Progress on Drupal-based class site

Recently I wrote the post “The course Web site is integral to the success of blended or online learning”. Today I spent the day working with the installation of Drupal on my laptop trying to implement what I described.

My goal is to implement this with a standard installation of Drupal (of course, with the addition of contributed modules). It has been at least ten years since I have programmed with PHP (which is what Drupal is written in) so I’m not going to be writing any modules myself any time soon. To this end, I have relied on the following modules:

  • Content Access
  • Node Reference
  • Flag actions
  • Rules
  • Views
  • FiveStar (Voting API)
The form that is used to create a critique of a class post.

These modules have allowed me to make some progress on my goals. In just a couple days I have implemented the following:

  • Students can submit a class post and define it as “For review”.
  • Students can submit critiques for any class post that is defined as being “For review”.
  • Students can see a list of class posts (designated as “Published&rdsquo;) sorted by number of comments (ascending) and publication date (ascending); this way they can see the class posts most in need of comments.
  • Students can submit comments on both class posts and critiques.
  • Students can vote on class posts, comments on class posts, critiques, and comments on critiques.
  • Students can individually bookmark any comment on the site.
  • Students can see a ranking of the content that is receiving the highest average voting.
  • Professors can mark any content as “recommended” for students.

I’ve been very impressed with Drupal and its modular construction. The above represents some pretty good progress in a short time, but work still remains:

  • I already see that the system is collecting information about how many times the student votes, comments, critiques, and writes. I just need to centralize the information so that it’s easy for the student and the professor to monitor and use the information.
  • The main work that I have remaining is constructing the lessons pages (and, of course, the content).

I have yet to figure out the information architecture for the lessons. I don’t know what modules to use, I don’t know whether to use node references or a taxonomy as a means for categorizing the lessons, etc. And I haven’t had too much success finding any type of large community of higher education Drupal users. They are out there, but it’s a pretty small group. Given the strength of the platform, I’m surprised.

Given what I have discovered about Drupal, I’m hopeful that this is going to change in the coming years.

, ,

No Comments

Educational technology and Christensen’s disruptive change framework

The major challenge facing higher education has been brought about by educational technology and its ability to bring about disruptive change. In March 2000 Clayton Christensen and Michael Overdorf wrote “Meeting the challenge of disruptive change” (Harvard Business Review), which discussed why so many successful companies have such trouble innovating, and then laid out decision rules that set out plans for action for companies in order to give them the best chance for successfully innovating. This seems like a fairly direct application of this framework, and one that I would expect my students to bring up fairly quickly in their analysis when thinking about what higher education institutions should be doing in relation to this challenge.

The innovation framework

The authors described a 2×2 framework, with one axis being fit with organizational processes, and the other being fit with organizational values. The idea is that the path towards innovation depends upon the fit between the existing organization and the innovation needed:

  Values
Processes Well Poorly
Well Functional or light-weight teams Heavyweight team, developed in-house, then spun off
Poorly Heavyweight team, within organization Heavyweight team, separate spin-off or acquired organization

Applying the framework to higher education

I think it’s fairly clear to anyone who has been around higher education for any period of time that it does not have the right values to innovate. Everything about higher education is centered on stability and incremental change. From the framework we can now see that we’re going to end up with a heavyweight team that will eventually have the commercialization of the project be in a separate organization. The only remaining option is whether development will be done in-house or in a spin-off organization.

This option is determined by whether or not the existing organization has the right processes to innovate. Here I am just going to focus on the decision-making protocols (one of the significant processes) of a fairly typical top business school. Each tenured faculty member has what amounts to lifetime employment and operates more-or-less as an independent contractor. He is accustomed to teaching the classes he wants, how he wants, with the topics he wants, in the programs he wants, and generally at the times he wants. Sure, not every professor gets what he wants every time, but the professor expects his desires to be taken into account. When major questions are addressed, task forces are convened, data is gathered, committees are formed, faculty meetings are held (and held and held), further data is gathered, votes are called and postponed, more meetings are held, and then the proverbial camel emerges from the other end. Then, assuming that some type of decision is made, actually getting faculty to do something significant is another matter entirely — the phrase “herding cats” is frequently bandied about. So, I would say “no,” higher education generally does not have the right processes to innovate.

Conclusions

Thus, according to the innovation framework above, this would say that when a higher education institution is addressing the wholesale changes required by technology, they should create a heavyweight team dedicated to the inovation task. The team should have complete responsibility for its success, and it should end up operating in a separate spin-off or acquired organization.

The next question is how should this be done? For a future post…

, , ,

No Comments

Using video as proxy for a class discussion

A case classroom at the Ross School of Business

I am going to be offering a blended version of a class that I have offered the last three years as a pure case discussion class (which I have discussed a bit before). I don’t currently know what percentage will be face-to-face versus online, but I’m guessing that over half (and maybe up to 3/4) will be online. I need to come up with a way to move the class online while still offering the benefits of a case class.

Benefits

I do believe that students benefit in several ways from a case class:

  • Being put on the spot to discuss a situation with a professor,
  • Have a give-and-take with the professor (and other students),
  • Hearing the opinions (often contradictory) of other students,
  • Defending his/her position against challenges.

This is all very useful to these undergraduates, and are some of the major benefits of the case discussion method.

Challenges

A recent change for this class is that I am moving the bulk of my class online. The second is that I am hoping that the class continues to grow so that I have more than the 60-75 students that I have had the previous three offerings. The question becomes how can many students continue to get the benefits of the case discussion method (or, at least, many of them) while taking the class online?

Insights

When teaching a case class, 95-100% of the class speaks at least once every 3 hour class period. I certainly didn’t see how I could carry this off over video. I was stumped for a while but I had several insights the other day.

  • I realized that no one student ever spoke more than four times during a class, and almost never more than 2-3 total minutes. Add that up over the semester and it’s entirely possible that no one student ever spoke for more than 30 minutes over an entire semester, with most totaling more like 15-20 minutes. (These are rough estimates.)
  • Many, many students want to say something nearly every time I ask a question, and feel like they don’t get to make the points that they want to make most of the time.
  • Two of the benefits listed above come from listening to other students, forming opinions based on that conversation, and forming defenses of his/her position against those other opinions.

Proposed solution

I am still working through the details, but I am thinking that every week we could have a process that goes something like the following.

Google+ Hangout
  1. Groups of three randomly-chosen students would be assigned to read two cases and answer some simple questions about them.
  2. The answers of all students would be made public, and a new set of more in-depth and analytic questions would be made public.
  3. A pre-assigned set of 4-8 students would prepare for an online discussion about those questions, plus lingering questions from the first set of questions. If we had 2 cases per week, then this would give up to (2x8x12) 192 students per semester the chance to go through this experience. Or, if I had 60 students, then each student could have 3 chances per semester.
  4. The rest of the students would only have to think about those questions, but in no way have to prepare.
  5. I could have a conversation over Google+ Hangout (especially OnAir) with that set of of 4-8 students in which we go over their thoughts about the second set of questions (plus other stuff that might come up). I assume that each Hangout would last about 30 minutes.
  6. The rest of the students in the class could watch the Hangout live or watch it recorded on YouTube.
  7. One third of the students in the class other than the students involved in the Hangout would be responsible for submitting a write-up related to the second set of questions. Another third would be responsible for critiquing a couple of those responses. The final third would be responsible for commenting on the responses. Authors would be able to respond to the critiques and comments as they see fit.

Wrap-up

Looking back at the benefits that I list at the beginning, I believe that this new structure does a pretty reasonable job of delivering those benefits. Students are put on the spot in the Hangouts. They have exchanges with the professor and students in the Hangouts. Those students plus the audience gets to hear the opinions of those students. Certainly, the students in the video have to defend their positions (from the students and the professor). Additionally, in the follow-up writing assignment, the students in the writing and commenting roles are all learning to formulate arguments for a position and defend an argument against attacks.

Like I said, I am still working through the details but I think I have come up with a promising proposal. Has anyone tried anything like this? If so, please share your experiences with me through twitter or the comments below. Thanks!

, , ,

1 Comment

The course Web site is integral to the success of blended or online learning

Sakai Project

Introduction

Here at UM we use CTools, an implementation of Sakai. While this is a perfectly reasonable CMS, it was built to support a class from a different era, one in which the professor is the center of learning and students are simply the recipients of knowledge.

Recently in “Technology turbocharges a new educational philosophy” I wrote how technology extends the capabilities and influence of professors and students while also supporting different communication patterns. It also makes it possible to support individualized learning. In this article I want to bring these soaring ideas down to earth, if just a little bit, and discuss what they have to do with the course Web site.

And I'm good with my hands, too.

A practical guy

I’m a very practical guy; I was a practical student and I am a practical professor. When I was a student I didn’t do very much classwork unless I thought I would get something out of it. What was that something? Either I thought I would learn something that was particularly interesting to me or I thought it would help me get a better grade. And not too much in-between. I definitely didn’t do work because it’s supposed to be interesting, or everyone else likes learning about this stuff, or it’s not so hard so just do it.

I have taken that attitude with me in my role as professor. I try to make it clear why what I’m teaching is really interesting to me (so that they know that there is someone in the world who likes this stuff) and why I think it should be interesting to them (usually tied to their academic development [smallest chance of connecting with them], career, or personal life). You might expect me to say here and I also make it clear how the student can get a good grade. Actually, I generally don’t. I don’t really do this on purpose. I point in the general direction of what is good versus what is bad, but I don’t want to set an artificially low ceiling and say this is good enough to get an “A”. I have found that my students are amazingly good at exceeding any bar that I put up for them. So…I let them set the bar. I let them define their range of activities, input, and insights. They explore their talents, and I help them refine their approach. The results have most often been exemplary.

Students as teachers

You might be wondering what this all has to do with a course Web site. Here’s the connection. I believe that:

  • Communication among students is important.
  • Learning is good, whether or not the source of the learning is the professor or a student.
  • Students can provide excellent instruction to other students (and the professor, if he’ll listen).
  • Timely and meaningful feedback is a powerful way of learning and improving.
  • Students can be good at providing feedback to each other.
  • Students grow and learn just as much when they are in the role of teacher as when they are in the role of learner.

Recall from above that I personally didn’t like doing something (unless I really liked it) unless I thought it would help me get a better grade. Well, suppose that students think this way. (Not too unreasonable, in my opinion.) In order to get them to take on the above roles, they need to believe (in the absence of truly liking the material) that what they are doing will help them get a better grade. The question now becomes how do we make the connection between them taking on the above roles and them getting a better grade.

The reimagined course Web site

The course Web site has to support, track, and enable measurement of all of these new activities. If the activity isn’t being supported, tracked, or measured, then it isn’t being integrated into the student’s grade. And if it doesn’t count towards the grade, then the student isn’t doing it. Thus, the Web site has to fill all three of these roles or it’t not doing all that it can to support students and professors as they make their way through the semester.

The Web site is no longer simply about an inbox that the student puts assignments in so that the professor can grade it. It’s no longer about the students sending messages to the faculty member and vice versa.

So, what does the course Web site need to do?

  • Provide a way for students to submit a draft, for other students to critique the draft, for the author to evaluate the critiques. Each stage needs to be captured and attributed to each individual student.
  • Provide a way for students to submit a final version, for other students to respond to the document, for the author to respond to those responses, and so on. And for everyone to evaluate the quality of the arguments made.
  • Provide a way for students to submit teaching materials.
  • Provide a way for students to add to existing teaching materials.
  • Provide a way for students to evaluate the specific contributions (messages, critiques, responses, materials) of students whenever and wherever they might see them. And to give credit to students who take the time to provide the evaluations themselves!

It is definitely the case (for now) that each professor is going to want different reports for different classes. Each professor will want to emphasize different tasks and different roles for the students to play during the semester. This exploration is necessary in order to move to a new model of learning that is pretty far away from our current model. I believe it has the potential to be a better model, but we definitely have a lot of thinking, planning, experimenting, and doing ahead of us.

Drupal

Next steps

This isn’t simply a next generation of a traditional scholastic CMS. This is more like a community support/building Web site combined with a media publishing site. I actually don’t think it would be that difficult to build such a site with Drupal. It seems like all the tools (modules) are already there just waiting to be put together in the right way. I’m in the process of building it right now, so I guess we’ll see one way or the other.

If you’re interested in this project (or know of a related one that I apparently don’t know about), please let me know via twitter or the comments.

, , , , ,

No Comments

My favorite iPad apps for reading

I am writing a series of articles on my favorite iPad apps (starting here). In this one I am focusing on my favorite iPad apps for reading. I love reading on my iPad! I have lots of reasons for appreciating this tool for this purpose:

  • I can take a ton of reading with me. Actually, that’s probably literally true. Given the five magazines (the last six months of each), three newspapers, and dozens of books that I have on it, I have a good start — and there’s lots of space left.
  • The magazines are absolutely gorgeous. The colors are bright, the graphics are clear, and the photos and videos are abundant. The magazine editors are also learning how to take advantage of the additional freedom that publishing electronically affords them.
  • In combination with the Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG, the iPad can be put in either landscape or portrait and set on a table so that it can be read hands-free and in a good reading position.
  • The screen on the iPad 3 is bright and clear. Until you’ve seen it, it’s hard to understand what I mean when I say it looks like “electronic paper.”

In the following I describe three types of reading applications that I use (in addition to the newspapers, magazines, books, and Web browser that are on the iPad): for information gathering, for productivity, and for fun & exploration.

Information gathering

I use these two applications in my information gathering process for my teaching and research.

Instapaper

Instapaper

I use this application almost every day. For one thing, it presents a beautiful reading screen. Its main purpose is as a receptacle for articles that I want to read but for which I don’t currently have the time. When I am reading articles on the Web (on either my iPad, laptop, or desktop) and come across one that I want to read later, I click on a bookmarklet that saves the text of the documents in my account. The next time I open the iPad app, the documents download themselves into my iPad so that I can read them later, either online or off. I have used this app many times for offline reading (such as when I am in an airplane).

Recently I have begun to use the email feature. Many apps allow the user to email an article of interest. Well, now Instapaper has an email address for collecting articles. If I send an email with the article to that address, then the article gets added to my app just as if I had used the bookmarklet. This has greatly expanded the sources of the articles from which I add to Instapaper.

This app has several features other than the Read Later feature (which I just described) but it’s the only one that I use with any regularity. Its Feature (um, feature) provides some type of curated content that is supposed to be the best articles saved using Instapaper.

This is one of the foundational apps for my iPad usage. When I add new apps to my arsenal, one of the things that I check for is interoperability with Instapaper.

Feedly Feedly screen

Feedly

Feedly is my RSS reader. I used to use Google Reader (and still do on my laptop), but I have used Feedly for the last six months or so on my iPad. I am a big RSS user; for the last 5+ years I have subscribed to over 100 feeds so this is a big deal for me. There are a lot of different things that I like about this app:

  • It provides a good overview screen for individual articles. (See the screen to the right.) I like the bold headline with the short teaser text and associated image. It is a good place for skimming for content.
  • It has an attractive reading screen.
  • It has an easy-to-use set of icons on the reading screen for liking, saving, sharing on email or Facebook or Twitter, or opening in Safari. These are bold, easy to interpret, and easy to click on.
  • It has two different ways of getting to articles from a specific RSS feed. With the menu in the bottom left corner, the user can click on a folder of feeds and get a list of feeds (and then the user can click on a feed link on the subsequent page), or the user can click on a specific feed and get the articles from that specific feed.

Finally, if you end up liking the Feedly app, you can also download the Feedly app for Chrome.

As I said above, I am a big time user of RSS feeds. I tried out a good number of iPad reader apps until I settled on this one. Since I have moved to it, I have stopped looking for another one. It simply does all that I need.

Productivity

I read lots of PDFs for all sorts of reasons, the main ones being:

  • Information from some article I downloaded or that someone emailed me
  • Journal submission article I am writing a referee report on
  • Student homework that I am reviewing

For the first type of document, many times the standard PDF reader (in the browser or email app) works just fine. For the other two situations, I generally want a dedicated reader that supports annotations. The following two apps are the ones that I have used for quite a while for these purposes.

iAnnotate PDF iAnnotate PDF partial tools listing iAnnotate PDF email options

iAnnotate PDF

This is the app that I currently use most often for these tasks. I had been using GoodReader for quite a while but I have, for the most part, switched to this app. The main reason for the switch is the accessibility of the features. Again, as above, I have a feeling that the problem isn’t necessarily with the app itself but with my reaction to it. For some reason I have found the tools, toolbars, and features in iAnnotate to be easier to use, access, and set up for my own work style.

iAnnotate has 80+ tools that the user can place on its multiple toolbars; see the middle screen shot for the ones that the app classifies as “document” related. Basically, there’s everything here that you could possibly want, including tools for:

  • Annotating with typed notes (in different colors), with pencil annotations, or underlines, or highlights, or strikouts, etc.
  • Go to specific pages, next page, next annotation, next level of outline, next search item hit, etc.
  • Email the document, print it, add or remove pages, rotate pages, etc.

My absolute favorite feature, and the one that put it over the top for me, is iAnnotate’s document sharing tool; see the screen shot on the right (no, really, take a look at it). Picture yourself having read through a 10 page PDF, and you have added annotations on a couple of pages within the document; now you want to get these back to the author or editor or whomever. With iAnnotate you have four separate ways that you can get this information out:

Format
You can choose to set the format as either

  • Annotated PDFs with annotations that can be viewed or edited in Preview, Adobe Reader, etc.
  • Flattened PDFs with annotations that are viewable, but not modifiable, in iPad or desktop apps. The notes are put at the end of the PDF.
Pages to include
In either format you can choose to send the whole PDF or just those pages that contain annotations! This is an awesome feature for the recipient of the document, if nothing else.

These four combinations cover most possible needs that I have — not that there aren’t other possibilities under other buttons elsewhere in the program. But this is the one that I use the most.

In short, I recommend that anyone who annotates and passes along PDFs should get iAnnotate PDF. It is a powerful and easy-to-use app.

Goodreader

GoodReader

I am not going to have as much to say about this app. Let me quote the top of their help file:

GoodReader is a file viewer with many powerful features, most of which address PDF and TXT viewing. GoodReader is a very complex application. It incorporates a lot of non-obvious features and solutions. We strongly encourage you to read this manual, otherwise, it will be hard for you to enjoy the full power of GoodReader.

That is a pretty good description of my experience with the application. There are buttons and toolbars scattered throughout the app, only some of which are obvious or visible. I was pretty lost using this app for any purpose other than simply reading a document. Once I spent some time with the manual (not something that I usually do) then I began to get a sense of its usefulness and underlying organization.

Even though I mostly use iAnnotate these days, I still keep this app around because it basically is the kitchen sink of document reading functionality. I always know that I have an application that will do whatever I might need; I may not use it all the time, but I have it just in case.

Fun & exploration

I use these two applications strictly for fun and exploration. Where RSS feeds are for following writers and publications that you have previously discovered, these applications are more about finding the unexpected.

Zite Zite screen

Zite

This is my go-to reader for fun and exploration. As you can see by the screen on the right, it presents an attractive magazine or newspaper-like interface. I set up the app by telling it the general topic areas that I’m interested in — that is the list on the right side of the screen. Then, some way of the other, it goes out and finds articles on those topics. Generally, I really like their selections; however, they also have a means of improving these selections over time. When you click on an article to read it, on the right side of the screen is a Personalization section. It asks if you enjoyed reading this article, and if you would like more articles from that source or that author — this last one is a particularly good touch, I think. Further, it asks if you want to see more articles about the topics discussed in that article (and it lists several appropriate terms).

This app also has all of the expected ways to share or save an article but some other ones as well. Of course it has Twitter, Facebook, and email, but it also has Instapaper, Delicious, and Evernote (among others). It also provides convenient ways to change the type size and view the article in a Web browser.

All in all, if anyone commits even a little thought to using Zite well, he or she should be rewarded with a string of interesting, useful, or fun articles (as appropriate). BTW, there’s no reason that this app can’t be used for work purposes; given my habits, I simply have added topics that fit more into my “for fun” interests than my “for work” interests. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the app.

Flipboard Flipboard table of contents Flipboard

Flipboard

This is my other reader for fun and exploration. I don’t like its interface quite as well as Zite’s, but I think this has more to do with me than with the app itself. It provides a super convenient way to access top articles from lots of well-known sites from all over the Internet.

The reading on this app is what I would call “source-centric.” That is, articles are grouped by their source as opposed to by topic (as is done in Zite). Thus, if the way that you work is to think “I need to make sure that I am up-to-date with what is going on at [a list of 10+ sites],” then this is definitely the app for you. From a quick glance it appears that this app receives articles from well over one hundred high quality sources.

After downloading the app, you will want to spend a few minutes configuring the app by telling it which sources from which you would like it to get articles. From the middle screen shot here (BTW, as with most of my screen shots throughout my blog, you can click on the image to get a larger version), you can see just one page of sources that I have indicated. By clicking on one of those blocks, it brings up a screen like the right screen shot, containing the first of several pages of article teasers from that source.

This app is not as good as Zite at sharing and saving — but that is not to say that it’s not perfectly adequate for me. It provides links to share the article on Twitter, to email a link to the article, and to store it in Instapaper. If you are a big Twitter user, you will find that this app actually is quite advanced in how it interface with that world. Again, this is perfectly adequate for me.

Summary

Well, that’s it for this super-summary of my iPad reading apps. I can’t imagine that you didn’t find something in here that would serve you well in your daily work or personal life. As always, let me know with a comment or tweet if there’s something that I missed.

, , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Technology turbocharges a new educational philosophy

We can be empowered by the community we live, work, and learn with.

In this article I add a couple of points to my ongoing analysis of the new educational philosophy that is becoming apparent to me, and then I describe how technology makes this superior experience more frequently available to more people.

A new educational philosophy for large classes

In this article I proposed that the way to provide a great education at a lower cost is based on the concept of community:

Students have to feel they are part of a supportive and available educational community — as both givers and receivers of that support — as they strive toward personally relevant goals.

I have previously emphasized some concepts underlying this philosophy:

  • Project-based learning is one key
  • Students as both learners and teachers
  • The student must have some motivation for learning and participating.
  • One of a a professor’s key areas to focus on, especially during the first phases of a semester, should be toward building connections with the students and among the students.

There is a sense in which none of this is new — I myself participated in just such an experience in my classes at Furman University. I had many very small classes (less than 15 students; some less than 10) and formed close connections with students and professors. We worked on significant projects, we were expected to take responsibility for our own learning, and we frequently taught other students both in class and out.

What is new here is that this philosophy is to be extended to much larger groups of students. The never-ending hours of the sage on the stage delivering a PowerPoint lecture to a large, uninterested, an uninvolved audience is to be forever banished to our memories (and hopefully forgotten soon after that). Recent changes in attitudes and technologies have given hope to those people who want to reinvent education.

Competence and gamification

In my previous discussions, I have forgotten two additional points that I am adding here:

  • Competency-based focus
  • Gamification of learning

In this first point, the idea is that education should no longer strictly be about pitting the students against each other and seeing who does better. Increasingly, the goal is to get students to achieve a level of competency. Professors have always known that our measures of “goodness” are inexact. We hope they are generally correlated with knowledge in a specified field, but we know that applying decimal points to the measures we use is putting too fine of a point on it. In many instances we should acknowledge this reality and simply certify that a student has reached a satisfactory level of competency.

Note that this switch is not solely of interest to students and faculty. It will require some cooperation from other constituencies who value the ranking that we do within our classes. Think about organizations who hire our graduates and graduate schools who enroll them. What would they think about seeing a large number of “competent” check-marks on a graduate’s diploma? How and when would they determine which of our graduates were our best students? Should we care? (My guess: Yes, we should, at least in the short run.)

For the second point, the gamification of the learning process in a sense explicitly recognizes what every student who gets good grades knows: If you want to get a good grade, then figure out what the professor wants, and do more of that. Gamifying a class makes what the professor wants fairly clear or, at least, determinable in a shorter time frame. Feedback, by definition, comes quickly and directly. “Did I get a trophy/points/badge?” If so, the student did well; if not, then he/she needs to do something else. This gamification can support the move toward building a process that leads towards competency; it can support the process of completing a project; it can support students in their roles as student and teacher; it can provide some extrinsic motivation where the intrinsic motivation might be lacking. In short, gamification is can be a powerful tool in this move towards the new philosophy of education.

Photo used under (CC BY-NC 2.0). Photo by ThomasHawk at Flickr.com

Technology makes all of this more frequent and feasible

With the development of and focus on new educational technologies, as well as with the successes of classes delivered by Udacity, there is real hope that the new educational philosophy can take hold at a large scale. Technology extends the capabilities and influence of professors and students. They can both reach farther; they can both create far more things (both real and virtual) than they ever could before. Simply: they are empowered to teach and learn in new ways.

Technology also supports different communication patterns. Traditionally, students have been assumed to be learning when the professor is delivering material to them. Students talking to the professor? That is either an “interruption” or a “question”. And let’s just ignore the “students talking with other students” part. Both of these were not what learning was about. But now? We recognize that some of the most important interactions occur when students are talking with other students or when students lead the professor to consider something in a different light. Students are highly qualified to teach other students; they generally have very good insight into how these other students are thinking and what types of problems they might be having; they can communicate in the other student’s language directly to the problem that they are having. Use technology to support and rewards this type of communication. Improved learning could be the result.

If these other communication patterns are so important, then why have they been relegated to the sidelines? Why, indeed. Probably because they were done outside the limelight, away from the arenas in which the “serious learning” was, in theory, taking place. With technology, and with the recognition of the importance of this other communication, the hope is that we can now capture, support, measure, and reward it so that it gets more frequent and more meaningful.

We must also remember that everybody’s different. And we differ in different dimensions. The power of technology allows us to track, and learn about, and respond to each of our students differently. It allows us to move away from the lock-step madness with which we have been infected. We can think “what does this student want?”, “what does this student need?”, and “what is the most appropriate thing for this student to be doing?” These are questions that we couldn’t allow ourselves to think when teaching large classes. It would lead to too much work, and it would be seen as being “unfair” or giving “preferential” treatment. With developing educational technology, the hope is that every student might receive this “preferential” treatment and that it might become the norm rather than the very rare exception.

Wrap up

As Sir Ken Robinson says, let people do something they are good at and that they are passionate about, and good things will follow. Using educational technology in the right way seems to empower faculty to create a learning environment that allows students to do just this. It allows us to teach more students in this way. It empowers students to teach other students. It empowers the professor to think about personalizing the educational process for the student. All of these changes should make it clear that it is not the new technology that is creating all of the excitement in education circles — it is the changes that it enables that has people talking about a revolution in education.

To a large part, it is up to us to act, to try things out, and to learn in the best possible situation. With that as a goal, why shouldn’t we give it a try?

,

1 Comment

What higher education should be investing in

The problem or, rather, problems

Many universities are in a difficult financial position, with falling state appropriations, pressure from the public to reduce tuition, a worsening demographic profile here in the U.S. related to traditional college-age students, and increasing competition from online and locally-based remote campuses who are attempting to poach the university’s traditional market.

Okay, so it’s clear that cash in-flows will not be trending up any time soon. Further, the cost side doesn’t look much better.

The usual solution

University leaders are faced with the question of what to invest in. What should they spend money on in order to ensure their survival? This is the focus of the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Richard A. DeMillo titled “So you’ve got technology. So what?” What colleges have been doing is investing in technologies in the service of classrooms such as learning management systems. DeMillo doesn’t think this is such a good idea:

The classroom is the handmaiden of a factory model of higher education, and the colleges that are truly strategically focused are already abandoning that model. Their technology investments will be aimed at reinventing education.

In characterizing the effects of technology on higher education, he draws the useful, though not uncommon, analogy between that industry and retailing. Executives at retailers such as Montgomery Wards (and, now, Borders and Sears and JCPenney and, now possibly Best Buy) thought that all of their infrastructure that supported their personal relationships with their customers would protect them from new competitive threats. (How is that working out?) Recent troubles at (irony!) Best Buy and Walmart are putting a lie to that position.

Complications

It turns out that their past investments, far from being an asset as change is buffeting the industry, are actually a drag on the university as it confronts change:

  • All of that physical infrastructure will have to be maintained. This is at the expense of investments that it might make in technologies and people that might support online or remote education.
  • Much of that physical infrastructure could only be re-purposed at great expense, so universities are probably stuck with it. This will encourage them to continue to offer traditional classes. This will distract their leadership from the actions and decisions that need to be made to commit them further to an online model.
  • Traditional classes have to be taught by faculty. These faculty have only a limited amount of attention and time to spend on teaching classes. If some students are in-person and some (extra, additional, add-on) students are remote, then faculty will not have an incentive to design a class that is optimal in any way for the remote students. They will have pressure to service those sitting in the classroom right in front of them, and this will probably be at the expense of the remote students.
  • Their faculty also do research. Unless that research is valued by students, then the whole research infrastructure maintained by the universities will be a further drag on the university, further increasing its costs. This is not a problem when all of the major players engage in research; however, when some viable alternatives have a mix of activities that doesn’t include research, then the value of that research can be cast in stark relief, and it’s possible that the outcome will not be what research-focused faculty desire.

Let’s assume that, like retailing (and many, many other industries), education is coming up on a time of radical change. History has shown us that companies who have attempted to make marginal changes may perform acceptably for a while, or they may go under quite quickly (Circuit City, anyone?), but in any case it will be a tough period in which hard decisions have to be made.

A potentially enlightening piece of information

DeMillo wraps up his article with a comparison:

It has been known for 30 years, for example, that one-on-one tutoring is such a vastly superior mode of instruction that virtually every student’s performance can be moved two standard deviations on standard achievements scales. Incumbents [universities] have inexplicably read this data as a call to invent a classroom that has a similar effect on learning.

Disruptors look at the same data and say, “This has nothing to do with classrooms. Why not use the technology for personalization that matches the performance of a human tutor?” That would not involve new classroom technologies or better learning management systems. It probably does not even require fundamental technical innovation. Instead, it would involve abandoning a business model that overly values selectivity, investment in physical infrastructure, and ineffective use of human capital in favor of a culture of sharing and accessibility in which students are able to use the technology to develop deep and personal ties to instructors and fellow learners.

It is this last sentence that you should really focus on. How might it even be possible to move from the first to the second?

My proposal

So, again, what to do? Where should college presidents, provosts, and deans be directing their investments? I propose a multi-pronged strategy:

Grow remote enrollment as quickly as possible
Universities need to think of remote students as central to their mission. The only way to really drive this home is to increase the numbers so that they are equivalent to, and then larger than, the number of students on campus. This will involve changes in marketing, admissions, staffing, and myriad other areas of the university.
Support remote learning
This really involves at least two main efforts. The first is related to faculty. The skills for teaching a face-to-face class differ from those needed in online classes. Some retraining will be necessary for existing faculty, as well as the recruitment of new faculty. The second is related to technologies that support remote learning. This is a fast moving field, and knowledge is continually advancing related to what is the state of the art. This is going to require continued investments in order to keep up with the competition. Say good-bye to long life cycles, and say hello to annual changes (if not full-fledged reinventions) of courses.
Support the combination of multi-section classes into one
Given that they will be teaching in-person classes for the foreseeable future, they need to address this type of class delivery model. And given that they will be competing with more nimble and less financially encumbered competitors, they are going to have to become more efficient. Thus, no matter the number of students taking a particular class, think of teaching them as one section. Given that scenario, make the investments that improve the teaching of that type of class.
Ignore investments in small classes
Current faculty love teaching these classes, and generally don’t require much coercion in order to get them to teach it. If an investment related to teaching does not support the teaching of extremely large classes (either face-to-face or remote), then don’t make it. Get by with the minimum. Something has to give, and this is it.

This would be a fairly radical prescription for change at most large universities. Can you see it working at your university? If not, how do you see it surviving in the coming decade? What does it need to do…and will that be enough to ensure its survival?

, ,

No Comments

Delivery of blended courses

Higher education administrators and faculty (and students, for that matter) at traditional universities are comfortable thinking about, planning, and participating in face-to-face (F2F) classes. Administrators and faculty for online programs are comfortable thinking about using technology to deliver courses exclusively using technology. When those of us in traditional higher ed have used technology more recently, it has been to capture F2F lectures for later viewing. More extensive, integrated, and nuanced usage is needed in order to take full advantage of the technology and thereby deliver a superior education. We need to develop a more extensive playbook of pedagogies that we are comfortable employing.

When thinking about using educational technologies in a class or across the curriculum, you need to have a playbook of possible approaches available to you so that you can have a better chance of achieving the learning outcomes you desire. For face-to-face teaching, we have a selection — lecture, case discussion, lab work, and mini-lectures interspersed with exercises to name a few. We need to just as comfortable pulling out different approaches when different class set-ups are available to us. The following is an exploration of different technologies that can be used to support different pedagogies.

Playbook of pedagogies

As detailed in my earlier post How to provide a great, lower-cost education, several different teaching approaches are now available to professors:

  • Same time, same place (“synchronous, co-located”)
  • Same time (“synchronous, non-co-located”)
    • single remote place
      • high quality
      • normal quality
    • multiple remote places
      • singles
      • groups
  • Different times (“asynchronous”)

In the following I examine each of these and discuss the general technologies that are applicable to each.

Technologies for pedagogies

I am going to start with the synchronous (and especially a co-located) approach because I am assuming that the blended course will have some of this as part of the class. However, just because it is face-to-face doesn’t mean that technology is now not a part of the equation. Many technologies are in place that can support learning even in this most traditional setup.

Same time (all versions)

Classes in which the teacher and students are all participating at the same time (regardless of location) have lots of available tools. The professor can use MediaSite to record a lecture so that students can watch it later or, if they were not able to attend for whatever reason, watch it for the first time. When giving a lecture or otherwise looking for student responses, tools are available for allowing the professor or student to ask questions. LectureTools, Socrative, and PollEverywhere each have their own take on allowing a professor to ask questions and students to answer. (See my recent post on this topic for more details.) Either TodaysMeet or Twitter (along with TwitterFall) can be used to provide a backchannel that allows students to ask questions during a presentation.

For controlling the presentation while in front of the students, the professor can either use a wireless presentation pointer (e.g., Kensington Wireless Presentation Pointer) or Doceri. Doceri is like a wireless mouse for the iPad but it also allows the presenter to write directly on the screen over the slides (or whatever is on the screen). This software also allows the user to control the computer using the iPad. This software doesn’t enable the professor to necessarily do anything new, but it frees him/her up to move around the classroom more. It does make it easier for the professor to give control of the presentation to a student; all he has to do is give the iPad to the student instead of calling her up to the podium at the front of the classroom. If you want more information about this, then see my video demonstration and explanation.

If the professor is more interested in in-class activities and exercises, then Eggtimer can be useful so that students can better allocate their time usage during class. Another useful tool for in-class activities is a group text editor, and Google Docs provides quite a robust web app for this. (At this time the iPad app is not recommended; work on a laptop if you want to use Google Docs.) Students can work in ad hoc groups while brainstorming or developing an answer to some question, or the professor can assign groups and make the documents available in each person’s Google Drive, giving the right students access to the appropriate documents. Another tool for multi-user access to a shared document is Scribblar. This program is more of a graphical editor where multiple users can draw in a shared space; it also provides a tool for users to text each other and to speak to each other. It allows the import of PDF and PPT files for group editing and commenting. They maintain a set of videos that help demonstrate and explain the program’s operations.

Finally, faculty frequently want to provide “handouts” at the end of class. If these consist of links from around the Web, sqworl provides an easy-to-use tool (for both the professor and the student) for gathering the links and accessing them later. If the professor has text to distribute, then Google Docs can be used to make PDFs or Word documents available to a distribution list (such as the students in a class).

Same time, same place (“synchronous & co-located”)

All of the above applies here.

Same time, single remote place, high quality

It seems that Cisco telepresence has defined this market. To get an idea of what this product can do, look at the images on this page. The idea here is that two groups of people, who can be half-way around the world from each other, can have a nearly-face-to-face conversation over this type of hook-up. The two limitations are 1) high cost, and 2) each side has to have compatible hardware and telecommunications capability.

This approach is one that is made at the organizational level. All other decisions would be made after this choice because it changes what options you have available to you, such as size of the classroom and interaction strategies.

Same time, single remote place, normal quality

In addition to the information under “Same time”, the professor can use Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast his lecture or discussion (or whatever) live to YouTube. This web app also can record the broadcast for whomever you want to watch at a later time (with the same controls as any other YouTube video).

The real difference between this setup and the one to follow is how you treat the class. In this case, you can treat them as a group, and give them things to do as a group. They would generally know how to act and what to do because communication among the students would not be electronically mediated in any way.

Same time, multiple remote places (singles vs. groups), normal quality

In addition to the information under “Same time”, the professor can use Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast his lecture or discussion or whatever live to YouTube. This web app also can record the broadcast for whomever you want to watch (with the same controls as any other YouTube video).

The difference in having students dispersed as singles or in groups (either groups of students in dorm rooms or in offices or wherever) is, again, how you treat the class. As singles, you would have to think very carefully about how you might assign small group activities during the class itself. As groups, this would be natural and, actually, to be expected given that the setup so easily supports and calls out for these interactions. The students will be having them anyway; why not integrate them into the class?

Different times

The key to this approach is to think of how you can personalize what the student is going to do. If they are going to watch the video or do the exercise by themselves, then do all you can to take advantage of this flexibility. You aren’t addressing a group of students — think about addressing each student one at a time. Design the activities with this in mind.

I recently wrote a post describing several useful tools for video, movies, and screencasting (including Screencast-O-Matic, Qwiki, and YouTube). I also wrote a post on assessment tools that would be useful for this type of approach (including TED Ed and Flubaroo). In addition to all of these, both GarageBand and Screencast (for broadcasting via RSS feed) are useful for creating and disseminating a podcast.

Out-of-class approaches

Yesterday I posted an analysis of different approaches to communicating with your students when they are not currently sitting in front of you or remotely attending a live lecture.. In that post I consider the following approaches:

I certainly have my favorites but you have to consider your goals before you choose one (or multiple) of the above.

Class assignments have also changed with newly available technology; here are a few options:

  • Wiki
  • Curation tools
  • Mind mapping
  • Video
  • VoiceThread

See my recent post on this topic for a more in-depth discussion. This is a quite diverse set that provides many more alternatives than simply writing text reports and handing them in. These assignments can demand a different level of creativity from the students, but the faculty member has to be prepared to work with this diversity.

Finally, Google+ Hangout can be used for remote office hours. It provides a fairly seamless and straight-forward means of communicating among up to 10 people.

Conclusion

You can see in the above that the faculty member has lots of choices available to him/her when the move is made to a blended class. The school’s culture and technology will determine some of the choices; however, the professor’s knowledge of the choices and level of comfort with the technology will also be a large factor in how effective the class ends up being for all participants. My recommendation is to simply try out a couple of the above in a class this year. Just one day, just one approach. Work with some faculty and computing services support staff beforehand to give you some confidence that you can carry it off. However, at some point you are just going to have to do it!

Best of luck on your journey!

, , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Communicating electronically with your class

One aspect of managing a class that has changed significantly — or, at least, has a great potential to change significantly with little effort — is communication with students outside of class. When I first started teaching, we didn’t have any real means of communicating with students outside of class. Eventually we could use email, and then we graduated to using the course Web site. Now we have both those choices plus several more.

My preferences are to use a tool that reaches a student’s cell phone with minimal effort. This makes it much easier to reach into the student’s world. Any time you require that the student get out of his/her comfort zone, then the odds drop of communicating with the student in a timely manner. This preference of mine definitely shapes my views on technology usage.

The problem here, as with so many things in higher ed, is that the expectations and desires of students aren’t inline with those of faculty. Let’s look at the arguments for and against some of the available approaches.

Email

Email

My students use email very little. The only time they seem to use it outside of class-related usage is when they are looking for a job. There is something to be said for preparing a student for the workplace, but there’s also something to be said for reaching the student in a timely fashion. I try to use email as little as possible. Recently, I have used it to communicate grade information to the student because I had a program that made that option easy. Other than that, I have tended away from email usage.

Forums (discussion boards)

I was a big user of discussion boards in the late 1990s and very early 2000s; however, my students never were. If they had a question to send me, they sent it via email or came to office hours. If they saw questions from other students, they waited for me to answer them. Very very rarely did students participate on a discussion board if they didn’t have to. I have basically stopped using these for that reason. They are a good idea in theory, but in practice my students simply don’t use them.

Course management system

Here at the University of Michigan we use CTools, which is an implementation of Sakai. This is a perfectly capable, functional, and traditional course management system. As such it provides all sorts of tools for communicating with students:

Announcements
The professor posts information that can be read by all students
Forums
Discussed above
Assignments
Allows students to submit documents in fulfillment of a specific assignment
Chat Room
For live communication among class participants
Drop Box
Allows students and the professor to share documents privately
Messages
For sending a direct message to a site participant
Polls
For collecting information from the class as a whole on a given question
RSS feeds

These are all perfectly reasonable and useful tools that have an underlying assumption that students go to the course Web site. If students don’t go to the Web site, then none of this is useful. So, the question is how to get them to the Web site? If I use the CMS, then I need to use it in combination with some other tool that will alert students to something they need to do or see.

Blog

Another approach that I continually come back to is the use of a blog as a course communication center. Students can subscribe to the blog RSS feed so that any post made on the blog appears in their RSS feed reader. Thus, a student would not have to be at the course blog in order to get information that I have posted. The only problem with this: students rarely use an RSS feed reader. While this approach fits with my way of reading (I’m a huge reader of blogs in my RSS feed reader) and writing (I’m writing this blog, aren’t I?), it just doesn’t work for most of my students.

Twitter

Twitter

This tool has a lot going for it. Students and professors can send private messages to each other. All class members can send messages that can be viewed by all other class members. Professors can announce information to the whole class. Students can ask the professor a question (privately or publicly) and the professor can provide an answer (again, privately or publicly). In addition, for many students this will become an important communication channel in their work lives; giving them some training and experience in using this tool before they start their job would be a good thing.

A couple of problems with this is that messages are limited to 140 characters, and messages can be missed in the general twitter deluge of information. If users go to the trouble of ensuring that messages from a certain user are forwarded to the user’s text messaging account, then that mitigates this concern somewhat; however, users still have to search for the class hashtag in order to find all information related to a specific class. If they don’t, then it’s possible that they will miss something. One possible solution to this problem would be to create a twitter list for all of the participants in the class. This would ensure that all of the tweets from all of the people on the list appear in one place.

Twitter is definitely in my planned communication arsenal. I will be using the #bit330 hashtag and the @bit330 account in the fall to communicate with my students. I expect that they will follow this account and I will follow their accounts. I used this three years ago when students weren’t really that into twitter usage. Now that it’s more integrated into many of their lives, I assume that it will go better than it did back then (not that it was bad or anything).

Remind101

Text messages with Remind101

Another (currently free) text messaging-based solution is provided by Remind101. With this platform professors can text students but not vice versa, all without having to know each others’ phone numbers. You can see a demo video on this page and an extensive FAQ on this page.

This platform addresses is like the approach taken by twitter except that it is private to the class, students can’t send messages, and the messages are segregated to their own channel (i.e., not integrated with the whole twitter feed). It’s a really straight-forward solution. The professor gets a special code for the class, and then he/she shares this code with the students. Whenever the professor wants to make an announcement, then he/she sends a message to the Remind101 phone number that includes the class code. Everyone who has registered with that code then receives the message.

If you have routinely used email to send out announcements and found that students don’t get them in time, then consider this as a solution if you don’t want to adopt twitter.

Conclusion

For me, email is a fallback option; it is available but it isn’t anything that I want to use. I especially don’t rely on it any more for time-sensitive communications. I have basically stopped using forums, and will continue to ignore them, until I hear of some practices and accompanying technological changes that I can implement that somehow makes this tool more attractive to students.

Both course management systems and blogs are okay, for what they do, but they don’t reach students where they live. For me, the drawback of Remind101 is that it doesn’t provide a channel for students to communicate with each other or for them to see communications from other students; there can be much value in this kind of shared group communication channel. I plan on using twitter for announcements and to point students to a specific URL (many times within the CMS) that contains more information. This way I can take advantage of the technologies within the CMS and use twitter to draw students to the CMS in a way that is convenient for them.

I’m sure that I have missed some other tools currently available, and I’m equally sure that new approaches will be available within a year. But, for now, I hope the above analysis provides you some food for thought when planning your classes in the upcoming year.

, , , , ,

No Comments

Video tools for cheap introduction to movies and screencasting

The tools for creating movies and screencasts have changed, and are changing, quite significantly. The time-frame for looking for significant changes in the market place is a couple of months at most; if you last looked at this area a year ago, then you need to get on it and see what else is out there.

In the following I provide a quick overview of a few of the top tools for capturing screencasts (from your Mac or iPad or even from a Web-based tool) and then assembling these into published movies. However, before we get started, I need to define a few terms that I use in specific ways:

movie
This is the fully-assembled final product that we all watch on YouTube (or similar site). The video going into the movie can come from screen captures, webcams, or digicams. It can also contain movies, subtitles, credits, and transitions between scenes.
screencast
This is a video that captures what is happening on a screen, and usually a narrator is describing the action.
webcam
This is the camera either directly attached to or built in to your computer. It captures the by-now iconic view of a “talking head” looking directly into the computer.
digicam
This is a video camera or point-and-shoot camera that can also capture videos away from the computer and then be downloaded into the computer for processing in the form of an MP4 or AVI file.

Web-based screencast tools

Screencast-O-Matic

Screencast-O-Matic

Screencast-O-Matic is a tool that you can start using on either a Mac or Windows machine without installing any software. You can use it for free in order to get an idea of its capabilities. Access to all of its capabilities costs only $15!! It can use video from either a screencast or a webcam but I didn’t see how to import video from a digicam.

With the free version you can record up to 15 minute videos from your webcam and screen capture, upload them to YouTube, and publish to MP4 and AVI (among others). For the additional fee, you gain access to some editing tools, a very nifty screenshot tool (I didn’t know that I needed this either until I looked at this video), plus the watermark gets removed from the videos. (Check their homepage for a more complete description of the features of this software.)

This is an amazingly full-featured tool given its ease of use and the ease with which you can begin to use it. With this tool, students and professors can easily experiment with publishing and creating videos of all types. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least give it a try.

Screenr

Screenr

Screenr is another Web-based tool that works on either a Mac or Windows machine. Just like Screencast-O-Matic, it uses a Java program to control the recording process. However, this tool is quite different from SOM in that it is quite limited in its functionality. It allows the user to create a screencast (in one cut), attach a text description, and then publish it. There aren’t any editing tools, nor is there any way to integrate video from a webcam or digicam.

Think of this tool as a quick-and-dirty, I-need-to-show-this-stuff-on-my-screen kind of program. In this role, it excels. It could not be easier or quicker than this Web-based tool: go to the Web site, click on the button, record what you want, stop the recording, and then publish the result. No extraneous things to think about. This is a great tool if that’s all you need.

Screencast tools for a Mac

QuickTime Player

The free QuickTime Player now has the ability to record a movie, audio, and a screencast. (See this article about this last feature.) It is actually quite simple to use this program. Go to the File menu and choose either New Movie Recording, New Audio Recording, or New Screen Recording. This then creates a media file that can be imported into other programs or published on YouTube as appropriate. For Mac users this is the natural place to start with their multimedia explorations.

Others

If I were going to cover all screencasting and movie-making tools, then I would definitely include both ScreenFlow and Camtasia for Mac (or Windows). These are powerful tools with lots of functions and capabilities. However, since I am focusing on the inexpensive end of the spectrum, I will leave these for another day. But if you feel you have outgrown the programs I mention here, or if you need some features that aren’t provided by them, then these are great programs to look at next.

Screencast tools for iPad

Screencasting on the iPad results in a different type of video. Laptop or desktop-based screencasting is focused on showing what is happening on the screen — usually a PowerPoint presentation, a Web page, or even the operations of some other program. On the other hand, iPad screencasting is focused on capturing written input on the iPad along with recordings of direct manipulation.

A tool that is essentially a mix of the two types of screencasting tools is Doceri. It virtually connects an iPad to a computer screen, thereby allowing direct input and writing via the iPad interface but on the computer screen itself. I like this tool so much that I made a video demonstration of it.

Movie-making tools

iMovie

iMovie is the reference moviemaking tool for the Mac. It is the tool for integrating video and audio from multiple sources into a single video which can then be published in all types of formats (from DVD to YouTube).

Animoto

Animoto

Animoto is a tool for creating a slideshow of photos set to music. It is quite like the slideshows produced by iPhoto (if you are familiar with that product) with the addition of text that the user can add throughout. The resulting video can be shared in all the usual ways, DVD to YouTube.

Qwiki

Qwiki

Qwiki is the most intriguing tool that I discuss in this post. It produces very slick, polished videos that are a combination of videos, photos, and other information. They have demo on their Web site. As they say on their Web site:

Each “Qwiki” is easily created through a browser — enabling users to combine pictures, videos, infographics and their own voice into a beautiful, interactive presentation describing anything.

And it’s free! You owe it to yourself to check it out and see if you can take advantage of what it has to offer.

YouTube

YouTube

YouTube is the all encompassing video publishing site; however, it also has the ability to capture and edit video. If you go to your video upload page, tools are available to record video off of a webcam (as well as, of course, upload videos off your digicam). YouTube now also offers tools to edit your video after you have uploaded it (including trimming and shake removal); here is one video among many describing the site’s capabilities.

Recommendations

So many choices are available to you now for your video and screencasting needs. Things could change soon, and will. Some of these free or cheap programs could become more expensive or disappear. Others may survive, but it’s unclear which ones are which. Your best bet is to retain familiarity with a variety of tools, and don’t become too dependent on one of them. Be flexible!

In the meantime, you have to do something. If you are beginning to explore video, I recommend that you start with Screencast-O-Matic. It is cheap and you can begin to get an idea of what the process is like. As your demands increase, you should move on to using QuickTime (for free) to import video off your digicam; you might also compare its screencasting tools with those of SOM.

Now you might also have some slightly different needs. You might want to explore the iPad-based screencasting tools; it gives much more of a sense of demonstrating some task to a viewer. If you want to present photo-based information, Animoto provides a tool for creating polished slideshows.

As for assembling the final movie, YouTube is turning into a reasonable alternative for handling simple movie assembly. However, for Mac users you really can’t beat iMovie for a moderately advanced movie production studio. (I’m not even going to mention Final Cut Pro.) Finally, Qwiki provides a great tool for possibly taking the production values of your videos to a completely new level.

The most important recommenation: do something. Get in the game, or be left behind.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

Encouraging student participation face-to-face or online

Death to clickers

I am generally not one for lecturing in front of a class of students; as they say, “talking ain’t teaching.” But that doesn’t mean that I don’t do it periodically. And when I do, I like to get the students involved. The tools for electronically supporting this process have progressed a long way past clickers. Students can use their cell phones, tablets, or laptops, and now they can do a lot more than just answer true/false or multiple choice questions. And their interfaces that they have to use are pretty good, too.

Here are a few of the newer possibilities and their stronger features.

LectureTools

LectureTools

LectureTools is a whole lecture delivery system. It allows students to respond to multiple types of questions, ask questions, and flag a slide as confusing. I have written a previous post about using LectureTools to broadcast a class. This system can definitely be used for face-to-face, online, or blended setups. It is quite seamless from the professor’s point of view.

One surprising feature that I like is that what is shown on the student’s screen is controlled by the student; that is, when the professor clicks to go to the next slide, the student has to click on his or her own computer to coordinate with the change. This, at least to a little extent, keeps the student out of “TV mode” and makes him or her pay attention.

Socrative

Socrative

Socrative is a student input system that allows students to participate via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Within the flow of the class, a professor can introduce a student-paced or professor-paced quiz. In addition to the standard T/F and multiple choice questions, Socrative can integrate short open-ended text questions. The professor can track who responded in what way to what questions; a report about responses can be delivered via downloaded Excel file. I can easily see using this for pre- and post-tests for a specific class or topic. Students can also be grouped into teams so that if any one student on a team gets the question right, the whole team is considered to have gotten it right.

They maintain a useful blog about possible uses for this in the classroom. They also have a good introductory video that shows how students and teachers use the system.

PollEverywhere

Poll Everywhere

PollEverywhere is a super powerful, flexible, and scalable system. In short, it allows T/F, multiple choice and free text questions to be asked; students can respond via phone, tablet, or web; responses can be displayed live in a presentation or on a Web page. They also have a page with a series of videos explaining the features of their voting system. It has a wide range of different pricing plans and is used by many large organizations. This page describes its many and varied options for asking questions and gathering responses.

TodaysMeet

TodaysMeet

TodaysMeet is a different type of system that allows students to make comments, ask questions, and answer questions online during a presentation. Every person in the “virtual room” can see the comments as they are made. This room is a private channel (i.e., not public like Twitter) that enables the audience to communicate via what’s known as the back channel. If your audience isn’t twitter-literate, or if you want to keep the comments from public exposure, then you should definitely look into this system.

Wrap-up

So, that’s a nice selection of tools for your class. Many times students don’t want to raise their hands in class, but they still have questions. Why not make it easier for them to ask questions? Also, it can definitely be somewhat cumbersome and slow to ask a question of the class and then tally all the responses; some of these tools make that process dead simple. Other times, you want to have an idea of what your students know walking into a class (or before they walk out); these tools make that process painless as well.

There’s something here for almost everybody. Which one is for you?

, , , , , ,

1 Comment

Digital and multimedia alternatives to traditional written reports

It used to be so much simpler. When asking a student to display mastery of some material, a professor would ask for a 10 page paper. The student would research the topic, type up the contents, maybe include an image or graph, add the bibliography, and turn the paper in. The professor would walk out of class with a stack of papers to grade. This was all so predictable.

Well, not any more. The opportunities for displaying mastery are probably limited most by the professor’s imagination more than either the students’ abilities or the technical tools. Here I will go through some of the ideas for new types of projects that have crossed my mind recently as I have been planning my courses.

Wiki

I have used Wikidot to host my course Web site for the last five years or so. It’s very stable and has a ton of features; see their education page for more details. But I have also used it as a way for students to write reports. I have been ecstatic with the results. Take a look at this one on the U.S. coffee industry as an example of some particularly amazing work. Here are the advantages of using a wiki for my assignment:

  • Students could easily link to current news stories.
  • Students could easily include photos and videos that were appropriate for their topic.
  • Students could write this work that it was going to be a public good when they finished it; on the day the project was due, they would turn their wiki from being private to being public. The report became something that anyone could look at as an example of their work. This definitely provided some motivation.
  • Students could amass a lot of information, but they would also have to learn to organize this information in a comprehensible manner.

Let’s consider this last point a bit more. The wiki tool gives students a lot of options for addressing this problem of how to organize additional information they have gathered. In a paper, students have three choices: footnote, table, or appendix. With hyperlinking (to new pages or within an existing page) and tabs, wikis provide more dramatic and (potentially) more effective tools for organizing information.

Curation tools

If the professor is interested in having a student follow a topic over a period of time (a month or so), then the curation tools that are currently out there provide some really easy-to-use tools for collecting and organizing information. LiveBinder is one such tool; you can learn more on this page. (Here is one example.) They promote themselves as “your 3-ring binder for the Web”, and this is quite appropriate. It’s a tool for gathering resources and putting them into categories. It’s quite utilitarian in nature but these binders are easy to work with.

Scoop.It provides a completely different experience. Think of this tool as providing a way for students (or you) to gather Web-based resources on one particular topic. Here is their Scoop.It page on Scoop.It itself. You can see that it is uncategorized, simply providing an attractive page of articles that they have gathered on a single topic. I could see producing a Scoop.It page as being part of a student’s assignment as a way of getting the student to understand that the topic they are covering is a living, changing thing (whatever it might be).

Network-drawing or mindmapping

Pearltrees example

Instead of writing about a topic, the professor might ask students to create a mindmap about a topic. These tools have gotten much better in the last couple of years. (Some of them are free while others provide very low rates for academic users.) They each make it quite easy to draw networks of related concepts, but each tool is somewhat different.

PearlTrees is a tool for gathering URLs from around the Web. This works by clicking on a bookmarklet in your browser, and then this “pearl” is added to their personal network. The student can then go to the network and re-organize the page.

Spicy Nodes exampleMindmeister example

SpicyNodes feels more like a writing or composition tool. This is a tool for sitting down, thinking, and creating; it’s not something that feels like it could be thrown-together. The “nodes” in this network can be text, simple HTML, URLs, or graphics.

Finally, MindMeister provides the ability for students to work in groups without worrying about stepping on each other’s electronic toes. Here are some education examples. While here the user can add graphics, the focus is clearly on the thoughts and organization of ideas.

Video

The tools for creating videos are widely available and cheap. If you assign a group of students to create a video, the probability of one of them having a smart phone that can take video approaches 100% for any group of 2 or more. Almost every laptop comes with a web cam. I’m going to write an entry on this soon, but there is all kinds of free software available for producing videos:

Professors should think really carefully before they don’t assign videos during a class. It provides a different way of increasing student interaction with a topic, and might get them to think in a different way about how to organize their thoughts than they would otherwise.

VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a unique multimedia collaboration tool. It allows multiple users to collaborate or comment on a video or PDF (or whatever) in multiple different ways. You really should look at their features page.

The question here becomes how to use this tool in a class. The professor could assign a video clip to a group of students and get them to create a commentary on it. These could then be shared to the whole class as a way to get a classroom discussion started. Another alternative would be before every class assigning different groups of students a specific article; they would then be assigned to point out its strengths and weaknesses and how it could be improved. Again, this could be distributed to the class as a whole for discussion. Finally, there’s no reason that these need to be short videos or be the result of a limited amount of work. Students could use their creativity to figure out how to use this tool to present multiple sides or viewpoints to an on-going controvery in a field.

I think the possibilities with this tool are extensive; personally, I need to adjust my thinking to this new way of working. I’m hoping that you’ll hear more about this from me later.

, , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Assessment tools for a flipped or blended class

I am designing a class that I am going to teach next year. It is going to have elements of being flipped or simply blended. In any case, I am looking into different ways in which I can assess student learning that goes on during semester, whether in the classroom or out.

Several tools are available that provide assessment for different types of situations:

  • TED Ed is appropriate for assessing a student’s comprehension of a specific video that the student has watched outside of class. It explicitly recognized that many of the questions that you might raise will not be computer graded.
  • Flubaroo is a tool that is well-integrated with Google Docs; it would be easy to administer a test using this tool at a school that uses Google Apps for Education.
  • QuizStar is appropriate for any sort of out-of-class testing in which the questions need to include more than text; it also provides a good tool for tracking and managing grades.
  • Quipper is for a situation in which the teacher is not interested in tracking student grades but is more interested in motivating the students to learn a topic.

Below I provide more details on each of these and links to useful resources.

TED Ed

TED Ed allows a teacher to create an online quiz around any video that is on YouTube. You can create a Quick Quiz that tests basic factual and content questions based on the video. You can also define Think short answer questions for students. Finally, you can define a set of readings and resources in the Dig Deeper section.

Flubaroo

Flubaroo is a free tool, integrated with Google Forms. You write a quiz in Google Forms, and this extracts the information from the form, emails the results back to the students, and stores the results for the teacher to see. It has a tremendous user guide that really lays out what needs to be done.

The questions in the quiz can be either multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank. The program generates an Excel worksheet that contains individual results and summary reports and graphs. It also has an option that enables it to email students their grades (plus individual question results).

QuizStar

QuizStar is a free tool that helps teachers create online quizzes, administer them to students, automatically grade those quizzes, and shows the results online. Each question can have graphics and videos attached to them as necessary

Quipper

Quipper allows a professor to create a quiz that can be taken on most smartphones. The creator of the quiz is not able to get any information about how people perform on the quiz or on specific questions. The image at left (click on it to see a larger version) shows the question creation form. As you can see, it’s fairly straight-forward, allowing just multiple choice questions (or, of course, true/false).

  • Help page: this contains a lot of information about creating quizzes.
  • This app is currently available on both the iOS and Android platforms.

, , , , ,

14 Comments

Education in the age of mobilism (ISTE12 session)

Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris at ISTE12 in San Diego.

Introduction

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the ISTE12 talk given by Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris titled “Education in the age of mobilism: The inevitable transformation of the K-12 classroom”. The following is my summary of what I learned during the talk of these pioneering experts in this field.

Elliot and Cathleen (and others from SIGML) define a mobile device as a cell phone, smart phone, or tablet but not a laptop. The latter is a transportable device but not a mobile device. They have a long-held belief that by 2015 every grade in every school in the US will be using mobile learning devices 24/7. Students and parents want this to happen, so it is going to happen. They know that this change will not be easy or fast, but they believe it will be a cheaper way to go than the current book, laptop, and computer-based track that we’re currently on.

Defining characteristics of the “Age of Mobilism” (which they strongly believe that we are in) are the following:

  • Connectedness: all the time, everywhere. It is not enough to say “anywhere at any time”
  • Affordable by everyone
  • Global: cross cultural, cross everything

They emphasized two pieces of data to support their contention. First, in 2012 there will be one cell phone for every single person on the planet. Second, 72% of Apple’s revenue now comes from the iPad and the iPhone. People aren’t going to carry laptops in the future. Why should they? Their smart phone (which is the only kind of phone that will exist) will have nearly as much computing power (because of the cloud) as their laptop.

What it takes to bring about change

The speakers pointed out that, while new technology has changed just about every industry it has come into contact with, it has had little effect on K-12 education (so far). Movies were originally resistant, too. They originally performed plays in a theater and included shots of the audience in the recording. It took quite a while for someone to figure out that they could perform for the camera alone, and that the audience was not needed for the recording.

It takes new technology plus new processes in order to bring about disruptive change. Thus, using the old pedagogy of a teacher standing in front of a class while talking or students doing “worksheets” in combination with a computer isn’t going to bring about that dramatic growth and change and improvement. You need to change your educational model to 1:1, individualized education that is enabled by the technology in order to get the gains you are looking for.

Deploying technology is hard

One of the hard things about deploying technology in a school is that scaling across lots of teachers is really hard. The success of the pilot project usually leads to unrealistic expectations because you expect the next round to be the same as the first. This doesn’t happen because the teachers involved in the pilot project are usually a different kind of person, or are invested in the project differently, than the people in the full roll-out. First, they do whatever it takes to make the technology and the class work. Second, these pilot teachers are “artisan teachers” who make it look easy. The challenge comes with you have to support everyday teachers, parents, and admins. It is not a challenge to support the kids; they are adaptive and will figure it out.

The artisan teachers, the ones working with the technology in the pilot, do a Learn by Doing pedagogy. They invoke a John Dewey quote (which they referred to multiple times in the talk):

They give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, … learning naturally results.

So, in the doing is the learning. Teachers should not focus on the end result of the activity to see if learning has occurred — they should think about encouraging activities that lead to learning in their very doing.

To actually scale up, two plans can be followed. The first, shallow scaling, involves rolling out the technology to everyone and making sure that everyone knows how to use the technology itself and then figuring out how to use it. The second involves figuring out the pedagogy first and rolling out the new pedagogy with the technology as an accompanying tool in order to implement it. As you might guess from how they name them, the speakers highly recommend the second approach because it ends up being more successful and being less frustrating for teachers.

The benefits of mobile technology

In order to bring about the benefits of mobile learning, teachers need to determine the activities that students can do with these devices that they could not do with a pencil and paper. They acknowledge that it is not always the case that the students could not do the activities with pencil and paper but that the mobile technologies simply make it so much easier to do something different.

They have found that mobile devices make it much easier to enact learning by doing. With the devices in their hands, the students have more responsibility for the doing while the teacher simultaneously has less responsibility. This raises a sense of ownership of the learning in the student.

They have also found the following benefits:

Cognitive
Students have direct and immediate access to information, events, locations, and data. This means that teachers no longer had to mediate the content. Students can get the information themselves.
Learning in context
Because of the previous point, assignments can be more complex and related to the real world, not separate in-class assignments divorced from reality.
Teamwork
Student groups, but also teachers along with his/her students, can discuss, collaborate, and work as a team. The technology helps teachers learn along with the kids.
All the time, everywhere learning
It is not enough to say “anytime, anywhere learning.” The learning can happen all the time and everywhere the student is. Stop thinking about learning in a classroom — think about learning as an integral part of life and living.

Teachers need to keep in mind that mobile devices are not just computers. These are better than laptops; they have accelerometers and GPS and will have soon temperature sensors and heart monitors. Because of the highly competitive industry and its relatively young age, both software and hardware offerings are rapidly evolving. It is time to get in right now, but realize that the tools will continue to get dramatically better and cheaper. But don’t wait because you need to start creating capabilities and expertise in this area.

A great offer

Through their Intergalactic Mobile Learning Center, Soloway and Norris are making available at very low cost the software, hardware, and curriculum (for a few subjects and grades) in order to help schools kick-start this journey. This is, or will be, available for Windows, Android, and iOS platforms. They seemed genuinely excited about the opportunities that this would provide to teachers who don’t know where or how to start.

, , ,

No Comments

Yong Zhao’s idea of a world class education (ISTE12 keynote)

Message delivered by Dr. Yong Zhao, University of Oregon, at ISTE12 in San Diego.

Introduction

Last Tuesday I attended the ISTE12 keynote by Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon. He is a deeply interesting, funny, and motivating speaker who clearly has a wealth of knowledge on his topic of what it means to deliver a world class education. He has written World Class Learners and Catching up or Leading the Way along with many dozens of articles.

Here I will try to summarize the main points of his talk in a unified essay. As far as I can recall, the points below are his; I wish I could take credit for them, but I can’t.

Choose the right goals

He considers the story of Easter Island (as recounted by Jared Diamond) to be a good metaphor for what is happening with educational reform. The Easter Island residents seemed to think that their rock carvings were a sign of prosperity of their carving, so each family dedicated all their resources to carving bigger and better rocks. They neglected farming and everything else that was needed. Eventually their society collapsed not because of external influences but because they had chosen the wrong goal.

He came back to this again and again: If you choose the wrong goal by which to measure yourself, no matter how good or efficient you are you will never get to where you need to go. Actually, the more efficient you are, the more quickly you will disappear (or at least become irrelevant).

He likens the above situation to education reform in the US, Australia, England and many other places around the world. Here in the US we have the following:

Common Core
He says that he is not against standards, but he would like this one better if it weren’t common and if it weren’t considered the core of what is to be learned.
No Child Left Behind
Sometimes it is good if a child is left behind. For example, what if we are all going in the wrong direction. Wouldn’t you like if it that child was able to choose to go in another direction?

(This is among many others.) He says standardized test scores are like the giant stone heads on Easter Island. They are really beautiful and seductive, but they aren’t what we need. Using technology to raise our test scores is the wrong use of the technology. He mentioned this saying:

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.

You cannot judge technology by its ability to improve test scores. This is not what it’s really good for.

The leaders in standardized testing

When the 2009 PISA test results (gold standard of education results) were released, China took #1 in all three categories. Obama said that this is the Sputnik moment for us. Arne Duncan said this is a wake-up call. Everyone wanted to know how these countries did so well. However, when these results were announced, China did not celebrate. Why not? Well, they are looking for different talents:

Wen Jiabao
“China must have entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.”
Kai-fu Lee
“The next Apple or Google will appear, but not in China…unless it abolishes its education.”

Why were these Chinese leaders worried after seeing these results? Well, it has to do with the innovation and leadership disparity they saw. For example, in patent filings in 2008, China had 203k while USA had 400k and Japan had 500k. Given the difference in populations among these three, China should have had significantly more than either of these. Also, while Asians make up 5% of the US population, and 15-25% of the student bodies in the Ivy League (and other top schools), they make up only 2% of the board seats of Fortune 500 firms.

So, the Chinese were not satisfied with their educational system because they perceived something lacking in it as the underlying engine for their economy. At the other end of the spectrum, tthe US was (and is) really dissatisfied with its system.

History of bad test-taking

You hear that US education is in decline. The College Board says we’re crumbling. Professor Zhao says that US education isn’t in decline — it has always been bad. He wonders why the US is still among the leading countries

He brings up several points when emphasizing how bad our educational system has been. It was bad in the 1950s. Remember the whole Sputnik thing? There was a special issue of Life magazine in 1958 titled “Crisis in Education.” In 1983 we were comparing our educational system unfavorably with that in Japan. Again, the US was at risk, this time from Japan. We have a long history as bad test takers. In 1960s we were 12th out of 12 in math. In 1970s-80s, we then were 12-15th out of 15 in math. You could actually say that we are doing better now than we ever did.

Explanations for the bad scores

All sorts of explanations have been put forward for why the US has such bad test scores. First, it has been found that there is an inverse relationship between test scores and perceived entrepreneurial capability. He isn’t saying that the perceived entrepreneurial capability is causing bad test scores; however, given that we are so high on this dimension, it then makes sense that we would have low test scores…even if it is still unclear why this relationship exists.

Second, he points out that all sorts of surveys have shown that we are very confident in our math ability even though we are really bad. Our political leader have said that this implies that we need higher standards, and that these standards need to be clearly and frequently measured by tests so that we will know just how bad we are. This will then cause us to be sad and to work hard at raising our scores. Or so their thinking goes.

Third, in the US most teachers care more about children than math. This is apparently a big problem here; he said this with a huge sense of irony in his delivery.

The professor made it clear that he is not particularly satisfied with any of these possible explanations. Actually, he is not even satisfied with the question because he doesn’t think that the scores matter at all.

A “Lady Gaga” curriculum

What he is really interested in is whether or not it is possible for a school to develop a curriculum that could churn out a whole lot of Lady Gagas. No matter how you judge her music, he said that it is clear that she is talented, entrepreneurial, and creative. Would it even be possible to create a Lady Gaga curriculum? A Common Core for Lady Gaga? Does this even make sense to think about?

When creating a curriculum, we are placing a bet on what’s going to be important in the future — what will make us “college-ready” or “ready for our career.” The predictions that we place are based on the past. The question becomes what really makes people rise to the top?

Amy Chua, in Day of Empire says that tolerance is the key. Richard Florida, in The rise of the creative class, says that it is technology, talents, and tolerance. It turns out that tolerance gets us diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurship, which are the things that an economy needs to thrive. Whether or not you believe that the resulting creativity can be taught, it is clear that an education can help kill it. Maybe it’s the case that US schools kill creativity less successfully than other school systems.

What education should be

The professor poses three important questions for a school system:

  • What matters to you: test scores or confidence?
  • Do you allow exceptional talents to exist?
  • Are you taking advantage of the resources that you have?

The structure of our current educational system was to support our industrial, manufacturing-based economy. While it is true that the average profit per Apple employee is $400,000, they are not the ones putting the devices together. This is being done (mainly) by Asian companies who are much less profitable. Today a company (and an economy) needs unique workers with special skills, and you have to be great because this is a global society.

Further, the economy needs entrepreneurs off all types: business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, policy entrepreneurs. These people, when they are unhappy with a situation, comes up with a solution to make it better. When enough people are working on a problem, and when those people think about things in lots of different ways, then problems get solved and economies advance.

These so-called “black-collar workers” (who he named in honor of Steve Jobs’s turtleneck) don’t wait for someone to create a job for them; they create the job for themselves. He has identified qualities that are common to these people:

Confidence
They have to have an innate confidence in their own abilities.
Friends
A supportive network of friends help them persevere.
Risk-taking
A sense that risk-taking is acceptable, or even desirable, gets them to try important and difficult problems.
Passion
A passion for their efforts helps them keep striving in the face of difficulty.
Creativity
This allows them to try different approaches when the first 100 fail.
Motivation
These people have a real inner drive to solve these problems and to make a difference.

We should all abandon the idea that US schooling can produce employable skills. Kids turning 13 this year, if they work until they are 72, will be retiring in 2071. Think about what has happened in the last 10 years. People make a living working for Facebook, writing Angry Birds, and tweeting. Was that predictable 10 years ago? What makes you think that you can predict that we know what skills will be “employable” for these people in 2071? Remember, our predictions are based on the past. Well, no matter how perfect a horse wagon is, it will never make it to the moon.

Education should involve student autonomy, a global campus, and product-oriented learning. They need to make real things. Schools need to focus on the individual strengths of the student. They need to turn the students into makers of things and not only consumers. This can only happen beyond the school’s walls; the world must become our campus. The people of the world are our collaborators, investors, and customers. Work with them, not against them.

He concluded by saying test scores should not apply to everyone. They don’t reflect your student’s, your teacher’s, or your school’s abilities. A great education allows each child’s maximum potential. Design your class with that in mind.


, , ,

No Comments