Thursday, December 6, 2018

Meeting the Emotional & Academic Needs of Students Through Technology

A couple of weeks ago, my co-teacher and I were in the midst of teaching a unit in world history on the Industrial Revolution.  Part of the standards for the unit required that we address the rise of capitalism and socialism as a result of the Industrial Revolution.  While I have taught social studies for most of my career, I had never taught world history until this year.  I probably spend more time than the average world history teacher on content while prepping lessons or helping my co-teacher prep lessons because of my lack of experience in world history.  Full disclosure, I have only taken one world history course in my life, a Western Civilization course as a freshman in college.  My focus in social studies was more on American history, economics, and government.  But while I have been learning a ton in my research to prepare better world history lessons, something else occurred to me after my lesson on capitalism and socialism.  

After teaching the lesson on capitalism and socialism to one of my classes through Pear Deck, one of my students approached me with a very concerned look on their face.  I have gotten to know this student very well over the course of the last few months, not just because this student is in my class, but because this student is also on my special education caseload and I have already written their IEP for this school year.  The student asked if they could talk to me in the hallway, which now had me concerned.  

Once in the hallway, the student asked what they could do regarding the lesson we had just finished because they did not get it at all.  I offered to sit with the student and review the materials that would be sent to them via Pear Deck's Takeaway function and help with the video enrichment lesson that the rest of the class had started in Edpuzzle.  While appreciative, the student was more concerned with how fast the lesson had gone and that they could not keep up, so they asked if I could slow down the lesson the next time we did something similar.  

It dawned on me perhaps I had gone too fast.  While no other student had shared that concern with me, it didn't mean that others in the class had also missed some or most of the lesson because they could not keep up.  Over the course of about 3 seconds, after the student had asked me to slow down my lesson, I came up with a potential solution.  It wouldn't be something that I could do immediately, but it was something that would not only catch that student up but in the future, the option would be there again for clear any confusion and review material.  

My thought was, "Could I take the Pear Deck presentation, pare out the interactive questions slides, open it in a standard Google Slides presentation format, and use Screencastify to record my screen and my voice going over the material of the lesson to share with that student and the rest of the class?"  (By the way, did you catch my hilarious pun back there?  HA!)  The answer to my question was similar to what it always is: you won't know unless you give it a shot!

I pulled my co-teaching partner aside and gave him the lowdown of the conversation that I had in the hallway and my idea.  As I have mentioned in the past, my partner is not very techie, so his response was somewhere along the lines of "You know how to do that?"  I asked him if I could step aside into a quiet room for a few minutes where I could record the screencast, do some quick editing, post it to YouTube or download a compatible file, and share it out to the students.  He said he would cover our class and to get it done because he was excited to see what I would come up within such a short amount of time.  

I got settled in, cut the presentation down to the bare essentials and opened up the Screencastify extension to begin recording.  Then another thing dawned on me:  would the new closed captioning function in Google Slides show up in a screen recording?  Before I went any further, I conducted a test run recording my screen with the closed caption function turned on.  I spoke a few words and recorded it for a few seconds.  Upon opening the file, I was ecstatic that it did show up in the recording! Now, not only would I be able to record my presentation and share it with my students so they could watch, pause, rewind, etc. at any time, my handful of deaf and hard of hearing students could benefit from reading what I was saying as well!  

Disclaimer: the closed captioning function in Google Slides is by no means perfect.  However, I did not notice any glaring discrepancies in what I was saying and what was showing up on the screen.  I highly recommend a quiet place if you want to use the function and do not want any other voice to potentially show up in your recording.  If you want to read more about this function, please check out my post titled Google Slides Extensions & Add-Ons.  

Any technology tool that you use needs to have a connection to improving student learning and solid pedagogy, not just making your classroom paperless or giving you less to do (however, those are nice perks, they just shouldn't be the main reason why they are used).  But so many of the tools available at educators' disposal now also can address students' emotional well being.  In the case of the screencast I created, my student's anxiety was lessened because now they had the opportunity to review the material at their own pace. Programs like Flipgrid and speech to text allows for students that are self-conscious about their writing to still be able to share their thoughts.  Students that are petrified of presenting in front of a crowd can create a video to show the class or a multitude of other alternatives.  Students frustrated with their reading skills can use text to speech functions to follow along with reading while they listen to it.  Then there are the numerous accessibility features in devices that can do things like enlarge the print on the screen and highlight the mouse cursor.  While these tools are designed to assist students academically, the byproduct of their use is also less stress and anxiety about struggles and concerns that students may have.

I am always interested in how others address students emotional well being, through tech or without tech.  If you have a nugget to share, please share on Twitter with #AndersonEdTech!

Until next time...