Sunday, September 29, 2013


I decided to take the rest of the week since our session with Dr. Schwier to watch my world in a reflective light clearly focused on the theme of community. It's been an interesting and busy week and as I write it all down now, I realize just how much community means to me but also how diverse and varied the communities that surround me and include me are. As I work on my project to build a digital learning community that functions as an out of class enhancement to the work my students do during our sessions at school I am further inspired to embrace the challenges that present themselves in the nurturing of a fledgling group of interactive learners.

Starting with Dr. Schwier's introspective and thoughtful ruminations on community, I began to reflect on the past couple of years I have spent becoming a part of the Education Technology and Design or ETAD Master's of Education community at the U of S. This community is not confined by the borders of an institution in Saskatoon, but rather is open to a world of interesting and diverse people that find the use of technology in learning to be a fascinating and challenging world. These people have been paramount in the formation of my identity as a learner in a greater realm. This wasn't an easy transition. In the beginning we found ourselves to be taking classes in from people that spoke from great distance. We got to know each other as two dimensional moving pictures on screens with voices that would cut in and out and speed up on a catch up sequence that made us often sound like chipmunks on helium. We worked in strange spaces like discussion boards and shared documents, often collaborating asynchronously achieving common goals and sharing our thoughts and knowledge with people we had never met face to face. When I had the chance to meet many of my colleagues during a presentation in at the U of S and again at our ETAD Studio this past July I was taken by how three-dimensional everyone looked... a strange revelation indeed. But we were all bound together by a familiarity. As of last semester I've had new challenges presented to me that made it difficult to be positive about my place in education. But this community of ETAD helped me regain my passion and resolve and nudged me back onto the tracks. Dr. Schwier, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Morisson are all part of a fantastic team of caring and creative individuals that have grown a community that I am fortunate to be included in. EC&I 831 seems to be a natural extension of the ideals that make the program at the U of S so strong. I can see us quickly becoming something more that our parts and it feels it has only just begun.

I've lived in a few places in my life; Shellbrook, France, Montreal, Regina, Quebec City, Saskatoon, Shellbrook, Japan, Malaysia, Shellbrook, Nipawin, and Regina. Funny how some of those places repeat themselves. My home town as you may have guessed is Shellbrook. I've been a part of groups of people doing some amazing things in all of these places. If I wrote about all of those experiences here... we'd have one long read for you on our hands! I was at one high school for the past eight years here in Regina and now am at another, feeling like a new guy once again. There are new students, new colleagues and new duties. Each class has it's own social dynamic and for one hour each week day a group of about 30 people try to find their way with each other. In a large school like the one I'm presently at, not everyone in the room knows each other when they first arrive. Developing a positive dynamic in a classroom is a delicate task. I've had my ups and downs over the years trying to make things work. Most of my time is spent working with students these days. They come with a variety of ability and skill both academically and socially. I've begun to introduce them to using social media tools to express themselves and interact outside of the classroom. I'm excited to see what this project will become as I try to mirror a bit of what is happening in EC&I 831 with my own students. We are using Blogger and Twitter as well as other web-based applications to grow an environment of sharing and encouragement in our visual arts classes, my home room and our outdoor education club. I've spent a lot of time developing a positive relationship with students that I hope will translate into a positive and interactive experience for them online. My vision of success in this project would be to see students interacting with each other, sharing ideas and content without being prompted by the guidelines of an assignment.

Outside of my work at a public there is of course my little family comprised of my wife, my daughter and myself and two cats. There are also my friends, my volunteer association colleagues, my cultural community association people and the neighbours in the area I live in. I teach a sessional at the U of R and am in a master's degree. There is also the Twitter-verse, Google + communities and Facebook. These communities all blend together to form and influence me. I too play a role in supporting and influencing them. It's really incredible to think that one individual today is a part of many overlapping spheres of influence through not only their endeavours in real time but also through the connective electrical tissues of the internet. I hope to become a positive contributor to my online communities. I hope that I will have something interesting to share as I have learned so much from the sharing of others over the years. I'm hopeful too that my students will find a rewarding presence in their learning community both face to face and online.

If you made it this far I'd like to thank you for reading. If you have any advice or experiences to share on the topic of online learning communities, perhaps some success and challenges you've encountered I'd like to hear about them.

Thanks again for reading,

Jason Grayston

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Progress In Building a Learning Network

Things are progressing in my building of a student learning network here at Winston Knoll Collegiate. The past two days have been spent with my first group of grade 10 art students activating their Google Apps for Education accounts, familiarizing themselves with everything Google and creating their first blog.

The main goal here is to create a place where students can display work and reflect upon their experiences. Until now they have used a sketchbook to do this type of activity. I want to move students into a more collaborative space in their learning. Students will now have the ability to look at each other's blogs and post comments on their classmates work. This will be done after teaching students how to objectively critique artwork.

Students that have a mobile device (almost every one of my students has one) will be able to contribute to their blogs and make comments on the blogs of their classmates using their own technology. My goal is to have them do their first critique next week after they have set up their blogs, become familiar with posting and commenting. To begin with commenting on the blogs I'm going to have each student post three or more compliments on other student's work on their blogs. I think this type of atmosphere will help to encourage positive and objective critiquing in the future.

These individual blogs will be worked into true learning portfolios. The blog portion will be used for assignment submission and reflection. Other sections will include research, brainstorming and planning for projects.

All of the student blogs will be linked from a central blog. This central also has a course calendar, assignments, photos from the classroom and an integrated twitter feed that students can post to by using a specific hashtag. We tried using the twitter feature today and it was a lot of fun. Our philosophy will be developed collaboratively by all students and I intend to use a Google Doc to do this. An embedded Google doc will also allow us to compile blog addresses and links of interest.

It's exciting. Students seem to be motivated and interested in using their hand held devices in a new and interesting way. I will be providing links to the central blog when we have more content added in and the blog has been customized.... I'm thinking of having the class collaborate on that part too!

If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to let me know!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Learning Network

I've been working on a web-based learning network for my classes here at Winston-Knoll Collegiate.
Essentially, each class I teach has a dedicated blog. These are all cross-linked to a central hub called Mr. G @ WKC. Right now I'm working on student accounts in Google Apps for Education so that students can set up learning portfolios in my art classes and in my home room. I created a professional twitter account @mrjgrayston for a part of my school communication. This feed is embedded in a few of the blogs as well.

I have built the following blogs so far:

Visual Art 10
Art 9
Outdoor Ed
My Blog
ECI 831 Blog

I'm setting these up at the moment but will post links to them once I have all the formatting and permissions set up.

Students will begin setting up Learning Portfolios on Monday next week. The goal is to set up everything so that they can easily use their mobile devices to work on their portfolios and comment on their classmates blogs.

Today I had students download the Blogger App and the Google App on their devices.

Excitement is building!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Student Electronic Portfolios & Learning Network

Next week we begin the great BYOD experiment... It starts with Google Apps for Ed. All of my students will have accounts. They will then create blogs as online portfolios. Student blogs will become a place for them to reflect and document their process in art making. Students will also be able to make comments on their peers blogs. Their blogs will also connect them with a central learning hub Created and curated by me. This learning network has many goals. The biggest goal is that we will all learn from each other. We will create a social media learning network that runs alongside our face-to-face classroom time. Right now I'm creating user accounts and developing the central blog. Students will create their blogs next week. I already have them documenting content from class with their phone's cameras. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Life: Online... Flames vs Islanders

Can we enjoy 2 things at once? Certainly... Double booked and still able to do it all!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Underwater Photography

Today I had Shane Gross of come in to talk to my Visual Art 10 students. I dove with Shane last Christmas in the Bahamas and was excited to have him present to my classes. He has a great presentation that was tailored for my art students. He speaks of the underlying principles of his passion, of photography and of the preservation of our oceans. There were hints of biology and technology and amazing stories of sharks that captivated students. Originally from Regina, Shane now calls Harbour Island, Bahamas his home where he works as a dive instructor and part owner of Valentine's Dive Center. I'm going to try to arrange a Skype session with him for my students when he's back down at the dive center. Thanks Shane for a great talk. Hope to see you again under the great blue waves. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Beginning

It seems fitting that a rebirth in how I promote the use of technology in the classroom should occur. After all, it's a new school year, I'm in a new school, I have to prep all new classes and I'm in a new masters class. The challenge? I used to have a lot of technology available to me in the classroom. Now I have one computer in the corner and limited access to shared technology resources. I wrote a research paper this summer on Bring Your Own Device/ Technology. My idea for this fall is to grow a culture of personal device use in the classroom, having students build electronic learning portfolios of their work and connecting them together into a learning community. This will be a community of students in two Visual Arts 10 classes. My goal is to fuel student interest in their subject area through their interactions with peers using social media to bring them all together. It's baby steps in the beginning as students become accustomed to a device welcoming environment. I'm happy to say that it's been an easy sell so far... after all... Open Education has to start with an open mind. I want to encourage students to stay connected in the classroom and to open new connections with others. Sharing ideas, resources and feedback within the learning community will hopefully lead to greater individual success within the class.