Posts tagged ‘computers in education’

November 5, 2012

Put the action back in interAction

by t.e.d.d.y.

There are many participants in an education process.  There are students, instructors, content, different types of media and technology.  These participants are in constant contact and they have their roles to play in order to achieve a certain goal.  The goal for all participants is common – student learning.  If everyone fulfills their role effectively, the common goal is something that happens naturally.  All roles must act together and in balance in order to reach that goal.  Often though, it seems that there is a discrepancy or imbalance that causes learning to suffer.

In an environment where there is lots of inter acting, is there enough interaction?

Have you ever attended a presentation or a webinar where you wondered why you were there?  Were you thinking of anything else but the subject of that session?  You are not alone.  Personally, I have experienced this a lot too.  So here’s the gist of interaction.

There are generally two types of interaction: passive & active.  Passive interaction is when the participants do not provide feedback to each other.  This was the prevalent type in the 19th and 20th centuries.  And unfortunately it can still be seen in many presentations and on/offline events.  To understand it better, imagine reading a book.  Communication is only one way.  You read the book and receive the information it contains.  You can’t talk back or change that information as you read.  In other words, passive interaction is literally the inability to argue with a radio.  It can only go one way.

Active interaction on the other hand, is exactly the opposite.  Communication flows freely between participants.  They constantly provide feedback to each other and the conversation evolves constantly rather than stall and stop.  Imagine a group project, in which all participants have their roles and they need to find a way to work together in order to complete the project.  Their interaction has to include constant discussion, feedback, and coordination.  Participants need to find resources and include them in the interaction, they need to share and evaluate together as a team.  Eventually they will create a final material full of information that is a result of their collaboration and active interaction.

Both types of interaction have their place at the right time and the right circumstances.  As I always remind my student-teachers: If you use a tool or method appropriately and in the right context, you can’t go wrong.  The overuse of anything is going to have a negative impact on the learning process.  Too much lecturing will limit the opportunity to hear from your students.  Too much active interaction without any straight-forward knowledge transfer, may prevent your students from learning and understanding the curriculum.  So the old cliche of “balance is the key” really is… key.

The picture below illustrates some tools and methods that create both passive and active interaction.  Combining a few of these tools will create a rich and comfortable environment both for you and your students.  Combinations I have used in the past:

1. Weekly webcast + class wiki + live chat + materials posted by me
2. Peer review + screencast + forum + social media + podcast
3. Read materials by me + webinar + wiki + presentations + live chat

What are your choices?

Types of interaction

March 26, 2012

Where to start when choosing technology

by t.e.d.d.y.

Image: chokphoto /

When incorporating technology into your teaching, start by planning your content, audience, and learning goals, and then move to choose the technology you are going to use.  Adjust the technology to serve your goals, not the other way around.  Here’s how:

  1. What are you teaching?
  2. Who are you teaching?
  3. What are you going to accomplish with your lesson?
  4. What type of technology will best fit your goals?

Then start building your digital project.  Use your lesson plan as a plan for building your digital teaching tool.  This strategy will provide a direction and criteria for the end product.

November 13, 2011

Tech startups educators will love

by t.e.d.d.y.

Tech startup companies are known to be the sources of innovation.  As much as educators dread the “tech” word, they will like the concept behind the following startups which followed trends and needs in education and addressed them.

What is Skillshare? from Skillshare on Vimeo.

“Learn new skills.  Share new skills.”
Skillshare is a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone. We believe that everyone has valuable skills and knowledge to teach and the curiosity to keep learning new things. This means our neighbourhoods, communities, and cities are really the world’s greatest universities. Our platform helps make the exchange of knowledge easy, enriching, and fun.

Kaggle In Class

Kaggle is an arena where you can match your data science skills against a global cadre of experts in statistics, mathematics, and machine learning. Whether you’re a world-class algorithm wizard competing for prize money or a novice looking to learn from the best, here’s your chance to jump in and geek out, for fame, fortune, or fun.

  • Branch

Branch is a group blogging/debate platform.

Read about more innovative startups here.

October 25, 2011

Google SketchUp in the Classroom

by t.e.d.d.y.

I found this really interesting video from the Google SketchUp site on how it’s used in the classroom.  Teachers use the tool in their lesson plans to enhance their teaching and engage their students.  It encourages students to be creative and fully involved in the lesson.

Check it out:

October 18, 2011

Free Webinar: “Tapping the Power of Online PD”

by t.e.d.d.y.

I have been posting a lot of events lately but I can’t help it when I see something interesting and free of charge.  The details of this one are below.

To register, click here.

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:

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 28, 2011

Change is scary to those who stay the same

by t.e.d.d.y.

How Web 2.0 should change schools’ decision-making on integrating technology

When it comes to technology, the most difficult thing to decide on is what should a school purchase – from hardware to software – in order to effectively support teaching and learning.  The decision is difficult because first the research up until recently shows conflicting findings in regards to the benefits of technology on teaching and learning.  Some authors demonstrate a positive outcome of using instructional technology arguing that it better engages students and provides a more relevant approach to learning that students can relate to.  Other researchers argue that technology has no impact on improving teaching and learning because it is the teacher that essentially provides the guidance and support for the students regardless of the media this teacher uses.  Some of the arguments are that technology can even be distracting to students because it encourages multi-tasking and doesn’t prompt students to stay focused on learning.

However, the biggest blunder when it comes to deciding on technology integration is… yes, you guessed it… cost.  School budgets are always shrinking and never enough for anything else, let alone equipping computer labs and paying software licences.  And because the effects of using technology were so controversial, it is just not justified enough to spend on renewing the technology.  I am sure that if using computers increased academic performance by 40% (or even 20%), school districts would be  more inclined to spend money on buying more computers.  However, that’s not always the case (or at least not consistently).  So what drives the decision to spend on technology?

Well, the picture is not really black and white when it comes to effects of technology on teaching and learning.  First, we have the factor that technology needs to be used properly to be effective.  That’s a strong argument considering that the overuse of Power Point, for example, without any thought put into it creates more confusion than support in the classroom.  So now the question of teacher preparation to use technology comes up.  In other words, we cannot ignore the fact that lack of understanding, or technology, media, and digital literacy among teachers may be the cause for lack of increase in academic achievement.

Second, a factor that drives the decision to spend on technology in schools is keeping up with the times.  Schools are preparing citizens of the future.  The future is close to impossible to predict, but one thing we know for sure is that smart phones and computers aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  In fact, their use keeps growing and the devices become more and more advanced in principle and easier to use in practice.  Think about it… how long did it take you to learn how to use your smart phone?  Did you take a course to figure it out?  Technology nowadays is directed towards the user – it has to be user friendly.  Otherwise it becomes exclusive and loses ground with the common user.  Simply put, if I need to take special training on using my iPhone while there are other products out there that don’t require it, I’ll move onto them and never even consider buying an iPhone.  That example was not very realistic especially considering that exactly Apple changed the way user needs were met by technology manufacturers.  To summarize, schools need to stay relevant to every day life where students live.  This is another substantial argument for continuing to spend on technology.

Of course the pros and cons don’t end here.  The point is, though, decision-making on technology integration has been frustrating, slow, and the least favourite part of a school administrator’s job.  Here’s what the this processes looks like today:


Basically, schools go with what they have first.  Whether it’s hardware that is still usable, software which licence hasn’t expired yet and is not too old, facilities to house a computer lab, projectors, screens, etc.  Once they have inventoried everything usable, administrators will consider the budget to see what they can afford.  How much can they spend on purchasing new technology, updating the existing, and maintaining the existing.  Only then, they do a needs assessment – if we have that much money, what can it get for us that we can use to meet our needs?  The result is purchasing more hardware which is usually not the best for the recognized needs but it’s cheaper.  The software usually remains the same.  There is a bit of investment in maintenance and if there’s anything left, teacher training.  In short, we do the same things, expecting different results.

Instead of worrying about keeping up with the fast developing technology, schools should focus entirely on changing the way decisions are made.  They need to change their outlook and approach on integrating technology.  The most important question here is, what can be changed so we have different, better results?  Instead of focusing on the budget and losing sight of the school’s needs, administrators should research the new management methods out there and apply some of them in their own work.  For example, a decision shouldn’t take 2 years to make.  There are way to approach a problem and act on solving it immediately.  When I say school administrators, I mean everyone involved in the decision-making from the school principal to the Ministry of Education.  And when I say schools, I mean educational institutions from K-12 to college and university.  The current process is too slow and heavy.  This is also another reason why schools can’t keep up with the real world – they move too slow.  Anyhow… Instead of starting with what a school already has, the decision-making process should start with what the schools want.  Where do we want to be in the upcoming school year?  The key word here is “want”.  Yes, this is very rarely taken into consideration when it comes to decisions about technology.  If we start with what we want, the process takes a different turn.  Take a look at this new process:


What this means is, we have to consider our goals for technology integration first and the budget last.  Some of you may think I am a bit confused – budget always comes first.  Actually no.  Think of all these small start-up companies that start with $1000 in the bank and in no time grow to be multimillion dollar enterprises.  Yes, schools are different.  Yes, schools are mostly public.  And no, we can’t act as if we are a private company.  That’s all true.  But everyone would agree that the biggest reason why these small start-ups were successful, is because they started with a vision and a goal.  Their goal was far from making millions of dollars.  They had a passion and they acted on it.  You know how Facebook started.  You know what the principle behind open source technology is.  Not money!

So once we know what we want and the direction we want to go, we take a look at our inventory to see if it meets any of our wants.  What do we want to use from the existing inventory?  If all of our computers are in working condition but they are not efficient, then we don’t want them.  There is a difference between “working condition” and “efficient condition”.  If the computers have 512MB memory and are 15 years old, the fact that they work is not enough for us to want to keep them.  If we have Internet in the school but it’s all wired and can only reach 10 of the 20 computers we have and restricts us to a specific room in the school, then perhaps investing in wireless Internet is worth looking into… especially if want our students to use their smart phone for learning.

Now that we know what we want and what we have that can be used, we starting making a list of what we need to get.  What do we not have already that we need?  Needs are referring not only to hardware and software, but also to flexibility of technology, maintenance, technical support, etc.  In other words, what features do we need the new resource we purchase to have?

And only then, we look into budget.  Spending is based on wants and needs combined.  We may have a big budget but we don’t have to spend it all just because we have it.  So the question is not “what can we afford?”, but rather, “how much do we want to spend?”.  Take for example Microsoft Office and Open Office.  The education licences for MS Office per computer is cheaper than the regular package, but it still costs a substantial amount of money.  How about updates?  How about compatibility? If we want to go with MS Office, we can allocate money from the budget for it.  However, if we don’t want to spend that much, we can go with Open Office which is free.  It has nearly the same functions and will do a great job in the classroom.  In short, it will serve our need for text editing, presentations, spreadsheets, etc.  Or perhaps we can use Open Office in combination with Google Docs.  That way, students and teachers don’t have to email or use a portable USB to transfer files they created at school to their home computers.  They simply save their files in Google Docs and open them at home through their browser.

The above example is just a simple picture of what is possible with emerging technologies and how a school can quickly save money on certain aspects of technology integration and allocate it for something more important.  This option is available and possible because of emerging technologies such as cloud computing, smart phones, apps, open source learning, web 2.0 tools, freeware, social media, etc.  In other words, when it comes to decision-making, school have three things to consider and take care of:

1. Hardware

The average price of a laptop these days is around CAD600 if not less.  Schools get special rates too.

2. Infrastructure

Internet, intranet, facilities, technical support, etc.

3. Teacher training

Constant teacher development is essential and pays off immediately.  In fact, new technologies as the above mentioned, are motivational drivers for teachers to initiate their own professional development.  You wouldn’t believe the look on my teachers’ faces when I introduced them to screen capturing.  They were like kids in a candy story hungry for innovation and ready to use everything that’s available to them.

In conclusion, decision-making about technology integration in schools must change.  While we have had a passive approach to decion-making always starting with what we have and expecting improved results, we should start with what we want.  Where are we heading and where we want to be.  In other words, we must take a proactive approach and proactive decision-making process.  The real world where our students will live does not cling on what’s there, but looks towards what is possible.


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