieved. I have absolutely no desire to check on social media or communicate with anyone other than my mom and sister.

Who knew how nice it would be to have a free pass to not have to respond to texts messages and emails, given that everyone knows I am in the middle of the rainforest.

When we got to PR I was so caught up in the excitement of being in a new and beautiful place that I forgot all about my phone. I never once wished to get on social media during the trip. I feel as though the experience of being in the rainforest would not have been as great if we did have the internet with us, because we would have been heavily distracted and incapable of fully absorbing the moment.

In the End…

Only 6 notifications popped up on my phone in Charlotte. I do have 80 Facebook notifications and about two dozen emails. It actually isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. 

For some reason, social media has a way of making you think that you need to be keeping up with hundreds of people. We have been conditioned to think that we are missing out if we don’t scroll through a day’s worth of Instagram, Facebook and even Twitter postings every single day, and for some every single hour.

Man, Social media has been exhausting me and I didn’t even know it.

Now that I am back, I noticed that I wasn’t checking social media nearly as much as I was before the trip. When we got to PR I deleted all my social media and I only re-downloaded Snapchat and Instagram once we got back home, leaving behind Facebook and twitter. It feels good to be less attached to my phone now.

If people didn’t have the expectation that I will receive their messages and calls immediately and respond shortly after, I wouldn’t check my phone on a regular basis at all. I think it’s important to live in the moment, and phones greatly hinder our ability to do that.

Constantly being connected to an entire network of people is a lot to deal with and can be stressful. Although there are many benefits to having a smartphone, going on a Digital Sabbath has made me question if they are really worth it.  

Now, I am not nearly as amused by social media as I was before, and have greatly lowered my Internet activity.

Disconnecting from technology even for one day a week has its benefits. It allows us to recharge and refresh. It gives us time to reconnect with nature, to be fully present, and to awaken to our dreams and goals. During this one week Digital Sabbath,the students were given a glimpse of what life is without the constant barrage of emails, texts, calls, and notifications, that buzz and ping us 24 hours a day. Unplugging for one week or for one day shows we are plugged in to what truly matters.

The Zen Path 2 Teaching Presentations

3 Feb

Slide1We live in an age of visual information where graphic content plays a role in every part of life and where approximately sixty five percent of the population is made up of individuals who learn best visually. As teachers, we are made aware and often reminded of that fact. Visuals, we are told, improve comprehension, motivate learners, and invite interactivity. Research supports this assertion. Studies show that one of the easiest ways to ensure that learners store information in their long-term memory is to pair concepts with meaningful images. Using visuals in teaching is therefore fundamental to engaging students in successful learning experiences.

Hence, it is no surprise that presentation software applications such as PowerPoint have become an embedded part of many instructional settings, both online and face-to-face. When used effectively, PowerPoint can be a highly effective tool that aids learning; however, if not used appropriately, it can instead disengage students and actually hinder learning.

This week I will be presenting at the Tech4Teach Fair at Appalachian State University on the subject of presentation tools in instruction where I will outline the advantages of using visuals in teaching and the basic Zen design principles:


When using slides in teaching, it is imperative that you remember that your slides are meant to support your lesson. Using keywords will engage your learners and initiate dialogue. Tell a story, and then support it with a quote, a metaphor, or a simile. Contextualize your teaching concepts and use visuals to support your text. Using powerful images will not only ensure that retention is increased but it can support and illustrate your teaching points.

Zen Design is the simple action of simplifying your presentation in order to capture and communicate what truly matters. It is a principal that can be applied to every aspect of teaching and learning, creating focus and clarity into the life of the learners of today and the teachers of tomorrow.

Check out Zen Design author Garr Reynold’s  blog where you can find presentation tips and a number of resources on the art of Zen Design.

My Educational Philosophy

16 Jan

I wrote my first educational philosophy back in 1996 when I began my teaching career. At that time, I had been reading theorists such as Freire, Dewey, Maslow, Bandura, and Vygotsky, and was immersed in issues about social justice and equality. I had also just returned from volunteer teaching in Central America where I experienced the magic of watching adults in their late 40s read for the first time. As an introduction to my philosophy of education, I used a quote by Paulo Freire from his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It read:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of the world.

My educational philosophy was and is anchored in the belief that all students are capable of learning, that teachers can potentially be the only role models in a student’s life, that tailored learning, enthusiasm, repeated exposure, and hands on practice are all essential for learning to occur, and that the strengthening of students’ self esteem is key to successful learning. As such, the ideas of Dewey on the importance of education as a place to learn not only content knowledge but how to live, evolving around the realization of one’s full potential, and the ability to use those skills for the greater good, truly resonated and still resonate with me. A statement by Seymour Papert illustrates well my thinking at that time: Better learning will not come from finding better ways for the teacher to instruct but from giving the learner better opportunities to construct. I knew then that what truly mattered in teaching are the opportunities I create for my students to engage with their learning. It became apparent to me that I needed to 1) give students plenty of opportunities to connect with knowledge and 2) encourage dialogue and exchange. I organized my curriculum in a spiral manner to ensure that students were continually building upon what they had already learned and used project based learning as my method of instruction.

My philosophy of teaching and learning evolved over the years to reflect my international teaching experience and the increased presence of technology in the classroom. My international teaching experience brought to the forefront the importance of culture and values in teaching and learning. With the availability of technology and the ease with which collaboration can take place between classrooms in different countries, I began using global collaborative projects to connect my students with learning beyond the classroom. Self-reflection, appreciation of diversity, and communication became the top priority skills that I wished to impart onto my students. During that period, my educational philosophy read as follows:

As a teacher, I employ a holistic approach to learning that takes the individual into consideration in a classroom without barriers, where students are encouraged to reflect and ponder on issues and events that matter to them, and where problem solving and collaborative group projects are led in a student centered environment.

My interest in technology, with its ability to transform any classroom into a global environment, where students learn to gather information, solve problems, and communicate with peers and experts from all over the globe, decrees it an important component of my teaching, and a great contributor to the enhancement of my instruction. With the aid of technology tools, I have been able to step aside and allow my students to grow as learners beyond the confinements of one classroom, one school, and even one country. Technology has made it possible for me to create a learning environment that is engaging and relevant to my students’ interests and needs.

Today, my educational philosophy, twenty years into my teaching career, entails my drive to instill a love of learning in my students and an appreciation for diversity. Who dares to teach must never cease to learn writes John Cotton Dana. This quote defines my teaching and learning philosophy today; for in adopting this thinking, I am embracing and actively partaking in the learning with my students.

Although at first glance it would seem that my teaching philosophy has changed over the years, my goal is and has always has been about teaching from the heart – one student at a time – to love learning and to respect and appreciate life in all its diversity.


A Roadmap for Technology in Education?

13 Jun

I’ve just finished reading the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Reports for both Higher Education and K-12. For those unfamiliar with the NMC Horizon reports, they are the predicting voice on educational technology trends and cover not only global higher education and K-12 schools, but also libraries and museums. These reports are the product of a collaborative research project between NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). Their aim is to identify and describe technologies that are likely to impact teaching and learning. These reports have been around for 13 years, have been translated (to date) into 50 foreign languages, and have readership in more than 160 countries according to the NMC Horizon website.

The reports cover the challenges that impede technology adoption, the key trends that can accelerate educational technology adoption, and the important developments that are likely to affect education spanning over the next 1 to 2 years, 3-4 years from now, and 5 and more years. Their potential to be valuable guides for technology planning in educational establishments is without doubt; however, after asking about 20 faculty members and a number of principals and technology coordinators, I question how many education professionals actually refer to the reports to guide their curriculum planning!

As a doctoral student and teacher, I appreciated the scope of the reports, the detailed insights into how trends and challenges affect teaching and learning, and the implications that the reports’ findings can potentially have on policy, leadership, and practice.K12Trends

The outlined trends presented in the Horizon Reports are such that schools would have to flexible and allow for creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. This, sadly to say, is a far cry from the reality of our standardized test driven K-12 environments and our budget conscious Higher Ed institutions. In addition, to successfully adopt these trends, the full commitment and involvement of all education stakeholders, from parents to policymakers, is vital.  I saw no mention of preceding years’ trends and challenges in the reports, which is a shame, as a few remarks on the past years’ trends and challenges and extrapolations as to the reasons why the trends took place or not would have been valuable.