Tag Archives: technology

EdTech Veteran: An Early Adopter Reluctant to Commit to Google Classroom

Classroom LogoProgramming the VCR

It’s tough to say, but I’m middle-aged now. When we are young, we are always the ones to master technology in the family. Take the VCR for example. Back in the day it was always easy for me because while my parents were busy being parents, keeping the house in order, working to pay the bills, spending free time relaxing, maybe reading, I was tinkering with my surroundings. If something wasn’t working out, I tried other ways and overcame each challenge. As I grew older, I always tinkered with the next new thing I was faced with. I grew into each version of personal computer, palm pilot, cell technology, etc. My parents? Not so much. This trend is important in what I’m about to say next.

 

The rug pulled out from under

I just discovered that the learning management system (LMS) that my school has been using since I arrived eight years ago is about to go away. I built up my technology class curriculum on countless proprietary web pages hosted on a third-party educational platform.  I did it because it was new. It was new to the district, and I was also new to the school. I had nothing to lose, and I went all in. The entire staff was asked to upload their content to the platform for students and parents. Since I ran a computer lab, I put all of the lessons online so students could access immediately the tasks conveniently in a calendar, much like an online class. Soon I was asked to give workshops on how to use the platform.

 

Before my arrival at my school eight years ago, I spent 11 years creating web content delivered using Frontpage, Publisher, PowerPoint (as a website), shared network folders and so on. Each of my lessons had to be changed with each update and revision of the software. MS Office, for example changed so much that literally every two years I would have to update my tutorials.

 

In the past 18 years, I’ve explored each new buzz in technology. From Edmodo, to iPads to Google, I’ve invested time and energy into each new thing. It’s no wonder my job seems the most stressful of any educator I know. I’ve been shell shocked by many rugs being pulled out from under me. For example, a few years after NING came out in 2005, I saw classroom potential for social networks. I created one for each class and engaged with students online, each student creating a digital portfolio. I found it useful as an educational platform for engaging students. I gave workshops and even presented at my local state conference. I had decided to let it go once it moved to a paid model. Besides, other platforms were coming online. Edmodo — remember Diigo and Delicious? I was accepted into the beta of Google Wave which was quickly dropped by Google. From the onset of Google, I was all in. I still have the same email since Gmail was introduced. I’ve been a faithful Android user with the very first Motorola Droid, currently loving my GalaxyS5. Making the most of everything Google — from personal calendars, Drive, Maps, Keep — I consider myself, well, skilled in the Google arts.

 

Frustration with school-based services

When a few of us recommended Google Apps for Ed, we set it up for the high dchool embracing the platform and all its greatness. My students build digital portfolios using Blogger. After about five years, the district took on a second district-wide account. A year later, the district administrators announced that we would suspend the high school accounts and migrate to the district model. After deep research, via trial and error, it was clear that this would greatly impact my already invested curriculum. Google states on its help pages that while you can transfer Blogger blogs and Google sites, the “images will only exist IF the account that made them is NOT deleted!” This is a huge issue for me! With graduated seniors for example, they will not be able to take their digital portfolios with them if the school deletes their Google accounts. Google goes on to say “there is no provision for this at this time.”

 

Eggs in one basket

Along with Google Forms and YouTube videos (hours upon hours of tutorials) not transferring well, I’m reluctant to invest my energy into the school Google Apps for Education platform. What does it mean if I were to transfer to a new teaching job? Would the school want my curriculum? Sure some things transfer well, but the links do not. So all of the linked documents, YouTube videos and forms? There is a convenience with the Apps for Ed platform, especially with the Google Classroom, but growing into such an environment has me feeling a bit uneasy.

 

So I’m at a crossroads. My LMS is going away and while I am already settling into our district Apps account, I’m trying out Classroom full throttle. It’s no LMS. In the meantime, I’m also exploring Google Course Builder, but it seems too new and unstable. But I have faith, even knowing it could go either way. Google has been a long-time friend of mine.

 

So when we look at the big picture and we see veteran teachers reluctant to latch onto new technology, we need to consider their journey before we pass judgement. We’ve seen too many trends to allow ourselves to spend too much time on the newest ones. Like my parents when I was a kid, I now need to choose carefully how I spend my time. Lately I am more reluctant to tinker as I have all these years. Call it shell-shock. Call it wisdom. In any case, I’m sure in time, I will find my new LMS home.

 

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Gamified: a Personalized Learning Path in Technology-enhanced Learning

Gamified3The buzz about gamification in education has been in my Twittersphere for some time. I’m only recently beginning to examine the importance as it relates to differentiated instruction. How can I provide learning opportunities at different levels and reward students for achievement?

When we ask kids what work is, they would respond “school” and if asked what is play, they would respond “games”. Everyone loves a game. Why not? A game gives challenges with a lighthearted dance of successes and failures. Games consist of positive reinforcements and negative ones too.  Kids truly need to get points for showing up. Don’t you think? Kids may not see the long-range goal, but can find motivation is shorter ones.

My computer technology courses have developed into a blended model of instruction whereby the content is presented online with tutorials and clear steps for completing tasks. These “webquests” as they were once called, allow the student to work steadily at his/her own pace. Over the years I’ve created more and more activities and sorted them into modules. Students are given start and end dates for completing the module assignments. The difficulty level of the activities are sorted from easy to hard. I’ve created so many activities that I’ve come to a point where we do not have time to complete them all. I also find some students take longer to complete the tasks than others.

A research project aimed at individualization in Technology Enhanced Learning analyzes personalized learning describing the way that learners work and solve the problems they are given while learning.  It is noted that the use of the word personalization is often confused with individualization and differentiation. Personalization is learner-centered where the learner is driving their learning and actively participates in the design of their learning, while differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered where the teacher customizes instruction based on the needs of the individual learner.

Gamification is personalized because it gives students an opportunity to choose their learning experiences. Students are empowered to seek engaging activities which will help them find success. The learner has a voice and choice which means that the learner can decide which activities are more engaging for them and shape the course in collaboration with the teacher (Zajac, 2014).

Differentiation of instruction should coexist with the personalized experience. Along with multiple projects and activities, there should be a number of instructional modalities. For example, the instruction can be in the form of text on the screen and video tutorial. The personalized product can be generated on paper, in a slideshow or made into a real-time video. With the aid of technology, the four learning styles (visual, aural, verbal and logical) are addressed by different forms of learning content while kinesthetic, social and solitary are reflected in adequate activities  (Zajac, 2014).

Gamification implications include individualization with project-based learning as well as collaboration. Group work in the gamified environment may include roles of leader, researcher, co-worker and player. The breakdown can allow for opportunity for the teacher to assign individual tasks to students based on strengths.

To make things confusing for myself, I kicked off an experimental unit of gamification last year with my unit on making games here called The Scratching Post — programming games in Scratch. (It is the first time I’ve attempted to build a quest using a Google document published as a webpage. Google needs to work on the formatting – I’m not fond of sharing documents “can view” as that looks horrible too). Enough of the visual critique. The most challenging component is the scoring. It is difficult to determine what success is. While students could elect their path for the final product, points are given based on the percent of elements used in their product. It is hard to determine what was acceptable for kids to skip and what is an essential skill I want them to gain. I attempted to implement levels. I didn’t think I made the most of those. Overall I think it was fun. The students enjoyed it, but I don’t think they paid any attention to the gamified elements. This may be because the content was making games, which is confusing. If it were built around learning about internet safety, there might have been more awareness of the gamification.

Gamification Vision

Platform –  I am happy with my current delivery method. I create content in modules and time release them using the Edline website.  I may explore third-party software as described above. Leaderboard may be displayed on the website or in the classroom using digital signage software. There is web-based software available for assisting with the creation of a gamified experience. These include Classcraft, 3DGameLab, Gradecraft, and TheVirtualLocker.

Goal – The unit of study is considered one module – Rules are outlined clearly with a tutorial on how to play the game.

Personalized–  Modules contain multiple small quests with product options that practice a skill. It can be as simple as providing tool choices to produce the same outcome (example: video, paper, slideshow). These detailed quests are delivered at once, however, suggested due dates assist with time management.

Individualized – Each project option comes with multiple modes of learning. The goal is to provide at least text and videos/video tutorials for each learning objective. The instruction is delivered in the multiple modes as well.

Playful – the content needs to be playful. Rather than stamp “game” on a packet of worksheets, the content needs to be challenging and engaging in a playful manner. A story line can be added.

Collaboration – Students are encouraged to collaborate and team up to complete tasks or modules. Team play is equally engaging in games. This can motivate non-engaged students.

Modding – Students may choose to modify their experiences as needed to reach their goals.

Scoring – Point values are experience points and they vary based on level of difficulty in each module. If a particular skill is challenging for a student, he/she can elect two easier tasks with lower point values versus one more difficult task valued at higher point value. Each project option contains a point value as well as the components within each project. Badges may be awarded for completion of key tasks. For example, students may earn a collaboration badge for choosing to work with others.

Final/Unit Grade: The goal is to complete each module attempting to accumulate points. Within each module, there is a threshold expectation of points which translate to the “A” – students can reach above that point value in search of the “High Score” for each module or each unit.

High Score (to be debated) is posted and rewarded with an achievement award at year end. Semester or trimester format classes each have High Score, but there exists a Grand High Score.

There are several teachers already running with the movement. There are plenty of examples to learn from. My journey begins now.

 

INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PATH IN GAMIFIED ENVIRONMENT
Challenges for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better – Doing Better Things Proceedings of the European Distance and E-Learning Network 2014 Research Workshop Oxford, 27-28 October, 2014
http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Blazenka_Divjak2/publication/269992399_Decision_Making_on_e-Assessment_Criteria/links/549d22dc0cf2b8037138e681.pdf#page=31
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Cheating in the Online Classroom; Online learning and Plagiarism

Academic books-584999_1280honesty is really about personal integrity. I feel that if a person will be dishonest, they will be dishonest no matter the medium. In a f2f class or online, if a student is going to cheat, they will cheat. What is important is that the course has assignments that are integral part of learning. Content is important in keeping students engaged with their learning. In the article, Deterring Plagiarism, the author suggests that students need to know that the work they do will contributes to their learning (Procter). If the assignment is not engaging and does not generate a voice from the students, it may not be worth giving. By improving the quality of assignments, it will deter students from plagiarizing. That is not to mean that it’s the fault of the instructor when a student cheats. It means that when there is value in the assignments, when faced with the temptation to cheat, students will choose to perform their best.

Appropriate level of material

When designing an online course, it is important to think about the sequencing of course material. In computer science, the assignments build up as the semester advances, and the students will make connections and find success if the course is sequenced well. If the assignment is far advanced of current study, the student may seek a cheating solution due to fear of lowering a GPA. It will be clear if a student tries to use advanced methods and syntax if it was not covered in previous assignments. In a foreign language such as Spanish, the same is true for sequencing. It is easy to detect when a student tries to use an online translator. If it shows skills beyond the expected output, the instructor can begin to determine if the student is indeed cheating. For other disciplines, electronic tools are necessary for detecting plagiarism such as Turnitin.

The “Turn-it-inator”

I have never used Turnitin. I hope to soon. With programming languages, copying and pasting code is very possible as code needs to be in exact order to function. It would be foolish to say that if the program works, you must have copied the code from someone else; therefore there needs to be other ways to determine if a student is cheating. In programming, this can be dealt with by reading the comments written inside the code. If the comments are exact to another student’s comments, then there is a possibility that he/she has cheated. There still remains the possibility that the student can tweak the comments to his or her own words. This is where it can get really difficult. It wasn’t surprising to see that turnitin.com reports social- and content-sharing tools are highest in cheating. In computer science, I often see students copy and paste the programming problem into Yahoo Answers word-for-word but make it sound like they are tackling the program for personal reasons. Some simply say “This is for my class”. Answers are shared, then available for the next 100 people who search it. I think creating new problems each semester would help, but one would have to revamp the curriculum more than reasonably possible.

Proper citations

The effort needed to apply citations has always been a deterrent for using them. The student met with time pressures may choose the easy road and “forget” to apply a citation especially if the information, like author and date are not readily available. This expectation might also be relaxed in certain courses and if not addressed early on, could run rampant.

Sore Subject

girl-421458_1280Confronting students on plagiarism can be difficult. A teacher needs to tread lightly and ask the student what he/she thinks is going on. A conversation with the sponsoring school’s SC or the VHS adviser can be helpful. It is good not to be so much an enforcer by dedicating so much energy to trying to catch the offenders. But what should happen when we do determine that someone is plagiarizing? Should we give second chances?  I’m thinking this may be a testing ground for students to see what they can get away with.

Maybe being more strict would improve the quality of writing and citing other material. Or maybe we should enforce the idea that it is important to support your claims that you make in your own words and that if you do not support your claims with citations, you are not supporting your argument.

I also feel that many teachers do not follow through with proper citation teaching and enforcement. As a result, the atmosphere for copy-paste grows exponentially. Whenever I suggest to a student that he/she needs to cite their work, they easily become agitated and angry. It becomes a dark cloud filled with frustrations. Even after I explain the importance, have meaningful discussions around it, even the honors-level students criticize the fact that I’m enforcing it. I feel like if the enforcement and support had been consistent through earlier educational experiences, it wouldn’t be such an issue as I’m seeing in high school. Expectations need to be firm from the beginning.

It is important to note that private institutions often have a strict zero-tolerance policy. Students attending expensive schools feel tremendous pressure to do the right thing or risked being expelled from the HS the parents are paying for. I feel like in the public high schools, kids have an obligation to attend. Because school is a requirement, expelling seems out of the question. In this scenario, kids do not flinch at the idea that the worst that could happen to them is be given a warning.

Cheating in the Online Classroom

Venturing into the online teaching world, It will be difficult to detect academic dishonesty without f2f human contact. So to help, Procter suggests that teachers show interest in what students have to say. Ask real questions, use material from current class discussions, be creative with the assignments. In other words, be real. Integrity on the part of the teacher will aid in improving the integrity of the students. In recent research it was determined that there is no statistically significant difference in the level of plagiarism traditional and online institutions (Ison). While the today’s technology tools make it easier, the teacher is ultimately the one to make the difference.

Ison, David C. “Does the Online Environment Promote Plagiarism? A Comparative Study of Dissertations from Brick-and-Mortar versus Online Institutions.” ERAU Scholarly Commons. Department of Graduate Studies World Wide College of Aeronautics, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2014 n.d. Web. 4 June 2015. http://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ww-graduate-studies

“Deterring Plagiarism: Some Strategies.” Web. 04 June 2015

http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/faculty/deterring-plagiarism

“Turnitin : Results : Plagiarism Report.”Web. 04 June 2015. http://turnitin.com/assets/en_us/media/plagiarism_report.php

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Are (Online) Teachers in the Classroom Even Necessary?

teacher-403004_640Mike Kalin describes the Khan Academy trend in an NPR radio commentary. He describes the transformation of teaching with the advent of these online teaching tools. He states that teachers are no longer the most important conveyors of content. While online learning may seem dry to someone who has never done it, online experiences can be more engaging than listening to a lecture for 45 minutes. In this electronic realm, teachers act as a curator or facilitator to nurture a classroom environment.

Real teachers are still needed to help students navigate the river of online information. More importantly, teachers try to exemplify the civic virtues we hope to instill. These are curiosity, empathy and integrity. When I think of teachers’ primary roles, I think of the connections I make with students every day.

Technology has not undermined teaching. We need to transform our teaching in order to transform the lives of our students. We can not ignore the potential benefits of online learning, nor can we forget the importance of a real person to keep the experience alive.

How do we educate our children for economic reasons and cultural reasons? In Changing Education Paradigms, Ken Robinson (RSA, 2008) gives an interesting look at the educational system as it has been and what it could potentially include. Some of the concepts described include that ADHD has risen in parallel with increase in standardized testing and the arts are the victim of this. The arts are an aesthetic experience. Anaesthetic, meaning shutting off your senses is what the prescription ADHD drugs are doing. Schools are organized by the industrialized world. It’s about conformity and standardization. Divergent thinking isn’t creativity but an essential capacity for creativity — being able to see multiple answers in multiple ways.

It Takes a Community…

People close to me know I’m not a fan of automated toll booths and self checkouts. I still pay cash on the MassPike, and I will wait in line at the supermarket rather than use the machines. I worry we will lose opportunities for human connections, as subtle as they are. A VHS course won’t automatically teach itself. Kids will always need human connection and role models. As we move toward more and more online learning in schools we need to remember that the human educator is still essential, a valued component to teaching and learning. We can not forget that humans require human connection. As the saying goes, “It takes a community to raise a child.” When we fear new ways of teaching, we need to remember that human connections are essential in raising a child.

Are Teachers in Brick-and-Mortar Schools Even Necessary? 90.0 wbur Boston’s NPR news station, Jan 2014

Robinson, Ken. RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms – 2008  https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=21&v=zDZFcDGpL4U

 

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I will Never Learn – Examining My Online Teaching Journey

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Being a blended teacher for over 15 years, I have been teaching my classes as if they were online classes, always being present as a facilitator to aid in learning. More and more I am able to provide independent studies or second versions of courses. Often these can be offered while another section is meeting or independently in another location. My journey as an online educator has been fueled by my service as a Site Coordinator through VHS Collaborative and having completed the certificate professional development program offered through VHS.

I am presently undergoing the Online Teaching Methodologies (OTM) for VHS, which is a capstone or “student teacher” experience for Online teaching though VHS. I have the opportunity to co-teach a specific content area. I have elected to co-teach Computer Science Honors. This will help me understand the specifics to teaching online.

 

In an article put out by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) in 2012, it indicated that 27 states have virtual schools. Our school belongs to the VHS Collaborative, a service whereby students take online elective courses in a variety of disciplines. This allows for students to select courses not offered at our regional high school. My students who go through the VHS experience are very grateful for the opportunity. The number of participants increases every year. Online learning is not going away. Training to teach online is the smartest thing I could have done professionally.

 

vhspicMany criticize online learning as a mode of disconnect, where teachers and students are like machines. In a survey conducted by VHS Collaborative, teachers were asked about their feelings about online learning. “What do you find most striking about the difference between teaching online and face-to-face?”

“…I actually feel like I get to know my students sooner than in traditional teaching.”

Often teachers in a traditional face-to-face classroom will do icebreaker assignments, but sometimes shy students may not speak up; and class time limits make the activity rushed. When students can post lengthy introductions, or when they respond to assignments in a thoughtful way, we begin to learn more about the personalities of our students. It is important to pay attention to our students.

There are some overlaps in characteristics between the virtual and face-to-face teacher and student. A virtual teacher or student needs to be motivated and thorough, I’m thinking almost OCD. A teacher needs to be thorough with responses to student’s discussions. If the students are going to get the most of their VHS class, they are going to need reinforcement from the adult in the room. Every kid needs an “attaboy”.

Here’s a quote from another teacher interview:

“Online teachers have no choice but to be prepared, organized, methodical, and meticulous in their online lesson planning. Similarly, they have no choice but to be accessible, empathetic, timely, and sincere in their online communications.”

These are qualities that start with the teacher. Becoming a teacher, I think this is what you sign up for. My biggest concern is if when I begin teaching online, will it consume my life so much as I begin to neglect other areas. There is no bell. I feel that with my OCD-like personality, I may over do it and get lost in the shuffle. Only time will tell.

Will I ever learn? I’ve taken over 15 online courses while completing my certification in Instructional Technology and online teaching. I’m a creative person who can’t sit still. I need to be constantly tinkering with things. I feel that helps me as a virtual student. I am a self-starter, independent and self-determined. I’m consistently trying to better myself. I am loyal to my priorities, although I’m often stretched thin. I volunteer for everything; I say no to almost no one. Lately, I’ve tried to reign it in. But here I am. Again I am seeking the opportunity to learn how to teach online course which I am certain will mean more work for me. I guess I will never learn.

Read more Fast Facts About Online Learning – NACOL 2012

http://www.inacol.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/iNACOL_fastfacts_October_2012.pdf

Quotes provided by VHS Collaborative

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Authentic Digital Assessments: Web2.0 Tools to Prepare Students for the Real World

As a technology teacher, I often focus on tool instruction. As an integration specialist there is less emphasis on tool instruction but more emphasis on choosing tools to accomplish a task. As an adult looking at the whole picture, my primary goal is to prepare students for life during and after high school. More and more I feel like a life skills teacher or a home economics teacher. Like learning to be healthy through PE, boil pasta, or learn to balance their checkbooks, it is imperative that I prepare them for what is beyond the walls of K-12 education.

prismChanging technologies are exciting for everyone. So many of us latch onto new technologies in our free time. Today’s kids are no strangers to the latest technologies, limited only by their allowance. From Facebook to iTunes, GarageBand to YouTube. Oh yes, iMovie is fun. These technologies will be there and grow with them for years to come. Knowing something about them is useful. As citizens of this digital age, it is vital to know effective uses of advanced techniques in order to be efficient content creators and digital-literate consumers of information.

The right tool for the job

What tools should we be using in education? Let’s consider a broad brush and look at the big picture. What is the value of some of the Web2.0 tools or tablet apps that are emphasized now in education? Sure bells and whistles are attractive and motivating, the glow of a new app on an iPad is very exciting.

I explore tools in my technology classroom and have tried some of the latest-crazed tools such as NING, Edmodo, Wallwisher, SlideShare, Animoto, PBwiki,  Prezi, WizIQ,, Quia and VoiceThread. Remember those?  And OMG, there are so many more. I have distributed many logins to my students  and had my own content die a slow death in many online environments. At one point I had so many pots in the fire that I found myself confused, and my students, too, were increasingly annoyed.

Simulated tools that mimic “real” ones  

108db_ning_logoVideo/slide tools like Animoto or SlideShare create an easy cookie cutter approach to video- or photo-sharing creations.  Sites like NING and Edmodo provide a simulation of a social network that have been used in an educational setting. Personally I latched on to NING as a teaching tool and my PLN. I’ve enjoyed manipulating the tool to do many things for my classes, but with many tools I’ve always found limitations. Nonetheless, NING was once free and help promise for educational use that I revered as the tool that was going to float to the top, become mainstream, and I wasn’t going to have to learn another tool ever again. It was viewed as a “safe” protected environment. For me, course management with NING became too cumbersome and soon lost its appeal. It wasn’t designed for what I needed, and students had to log in to yet another “thing” and NING as a platform never took off with the general public and my PLN anyway.

edmodoEdmodo is another social network, which includes grading, group creation and has some appeal. Students can post content and carry out discussions. It is a decent PLN too. As educators we gleam when we can share our month-long student projects which demonstrate six minutes of understanding. Kids think it’s fun the first few weeks. It looks like Facebook.

Online apps and iPad apps are the hottest things to talk about in education. Emphasis on technology tools show up more in educational literature and make for filled conference rooms and large-budget purchases — higher than assessment and pedagogy. Tom Daccord of EdTechTeacher said in a speech, “Future Learning Spaces”, we have adapted iPad app and iPad devices on an unprecedented scale. There is an overemphasis on content apps.

While the popularity of these tools have been gaining in education, it begins to become apparent to me that using social networks like Edmodo in schools provides a false sense of the real world. Continuity between what tools are mastered in school and what tools are needed in the real world is overlooked. Far too much focus and attention is placed on asking educators to use these tools in their classes as a way to improve their technology use in education. Especially when common, free everyday tools are available and present already.

Let’s be real.

Efficiency is important in time on learning.  Teaching with multiple tools at once can be time consuming. From creating and managing accounts to students having to use trial-and-error techniques to learn a tool, the heart of the lesson can be compromised.

As a tool teacher, it is important that I provide students with experiences that will have lasting effects. Time dedicated to tools like Edmodo for me might be wasted time. Will kids leave it behind as they go on to college? What tools will they be using after high school?  How many tools come and go, close up shop and disappear?

Clearly we should look at learning management tools that are used in colleges. Tools such as Blackboard, Moodle and Desire2Learn are ones that come to mind. Maybe that is not a financial option or maybe a bit too “serious” for a middle school student. Regardless, if sharing content is my goal, there are more mainstream tools I’d prefer to use.

Facebook may be a stretch. It provides too many opportunities to cross over into personal life with professional/educational life.  Not a good place for file delivery. It has potential, but I’m not ready to use it as a “learning tool”.

How about Google?

Google-Apps-for-EducationA group on Google+, “Using Google as a Free LMS” explores the idea K-12 and higher education using Google as a free learning management tool. The concept of using a tool that may be already in the hands of students and sure likely to be around in 10 to 20 years makes sense for exploring this concept.

What do we know so far? We know that Google is a long-standing company. We know that their tools in the simplest form can be used in education. The tools are great for collaboration and sharing. Digital portfolios can be created with sites and blogs. Conversation can happen in discussion groups, Google+ circles, and comments on documents, presentations, and drawings. It is no secret that Google is a leader in providing learning tools for students. These tools can be carried with them into the real world as well as the products they have created. A digital portfolio that can be recycled into adult use.

How does it fare with time efficiency? Google has presented itself as the easiest most diverse online environment to date.  All you need is a free Gmail account. The library of tools Google provides integrates nicely with each other. File management and online sharing are a cinch. Google apps for education/business allow for administrative control. It can be deployed throughout the entire school community with little professional development. Moreover it is cross-platform.. And it syncs with a phone or tablet.

Daccord, Tom. Future Learning Spaces, edtechteacher/MassCUE Leading Learning the Future 2013, Worcester MA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=v60B0v48O0o

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Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 2)

This article is part of a series of articles about my exploration of the tablet/iPad in education.  This article includes the ingredients, trials and tribulations of the Smart Board alternative.  Find out how I ran into problems with my projector and AirPlay connections so you don’t have to. Links to each of the articles will be posted here or elsewhere inside the blog. It combines a “Leap of Faith” series with reflections on dual-platform knowledge; it will encompass a grant initiative to study a Smart Board alternative, include applications of use for both the Android and iOS, and explore creative ways to use the tablets in schools, including but not limited to, app creation. The series highlights the benefits and limitations of either platform, tips, tricks and workarounds or the technical compatibilities with everyday world uses. I intend to reflect on the social implications, as well. You will find the links to each article at the bottom of this one. Return here for updated link additions. The essential question is: How do we prepare our students for a mobile world and create an inexpensive projection for presentation of material to a broad audience?

Android

I first want to address how I made connection to my existing projector using the Motorola Xoom tablet. My existing Dell projector only has DVI ports closest to the HDMI outputs of the Xoom. The trick was that I needed to put together the necessary adapters. Simple.  The ideal connection was HDMI mini to HDMI to DVI. Great! Well, frustratingly, when the HDMI port is plugged in, immediately the sound is diverted to that port and not played on the device. Because DVI is not a sound-carrying connection (at least not in the use of the projector) sound had been muted. Solution: get a projector with HDMI ports.

iPad

Described in my early related posts, I needed to crossover into iOS; and in doing so, it was time to make the necessary investment in a projector with an HDMI port. Thankfully I found that a professional association I belonged to offered the MassCue initiative grant to educators seeking to enhance technology uses in their schools. I was seeking not only a platform-diverse environment but a Smart Board alternative. At MassCue’s 2011 Conference presented by Burlington public schools, I discovered AirPlay.

It was described at this conference workshop that it was possible to connect an iPad wirelessly to a projector. At that point in the workshop I began to block out the rest of the presentation and began to Google. Yes! I thought, it is what I’ve been eager to find. I envisioned walking around my classroom while projecting the content of my iPad to the screen whenever necessary. With a classroom set, I would ask students to show their work, or illustrate their discoveries on the fly with the help of AirPlay.

Initial Supplies (note errors corrected in this post)

Item

Price

32 G iPad 2 with WiFi

$600

iPad 2 Polyurethane Smart Cover

$39

Apple TV

$95

6’ HDMI to HDMI cable

$10

KanexPro HDMI to composite

Kanex ATV Pro

$95

$60

Projector – Vivitek D538W-3D DLP Projector (seek alternate)

Acer P1303W Professional Projector

$599

$599

Total (with projector)

$1403

Total (without projector)

$804

To make the iPad use AirPlay, the Apple TV is the magic device that makes it worthwhile. For only $100 it is a great deal. Not only do you gain the AirPlay functionality, but you also gain Apply TV experience. The Apple TV contains an HDMI output. Again, it is necessary to have and HDMI output or the necessary adapters. For those with budget restrictions, and who are comfortable with a reduced resolution display, the adaptors with an existing projector will do just fine. I’ve included a HDMI-to-composite adapter in my bundle to maintain the ability to carry out demonstrations in other rooms, and at conferences and workshops. If the projector did not have an HDMI connection, I needed this kind of a flexible solution.

Discoveries

The following describes problems with my initial setup. Please note what to look for in making this kind of connection at your school.

It begins with a projector problem. The projector I listed here contains HDMI in and an on-board speaker. I neglected to note that it did not have any audio outputs. In my years of experience, I have never come across a projector that did not have audio in and audio out. I had purchased the projector months in advance of the proposed setup and by the time I needed to return it, it was past the 30-day return window. The Vivitek D538W– 3D DLP Projector seemed like a great projector and is for any other solution.  But if you are using an HDMI source with audio, it presents a problem. The tiny onboard speaker is insufficient for a classroom and the HDMI voids any other audio output produced by the iPad.  That is, you cannot plug in the mini headphone jack to get audio at the same time.

Furthermore, I had problems with the Kanex Pro HDMI/CompositeVID w/Ster Audio CN.

The product description reads:

“The Kanex Pro HDMI to composite with audio converter is a classic retro-fit device, engineered to transform HDMI signals into analog composite video with R/L audio. Connect your HD sources such as DVD and Blue-ray players … to an analog A/V monitor or a projector. The converter includes front-panel switch that supports PAL/NTSC doormats for different regions and works flawlessly with all HDMI devices that are not HDCP encrypted.”

I was not expecting any HDCP support issues. I didn’t know what that was. Returning online to the place of purchase a month later, the same search provided a new product: the Kanex ATV Pro.

“The ATV Pro allows a VGA projector to use Apple AirPlay mirroring from an iPad to Apple TV. The ATV Pro promises to eliminate the need for expensive HDMI projection equipment upgrades. Join the thousands of classrooms nationwide that can mirror and stream content directly to a VGA projector via an Apple TV – HDCP 1.2 compliant!!”

It is clearly the best product because not only does it have the mini output, but it also does not require a power supply. I only wish I had discovered that a month prior. Geeky-Gadgets.com

I called Apple and they told me to get HOSA 3.5MM-TO-TOSLINK FIBER-OPTIC CABLE, 10 ft. TOSLINK to mini-Toslink ($13). Then I could use speakers. (It is on order. I hope to update this soon.)

So, for anyone who already has a regular VGA projector, all they need is the Kanex ATV Pro Adapter ($60 or less) the AppleTV box ($99), and an iPad ($499+/-) to be effective. For $658 per classroom (plus wireless access), there now is a smart-savings alternative to a Smart Board. If a classroom doesn’t already have a projector, add in about $400 for that for a total of $1100.

Connectivity

There are other things to consider with this or any other tablet setup. The wireless default user setting for the school usually is the same level of permissions as the student user. If these are to use YouTube, for instance, for student projects, there might be a setback. I envision someday this setup in our school auditorium. A presenter might wish to use his/her tablet or phone to present to an audience. If their device does not gain access to an unrestricted/unblocked wireless connectivity, then their presentations may be compromised. One consideration may be to look at how YouTube for schools works within the building.

Alternatives to AirPlay

Although I have not tried this, I believe you can achieve a similar experience using the DoceriRemote app for the iPad. It requires a Mac or PC already hooked up to a projector. While this seems like an inexpensive (free) method, my experience with AirPlay has been very efficient and easy to use and can be used with a classroom set of iPads. I suspect that a third party app and a computer client might slow down the interactiveness. As I stated in my previous post, I believe the more “real-world” you can get, the better. AirPlay works with the iPhone, a more common student-held device.  I’m not certain how the user community will adapt to these technologies in the future. My suspicion is that Apple and AirPlay will continue the momentum for user-friendliness.

There are a number of apps that go well with the projection setup.  Showme, Screenchomp, Replay Note, Timer + are a few.

The Experience        

In the end, using the Android with a 10-foot cord, or the iPad with AirPlay, you are going to enjoy the experience of having the content at your fingertips. Keynote or Google Apps and even Prezi are great presentation tools for this sort of thing. Actually, there are dozens of ideas I could share with you about presenting on a tablet. Perhaps I’ll save that for another post. For the moment, you will have a device that you can bring home with you to prepare and perfect. No longer will you need to configure and prepare for the Smart Board, if you already have one. In my case, I feel good about saving my school $8000 and a service contract that may extend over years. I am happy to know that my students who use the tablets to present or illustrate what they may know or need to know using technology that is well in their reach. Someday they may need to present in college or in their new job. From what I can tell, mobile phones and tablets will be the tool they will use in these future presentations.

Previous posts:

 The Leap of Faith – Android to iOS

 Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 1) –  The rational behind avoiding Smart Boards as a teaching tool.

Next: (coming soon)

The Leap of Faith – Android to iOS; Early reflections of the iOS transition experience

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Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 1)

This article is part of a series of articles I have written about my exploration of the tablet/iPad in education. Links to each of the articles will be posted here or elsewhere inside the blog. It combines a “Leap of Faith” series with reflections on dual-platform knowledge; it will encompass a grant initiative to study a Smart Board alternative, include applications of use for both the Android and iOS, and explore creative ways to use the tablets in schools, including but not limited to, app creation. The series will highlight the benefits and limitations of either platform, tips, tricks and workarounds or the technical compatibilities with everyday world uses. I intend to reflect on the social implications, as well. You will find the links to each article at the bottom of this one. Return here for updated link additions. The essential question is: How do we prepare our students for a mobile world and create an inexpensive projection for presentation of material to a broad audience?

Tablet Project Background

I entered the mobile market in the latter part of 2009 with my Droid phone, reluctant to enter the Apple market (as described in my February 2012 blog post TheLeapofFaithAndroidtoiOS. I enjoyed the slide-out keyboard and apps the Google world so nicely integrated into my Google-sphere. The idea of a tablet seemed far out of reach for the next few years that followed. The quest began in the spring and summer of 2011 when I noticed several schools beginning to adopt one-to-one iPad initiatives. As the integration specialist, I began to think that it was time to sort out how tablets might be beneficial to my program or any program. My classes, after all, have been designed to prepare students for technology uses in their high school career and beyond. Tablets were hitting the ed-tech world with a vengeance and I needed to get on board. The problem was, how?

I purchased a Motorola Xoom tablet in the spring of 2011 and explored applications for use in school. Creating apps for the Android with students was easy, thanks to Google’s App Inventor (now acquired by MIT). Having only one available for all of my classes, allowing students time to explore and create using the device seemed cumbersome. Moreover, the initial setup I had on the machine was personalized. App purchases and social network logins were all under my personal accounts. I needed to break away from that. Later in this study I will explain a method I feel best suits this kind of device.

Unfortunately, I may have decided on the platform that everyone else was ignoring. I had resisted Apple for so long. Yet iMacs and MacBooks soon began to enter my life. The ed-tech world seemed to be in love with their i-products, and by that trend so many studies were initiated. I began to feel like the educational community was missing the power of the Android world and weas being beckoned by the shiny glow of the Apple logo on their devices. I thought since the educational trends were headed in that direction I should research these trends for myself. Our school is interested in this trend and my role at our school obliges me to try. When Apple revealed its educational initiatives, textbooks, the iBooks Author tool, and iTunes U, perhaps this was about time to move in that direction.

MassCue Initiative Grant

Thankfully I found that a professional association I belonged to offered an initiative grant to educators seeking to enhance technology uses in their schools. Massachusetts Computer Using Educators Association (MassCue) provided me the edge I needed. Since I passed up opportunities to have a Smart Board in my room. I needed to seek a mobile solution. Something like how I did with a wireless mouse, keyboard and Smart Board tablet/slate in 2008. I was seeking not only a platform-diverse environment but a Smart Board alternative. At MassCue’s 2011 Conference presented by Burlington public schools, I discovered AirPlay.

Project Description

Title: Smart Board with Smart Savings

With this project students will use and create apps and use tablets to present content to their classmates. This grant will fuse with an Android tablet purchased by the school, and recent iMac donations from a local college to create a multiple platform experience for technology classes. Students will have the opportunity to review apps and create an app for Android, or iPad. The project will culminate with students presenting a slideshow using Keynote and Google Docs presentation tools.

The complete proposal can be found at Mass Cue Grant Proposal 2011.

Rationale

The rationale behind the grant was largely a feasibility study to be able to research a Smart Board solution using real world technology. The grant title, “The Tablet: Smart Board with Smart Savings”, grew out of my quest to find an inexpensive solution to the Smart Board giants. I’ve borrowed classrooms where I’ve used Smart Boards and over the years I’ve seen schools adopt Smart Boards with hopes that putting the technology at the front of the room, students would suddenly become technology literate. I found this to be flawed for a few reasons. First, it didn’t seem to make my teaching to be any more effective. For me, turning my back to students to write on the board felt very teacher-centered. Using the board for any other presentational mode made the Smart Board cost-ineffective. Standing 6’ 5”, the light caused me temporary blindness in the older arm-extended models; and more often than not, the projection needed to be recalibrated. Touching the screen didn’t reliably advance a slide, and the reaching four feet in both directions to click links seemed to be inefficient — more of a calisthenics exercise which put me physically in front of the information.

It’s how we read

Reading is an active process. Reading on the web/computers is a personalized experience. The reading we do online is rapid, there is an abundance of eye scanning and “click-decisions” that are naturally instant. We appear to do well with explanations and video tutorials more than teacher demonstrations. Sure occasional demonstrations are needed but children seem to get disconnected with the content when time extends, and if one student is using it, others are just watching and being distracted elsewhere. If there is a flaw in the program that is being used, a lot of time is wasted troubleshooting. When all is said and done, the student’s only technological gain is to now advance a slide in their PowerPoint by touching the screen. More progress has been made in education with the rise of blended learning and flipped classrooms than ever before. Student-centered learning activities continue to provide more engagement and increased motivation since its popularity decades ago. The teacher-at-the-front-of-the-room model is clearly phasing out.

Keeping it REAL

The hands-on world of technology has put mobile technology on the forefront of the mind’s of every individual. Students are facing a future where they will someday need to present to an audience using the most efficient use of technology possible. By the time 10 years passes, they will have forgotten what Smart Board app they have used; they will be far more comfortable using the iPad, iPod Touch or smart phone they may possess at home. More and more business proposals are being prepared on personal devices and brought on location and delivered without preparing Smart Board space. Much of content can now be prepared online for independent review. Often that independent review requires common interactive applications such as a PowerPoint viewer, PDF viewer, YouTube, etc.  A Smart Board software is proprietary to the handful of companies that make them and can only survive as well as their business model. The use of a Smart Board by a teacher or student does not strengthen 21st century skills.

Costs

Fifteen years ago I worked through a school building renovation. The process included a transformation from a two-computer building to a 300+ computer building, all networked with labs and classroom computers. The initial costs were absorbed by building funds and state-awarded capital grants. This conversion to a technologically prepared school was intense. No one really knew where it would go. A total cost-of-ownership had to be created (TCO) and quickly decisions needed to be made on how to maintain it. A full-time IT professional, integration specialist, and hours of professional development soon followed. Energy costs, replacement concerns, and software needs made budgets tighter than ever. Money was thrown at technology very quickly with hopes to improve learning and paint an image that we were, in fact, using the equipment the taxpayers supported.

Smart Boards were introduced and quickly gave the appearance that schools were technologically advanced. Open house presentations glimmered of shock and awe. Unfortunately I’ve seen many Smart Boards not being used effectively, even after extensive professional development has been implemented. These were often glorified PowerPoint clickers. Often the devices would go out of calibration or fail to function altogether.  Because of its proprietary nature, this expensive piece of hardware needs servicing by the installing agent. There are not common repair tasks which can be done in-house, thus creating a larger hole in the technology budget.

Direction

With technology advancement being lightning speed as it has been, it is no longer a question of improved learning but more of a race to provide access to tools. Schools have changed drastically. Knowledge comes from a vast web of resources and teachers now merely guide student learning. Some now play with information every day at home.  Focus now needs to be moving into a direction where we provide opportunities for students to use the tools they will need to know in the creative job market today. Without the support of the school system, and due to economic disadvantages, many students will not have acquired creative 21st century skills as some of their peers have. Schools, community media (television) centers and libraries are becoming more and more united as collaborative media centers providing direction for students’ acquisition of knowledge.

I grapple with specifications and connections using tablets as Smart Board alternatives in my next post. Look for that post and other upcoming future posts in this iPad/tablets in education series.

Previous: The Leap of FaithAndroid to iOS

Next: Smart Board with Smart Savings: iPads and Tablets in Education (Part 2) –  the ingredients, trials and tribulations. Find out how I ran into problems with my AirPlay connections so you don’t have to.

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Summer Reading: eBooks, Audio Books, etc…

Aah, summertime! Looking for some digital information to consume this summer while on vacation. I have used podcasts and audio books previous summers on my Droid 1. This  is the first summer with an iPad and a Motorola Xoom tablet and I am looking to maybe transition into the iTunes world, perhaps a real “iPod” some day, as well.  Digital reading in the sun may be hard. So this year it might have to be a nice blend of paper, digital books, and audio books. But really I’d like to find out where I can get all of my content in one organized manner including the audio content.

I’m not going to review the different eBook reader devices. There are plenty of review sites for that.  And it all comes down to the almighty dollar.  I’m simply going to reflect on what choices I have at present and where I might get my content.  I have an iPad2 and the Motorola Xoom (Android). I’m largely invested in Google right now. I love the Google apps environment, email, calendar and now app store world that just seem to jive nicely. The high school that I teach at is going to roll out Google Apps for Education accounts for everyone next fall.

What to consider 

I’m going to research over the next few weeks to determine what is right for me. Sure I could go out and buy ONE device that someone will tell me is the best for digital reading. I’m not in the position to do that. I know the iPad, for example, receives bad reviews for visibility while in the sun. This might be a deal-breaker for me. Again I need to find out where to invest my purchasing from content sources so that they might be transferred to other devices in the future.

I’m looking into simplification of my general media management and consumption. With countless apps, Google products, and content stores online, I would like to close out some accounts, delete some apps, and focus on a key set of tools and/or places to get my content. This post is written in hopes to gather responses filled with good suggestions for the best way I can read my stuff.

What I’m comfortable with

C/W Marshttp://www.cwmars.org/ Our Western Massachusetts Library system. They have made it easy to get a paper version of any book, CD, or DVD and have it delivered to our local library. They have a digital library, sometimes limited, in which you can download a client on your computer or an app for your device for reading or to listen to audio books. I have not yet tried to read a book using this method. Until now, I’ve waited the few days for delivery of the paper version.

Boston Public Libraryhttp://www.bpl.org/ Our state capital has given us all access to the Boston Public Library’s digital content. I have used this source a few times when I couldn’t find something in C/W Mars. At one point I ran into trouble with the accounts within my Android app.

Audible.com (Amazon) http://www.audible.com/. Great stuff. They have some  of the best readers in the industry. I have used the free download copy but have yet to purchase from there.

Web content – Twitter, blogs, social networks and news. I have a few aggregators such as Google reader. But I really need to do some summer cleaning and clear out some unwanted blogs, and narrow down my scope. I’m trying some apps, Pulse and Flipboard. These have been good to me.

What I hope to explore

Barnes and Noblehttp://www.barnesandnoble.com/ Does the Nook content work on Android or iOS? Is there an app for that? Yes there is. But is the format universal enough that if Barnes & Noble goes broke, will my book be available for future consumption? Is there a resale market? Like with a paper book, can I resell it when I’m done?

Amazon (Kindle app)http://www.amazon.com/ Perhaps the most attractive option for me. I read that the app looks pretty good on the iPad, I can choose between any of my devices and I’m not locked into Apple with my new library. Further it is the same login for Audible and almost every other purchase I’ve made. I’ve been using their cloud drive music and like it very much. They’ve got Android apps, movie purchases and movie rentals, too. Looks like with this choice, I can choose the platform I want to use for reading. If maybe my iPad is being used by another family member, I could get on the Xoom and pick up where I left off.

KISS – (Keep It Simple Silly)

I’m tired of having so many accounts in so many places; I have too many irons in the fire with accounts all over the place. I’m having trouble keeping up with my credit card info, shipping addresses, passwords, and login names that I just want to wake up, turn on and read. I really want to know how to best choose the content that can be ported from platform to platform. In 5 years, I hope to be able to store my books on a new device with ease.

The decision to write this article and make my process public was inspired by an article I read on elearn mag.

http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=2159560

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OMG — it’s like Instagram!

The rage these days are photo apps for mobile devices. The socialmatic phenomenon has overcome Facebook. Everyone these days seems to be posting photos like the ones that are still in my attic of when I was 5. For some, it is a tool they only know how to press buttons. For others it is an artistic expression. Photography has changed so much for so many. Communication using this medium is booming with the ease of a mobile device that sits in your pocket.

These apps are becoming verbs in my household. I could produce a good size list of worthy apps but the go-to ones are the ones worth posting. Those are Color Splash and Camera Plus.

OMG Color Splash!!

Mobile Tech Dictionary: colorsplash v. applying an effect to a photograph which removes all color except for the selected subject. ex..”colorsplashing it”

Color Splash, available on iTunes, lets you quickly and easily give photos a dramatic look by converting them to black and white, while keeping your chosen details in color. This effect draws the viewers’ attention to the colored areas, creating striking images. You can zoom in very deeply into the photo for detail and my favorite is that it has an undo button.

I’ve spent hours using Photoshop and GIMP trying to do this trick. Perhaps there is an easier way in those tools (anyone?) This app is a great cheat. What’s more, with the photo quality of the iPhone, photos are DSLR awesome!

Here are some examples my friend Jenny and I took and “colorsplashed” recently. Mine were taken with the original Droid. Not too shabby.

Some other examples online http://photobucket.com/images/color%20splash/ .

OMG Camera Plus

Mobile Tech Dictionary: Camera Plus: v. The act of applying a digital filter after effect. ex.. “did you camera plus it?”

Camera Plus is a great tool for providing not only the “Instagram” basics but it offers a heck of a lot more. Taking a photo includes focus and lighting with a gentle slide of the finger. Point the two targets at the place you wish to focus and the place you wish to anchor the light settings. Once you take the shot you bring into its powerful arsenal of digital filters for an experience better than “Instagraming”, if I may.

Check out this really cool iPhonography blog by a very close friend of mine. Jenny’s iPhoneography Jenny’s blog features photos using the Camera Plus app on the iPhone 4s. I suggest you subscribe to it using the email subscription option on the right. It is a brand new blog that is about to take off.

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