Category: Walden University (page 1 of 2)

Reflections on Emerging Technologies Course

I am wrapping up a doctoral course on emerging technologies this week. I have to admit, this has been the most enjoyable course I’ve taken to date. The subject matter was right down my alley, and there was much more interaction in this course than in previous classes (I’m working on an online degree.). I wanted to take the time to share a few things that were particularly significant to me as I plan for next year.

Games in education

While I have read many wonderful pieces on the blogs of such educators as David Warlick on the subject, gaming is not something I have devoted much thought or energy to. The research makes it clear that games are an effective and engaging way to promote higher level cognitive skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity. They also reinforce many academic skills, and they do so in a setting which kids actually enjoy. I will be looking for ways to bring games and simulations more attention in our district next year.

Moodle

Learning content management systems, like Moodle, are the present and immediate future of our profession. They make learning objects easily accessible by teachers and students, they facilitate collaboration and communication, they integrate Web 2.0 tools wonderfully, and they draw upon the collective knowledge and experiences of educators. The limited exploration I have done with Moodle this quarter has convinced me that it is well within the capabilities of our teachers and the time is now to get the implementation rolling in BISD.

Synchronous collaboration tools

This includes such presentation resources as Elluminate, WebEx, and Dimdim, but it also includes simpler tools, such as Skype and chat rooms. I received very positive feedback from participants in my first Dimdim professional development session, and I will be offering many more next year, perhaps even outside of the district. The convenience and extensive feature set simply make these tools essential for professional learning, and they go far beyond some of the existing online tools used in our district, which are asynchronous in nature. They also have many classroom applications. Elluminate will be available next year, and it will be exciting to see how we utilize the tool, particularly if we can find effective ways to incorporate it into our expanding number of online courses. It just might be an effective method of decreasing attrition and creating a greater sense of community among our online students.

Cell phones/personal electronic devices

Our district’s cell phone policy is now much more open, meaning it will be essential to explore and articulate best practices for utilizing the ever-increasing capabilities of the devices in the coming year. There will be an adjustment period for teachers, without a doubt. However, I truly foresee the wireless Internet capabilities, text messaging, and video/photographic capabilities being put to some creative and powerful applications.

Can Gaming Skills Be Transferred to the “Real World?”

In a recent blog post, David Warlick discusses his experience presenting a discussion of the value of gaming in education to a group of parents and educators. He related some resistance on the part of some attendees, particularly one woman, who challenged his assertation “that the video game generation is moregame controller sociable and better collaborators than the previous generation.” The woman asserted that, in fact, the opposite was true, and that today’s students had difficulty interacting and adjusting to life in the work force. Warlick responded basically that there were many factors that “make our children”, not simply their participation in online games, and that most of us struggled initially as we entered the workforce. He also added “that to see and leaverge these skills we have to alter our expectations and even aspects of the work environment and schedule and even the nature of our assignments.” In other words, as I understand him, employers (and, I would assume, educators) need to examine the environment that we create and the type of work we expect our young people to complete and adjust them to better take advantage of the skills that they are developing while playing these games (particularly the online, social-type games).

This is an interesting idea, as it calls into question the very nature of many of the standards by which the success of our students is measured, both in the classroom and beyond. It also would require a radical re-thinking of the work environment and the nature of social interaction and collaboration. Certainly, avid participants in the online video game culture do engage in many tasks that have either overt or implicit value in the working world. They solve problems, formulate hypotheses, apply subject-specific skills, communicate, and collaborate. However, the nature of these actions is certainly significantly different in many ways than the forms that they would take in a traditional classroom or workplace.

Two competing questions come to mind, then, one putting the impetus for change on the student/employee, the second, posed by David, on the employer/teacher. First, how do we take students from the virtual application of these skills to the physical, real-world environment? Research is beginning to bear out the idea that they truly are developing valuable skills, but will they have value if they cannot transfer them? Secondly, what can future employers (or schools) do to make their work environments places which leverage the types of tools that take advantage of young employees’ (or students’) affinity for and skills with these games? For instance, are social networks or simulations perhaps more effective tools for job training than traditional, in-person training sessions with this generation?

I suspect the most productive answer lies somewhere in the middle. I do agree with the premise that David makes that systemic change in the workplace should be considered. But I also think that there needs to be a transitional focus, and students need to be able to adapt the virtual experiences and interactions they have used to build their skills to the application of those abilities into marketable and useable traits in the workforce. Adaptability and the ability to respond to changing environments and situations are actually key qualities of the successful gamer, so this should be feasible. I don’t know the solution, but I do recognize the value of online gaming and the diverse skillsets that research has demonstrated can be gained/enhanced. We would be remiss, as educators, not to put some serious effort and thought into considering just how best to take advantage of this fact.

I would add that, piggy-backing off of David’s post, I went back and re-read the ISTE NETS for Teachers, and I found several ideas that could be easily applied in the workplace. Simply substitute “employers” for “teachers” and “employees” for “students”. A few examples…

1.  Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Teachers Employers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student employee learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments. Teachers Employers:
a. promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness
b. engage students employees in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources
c. promote student employee reflection using collaborative tools to reveal and clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning, and creative processes
d. model collaborative knowledge construction by engaging in learning with students employees,colleagues, and others in face-to-face and virtual environments
2.  Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Teachers Employers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS•S. Teachers Employers:
a. design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student employee learning and creativity
b. develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students employees to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational occupational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress
c. customize and personalize learning activities to address studentsemployees‘ diverse learning styles, working strategies, and abilities using digital tools and resources

Evolution of a Teacher

What, exactly, is a teacher? Webster’s Dictionary defines a teacher as:

Teach”er\, n. 1. One who teaches or instructs; one whose business or occupation is to instruct others; an instructor; a tutor.

Traditional teacher

Teaching is primarily defined as “To impart the knowledge of; to give intelligence concerning; to impart, as knowledge before unknown, or rules for practice; to inculcate as true or important; to exhibit impressively; as, to teach arithmetic, dancing, music, or the like; to teach morals.” Alternately, it is defined as “To direct, as an instructor; to manage, as a preceptor; to guide the studies of; to instruct; to inform; to conduct through a course of studies; as, to teach a child or a class” or “to accustom; to guide; to show; to admonish.”

There are significant differences in these definitions. The first is more traditional, and it depicts the teacher as the provider, source, and demonstration of information needed for learning. The alternative definitions depict a different role entirely, that of one who leads others to the sources of information and understanding. The former entails a significant level of control over what is learned and how it is learned. The latter implies greater freedom on the part of the learner. The former, it might be argued, implies greater structure, while the latter implies a more random order.

In the past week, there have been a couple of experiences that have led me to consider just how our profession is evolving from one of a source of knowledge to one of a guide, who leads students through a vast sea of information, so that they may construct knowledge independently. The first was a discussion with a colleague about the fears expressed by a teacher that they would become obsolete. Sacred cowsChange is inevitable, exciting, and terrifying. Technology is accelerating this change in education and in the world in general, by connecting us and giving us access to information on a scale unimaginable a few decades ago. It is easy to understand why this can be intimidating to a teacher. However, it is neither rational nor logical to expect that we will become obsolete. It is both rational and logical, however, to expect that our roles will be evolving, and that we will need to work to change our teaching practices to fit the needs of a new educational paradigm. The real challenge will be to develop enough of the critical literacy in teachers for them to be able to become the skilled navigators of information needed to lead our students to understanding. This is by no means a knock on a generation of educators, but it is a statement of the realities of our upbringing and education–information was different, smaller. The exciting part is, if we can change in these ways, the profession can become even more rewarding, as we will have the opportunity to witness so many more “a-ha” moments of self-discovery in our children. If we cannot, well, we very well may be on our way out.

The second experience involved the implementation of two technology tools in our district, Blackboard and Moodle. These tools promise to give access and unity to the vast reservoirs of learning objects, lesson plans, assessment tools, and other resources that have previously been dispersed, the property of individual teachers or, at best, small teams of teachers. They also will enable far greater Grocery storestudent access to the tools and resources they need to conduct their own learning experiences. Imagine a virtual grocery store of information, open 24 hours a day, where students select the ingredients needed for any recipe they need or desire. The teacher becomes the store manager, pointing them to the right aisles, the best ingredients. The end result is a motley mix of dishes, each contributing to a grand feast of knowledge. These tools will also allow students to contribute to the collective database of learning objects and information, providing resources for future students and teachers to utilize and build upon. Now, the student takes on a role once reserved for the teacher, a role made possible through the leadership and guidance of that teacher/manager.

Learning is about change and growth. The nature of information and access to that information is changing and growing, as well. Teachers are a resilient, dedicated lot, and we will adapt and excel, so long as we are willing to give up some degree of control and put it in the hands of our capable clients.

References:

teach. (n.d.). Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved May 07, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary1.classic.reference.com/browse/teach

teacher. (n.d.). Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved May 07, 2009, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary1.classic.reference.com/browse/teacher

Too Much to Moodle to Ignore?

As an advocate of free, online Web 2.0 tools, I have spent a great deal of time and effort in reading and Moodleresearching, trying to keep up with the latest, greatest sites for my teachers or presentation attendees to use to transform their curriculums into the 21st century. I must admit that I’ve been neglectful of some other areas of technology, not so much because I failed to see their importance, but rather that the read/write Web has simply captured my imagination. One particular tool that I wish to gain a greater familiarity with is Moodle. Moodle is a learning management system (LMS), defined by Leonard Greenberg as “a high-level, strategic solution for planning, delivering and managing all learning events within an organization.” (2002) Among other things, Moodle is a powerful tool for creating online content and e-learning opportunities.  It has become an amazing force in the education world. It is a free, open-source tool that is putting a serious dent in the sales of for-profit tools in the field, especially in the current economic climate.

Miguel Guhlin is one of the foremost advocates of Moodle in education in the state of Texas today. In his blog and numerous trade publications, Miguel offers insights into implentation of Moodle, its applications, and justifications for its use. In an article written for the magazine On Cue and cross-posted in his blog this week, Miguel gives a good, general overview of the tool and some suggestions for its implementation. One thing that caught my eye was that  “Moodle comes replete with blogs, forums, RSS feeds, wikis and more that enable it to be seen as an “absolute good” that opens the door, that enables powerful ideas to slay the fears our IMHO – slay the fears that leaders hold.” I’ve been told many, many times that schools cannot utilize the tools I’ve shared because of restrictive filtering policies, so if Moodle is a step to overcoming this, I’m definitely listening.

Moodle Tools

Miguel does a great job going into more detail on some of the applications of Moodle in education, but I’ll summarize briefly what he describes.

  • Online learning environments. Users can create and utilize online groups, such as literature circles, create online quizzes and other instructional resources, build wikis for group collaboration, display student work, keep writing journals, develop online lessons, and more.
  • District/campus communications. Leaders can create book studies, disseminate news, engage staff in discussions using online forums, etc. All of this can be created in a private setting, accessible only to invited members.
  • Supporting district initiatives. Moodle’s discussion forums, questionnaires, and synchronous tools (Such as a Dimdim module!) help schools and districts implement initiatives in a manner that is on-going and as needed, rather than the typical isolated and infrequent way that it too often is presented.
  • Professional development. Moodle has the ability to make professional learning opportunities an anytime, anywhere affair. Teachers can login, take a course, complete a questionnaire, share a lesson plan, and earn needed professional development credits, such as ESL or G/T hours. All of this accomplished in a format that is both cost-effective (no transportation expenses) and fits into already busy schedules.

Breaking Down Barriers

Miguel also offers some helpful tips for overcoming administrative hesitation in implementing Moodle (and Web 2.0 tools) in schools:

  • Take the time to list the reasons you need the tools.
  • Share the reasons with administrators.
  • Create a petition and enlist the support of like-minded educators.
  • Explain the need for a person to be the administrator of the computers on which the tools will be used and volunteer to be that person.
  • Cultivate a relationship with the people in “power” over technology and access to resources.

I would add to this list:

  • Do your research. Administrators generally love data. Be able to support your ideas with evidence.
  • Educate the leaders at the top of the hierarchy. Show what other schools are doing. Teach them the tools and encourage them to try them out. I know from experience how powerful this can be.
  • Emphasize the cost-effectiveness of your ideas. The tools are free, but will require some costs in terms of servers, support, etc. Regardless, they are certainly more efficient than many pay-for-use tools.
  • If those in charge are reluctant, emphasize the ability to create resources whose use and access is totally controlled by the school/district.

Want More Information?

I plan to be experimenting with the tool in the coming months, and I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences here. In the meantime, if anyone is curious enough, you can learn a great deal through Miguel’s writings on his blog and elsewhere. I’ve also found him to be very willing to offer insights and answer questions through Twitter (http://twitter.com/mguhlin). Additionally, Moodle has a very active community of users, and you can tap into this community through the Moodle forums at http://moodle.org/login/index.php.

Enemies to Productivity?

I just finished watching a thought-provoking presentation by Iqbal Quadir. Iqbal asserts that technology, particularly those technologies that have facilitated communication, have been critical to the growth and success of democratic societies and the economic welfare of their citizens. He states,

“If citizens can network and make themselves more organized and productive, so that their voices are heard, so then things would improve.”

Quadir, who grew up in Bangladesh, where the ratio of people to phones was 500 to 1, also states that the telephone is a weapon against poverty, because increasing connectivity results in increased productivity. Phones act like rivers or highways, improving reliability and enabling specialization. Quadir put his ideas into action, leaving a New York banking job to set up a rural cellular network in his home country. The results have had a dramatic impact, increasing productivity, personal welfare, and the country’s GNP.

This presentation struck home with me, as I considered the general view of cellphones in schools today and a new direction being taken by Birdville, my home district. By and large, cellphones are considered to be nuisances, and, if allowed at all, they are only to be used outside of classroom hours or in the case of an emergency. Within the classroom, they are detrimental to the learning process, distracting students from the “important” matters of the curriculum. Here is a typical scenario pulled from last week’s headlines. Through a new, more progressive policy phones are allowed only in high school, and only if out of sight and turned off. Notice this statement: “Last year, 1,253 high school students were cited for violating the cell phone policy.” Clearly, there are serious discipline issues in this school (Sarcasm intended–imagine how much instructional time and effort is used wasted enforcing such policies.).

I’m truly not intending to pick on this particular district, because I do believe it is representative of the typical No phonesAmerican school system. A technology that has the ability to facilitate communication between students, parents, teachers, scientists, researchers, astronauts, doctors, politicians, etc. is viewed as a distraction. A tool that can be used to take photos, record video/audio. and access the Internet is seen as a means for students to cheat (As if it requires a cell phone to accomplish that. Might as well ban paper and pencils, while we’re at it.). Rather than address their use in a forward-thinking, progressive manner, most schools opt for the easy route, which is, of course, to eliminate the “threat.” How sadly ironic it is that in a land where cellphones are moving toward equaling the total population (230 million subscribers by the end of 2006), where the devices are being put into the hands of students of almost all ages (My 2nd grade daughter has classmates who own them.), and in a time when the power they possess surpasses the capabilities of the computers I grew up with, we can’t find a way to leverage them in every classroom.

Imagine applying the same concepts put forth by Quadir in the classroom. Cell phones used to connect students, used to have instant access to information, used to communicate information instantly between teachers, students, parents. Is it not conceivable that the results would mirror those in Bangladesh? Might students become empowered and connected, and their productivity and power actually increase?

Next year will be the first in my own district to put this to the test.  We are starting a new era of cell-phone-friendly schools, as we attempt to take advantage of their capabilities and find new ways of using them in our curriculum. It will be interesting, particularly to see how some reluctant teachers respond to the new policy. Students will have to display responsibility and discipline to make it work, as well. If teachers can adapt, and if students demonstrate as much energy, creativity, and excitement in the actual implementation as they did in our recent student technology summit, the potential impact is quite significant. I will be posting further on this as we move forward with this. I’ll also be digging for more success stories of implementation, so please share if you have any!

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References:

Cell Phone Use Exploding (2007). Retrieved April 23, 2009, from http://china.usc.edu/ShowAverageDay.aspx?articleID=663&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.

Image credit:

No cell phones!

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Preparing Students for Online Learning: Steps for the Classroom

Today’s education environment is evolving more rapidly than at any other time in history. Technology is playing a critical role in this metamorphosis. As schools race to keep pace with the growth of new technologies and the resultant changing expectations of stakeholders, one of the most rapidly growing applications is in the area on online courses, or e-learning. According to a survey of 1,600 post-secondary schools conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 2/3 of the schools now offer dimdimcourses that are either completely or partially web-based and over 11,000 programs that entirely used distance learning (Parsad, 2008). Schools that participated in the study cited reasons for offering such courses as offering students greater flexibility in course scheduling, providing access to students who would otherwise not be able to attend the schools, increasing the number/types of courses available, and increasing overall enrollment.

Karl Kapp cites some interesting economic figures regarding e-learning in his blog. According to one study he shared, e-learning was a $20 billion global industry in 2008, and it is projected to be at over $52 billion by next year. “Online tutoring” is a $4 billion industry, with expected growth rates of 10-15% per year.

So, what are some implications for k-12 schools? This increase in participation in online learning has had a great impact on the k-12 landscape. Students are enrolling in growing numbers in an ever-increasing variety of online courses and for a variety of reasons, including convenience, availability of subjects, need to balance work/family/school schedules, suitability to their learning styles, etc.

The question that we should ask is whether or not we are doing enough in our traditional classrooms to prepare students for success in a learning environment that is becoming such a significant part of the post-secondary and business environments. Despite the growing popularity of such offerings, there have been several studies that have revealed that many students struggle with or drop out of online courses. Studies claim attrition rates ranging from 20-80% in online courses (Tyler-Smith, 2006). It seems likely that many students enter the online classroom ill-prepared for success.

The inclusion of relevant technologies does not need to be a full-immersion experience. A 7th grade math teacher would likely find little success if she suddenly decided to take her course curriculum completely online. The skills students will need to master to better ensure success in online learning include familiarity with technology tools, practice with communicating and collaborating with a diverse audience, metacognition and self-motivation, writing skills, and organization skills. While it is obvious that many of these skills are key components of everyday instruction (writing, organization, metacognition), others would be less likely to be addressed in a traditional curriculum. The skills that students need can begin to be addressed and developed by some simple classroom applications that utilize relevant, abundant, and free technologies.

The 2009 Horizon Report describes several technologies that can be classified as either synchronous (real-time interaction) or asynchronous learning tools. When used in a traditional classroom, these tools have a great deal of potential for developing the skills students will need for success in the eLearning environment. Tools include:

I would add to the list student email, as email is a vital communication tool not only in the business and home environment, but in the online learning environment, as well.

The classroom teacher can integrate many of these tools seamlessly into the existing curriculum. The key is to offer a wide range of opportunities for students to use the technologies. Students should be allowed to participate in collaboration opportunities with students from other classes or other locations, to engage in real-time discussions of subject matter, to share ideas and resources, to put forth questions for further class consideration, to reflect on learning, and to assist in the planning of such opportunities. The goal is for the learning curve associated with the types of technology and interaction in an online environment to be reduced or eliminated, so that students can instead focus on course content.

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References:

Parsad, B. & Lewis, L. (2008). Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions:  2006–07. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009044.pdf.

Tyler-Smith, K. (2006). Early attrition among first time eLearners: A review of factors that contribute to drop-out, withdrawal, and non-completion rates of adult learners undertaking eLearning programmes. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from http://jolt.merlot.org/Vol2_No2_TylerSmith.htm.

Free Screencasting Tools

Screencasting is the act of recording the actions that occur on your computer screen in video format. It allows users to create video files of presentations, tutorials, and demonstrations that can be viewed in many formats, such as in online, embedded videos, CD-R/W, DVDs, portable media players, etc. Screencasts are powerful instructional tools because they offer learners the opportunity to view materials as often as needed and whenever needed. They efficiently expand the instructional time of the teacher. As an example, my better half has been creating screencasts using free software and Microsoft Paint to produce simple, yet effective videos for her students to review math concepts in class or at home. The videos are available to her students via her class website. An example is seen below.

Numerous quality commercial products exist for creating screencasts, such as Adobe Captivate, iShowU (Mac only) and TechSmith’s Camtasia. Both are outstanding products that offer high-quality video and useful feature sets, such as the ability to add text, navigation tools, etc. For the budget conscious educator (all of us, these days), however, there are also some very useful free screencasting tools available that offer plenty of functionality to create useful, quality screencasts. All an educator needs to get started is a computer with an Internet connection and a microphone. For the really ambitious, a graphics tablet is a great addition, as it allows users to write text and make drawings using a stylus, which is much more natural than using a mouse for most users. Graphics tablets of suitable quality can be purchased in many instances for under $50.

Some examples of screencasting software:

  • Jing –Jing Project is a free product by the makers of Camtasia that uses a software download to capture video or still images and works with Macs or Windows PCs. Users set the dimensions they wish to record and the format, image or video. The free version of Jing allows videos of up to 5 minutes in length. Images can be annotated with text or drawings, but videos cannot. Jing Project users get a free account at Screencast.com, which offers online hosting of videos with a single click. Videos can also be saved offline and embedded in blogs, wikis, web pages, etc. Jing offers a paid version, as well, that offers increases functionality.
  • CamStudio –CamStudio is an open-source software tool that lets users create screencasts in either .avi or .swf format. CamStudio also offers some very useful features, such as adding text to videos and adding “picture-in-picture” videos through the use of a webcam. Users can determine the screen area and recording quality, as well, allowing for the creation of videos in large or small file sizes. The interface is very easy to learn, and CamStudio is a powerful and simple tool to get started. CamStudio is a Windows only tool at this time.
  • Screencast-O-Matic –Screencast-o-Matic is a cross-platform, browser-based tool for creating screencasts. Screencasts created with Screencast-o-Matic are stored online on their site, but can also be embedded in other sites or downloaded as .mov files. The video quality isn’t as high as some of the other tools, but, according to the site owners, this helps make the streaming run more smoothly. Users can create videos up to 15 minutes in length and can add notes in the user interface. A useful application of this feature is to create hyperlinked menus to various portions of the screencast. In the online form, viewers can also add comments. Videos can be either public or private. An example describing some of the features can be seen at http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/watch/ci1YYmqh.

In whatever format screencasts are created, conversion to formats compatible with iPods and other portable media devices can add to their functionality. Zamzar is a useful, free tool that allows most video formats to be converted to mpeg-4 for this purpose.

For more information on screencasting tools, be sure to check out this useful list on the Mashable.com site. Travis Quinnelly has another at Makeuseof.com, and Free Technology for Teachers has a review of a new tool that I haven’t tried (yet), Screencastle.com.

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