Posts tagged ‘cloud technology’

August 9, 2011

Choosing instructional tools for: student authoring

by t.e.d.d.y.

What better way to teach students how to responsibly share information than to incorporate an authoring tool into your teaching.  Getting students to create information and place their names as authors is a great way to address a few issues:

  • copyright
  • belonging and contributing to a community
  • sharing true information for the benefits of the community
  • writing skills
  • information literacy
  • digital literacy

…the list is long.  It’s a fantastic method in or outside of the classroom which will engage your students into a collaborative environment which everyone will enjoy.

There’s benefits to the teacher as well.  you will now have more free time and won’t necessarily have to constantly send individual notes with the same information to the whole class.  Think of all the feedback that you need to provide for every class; or instructions for next class.  You can now share links and useful information that your students will be able to access with one click.

So lets explore some options on how to incorporate student authoring into your teaching.

One option that has already been explored and proven successful is setting up a website.  On it you will create content for your students to access at any time.  However, the real benefit is providing the option for your students to blog in real time from the classroom and post their notes on the website.  That way if you have someone who missed a class, they can just go to the website and find all notes and content that they missed without you having to spend time individually with that each person.

Another great way to set up a blog.  Students can access the blog and contribute to posting you or other students made.  The discussion goes on…  You can reset the blog for each class of yours, or for the school year, or make it an ongoing project without erasing any of the notes posted.

Another collaborative tool which is also widely used is a Wiki.  This is a fantastic tool which allows your students to create their own Wikipedia for the class.  The idea is that students will not be just posting on it, but they will be adding and editing pages for the purpose of improving them.  At the end you will end up with the perfect page for the perfect topic that everyone will find useful because it was created based on students’ interests and preferences.

What I have used and find really helpful is setting up a class space on a cloud platform, such as Dropbox.  This space will give you an opportunity to have all course content in a familiar environment to your students as it it similar to a folder they would see on their personal computer.  The difference is, it does not live on a computer, but on a cloud server.  This allows you to share the folder with everyone you want to contribute to it.  So every time a student (or you) adds something, everyone can see it.

Now lets take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the above options.  I will start with the disadvantages because they are not that many.  For example, the first one that comes to mind is that we need to be connected to the Internet in order to access any of the tools.  Another disadvantage may be (I haven’t seen this too much) screening all posts to make sure that what students post is true and useful.  One way to solve this is to set strict rules for posting – sort of a template which everyone must follow.  If the post doesn’t follow the template, you can erase it.  Having these publishing rules will also discourage students from posting “just anything”…  One disadvantage is that students’ comments may make your website, blog or Wiki huge.  When you have people commenting on comments and posts, things can get out of hand.  One way to deal with this is to set restrictions for time and length of posts.  For example, you can close a discussion at 7pm on Friday because on Monday you will open a new topic for discussion.

These are just part of the small issues you may encounter.  However, you should focus on the advantages.  They definitely outnumber the disadvantages.  Here’s what to look forward to:

WEBSITE BLOG WIKI CLOUD
It looks like an official space for your course.  You can upload tons of your teaching materials, handouts, assignments, instructions, etc. in separate pages for your students to access and download.  It takes a bit longer to set up as you may have to use some HTML skills or make sure your template can accommodate the purpose of the website.  You don’t need to update the website that often once it’s set up. The likelihood of your students knowing how to use a blog is really high.  They probably already have their own.  You can upload materials on a blog but remember that its main purpose is to share information which provides for discussion.  Blogs are usually a bit more informal than a website.  They are dynamic and always changing and growing.  They also need to be updated regularly. One of the most favourite tools for educators.  You can share information, upload documents, spark conversation, edit and update regularly easily, your students will be able to edit and update, publish their content, constantly improve the content.  A Wiki is the perfect collaborative and sharing tool for education.  It’s dynamic and all participants are authors which increases the responsibility to share good information. This tool doesn’t take up space on your computer as it lives on a cloud.  Although it has storage limits, they are usually so big that you will never worry about going close to the limit.  Dropbox offers 2GB of space which for a course is more than enough.  This tool is the closest to what you would see on your own computer in terms of interface.  It looks exactly like a regular folder.  It’s very easy to upload materials as it’s a drag and drop function.
July 12, 2011

Learning on a Cloud, p. 2

by t.e.d.d.y.

There is so much talk about cloud computing these days.  It’s a direction which hugely impacts the way we store information and also access information.  What does this new trend mean for education and will it easily enter the lives of educators?

Well, for some educators clouds are the way to go already.  The technology has been around for some time.  The first time I used cloud technology was with a browser-based program for uploading files which started as a free service and had a “huge” amount of space – 512MB.  That was amazing back in 2001.  Then the service became paid and I stopped using it.  There have been numerous cloud-type services offered after that.  And then came Google.  Google docs took cloud technology to a different level.  Now you could not only store and share files on a cloud.  You could created them right there on that cloud and save them without any sync or without stuffing your computer hard drive with files.  Besides Google, we have also seen Microsoft offering their cloud as well.  Recently it was Apple that announced their iCloud to the world.  All these options stirred the waters of pros and cons of cloud technology.  How do we know what’s better than the rest?

I read an interesting article which provided a great comparison of the cloud technology offered by Google, Microsoft, and Apple.  Here’s the authors’ summary:

GOOGLE APPLE MICROSOFT
Cloud + Web(browser-based cloud technology) Cloud + Software(desktop software syncs with the cloud – the best of both worlds – the internet part is behind the scenes) Slogan: “Software Plus Services”(similar to Apple’s idea but MS failed to realize it the way Apple did)

In other words, it took Microsoft a long time to figure things out while Apple kept trying to take a share in the cloud business (MobileMe, .Mac).  Now we have a change of direction.  As a user it is pretty much up to you to decide which option is best for you: Google’s web=based cloud; or Apple’s combination of software and web; or Microsoft’s .  What would that mean for an educator?  Of course you are faced with the usual concerns that any other user will have – security and privacy of information (Can anyone access or edit my files?), ease of use (How easy is it to incorporate cloud technology into my teaching and my students’ learning?), reliability and accessibility (Will I be able to access everything easily from anywhere?  Do I need to worry about losing files and data?), etc.  These are valid concerns.  However, the security and maintenance of the cloud servers is almost 100% reliable nowadays.  Unless you set the permissions for someone to access and edit your files, they will not be able to do so simply because they don’t know if your files exist (unless you tell them so).  The technology is quite reliable.  As long as you have Internet connectivity, you’re good to go.  Accessibility is becoming easier and most providers of cloud technology have different access options – smart phones, laptops, web browsers, etc.

Cloud technology is starting to make its way into education and its use is gaining speed.  However, few educators understand cloud technology and how to use it effectively in their work.  Here’s a few of the benefits of using clouds for education:

Educational:

  • Enhanced collaboration and team work
  • Instructor involvement as a contributor to students’ projects and work
  • The technology is cheaper (most times free for end-users)
  • Exchange of content between educators and between educators and students

Technical:

  • Great opportunity for backup which happens instantly and automatically
  • You access your data and tools any time from anywhere and any device
  • It’s reliable as cloud systems have virtually indestructible security and run practically with no interruption

In other words, although some campuses are slow to embrace Web 2.0 and cloud technology, education will be hugely impacted by the development of the latter.  The truth is, once you start using clouds, you won’t be able to come back on the ground – transferring data and creating data on a cloud is so easy that there is no need for special preparation.  It’s a matter of diving into it.

Further readings and tools:

A Simple Way to Record and Publish Audio to the Web

GoogleDocs and Collaboration in the Classroom

Dropvox

Dropbox

Work Simple

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