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Page history last edited by Teresa Almeida d'Eca 13 years, 3 months ago



Viewing this "must see" video led me to write this text

that includes reflections about some of the topics covered.



Striking a balance
August 2010


Ever since I can remember I have believed in the need for a balance in life. It may have to do with upbringing and/or my own nature. Anyway, does it really matter where the need for balance came from? Not for what I’m about to reflect on.


Of late I have come to think a lot about the Internet, its advantages and disadvantages both to my personal life, career and the education system in general, of which I was an active member for 33 years. I still am a member, though not as active, because I retired a year and a half ago.

“Digital Nation”, the video
A couple of days ago Michael Coghlan, a dear friend and colleague from Australia, replying to the thread “Are you ready?” (for the technology revolution), posted in the Webheads in Action mailing list, referred the fascinating and very eye-opening video “Digital Nation” < http://video.pbs.org/video/1402987791/ > (5Aug10). And commented about it: “…it’s a sobering reminder of what can happen if people are not offered guidance to cope with the addictive power of the Internet”. My curiosity was sparked at once.


As I watched it, many things rang a bell. They expressed what I have felt for some time: the need to strike a balance. I always tried to do it as a teacher and one who early on, at least for standards in Portugal, introduced the Internet on a regular basis in class.


Embracing blended learning
I have never been one to follow fashions in clothes or trends in education. I have always dressed in a very normal and simple way. In education, and after acquiring some experience, I did above all what my instinct and intuition told me. I didn’t follow trends just because I was told to do so. I loved to try things out, even if it went against what my department was doing or preaching. In the last 12 years of my career I felt somewhat of an E.T. in my school when I embraced ICTs after doing a Master’s thesis about NetLearning. Email exchanges at first, and then the use of Web 2.0 tools with a blog as the main platform or launch pad for different activities using add-on tools.


My enthusiasm with the students’ reactions and involvement was so great that I tried to spark the curiosity of my department colleagues. I even offered to do informal training at school for anyone interested, but there was no reaction. Some were close to retirement and didn’t want the extra work, others just didn’t want the burden of the extra work that it would involve. My department would often say that they admired my work and enthusiasm, but no more. It was very disappointing that my enthusiasm didn’t infect colleagues close to me, though it did others.


Striking a balance with blended lessons
One of the reasons I sparked great enthusiasm and  commitment in my students is, I think, the fact that I struck a balance. I didn’t use technologies permanently or exclusively. On the contrary, I used them every two weeks, which kept the excitement high and always an attitude of great expectation towards the next CALL lesson and what I would come up with. Had it been the students’ choice, we’d have CALL lessons all the time.


This choice of regularity was the result of four factors. First, I was bound to a syllabus that I had to complete; second, I wanted expectations high all the time; third, I wouldn’t be able to cope with preparing different lessons once or twice a week – it was a totally new paradigm for me – mixed with everything else involved in the traditional way; last but not least, I believed in striking a balance between the traditional way of learning and the new and innovative blended way, between the low tech and the high tech.


The students’ enthusiasm, motivation and involvement kept me going. Had I been influenced by the school’s reaction or my department’s reaction, I would have stopped right after I started. At first it wasn’t pleasant to be alone and isolated in a project, though it was much better than to be in bad company. And you do get used to it. In spite of feeling that I was doing something good and positive for my students, and contributing effectively to their learning process – opening up their communication channels (essential when learning a foreign language) and broadening their horizons (relevant to developing anyone’s character), among other things –, I must admit that being alone in such a venture brought doubts to my mind at first. Was I right?! Or were my colleagues in not joining me?! Time proved me right, I’m proud to say.


Those initial doubts, which are natural in any new venture, proved unnecessary when in December 2007 I was awarded the EU Schoolnet international e-Learning Award 2007, Gold Prize in the category of “School of the Future”, with my “CALL Lessons 2005-2007” curricular blog. It was undoubtedly the high point of my commitment to and involvement with ICTs and blended learning. How gratifying!


During the email exchange phase (1997-2001), the research I’d carried out for my Master’s thesis gave me the necessary support to help me believe that I was doing the right thing and implementing a worthy project for my students. When I entered the Web 2.0 phase (Mar 2003), I had the support, collaboration and incentive of my online community, the Webheads in Action. Several of us were experimenting with blogs and different add-on tools, so we exchanged feedback and ideas on a daily basis. Our enthusiasm and excitement for all these new technologies and their power for Education was immense. And we all felt that our teaching and our students, a teacher’s #1 priority, were benefiting.


As I said, I didn’t embark on an exclusivity phase. First, because I couldn’t. I was tied to a system that imposed certain rules and obligations. Second, and most importantly, because I never believed in a “one-size-fits-all” model. I always believed in a balance between different models, strategies and activities. I always believed, and still do, that new doesn’t mean throwing away the old way and what’s good in the old way. I always believed in using what had worked and mixing it sensibly and harmoniously with this new trend. Based on my research for my Master’s thesis, I believed that it would bring about necessary change and motivation. A balanced mix of old and new, traditional and innovative, is a good recipe that can bring out the best of both worlds.


Need to balance time spent online
It’s equally essential to strike a balance in the amount of time devoted to our online and/or virtual life. Exaggeration is never good. It can have very negative effects, as the situation in South Korea well demonstrates. I know that I’ve had numerous times when I’ve exaggerated, namely, when I have online courses and workshops going on, so it’s easy for me to relate to, understand and feel empathy with today’s young people. They were born in this digital world and it easily gets you hooked. Though I’m what Marc Prensky calls a “digital immigrant”, I was totally hooked by the online world, especially from January 2002 onwards. I love technological gadgets. I love exploring new online applications. I love learning about new tools. I love interacting with friends and colleagues online, collaborating and learning with them. But I also love sharing what I know with others. All these activities can take up hours of our days, weeks and months… our life. Though they are time well spent and very much worth our while, those hours need control.


I’ve been a multitasker for eight years. It was (practically) a question of survival in the Webheads in Action community if I wanted to keep up with the activities of the mainstream members, and I did! As the years go by, though, I feel more and more acutely that multitasking often distracts me from the main task. I’m not really referring to a virtual classroom when we’re listening to a presentation and at the same time text chatting, maybe collaborating in voice and opening links that are given. I consider all this very enhancing when compared to face-to-face presentations where, if we start whispering to our neighbor commenting on what’s being said, it’s generally considered rude. I’m talking about writing an article or a paper, for example, which need us to be highly focused and concentrated.

It’s great to be part of a world where links, search tools, dictionaries, email, chat, IMing, twittering, etc, etc, are at my disposal whenever I’m online. However, lately I have often felt that it’s just too much, so I’ve often pulled the plug, so to say, on certain tools and have only left on the most relevant one(s) for what I’m doing at that specific time. I try to have less windows open. For example, while writing these reflections, I’ve tried to have only Word open. But there is almost always a fatal attraction that makes me at least check email at certain intervals to see what’s going on with colleagues and friends. However, this does have a disrupting effect on my main task.


I agree with Sherry Turkle when she says that multitasking isn’t the same as interrupting your work to get a cup of coffee or a snack, because while doing this you’re still focused on your main activity. You aren’t led to disconnect as happens when you multitask. When you’re multitasking, you are dispersed and distracted from the main issue, and going back to where you left off is difficult, if not impossible, as is the case with writing. Our line of thought will most probably be different. Camo, the MIT student in the video, explains this very well. He says that he can write three awesome paragraphs while multitasking in-between writing each one, but when rereading them, he doesn’t see the connection. “I wasn’t seeing the big picture. It was all short term, short term, short term”.


Does online desocialize people?
For those who say that the online world isolates people and desocializes them, I reply with a very emphatic “No”. I’m not talking about people who spend 24/7 online. That, to me, is indication of some serious problem that needs to be dealt with. It seems to be an obsession and a form of addiction, as bad as any other addiction, be it alcohol or drugs. I’m referring to people who, though online several hours a day, still have a real life with family and friends. That much needed balance I’ve been referring to, though sometimes not as balanced as it could and should be.

In my 8-year intensive and active online life I have created very strong bonds and have made wonderful friendships all over the world. Most are English teachers like me who I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet if I hadn’t joined this online community of like-minded people. Some I worked with actively and intensely online for 2-5 years before meeting them in person. What an exciting experience that is! It’s as if we’ve known one another all our lives. Others I haven’t met yet, but hope to one day. Being a member of this community of practice has been a boon at all levels: we have learned a lot together and continue to do so; we have helped one another a lot; we have helped many colleagues worldwide to embark on this online adventure; and we have friends or contacts most any place we travel to in the world. We have an extended family. It was the most gratifying experience of my career and has been one of the best in my life.


This very special experience has shown me that the online world can be a very sociable and socializing place where strong bonds and true and lasting friendships are made, which grow even stronger when we meet face-to-face. Email is great to get people contacting. But it’s chat and virtual classrooms that generate,  nurture and strengthen these bonds and friendships. These are live sessions where we interact in real time. They have a very special flavor and a great atmosphere. We feel very close in spite of the geographical distances. I still remember with great emotion my first group chats with the Webheads at Tapped In and Yahoo Messenger. Skype hadn’t come along yet. We started by using just text and very quickly included audio. How exciting it was to hear my friends’ voices for the first time! I used to get goose bumps. Very soon we also started using webcams. What a thrill it was to start relating a name and a voice to a face!


The “Digital Nation” video shows us this socializing facet when talking about online games and Second Life, a 3D virtual world in which people are immersed and can create different personas. I’ve also had that experience and consider it quite exciting. However, it is different from the online world where we do not assume other personas. We have our real identity. We’re EFL and ESL teachers who have a passion for technologies and implement them in our teaching practice to give our students different perspectives and outlooks on learning while at the same time giving them a glimpse of what they can expect in their working lives, thus, contributing to their preparation for active life.


Online and virtual: a whole new paradigm
The Internet and the Web are a whole new way of living, a whole new perspective on life and a totally different paradigm from the one I grew up in, with its advantages and disadvantages, as everything in life. I believe that I adapted well to it, but more and more I feel that striking a balance is essential, especially if you want to have a balanced, harmonious life, free of exaggerations. One in which there is time for real life (family, friends, socialization), online life (keeping in touch with friends all over the world, keeping up with the latest tools, exploring them and thinking how best to use them with your students or trainees) and maybe even Second Life. I’ve experienced it, have even taken a EU-sponsored course, and think it’s fun and interesting – a totally new dimension –, but I’m not addicted, never have been.


There have been times when I’ve been so immersed online, especially during the 6-8 weeks of the Becoming a Webhead workshop, that I’ve actually fretted for my mental sanity, because at times I do feel on the verge of exhaustion. Though there is a responsibility towards the whole group –  generally 250 members and about a dozen moderators helping us –, the real problem is me. I feel the urge to be constantly connected and inside what’s going on, for fear of missing something really interesting at its exact moment. And that urge can be powerful and controlling. It has nothing to do with the moderators, who have autonomy and flexibility, and who we totally trust. It’s me, my adrenaline and my degree of hookedness that definitely need to be controlled during these times.


This 7-year experience that has shown me that to be online almost 24/7 isn’t a way of life. Striking a balance is absolutely essential, though not always easy.


As I said, I understand young people today and their urge to be permanently wired whether by cell phone or computer, because they grew up in this world and in this paradigm. “It’s second nature to them”, as Bubbe says in the video. But, based on this video, I believe that they need help, urgent help. What can be done? Can we all help? I think so. The Korean example of kids being taught how to use computers responsibly from the 2nd grade on seems very promising, if responsibility also includes learning not to be connected 24/7. After all, there are so many other great things in life.


Parents and teachers have a stake in this endeavor and a relevant role to play. I think that it’s in the family that the problem should start to be dealt with and tackled, and then continued in schools. Hopefully, wise words, sensible, sensitive and understanding attitudes, and examples such as the “Digital Nation” video and studies that are coming out, can have positive effects on today’s young people. Sara, the anorexic girl in the video, is a very significant example of the impact of such a documentary on her life. She reacted very sensibly after the interview for the video. She told her parents about her very serious problem.


Sherry Turkle says that we should ask what technology is doing to us. Definitely! She ends her remarks on a positive note: “We’re going to slowly, slowly find our balance, but I think it’s going to take time”.


In light of what I saw and heard in “Digital Nation”, I believe that there’s hope for change. Maybe our youngsters can start by pressing the “pause” button... temporarily… several times a day… and “turning off” the computer at a reasonable time at the end of each day in order “to cope with the addictive power of the Internet” and find that much needed balance in their lives.


Teresa Almeida d’Eça 




An interesting article in The New York Times Online this morning and comments from participants in "The Unplugged Challenge" promoted by the same paper. 

Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain


The Unplugged Challenge




A very eye-opening interview with the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, Matt Richtel., on the subject of digital overload. (Referred by Dennis Newson, 25Aug10)

Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets




Comments (5)

Nina Lyulkun said

at 9:02 am on Aug 15, 2010

Dearest Tere,

It is, perhaps, the first that long article which I have read in a burst of inspiration. The following paragraph

"My enthusiasm with the students’ reactions and involvement was so great that I tried to spark the curiosity of my department colleagues. I even offered to do informal training at school for anyone interested, but there was no reaction. Some were close to retirement and didn’t want the extra work, others just didn’t want the burden of the extra work that it would involve. My department would often say that they admired my work and enthusiasm, but no more. It was very disappointing that my enthusiasm didn’t infect colleagues close to me, though it did others."

is related to myself. Absolutely the same situation is at my uni with my staff.
The article is breathtaking, it is worth to be interpreted into other languages. I will try to do that into Ukrainian.

Thank you very much for sharing your ideas on this issue raised by Michael Coghlan.


Teresa Almeida d'Eca said

at 11:23 am on Aug 15, 2010

Dearest Nina,
Along the years and after several discussions in this Webheads community about Education and what happens in different education systems worldwide, I've come to the conclusion that the complaints and the problems are practically the same all over. So it doesn't amaze me that you experience the same situation at your uni. However, from things you've said in the past, you've been able to infect some colleagues, maybe not to the extent you'd like.
As to the length of the text - I definitely agree that it's long -, it's often a fault of mine that has to do with "Words are like cherries, one draws another". At times when we start talking, topics pop up and we end up with long conversations, just like cherries coming out of the plate one after another. :-)
Thank you for your very kind words.
Beijinhos, Teresa

Nina Lyulkun said

at 1:56 pm on Aug 15, 2010

Yes, Tere, I agree with you. This long story so much informative and easy to read while many short ones are so boring. I've just meant that. I always love to read your articles.

I really bow you.

Stay warm and happy.

Buthaina AlOthmn said

at 5:11 pm on Aug 15, 2010

"If you don't help yourself, no one will help you"...I read this quote in Arabic one day I can't recall. It did help me a lot, Tere.

More on your article after I view the MCoghlan's video, soon. Thanks, Tere for taking the time to compose and share the above piece with the world.

Appreciate your time, effort, and support :)

Teresa Almeida d'Eca said

at 1:04 pm on Aug 16, 2010

Hi, Buth!
I totally agree with the saying.
I'm sure you'll like the video Michale referred very much.
Hugs, Teresa

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