Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Interview With Marge Kobewka

An EdTech Perspective From An Online Teacher

This month we are featuring Marge Kobewka, an EPSB teacher and Div1 Edtech blogger. Marge currently is an online teacher and therefore offers a very unique perspective on technology in education.

You can find Marge as @MaggieKobewka on Twitter and on Google+. I have been fortunate to have many in-person conversations with Marge and always leave inspired. I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed and once again inspire me. 

Check out some of Marge's blog posts: 

The Interview

What grade(s) do you teach?

I teach grade three students online and a group of grade 4, 5, 6 students, who meet with me once a week at Argyll Centre for a writer's workshop and computer science - coding with Scratch.  

What technology skills should students have before coming into the grade(s) you teach?

I would like students to have a growing understanding of digital citizenship. For example  understanding how to use their passwords and keep them safe, an awareness of their developing digital footprint, and some experience evaluating a website by asking, "Will this website answer my question?" This year I used a series of lessons from Common Sense Media, that addressed these issues and more. 

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?

I get ideas from Twitter, professional reading, colleagues and blogs. This spring I read a fabulous book, Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. On Twitter I follow as many teachers as I can. 

If you are looking for inspiration for using technology in the classroom attend blendED2016, Alberta's Blended and Online Symposium, October 23-25, 2016.  I am on the organizing committee and I know you will come away with lots of ideas to apply to your own classroom practice. 

What type of technology do you use in your school? 

We use laptops, iPads, Moodle, Blackboard Collaborate, and Google Applications.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep?

For now, it would be Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate however I would never want to be limited or tied to one kind of technology.  

Based on your response to the question above. Why would you keep that technology?

Currently Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate are primary ways I keep connected to my online students and their parents. The work I have done as an online teacher involves thinking about best practices for learning, (especially for young learners), and then re-envisioning those practices in an online environment. It is a challenge that I love. Especially since young learners need to move, create, act, and play as part of learning. It is definitely a collaborative effort and that is why my 'classroom' includes the parents who work closely with their children. 

Have you ever attended an online webinar? Now imagine doing that with 6, 7 or 8 year olds. My division one colleagues and I have online classes with our students, usually these are an hour long. We have developed a variety of ways to have our lessons be interactive, engaging and collaborative. 

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?

Last year I worked with grade 4, 5 and 6 students to learn Scratch Coding. We used Google's CSFirst to help us learn (I am including myself in that one). This year I am building on that to include Makey Makey and a Hummingbird Robotics Kit. I am not ready yet to move these tools to division one but I am thinking about meaningful applications.

What is something new or different you are planning to try next year? 

One evening after school, (5:00 pm) I got a notice that one of my grade three students wanted to have a video call with me. I accepted and there he was, at home sitting on his bed with his computer and math book. He was puzzled about some math questions. We discussed the math problems and he went off to do his work. It was a delightful exchange, after all, there is everything to like about an earnest eight year old who uses technology to connect and learn. Based on this experience I am considering having a small group of students (four or five) meet weekly to participate in 'Google Hangouts Book Club' and 'Google Hangouts Math Talks'. I am thinking it will be important to have a small group and to alternate the groups from week to week so that in the course of the month all of my students will participate in both the Book Club and the Math Talks. This will be different than the Blackboard Collaborate sessions we have as a whole class.

How has technology changed the way you teach?

Ha! My very position as an online teacher is determined by technology. I hope that you can see that one of the joys of my work is the opportunity I have to problem solve and create something new. In my case the 'new thing' is an online learning environment for division one students. I sometimes wonder why was it slow to dawn on me that the joy of creating and sharing that I love about my work, is exactly what students need to do too. This insight changed the way I view technology. How can technology enable kids to problem solve, create, share, collaborate - all the very things that make learning engaging. 

I recognize that technology can give students the opportunity to become creators and problem solvers, but I don't think that all online learning is presented in that way. Even in my own practice I see giant leaps forward over the time I have worked to develop an online learning program. It is always about learning to use the particular technology and then applying what we know about learning so that the technology becomes invisible. 

I think the real question should be not what technology do I want to have in my classroom, instead the question is how do I deepen the learning? Make it meaningful? Enable kids to think more deeply and become creators? Then I can look at the tech I have available and use the resource that will enable that kind of learning. For example this year instead of Math Journals I had my students create Math Videos. All of my students had tablets at home and so using Apps such as: Show Me, ScreenChomp, and Explain Everything, my students explained their math thinking to me and to each other. As we progressed through the year I realized that not only did I have new insights into my students understanding of math concepts, my students had to think more deeply to explain their thinking in new ways. And to my delight I was also obtaining a library of 'learning objects' to use in my online course. What could be more meaningful to students then seeing another student explain a math concept and then discussing it together?

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology?

My students are at a distance - they are students who live in various communities in Edmonton and across Alberta. I am fortunate to work with families who are highly committed to working with their children to learn at home. This presents both opportunities and challenges. My goal is always to develop meaningful interaction and to learn from each other. 

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?

Seriously, you have to know that I am excited about the changes and challenges before us in education. Once, I was told that designing lessons was an iterative process and I had to start with the end in mind. I think that is still true but I would add this: The process of learning is iterative and the end is something I may not even imagine yet.


I would like to thank Marge for taking time to do this interview during the summer.

Check back each month for new interviews with Kelly Maxwell, David Salmon, Shannon Pasma, Alyssa Prouty, Colleen Roux, Jared Galbraith, Alicia Kuzio, Laura Buchanan and Amanda Fahey!

related blog posts: 

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