The weight of the world [A very personal post]

I’ve been considering writing a post like this for some time. It’s very personal to me. It’s not specifically about education, but I believe it’s relevant for us all.

holzfigur-980784_640

I’m living with depression. Not mine, but it’s in my house and has been affecting my life for about the past 2 years. After noticing that my wife was struggling to get things done, and was struggling to cope around people, retreating into herself, I wondered if she had depression.

A trip to the doctor. Diagnosis: Depression.

[Read a blog post from my wife about her experience, and a related poem she has written]

Medication prescribed. Assumption correct. All good right? Uh… No.

This is not the first time for her. She had depression as a teenager (before I knew her), but I had seen her go through both ante- and post-natal depression, including at one point at the same time! So I knew a little bit about the signs, but had never seen anything like this.

She was low.

Very low.

And there seemed to be nothing I could do about it.

Why? Because I didn’t understand what was going on for her. I didn’t understand that this wasn’t a feeling for her. She didn’t just feel sad or down.  It wasn’t something she could control. I couldn’t just get her gifts or do things for her, or to help her, to make her feel better about life. She would smile and appreciate what I was doing but she was still depressed and was still spiralling down further into the pit of depression.

She tried to explain to me what she was going through. I didn’t understand. She explained in other ways and while I kind of started to understand cognitively, I have not been through it myself, I don’t really understand so cannot fully empathise with her.

I learnt to give her space. That’s what she always wanted. Space from me, space from the kids, space from the whole world. She was happiest on her own, reading on her iPad or phone.

But she wasn’t happy. She was escaping. And it wasn’t people she was escaping, although that’s how it appeared. She was escaping herself and what was going on in her head.

It took me a long time to realise that. I often felt neglected. Rejected at times. From my perspective she didn’t want me around. She didn’t want the kids around. Our teenage daughter felt the same. She knew Mum was going through depression but she couldn’t help her and often felt pushed away. This has created a stronger bond between me and my daughter while I’ve tried to support her (and our other kids) through it. A positive out of quite a negative experience. The younger kids don’t really know what’s going on but there has at times had to be some careful stepping in from me to safeguard them. Not from anything dangerous, but also from the feeling of being pushed away.

My wife loves us all incredibly. There has never been any doubt. But sometimes it was hard to see. She went to huge efforts at times to show her love to us, which unfortunately cost her at times as she was then so exhausted from the effort that she ended up very low for the next few days. She tried to hide what she was going through and just keep living her life as best she could but when she did, she dropped lower and lower.

In the meantime, my teenage daughter has also been diagnosed with mild depression and was not in a good state for a while. I now have two people to support who have been diagnosed with depression. Two people who needed to feel loved, safe and secure.

The battle with depression in our house has included:

  • Isolation and loneliness for both those with and those without depression
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Suicidal thoughts / cutting
  • Lots of tears
  • Misunderstandings
  • Difficult relationships
  • A rollercoaster of emotions

It can be frightening for all involved. There are often more questions than answers.

What can I do? How can I help? Why are they so low? Why can’t they just switch it off? Why are they trying to hide it from me when I just want to help and support them? Why can’t I help them?

It’s heartbreaking to watch loved ones suffer this way and not be able to step in to help or fix it.

The weight of the world is on those suffering with depression, but in many ways it’s also on those loved ones trying to support them.

The good news?

My wife is currently much stronger than she has been in the past 2 years. Through lots of talking, discussion and tears from both her and I, we realised, only about 4-5 months ago, that one thing that wasn’t helping her was the constant feeling of not accomplishing anything during the day. She felt like she was doing so much but she could see no results from it. Nothing was quite getting completed.

The result of our discussions? A daily tasks list and a reward scheme. It seemed a bit odd to be setting this up for an adult, but what this has meant is that she has a clear plan of what needs to be accomplished every day and she doesn’t jump from one thing to the next and not finish anything. Her reward? Time out on her own. This is the thing she needs most to then be able to interact with people again, including her own family. She gets this anyway, but she appreciates being able to bank up her rewards and take a full day out if/when she needs it. Since setting this up, she has on the whole been doing much better. She’s happier with life overall and spending more time with and around people. Her medication has been changed and the dosage reduced.

I’m not trying to say that this is a magic bullet. We have other support mechanisms in place, but having this structure has contributed to helping my wife over the past few months and is now also helping my daughter (she’s trialling it).

My wife started studying again last year and is achieving well. She still has her ups and downs and we still have difficulties that we work through as best we can when they arise. It’s been a long road and continues to be one, but there seems to be a way up and out of this pit for us.


1 in every 6 New Zealanders will experience serious depression at some stage in their life.

If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from depression, get help:

Image in the public domain.

Flipped learning

This post has been written as part of the #EdbookNZ Book Terms organised by Sonya van Schaijik for Connected Educator 2015. I chose the term ‘Flipped learning’.

A big thanks to my disruptive friend, Amanda O’Connell for supporting me in this effort.

Thanks also to Leigh Hynes who sent me some resources to read through around flipped learning for this project as well as some other work I’ve been doing.


Triple Flip
Triple Flip: Taylor Hand, Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Flipped learning

Digital technologies have enabled teachers to develop new pedagogical approaches and teaching practices in order to increase student engagement and achievement. One of these new approaches is that of flipped learning or the flipped classroom.

Flipped learning or the flipped classroom is a method to teach students. Put simply, the flipped classroom is a “model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed” (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2012). The idea is that rather than spending in-class time teaching or explaining concepts and ideas, the teaching is delivered through video that students watch during their traditional homework time. Class time is then used to develop the ideas and concepts and apply what has been learnt from the videos.

Video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are already providing plenty of learning opportunities. For example, if you want to learn to play the guitar, you don’t need to necessarily pay for lessons. Instead, you can do a quick search on YouTube and learn through video. Why not use this same method in formal education?

Of course, in-class lecture is not the way us Kiwi’s teach in general. Homework time is moving away from worksheets and textbooks with practice material. We also don’t want to see our students sitting in front of those same worksheets or textbooks in class repeating  practice exercises, or watching 50-minute videos for homework. We want to see the development of all the key competencies. We want to see, among other things, higher order thinking skills developed, with students collaborating and contributing to solve complex, ‘wicked problems’ (Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd & McDowall, 2014).

How can we re-think what flipped learning is for us in New Zealand? How can we also ensure that flipping the learning doesn’t simply take away the responsibility from the teacher to teach their class and give students more work to do at home? How can we ensure flipped learning is equitable as some students don’t have internet access or digital devices at home?

The Flipped Learning Network defines flipped learning as:

a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter. (Flipped Learning Network, 2014)

This means that students watch the direct instruction on their own through videos, and then develop and apply the concepts taught in the classroom group situation. By taking this broad definition we can rethink what flipped learning looks like and ensure that our approach best meets the needs of our students.

We can think of flipped learning approaches along a continuum. On one end of the continuum, we have the true flipped classroom model where the teacher records themselves teaching a particular concept or idea and posts it online for the students to learn in their homework time. They then come back to school to demonstrate their understanding through discussion with peers, practice and application. On the other end of the continuum we might have rewatchable learning such as recording your teaching, modelling, explanations as they happen in class, and posting these online allowing students to rewatch and review what they covered in class, or learn what they missed if they were absent. Both of these allow for students to rewatch their learning as often as required.

In between these two extremes, we might have students creating flipped lessons by teaching their peers through online video. These can then be used in future years as well, bringing the students into the picture in creating new ways to explain a concept or idea.  Of course we can mix it up a little and have different lessons approached in different ways.

In order to ensure we’re not just using up students’ homework time (or free time!) when  employing such a model,  we need to be sure that the videos are succinct and relevant. Teachers love talking. They can talk a lot. Videos of concepts or ideas need to be short, no more than three to five  minutes long where possible. Think about your own online video viewing habits. Many of us switch off after less than a minute unless it’s highly engaging (Shout! Communications, 2014). You might also need to record different ways of explaining concepts. Don’t keep reinventing the wheel though. Use what others have created already.

Don’t forget that relationships are important too. Your students need to see you or hear your voice, otherwise are YOU really teaching them! Make sure that class time is used carefully to develop deeper understanding of concepts through a variety of ways.

Keep considering what will make learning equitable to all and accessible to all. Flipped learning doesn’t have to require students to watch videos at home. What about spending the first minutes in class allowing students to watch? They might need to re-watch them during class time too. What about ensuring devices are available at lunch time or after school for those who don’t have access at home? You could even add subtitles to your videos or include the transcript.

Used with other pedagogical approaches, the flipped learning model could help support a move to developing deeper discussions in-class in order to increase understanding. Through the removal of a lot of in-class direct instruction time, students can ask questions, think more deeply, and consider real-life global examples and problems. It is a model that is worth considering as digital technologies become more prevalent in school and the day-to-day life of our students.

References

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2012). (7). Things you should know about Flipped Classrooms. EDUCAUSE Creative Commons. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf

Flipped Learning Network. (2014). The Four Pillars of FLIP™. Retrieved from http://www.flippedlearning.org/definition

Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Press.

Shout! Communications. (2014). Online video viewing habits – what latest figures tell us [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.shoutcommunications.co.uk/blog/online-video-viewing-habits-latest-figures-tell-us/

 

Student and Teacher Perceptions of Online Student Engagement in an Online Middle School

student engagement

 

I’m feeling pretty excited today because I’ve just had my first article published, co-authored with Dr Maggie Hartnett, in the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning.

The article is based on the findings of my 2012 Masters research.

Student and Teacher Perceptions of Online Student Engagement in an Online Middle School

 

 

 

Here’s the abstract:

While our understanding of student engagement in the compulsory schooling sector is well developed in face-to-face contexts, the same cannot be said for online and distance learning environments. Indeed, most of what is currently known about online engagement has come from research with older students in tertiary education contexts. This study directly addresses this gap in the research by exploring student engagement in an online, middle school in a New Zealand distance education context. By considering three key dimensions of student engagement—namely, behavioural engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement—this in-depth investigation explores what engages middle school students when they learn online. Data collection techniques comprised student and teacher interviews, online asynchronous discussion transcripts, and statistical data from the learning management system (LMS). Results found that students in this study tended to engage behaviourally (i.e., do what was expected of them) with all required activities. Cognitive engagement (i.e., students’ personal investment in their own learning) was evident in the giving and receiving of feedback as well as the interest and relevance certain activities generated for learners. Emotional engagement was elicited through the design and facilitation of the activities, and through the ongoing development of a learning community in which students felt safe to contribute.

Image source: Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Digital Citizenship – Keeping Safe Online

I wrote an article for the Te Kura June 2013 Link Up magazine (see page 18) on digital citizenship. This magazine goes out to students and whānau.

The article is cross-posted here.

 

Digital citizenship: Keeping safe online

If you use the Internet, mobile phones and other devices, you are responsible for how you conduct yourself online. You are a digital citizen.

A digital citizen needs to:

  • Use technology appropriately
  • Respect and protect themselves
  • Respect and protect others
  • Respects and protects intellectual property.

How can I keep my children safe online?

Children and teenagers need support and guidance in keeping safe online and acting responsibly. Communication is key. Children need to feel comfortable that they can talk to you about what is happening online without being judged. Monitoring what your children are doing online is important, but it is not about spying on them. These simple suggestions might help you and your children feel more comfortable:

  • Make sure that your children have access to the computer or devices in an open space—not behind the closed door of their bedroom.
  • Sit down regularly with your children and discuss what they have been doing online.
  • Let your children know that they can talk to you if something happens online where they feel uncomfortable.
  • Discuss with your children how they can protect themselves and feel safe online.
  • Talk to your children about the importance of privacy, dignity and their identity. Discuss how what they post now could impact on their future.

How can I keep myself safe online?

It’s not just children that need to keep safe online. Adults also need to conduct themselves in a safe and responsible manner online. So what can an adult do to stay safe online?

  • Think carefully about what you post online. Remember that your children also have to live with the consequences of what you post—that cute photo of your toddler in the bath may not be what they want shared with the world in the future.
  • Remember to regularly check your privacy settings on the websites you visit (eg. Facebook, Twitter, Google accounts etc).

We need to work together to keep ourselves and our children safe online.

For more information about keeping safe online, check out:

Can you read deeply on screen?

How do you read on screen? Do you skim more than you would on paper?

The article, Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing, suggests that we read more deeply if reading from paper than we do on a device.

I’m more likely to read a novel on my iPad than in hardcopy, and do most of my reading on screen. However, I found when I was having to do a large amount of reading for my research that I went through stages of reading printed articles and other stages of reading on screen. I’m not sure whether one was particularly better than the other. I also know that I’m not very good at skimming anything—so this might be a factor also.

I would be interested to know whether they’ve researched this in children. Perhaps there would be a different result if children are taught to read on screen?