by Tok Fen Fen
The call to emigrate from analog to digital was answered when our PLC organised a series of Going Digital workshops. Being a digital immigrant, the decision to venture into the unknown with 28 Form 5 students was made. This article aims to present the possibility of a newly emigrated digital-teacher to actually introduce and carry out an online classroom project and the students’ responses. A programme called PowToon was introduced to the students. PowToon is an online programme that allows its users to create animated videos and presentations. A period of 2 weeks was used to carry out this project and the results were extremely encouraging. It was found that with technology, classroom time was more student-centred and students became more autonomous in the course of completing their project. Reflections from the students collected at the end of the project suggest that the use of digital technology is welcomed and the teacher’s limited knowledge in technology should not be a hindrance.
Background and Context
21st century classroom. 21st century learning. Flipped classroom. Blended learning. The list goes on. In recent years, we have been reminded again and again to keep up with the times. Much has been said about the effectiveness of using technology in enhancing the classroom teaching and learning process.
However, for someone like me, whose technological bragging rights are only limited to Microsoft Word and maybe Powerpoint, all these technological advancements remain elusive. It was not until I attended Going Digital, a series of three workshops that I felt challenged to take the plunge. It was indeed a plunge into the deep end of the digital ocean from the highest cliff.
As a digital immigrant, someone who is a ‘newbie’ in everything digital, I have to realise the fact that in a digital classroom, I am no longer the sage on the stage. I wanted to explore the possibility of using digital technology knowledge and skills to enrich the classroom experience despite my constraint. Will I sink and drown as I take the plunge or will I swim with the technologically savvy Generation Z children who grow up in a highly sophisticated media and computer environment and are more Internet savvy than me?
Therefore, I decided to introduce PowToon, an online software for creating animated presentations and animated explainer videos, to 28 Generation Z students who will be graduating from secondary school at the end of the year.
Introduction - The Planning Stage
The Project: Why PowToon?
Through the years, I have observed when there was a need for class presentations, students will turn to ‘mahjong paper’ to present their work. The more technologically savvy ones will use Powerpoint, but that too is limited to the plain old boring slides. In contrast, when I look at their Instagram and SnapChats, they tell a different story. It is as if these girls transform into completely different individuals outside the classroom. I knew they are bursting with potential when it comes to class presentation. Realising that many of my students are visually inclined, I decided to introduce PowToon to them. I believe that PowToon is a software that they can explore and experiment with to make their class presentations more captivating.
The preliminary focus of this project were to:
As a digital immigrant, will I be able to carry out this mammoth task of creating a ‘digital environment’ in the classroom?
As this was my first project, I decided to keep it simple. The methodology used is mainly through observation and getting students’ feedback at the end of the project.
Too daunting? Not at all
In order to keep the learning atmosphere light and stress free, I deliberately used class time for the students to work on their project. They were given permission to bring their laptops and internet data (hotspot through their mobile data/ portable wifi) and that in itself was already an incentive for them to be fully engaged in the project. I also decided to carry this out in groups of 4. Working in groups allows students to collaborate, provide support, and most of all, share their knowledge as each individual has differing levels of technological expertise.
The task given was for each group to introduce their group members to the class and for the rest of the class to guess who that may be. Too easy, one may say. The twist to this was students will need to describe themselves with information that are not known to their classmates. They took this challenge positively as it had the element of mystery and fun.
As mentioned earlier, I was no longer the expert in this project. After a short introduction to PowToon, students were given the liberty and freedom to explore the software. We allocated 5 lessons for this project and the first lesson was spent solely on exploring PowToon. So it began, our first day.
Smooth-sailing all the way?
The subsequent lessons (Lessons 2 -4), students worked on their project as a group. All work was done in class as I advocated collaborative learning. It is note-worthy to state that everyone was on task as they cooperated with one another in the group. The nature of the task itself kept the group dynamics going as each member discovered more about their friends whom they thought they had known so well. Another positive observation was how each member complemented one another in the group as they worked through PowToon, trying out the various options and functions in the software.
Unfortunately, I cannot say that it was smooth-sailing all the way. The main drawback to this project was the slow internet connection. Some groups had trouble with their connection but it was heart-warming to see how other groups were willing to share their internet data just so their friends could get on with their project. Apart from that, students also mentioned that the free version of PowToon had a limited choice of animations. Nonetheless, we all did what we could to overcome the setbacks and looked forward to everyone’s presentation.
The 5th lesson was D-Day! Everyone (almost) was ready for their presentations. Everyone was eager and enthusiastic about the final product. It was such a thrill to see everyone completely engaged in the lesson, enjoying their friend’s animation and trying to guess who the person being described in the video was. Not surprisingly, many found difficulty in identifying their friends. It was obvious that these students had spent some time thinking and searching within themselves to reveal a part of them that was not known to all. The level of commitment shown by every one of them was definitely commendable.
Thoughts from the immigrant
Upon reflection, I admit that I have found the answer to my project question. Being a digital immigrant should not be a hindrance for me to use digital technology in the classroom. The benefits reaped from the use of digital technology in this project are manifold. Not only was the learning environment greatly enhanced as it was more contemporary and interactive, I also found that the use of digital technology provided a vast opportunity for student autonomy. Students decide and dictate how their presentation should be by exploring the various tools and functions made available to them. There is plenty of room for them to showcase their creativity. What I have learnt through this experience as a digital immigrant is to not fear digital advancement. Go and jump into the deep end, the buoys are there to guide us along the way.
Thoughts from Generation Z
Below are some of the responses given by the students at the end of the project.
Apart from all the positive responses, everyone agreed that the main limitation to this was the problem with internet connection. Perhaps with time, we will get better connectivity and overcome this challenge.
Revision - What’s Next?
Using digital technology in the classroom is definitely the way forward. Many of us consider ourselves aliens and immigrants in this new world of technology. However, through this project, I found that an open heart and an open mind is key to make our ‘migration’ successful. My students in turn took the lead as we explored the software together. They took the initiative to be responsible and independent in their learning. This, in my opinion, is what learning should be.
Samples of Students' Works
Below are some samples of the students' PowToon videos. Enjoy!
References / Useful Links
To learn more about PowToon and to see more samples of videos created by Tok Fen Fen's students, go here.
Published on: 5 November 2020
Tok Fen Fen graduated with a B.Ed (TESL) Hons. from the University of Kent, UK. She is currently serving in St. Francis Convent Secondary School Kota Kinabalu. She believes that empowering students to be more independent and confident learners is the way forward in today’s classroom.
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