Tech Toolbox

I’ve been following the buzz on Flipboard re: tech in the classroom.  Seems the consensus is not to simply use tech for tech’s sake.  This leads back to a blogging challenge question I tried to answer last year.  I think the question was something like “should curriculum drive technology or should technology drive the curriculum?”.  I believe most instructors would prefer the former.

I made a case for the latter.  My reasoning was based on the desparate pleas of my adult learners to become more digitally fluent.  We don’t have a lot of tech available for the students, but what we do have, I want to make the most use out of.  A little part of me dies when I see SMART boards being used only to show youtube videos, or for presentations.  Or worse, in the classroom and completely disregarded.

Figuring out the needs and competencies of the learners is key.  I created a imageseries of tasks that were required for my class project,  ranging in technical difficulty from producing a formatted memo using established Word templates, to creating a professional website which includes an animated internet commercial.  Much of the technical learning was self directed.  The groups worked out the tasks and delegated the assignments amongst themselves.  If a learner was struggling, I could spend some one on one time with her or him and work through the problems, most of which involved me asking the learner questions, not telling her what to do.

As I said, the range of tech competencies varied from beginner to advanced.  At the end of the project, though, all the learners were proud of their accomplishments, even if it just meant that they could log in to the active directory, enter a password, open a browser and find my website on their own.

The SAMR model of technology in the classroom outlines the different ways in which we can use tech – through substitution, augmentation, modification or redefinition of tasks.  Redefinition is the ultimate goal; creating activities or learning in ways that were not possible before.  This fits in with the maker culture framework.  What can I create?  What can I produce?

My students created a company.   I was a facilitator, not the sage on the stage.  By the end of their project, they had between 15-20 artefacts in the four skill areas, covering most (but not all) of the CLB competencies.  They used the following technology to complete their tasks:

  • a learning management system to create and share files for the group
  • Microsoft OneNote
  • email
  • Microsoft Word, Publisher, PowerPoint and Excel
  • internet search engines
  • fillable PDF forms
  • http://www.wix.com to create websites
  • http://www.powtoon.com to create internet commercials
  • Photoshop

Some of the tech the learners used, I hadn’t anticipated.  Two of my learners completed a task using excel and photoshop to get the job done.  I don’t even have access to photoshop!  This was done on their own time on their own computers, and was the result of some ingenious problem solving.

If you’re clear what the learning objectives are, and they are connected to a real life experience, then the tech used is irrelevant.  We’ve got the tools sitting there in the toolbox.  Sure, maybe you could bang the hammer into the wall with your forehead, but if there’s a less painful option, why wouldn’t we pursue it?

iPads in the Classroom – Yea, Nay, or Meh?

Flipboard

I’ve recently been tuned into FlipBoard.  FlipBoard is a social network aggregation – a site that compiles “magazines” of topics in which you’ve indicated an interest.  I’m following Blended Learning, ESL, Innovation, Teaching with Tech, etc.  Flipboard then sends out its internet minions to scour blogs, news-sites, etc. for anything tagged with the interests I’ve noted, and then arranges the articles in multiple magazine tabs.  It’s cool. Also, it’s overcoming Twitter as my first morning go-to app over coffee.

So, Flipboard finds the articles, and makes a magazine.  The articles are pulled from any number of sites, which would account for an, er, interesting layout.  On the front page of my “blended learning” magazine was an article from TIME magazine denouncing the use of iPads in the classroom.  Well, maybe “denounce” isn’t the right word; cautioning might be better.  The title of the article is “Why We Need to Keep Ipads Out of the Classroom.”   Opposite this story, which I read immediately, was this one: “Glued to the Screen: A Third Grade Class where Kids Spend 75% of the Day on an iPad”.   The two stories were on opposite ends of the tech-in-the-classroom spectrum.  Both stories had good arguments.

And then there’s this one: They’re Not Paperweights: An iPad Program that Works.  I have an iPad; I’ve had it for over a year. I can imagine how I would use iPads with my learners.  The apps we could use!  The ease of research… being able to access the LMS right in the class instead of the lab.  Even as a proclaimed “techie”, I much prefer the classroom over the sterile computer lab.  My walls are full of old-school student-produced collages, brainstorming activities, collections of work over the term, etc.

I’ve been working on how to improve learners’ digital literacy for some time now.  The adult learners in my SLT program range in their digital competencies and confidence levels.  We have group projects where the learners can gain the skills they’ve identified that they would like to work on; some would be happy learning how to navigate the web, using browsers and search engines while others want more and are equally happy to take on the the daunting task of website creation via www.wix.com or animated presentations throughwww.powtoon.com.

Half the time, I’m learning the skills along with the students.  For instance, an advanced learner came across some challenges with her website page; the mobile app wouldn’t display text in the right alignment as the webpage.

I’m thrilled when these problems present themselves during a task.  My first point of direction is to ask the learner to check the help menu.  She scans it for her particular problem.  If that doesn’t work, we take it to a Google search engine – which is not as easy as you’d think, because you have to make sure you’re phrasing the question or query accurately enough to get the right hits.  Usually, the answer presents itself in some forum, video or document somewhere on the web.  Very few tech problems are unique; somewhere someone out there has stumbled on the same problem as you have.  And they’ve sought help in the great http://www. 

I‘ve said it before, but tech tools are just that – tools.  iPads, apps, or software can take a lesson to new levels, or they can bog you down.  In the end, it’s about the task and the learning.  If a paper and pen are the better modality for the task, then use paper and pen.  It’s not just about using tech.  Tech for tech’s sake doesn’t work. It’s about how learning can be augmented, improved, and redesigned using tech…

Crash and Burn… or The Great UserName Reset Debacle of 2015

Active Directory

Most school boards make use of an “active directory” whereby all users have unique login IDs and passwords.  Makes sense. An active directory is necessary to ensure that online resources are being used appropriately.  All of my learners have their own access, which enables them to save documents on the school directory, to keep folders, create e-Portfolios using OneNote, etc.  What with continuous intake and all, this needs to be regularly updated.

To make a frustrating story short, the last round of username updates resulted in a resetting of all usernames.  At first I was worried that the students’ documents were gone as well, since they needed to re-enter their usernames, and then reset passwords.  As it turns out, formerly saved word docs were still alive and well.  OneNote, however, was wiped clean and reset to default.

If you remember, OneNote was where I had been creating student e-Portfolios for my piloted Project-based PBLA-ized SLT program (try saying that five times quickly, bet you can’t…).  Since we love acronyms so much, I’ll just refer to the above as PBPBLASLT.  I like how it almost spells “blast”, because that’s what happened to the OneNote e-Portfolios.

That makes the second time the usernames have been reset; the first time didn’t impact us as we hadn’t set up OneNote.  This time, we were ONE day away from our final Company Project deadlines, which included a printed copy of the e-Portfolios.  Additionally, when the usernames were reset, learners had to wait until our IT department could address the problem and get them back online.  In the meantime, they had no access to their files (until about 2:00pm).  So they lost a day’s access to some of their files, resulting in overtime in the lab (read:learners frantically pulling their pieces together from assorted thumb-drives and email accounts, staying in the lab three hours after their peers had left for the day.)

The students impressed me with their back-up skills.  Some had actually asked me how they could back up OneNote, but I made the mistake of assuring them that OneNote worked a bit differently, and that it backed itself up on the directory (hence, the notable absence of a “Save” icon in the toolbar).  I hadn’t yet been keyed into the fact that a system-wide username reset would reset OneNote to default.

What I Learned

I can create OneNote “skeleton” files of the e-Portfolios, and save to a thumbdrive.  The students had been using a wiki, or file sharing forum on our “Learning Management System”.  Because of the multi-user collaboration functions of the LMS, the majority of the group project files were already uploaded, in preparation for the presentations in the hall.

Displaying photo 1.JPG

Thus, I went into the LMS (thank you, LearnIT2Teach and http://www.edulinc.org), uploaded all of the files, and recreated the majority of the OneNote files.  What is lost, forever, is their rough work, their individual efforts at a task before the group selected the one to represent the group (unless that was also saved), and the drawings sketched using the interactive whiteboard function.  And also the screen shot collections for a part of their brainstorming  activity.

The students were stressed about The Great Username Reset, but they also had other things to focus their attention on, plus they could still get online using the generic login codes.

The Company Project was a roaring success, by the way.  The students were bombarded with questions, comments, and compliments (the presentation was in the main corridor, and the groups competed to get student votes for best business plan.)  I’ll talk more about Project-Based learning in another blog.

On the positive side, I have vowed to thoroughly explore every nook and cranny of OneNote.  I will learn its every function because when properly used, and backed up, it is the best candidate thus far to be a composite PBLA e-Portfolio.  Oh yeah, and it is also super awesome for lesson planning and module tracking.

OneNote Check In

I have at least a dozen learners using OneNote.  I wish there were a way to share pages; I can see that the option exists, but the lab and our active directory as it is set up, won’t allow it.  The students are working collaboratively on a group project and need to be able to easily share information. There is a way to share a OneNote page by email, or save as pdf/Word document.  Right now, they are saving as a Word document, and sharing in the LMS.  It is a bit of a round about way to share the material, but it is all we have for now…

(The problem with sharing files in the LMS WIKI is that there is a maximum data limit of 1MB, which pretty much precludes sharing anything with a picture.)

So far, OneNote is going well with the group.  They are still wading their way through it and getting to know the set up and functions.  They were also excited to know that they could continue to create separate notebooks for different courses (they will be taking some credit courses after this.)

Quartz:  As with any new app or program, there needs to be a field test.  This is currently underway with Quartz.  I’m fortunate to be able to get a peak, but the program itself hasn’t been launched yet.  So, while I will still have a look at the inner workings, I will hold off blogging about it until its official launching (which I hope will be soon).

If you want more information about Quartz, the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks has a short write up on it.  You can access the link by clicking here.