Category Archives: digital technology

Digital literacy conference in teacher education



I (Yiola) am excited to share news on a technology conference hosted in the Child Study and Education program at OISE/UT last week.  The conference, Technology for Learning, was designed for our first year MA students. To develop the conference, we surveyed the students to better understand their knowledge of technology use in the classroom. We discovered that while most students were users of technology, very few used technology in the classroom and very few were familiar with educational approaches and applications for the classroom. The survey was helpful in developing the structure and content for the conference. We then carefully examined which technology based topics and themes  were covered in program courses and from there we decided which areas would be best for the conference.

Students expressed they lacked knowledge in, and seemed most interested in, applied uses of technology in educational settings so we decided to host sessions on: blogging, online literacy, assessment, social media in the classroom, gaming, formal and informal learning sights, coding, assistive/adaptive technologies. For a complete list of the sessions and their descriptions click on the website we designed for the conference here:

Students signed up for the conference via the website and after significant planning, emails and bookings,  we were set to go.

Ready for student registration. There were 77 students in attendance.

The full day conference included: an introduction, 2 one-hour sessions, lunch break, a 3rd one-hour session, student led poster presentations, Q & A and closure. The introductory session led by myself and Heather (co-designers and hosts) set the stage for the day. I introduced the notion of digital citizenship, its themes and local resources and Heather introduced theoretical frameworks for thinking about technology in education. She shared 3 frames: 1) T-Pack  2) Ed Tech Quintet and, 3) SAMR.  Each framework was explained and examples were provided. We left students with the suggestion to select one theme from digital citizenship and one framework that resonated with them and to think about them in relation to the 3 sessions there were about to attend.  Here are some pictures from the day:

We worked hard to include a variety of presenters, from a variety of settings. Included were the Director of OISE library, a lab school Teacher, Professors from the university, a Teacher from the public school board, and Doctoral students.The images above show some of our amazing presenters.

We provided a lunch where the presenters along with Department Chair Professor Earl Woodruff and Program Chair Professor Rhonda Martinussen gathered to share ideas regarding technology for learning.


After lunch there was one more set of sessions followed by student-led poster presentations (see images below for student led poster presentations). Students submitted proposals which were reviewed and returned with feedback. The poster presentations provided a wonderful opportunity for students to share their expertise and knowledge in an academic setting. It was a moving and motivational part of the conference.The following 4 images show examples of the student-led poster presentations.



We closed the conference with a Q & A and an unplugging of technology through the fun and fitting picture book “Good night iPad”.


It was a wonderful day. The informal feedback from students has been positive. We plan to send out a post survey about the conference to deepen our understanding of student learning and to improve our own practice in the area of digital literacy teaching. For more information about our conference please feel free to contact us via our blog.

A New Book on Participatory Culture and Digital Technologies


I (Pooja) have long been interested in the notions of participatory culture. Often considered  the opposite of consumer culture, participatory culture is defined by Henry Jenkins (2009, p. 5-6) as a culture in which there are:

1. relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement

2. strong support for creating and sharing creations with others

3. some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices

4. members who believe that their contributions matter

5. members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created).

I was excited when I learned authors Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd authored a new book titled: Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics (2015). I have provided the blurb on  the back of the book for those potentially interested in learning more about participatory culture in the 21st century like I am:

In the last two decades, both the conception and the practice of participatory culture have been transformed by the new affordances enabled by digital, networked, and mobile technologies. This exciting new book explores that transformation by bringing together three leading figures in conversation. Jenkins, Ito and boyd examine the ways in which our personal and professional lives are shaped by experiences interacting with and around emerging media.

Stressing the social and cultural contexts of participation, the authors describe the process of diversification and mainstreaming that has transformed participatory culture. They advocate a move beyond individualized personal expression and argue for an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself.”

Participatory Culture in a Networked Era will interest students and scholars of digital media and their impact on society and will engage readers in a broader dialogue and conversation about their own participatory practices in this digital age.


Findings from a Study on Knowledge Building

Richard Messina who is the Principal of the Jackman Institute of Child Studies is the co-author of the article: Fostering sustained idea improvement with principle-based knowledge building analytic tools by Huang-Yao Hong, Marlene Scardamalia, Richard Messina, Chew Lee Teo

I (Clare) thought this might be of interest to you because of the extensive use of knowledge building tools. Here is the abstract:

The purpose of this study is to explore the use of principle-based analytic tools to improve community knowledge building in a class of Grade 5/6 students. A flexible design framework was used to engage students in use of three analytic tools a Vocabulary Analyzer, a Social Network Tool, and a Semantic Overlap Tool. These tools are built into Knowledge Forum technology so principle-based assessment is integral to knowledge work. The primary source of data was discourse generated by students in Knowledge Forum over a school semester (approximately four months). Findings based on a mixed methods analysis reveal principle-based knowledge building analytic tools to be effective in increasing the frequency with which key terms are used by individuals, in their own productive vocabulary as well as in the shared community space, thus creating a more discursively connected community. Results additionally show a shift from problem generation and breadth of inquiry to increased self-assessment, reflection, and depth of inquiry; also, students report significant ways in which knowledge building analytic tools can increase knowledge building capacity.

Here is a link to the article: Huang-Yao article[1]

Guest Post: Monica McGlynn-Stewart: Talking Stickers

Image_TalkingStickersI (Monica) am an advisor to a team of recent MBA graduates from the University of Toronto who are one of six teams in the finals for a $1 million start-up fund for their product. Here is how they describe their work:

The Attollo technology assisted learning concept has been developed for use by parents and children in informal urban settlements in developing countries as part of the 2015 Hult Prize Challenge – which is the world’s largest student-based competition. Talking Stickers involves stickers with embedded bar codes (QR codes) that can be scanned by a device, which in turn is prompted to record and replay user generated audio content or replay pre-recorded audio content stored on the device. This spring and summer we have piloted our device in Toronto in George Brown College’s lab schools, and in Hyderabad, India and Mombasa, Kenya.

Whether these young professionals win the final prize this weekend or not, they are committed to bringing their technology to developing communities in India and Kenya to support the literacy learning of children in low-income communities.

Here is a link to a short video on their recent pilot projects in Kenya and India:

Here is a recent article in The Globe and Mail about the project:

Canadian school in global final for social enterprise prize

The question, on paper, is simply stated: How would you provide quality education by 2020 for 10 million children under the age of 6 living in the world’s urban slums?

Six business school teams from around the world, including one from Canada, think they have an answer to the question posed by organizers of the Hult Prize, a global competition for young social entrepreneurs that drew 22,000 applicants this year.

Next week in New York, at a session of the Clinton Global Initiative, a Hult partner, the winning team will walk off with $1-million (U.S.) and a chance to market a potentially game-changing, socially conscious business idea.

Win or lose, the four-person team of MBA graduates from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management plans to pursue its idea for “talking stickers” – quick response bar codes that activate a low-cost reader enabling children to listen to a recorded voice or to record their own voice to say or sing the words.

For example, with talking stickers, the child (or parent) could use a hand-held device to scan a bar code near, for example, a bright yellow star on the page of a nursery rhyme book to hear Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. By scanning over a differently programmed sticker with a bar code, the child or parent then could record their voices to practice their language skills. The stickers are not just in books; they can be placed on household items, which then become tools for the language development of young children.

Earlier this year, having scrapped their initial idea for the Hult Prize, the members of Team Attollo (Latin for elevator) turned their attention to the literacy challenges faced by young children in impoverished countries. According to Hult Prize organizers, 112 million children up to 6 live in slums without access to schooling while 70 million children, more than half of whom are girls, are prevented from attending school.

“We found that language development and vocabulary is the key issue in early childhood development,” says Jamie Austin, who like teammate Lak Chinta, holds a PhD in neuroscience and earned a Rotman MBA this year. The other team members are engineers Peter Cinat and Aisha Bukhari, who earned their Rotman MBAs in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Over the summer, with advice from early childhood professor Monica McGlynn-Stewart, the team conducted trials in Kenya and India, working with local school officials and families who cannot afford even modest school fees for their children. The early results were promising, with children and their parents adding to their vocabulary.

Meanwhile, with help from Toronto-based Autodesk Research and U of T engineers David Johns and Matt Ratto, the Attollo team developed a low-cost prototype for the hand-held device, with a view to making it affordable ($1.50 a month) to families who earn between $2 and $5 a day. As well, the team is working with local publishers and schools to develop school curriculum content for the stickers.

Over the summer, Hult Prize organizers brought finalists to a boot camp in Boston to make their business idea “investment ready.”

“It was a little bit collaborative and competitive,” says Mr. Austin, of the relationship with the other five teams. “We would talk out the ideas and we saw each other’s presentations every week,” he says, with coaching from academics and industry leaders. “We got tons of feedback from the Hult Prize business experts.”

Mr. Austin and his colleagues are so committed to their venture that, for now, they have quit their day jobs to found Attollo as a social enterprise company.

The other Hult finalists are: ESADE Business School (Spain); the University of Tampa (United States); Oxford University (England); and two from China – Jiao Tong University Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance and National Chengchi University.

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Contact Jennifer at

A Blog About Blogging

I (Clare) cannot get over how much I enjoy blogging! I found this great article on Teachers College Record about using blogging in the classroom. Since we have a blog I thought I would share the link with you.

An excerpt of the article is below.

Advances in Technology Pave the Path to Actual Learning: Using Blogging as a Learning Tool

by Toni Ann Brzeski — August 17, 2015

Do you know what the most common electronic device that college student’s possess? According to Joshua Bolkan, a multimedia editor for Campus Technology and The Journal, “85% of college students own laptops while smartphones come in second at 65%”. If technology is becoming a common practice among our students, what are we doing as professors to incorporate it into our classrooms? How can students use technology to reflect on their work? How can instructors use technology as a supplement in reading and writing courses? How can technology be used to deepen our student’s critical thinking skills? These are questions we should be asking ourselves in a world where technology is paving the way to learning.


After attending school, working at part time jobs and internships, participating in extracurricular activities and spending time with family, it might seem that college students are too busy to fit all of their activities into the hours of the day. Given the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, most students simply do not have the time to reflect on any part of their day, let alone what they learned in their college courses (Sharkov, 2012). It is our responsibility as educators to keep up with our students, to understand them, and to make reflection on course work a priority. If our students are not reflecting on their learning as a part of their everyday lives, then we are not really doing our jobs as educators.

In order to get to the bottom of this issue, and make reflection a priority, we must ask ourselves what we are we doing inside of our classrooms to promote reflection outside of the classroom. What are we doing in our classes to develop better reading, writing, and critical thinking skills?


Each semester, students step foot into my classroom with needs and interests different from those students with whom I worked before. Every semester, it is my job to take needs and interests and learn how to integrate them into my courses. While every semester is different and challenging, I have found that today’s advances in technology have been the key to bridging the gap between my students’ needs and the course curriculum.

Four years ago, during my first semester at Bronx Community College, I asked my reading students to purchase the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. At that time my students purchased the book from an actual bookstore or an online source and came to class with a paperback copy. In the fall of 2012 I asked my students to purchase the same book. What they did next surprised me: my students took out their Kindles and iPads and immediately purchased the book. It was simple: given the speed with which these electronic devices allowed my students to purchase the book, we were prepared to start reading it the following week.

There was not one student waiting on a delivery or taking time out of their busy lives to purchase it at the bookstore. What I learned from this experience is that we are in a world where our daily activities are rooted in our electronic devices. Kindles, iPads, and smartphones are devices that our students are not only actively using, but using comfortably. This is just about the time when I discovered blogging.

If my students were using technology to complete very ordinary tasks, such as buying a book for their college course, I then asked myself what other ordinary tasks my students are using technology for. At first I was hesitant—call me old fashioned—but I didn’t believe students would become better readers and writers by posting their reflections online. I continued to question myself. What good is this? Aren’t journals a place for reflecting and expression?



As stated by George Couros, the Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning at Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada, “We want students to think critically about what they write. They are more likely to do this when they write for a larger audience as opposed to simply [writing] for the teacher. [Blogging] gives students the ability to archive their work for many years to come.” Therefore, having the “ability to [blog] [and] write for a worldwide audience has made an impact on many of our students” (Couros, 2013). Like Couros, I have found that blogging has had a significant impact. In fact, blogging is the very form of technology that has helped bridge the gap between my students’ interests and required course work.

Blogging gives those students an outlet for expressing their own ideas and reflecting on what they learned in class from the comfort of their own homes. As less interactive students continue to exercise their writing skills through blogging, re-reading, and building on their blog posts, their writing gradually improves over the semester. The fact that students can go back to previous blog posts and add thoughts or reflect on their own blogs—thereby, revising their work on their own without being told to do so by their teacher—is extremely beneficial and rewarding (Sharkov, 2012).

Blogging can be done on a train, bus, or even in a student’s own bedroom. Blogging doesn’t require the school library, or even pen and paper. A student can simply use a smartphone to connect to the world through blogging. When you present this type of accessibility to the busy student, he or she has the opportunity to engage with classmates beyond the short period of time that the student spends sitting in the classroom before heading out to a job or internship.

I have witnessed the benefits of blogging first hand. Last semester, I posted a question as a homework assignment on my blog site regarding a reading on Edgar Allan Poe. Within an hour of my students leaving class, they started to write blog posts on the site. My students were responding to my question, expressing their views, and in turn completing their homework assignment, while commuting home from school.

As I read my students’ blog posts, I was amazed at the level of insight that they were expressing in their entries. I had created a place where my students’ voices could be heard, and a place where they were able to interact and discuss a topic outside of the classroom using information that they learned while inside of the classroom. In essence, my students were taking time to reflect on what they learned in class, even with their busy schedules. In the past I would have taken a more conventional approach to this homework assignment by passing out comprehension questions on white paper and telling students to answer and bring them back to class the following week.

Blogging is beneficial to the teacher as well. For example, in my EDU 10 class, our class blog page contains all our work and posts can be found in one place with easy access. I find my students accessing our blog page from their cellphones, which tells me that they are able to complete assignments from anywhere—very convenient for them.

As a professor, I can easily assess my students’ reading, writing, and critical thinking progress by observing the improvement in their blog entries. This also keeps the line of communication open between my students and myself, which is helpful since our class only meets twice a week for a little over an hour. This blogging platform keeps the reflection ongoing throughout the week. Further, blogging allows me to learn my students’ point of view on certain topics and demonstrates their level of comprehension on what we are learning in class, in turn, helping me to create a lesson plan for the next class.

Intertwining Digital Technology Into Literacy Methods Courses

Pooja and I (Clare) did an analysis of 6 literacy teacher educators who truly intertwined digital technology into their literacy methods courses. (Book chapter will be published soon and we will post that info.) In the meantime I thought this chart might be useful for literacy teacher educators who are preparing for the upcoming school year.

Overall Goal: Teaching 2.0
Specific Goals Example
Make literacy classes participatory ·      Post comments on each other’s work (e.g., Wall Wisher, Text tagging, Voice Thread)

·      Post comments in asynchronous time

·      Provide student teachers with feedback on-line and encourage them to respond to the feedback

·      During class student teachers post questions or contribute comments to a shared space

·      Before class student teachers post comments about the readings

·      Create Wordles when analyzing a text

Create an infrastructure for accessing resources and for sharing resources ·      Develop a repository of resources on a university platform (e.g., Blackboard) or on their own website

·      Share books, videos, websites on a class Wiki

·      Use DT tools (e.g., Smartboard) to access info on the spot while teaching

·      Access materials/videos for use in teaching (e.g., Globe Theatre productions of Shakespearean plays)

Provide authentic learning experiences ·      Student teachers make an iMovie on a specific topic (e.g., on bullying)

·      Analyze videos student teachers created during their practice teaching

·      Skype with authors they are reading

·      Participate in teacher communities by contributing to blogs and Twitter feeds

·      Participate in teacher-focused events (e.g., contribute a piece to a BBC competition on current affairs/news)

·      Student teachers create podcasts on an aspect of literacy to share with broader community

·      Watch videos of authors they are reading (both scholarly articles and children’s literature)

·      Student teachers post photographs of themselves on the university platform as a way to introduce themselves to their classmates

Gain an understanding of the increasingly globalized nature of literacy

·      View videos from other countries (e.g., teachers in Japan) to see similarities and differences with their own context

·      Participate in world-wide teacher communities

·      Participate in crowd-sourcing

·      Share statistics on literacy beyond home country

·      Use visual representations (e.g., photographs) to move student teachers beyond their immediate world to unpack a range of issues (e.g., gender representation in children’s literature)

Reframe issues related to literacy and literacy teaching ·      Watch videos of teaching (exemplary or poor practice) and analyze them

·      Use videos from their practice teaching classes as “data” for their inquiry projects

·      Student teachers select a picture from a photo array and relate the action in the photograph to a theory they have been working on

Bridge practice teaching and the academic program ·      Reflect on practice teaching by sharing and analyzing photographs/videos they took

·      Use email and social media to remain connected during practice teaching and as a place for student teachers to ask questions or share concerns

·      Create a video case study of pupils which relates to a theory of literacy

We also created a graphic to capture the elements of their pedagogy:

Literacy Graphci

Their courses were fundamentally different because they had truly reconceptualized their teaching, not simply tinkering by adding glitzy DT; rather, they constructed highly participatory experiences that occurred before, during, and after the official 3-hour class. Learning occurred in multiple ways: readings, f2f discussions, online communities, viewing, analyzing, and providing feedback on texts which immersed student teachers into the issues of literacy. It went far beyond introducing “methods” to teach literacy; it was framed by learning to teach literacy as a global citizen. This ambitious goal was matched with unparalleled support by the professors. Their multimodal/technology-rich teaching practices modeled the possibilities available to teachers and students; however, they were constantly trying to balance preparing student teachers to address the traditional forms of literacy, which they will probably observe in schools, with more expansive understandings. They had not discarded typical elements of literacy methods courses such as teaching the writing process or components of a balanced literacy program.

Hip-Hop Ed Fosters Connections

An article in the New York Times highlighted the work of high school English teacher Brian Mooney, who uses the lens of “hip-hop ed” to engage students in the study of complex literary themes. A blog Mr. Mooney created to share his curriculum and student work caught the attention of a broader audience — rapper Kendrick Lamar visited the high school. Students from Mr. Mooney’s English class and the after-school poetry club performed spoken word poems and raps for Kendrick Lamar.

Link to article:


Exploring Toronto Through Poetry

To mark National Poetry Month (April), the Toronto Public Library launched the poetry map, an interactive map that allows users to explore Toronto through a collection of poems associated with the city’s neighborhoods and landmarks. The project was the result of a collaboration between the Toronto Public Library and the city’s poet laureate George Elliott Clarke. Clarke suggested, the “map brings the city alive in terms of it being a living, pulsing, breathing organism that gives creative people – poets – inspiration. It reminds us that Toronto is a great city for the arts.” The Library hopes to expand the project by encouraging the public to submit their favorite poems related to Toronto.