Summer of Tech…

My last day with the students was a week ago.  I am without a class until after Labour Day.  You might think that I’d take a breather, step back, shut down (or at least reboot), but nah…  I see the next 5-6 weeks as a prime opportunity to jump online and take a close look at what’s going on in EdTech.

Twitter – What Would I Do Without You?

This morning I went right to Twitter (I sometimes go to Flipboard, but usually I check my Twitter feeds first thing).  An American educator that I follow had just tweeted about attending an online EdModo conference, beginning immediately.  So, that changed my morning.  I had been following Edmodo, and it was on my list to learn more about it.  Edmodo is essentially a Learning Management System but one that keeps current, and has more to offer than other LMS’s.   Had I not been on Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about this online conference.

EdmodoCon 2015:  This is What I’m Talking About

I love being connected to a group of like-minded educators.  The keynote speaker opened by talking about Edmodo community, and how the system has been evolving.  They even distributed EdModie awards to deserving instructors and teachers around the world.  It was inspiring to hear what others are doing in the classroom.

I just finished attending a panel discussion where panel members discussed current and relevant issues like how the learner has evolved, how important it is that curriculum drive technology (*), how educators need professional development and support using technology in the classroom… Really, we are all experiencing many of the same issues regardless of where we are.  Professional Development has to be meaningful and have direct application for the teacher in the classroom.  There should be some hands-on component in a technology PD workshop.  Sounds logical.

—later—

I’ve just finished another couple of Edmodo Con workshops, both with featured teachers (John Choins and Kari Salomon).  Both of these teachers are K-12, but again, I can definitely find practical use for my learners.  Some things, obviously, don’t apply (like having a relationship with parents) (kind of glad, though!), but most of it does.  Some great ideas about structuring debate via a LMS and keeping class videos to 8-12 minutes.

MOOC – Some Progress

I’ve mentioned that I’m taking a Coursera MOOC called “Foundations of Virtual Learning” run out of the University of California.  Completion rates of MOOCS are low; most people start them out of curiosity but then don’t finish.  I vowed to complete every part of this MOOC.  MOOCs are designed to be flexible, so I had planned on doing the majority of the work really beginning last week, and then completing it all this week.  I’m almost exactly where I want to be, and have scored over 90% average on the weekly quizzes on my first attempt.  (You get at least three attempts).  I just won’t get any credit for this MOOC because I haven’t paid for that.  But I’m in the course for the knowledge, not the credit.

Summer of Tech

My plans for my “time off” are to work on my fall curriculum, investigate Edmodo as an alternative LMS site, develop my OneNote – PBLA e-Portfolio PD workshop, and update some TESL O webinar training materials.   I also want to put together a technology workshop dreamlist for my workplace, focusing on the technology that fits the immediate demands of the learners, and that will improve student achievement of learning objectives.  Also, I want to spruce up my WEEBLY webpage, and upload some modules.

* Yes, I know that I’ve said before about teaching the specific technology, and exploring how it can be used by Adult ESL learners, but that said, I do recognize that the pedagogy has to be the primary focus.

MOOCs – Keeping Up the Motivation (or Somebody Notice Me, Please!!)

I have to be honest; the first MOOC  I tried, I didn’t finish.  Started off well.  Read the required articles.  Watched the Rick Mercer-like instructor videos.  Eagerly participated in the online discussions.  And then tuned out.  I think I know at least 4 reasons why.

1. The material was too basic

I knew it already, for the most part, but thought I would try the MOOC regardless, figuring I could always learn something new.  The MOOC was offered thru Canvas.  The course I was in was called “Learning to Learn Online”.  My objectives were to gain some insight into how my learners feel about online learning, especially those encountering the technology for the first time.

2. Pat on the head – NOTABLY absent

I hadn’t realized prior to this MOOC that I need recognition.  I admit it, I am a bit of a Lisa Simpson in that I want to be assessed and then receive the double gold star…  With a MOOC, that’s impossible.  There are too many learners, so attracting individual attention from the instructor is rare.  The “M” does means “massive”, by the way.

So I’d put in extra time and effort, and when I thought, ha! This answer will surely get a nod!  And nothing happened.  A virtual speck in the online galaxy.  

Maybe I’m not as brilliant as I thought I was… I know about effective feedback, and I know that, as instructors,  we ought to avoid mindless “good job” responses on their own. But to get no feedback at all made me feel like I was writing in a vacuum.   You know what MOOCs are missing?  That “like” button from social media sites like Facebook.  Even getting a virtual atta girl would have kept my motivation up.  

3. iPad App malfunctioning 

I was doing the entire MOOC on my iPad.  There was an app for that.  However, the Canvas app froze out and went non responsive half the time.  I would have then had to find an alternate online resource.  It was too much effort to figure out.

4. Time

Like any adult learner, time is always going to be a factor.  I did not plan my MOOC into my weekly schedule like I should have, so I began falling behind.  Plus, the app was unreliable, and no one ever noticed my outstanding class work so, gradually, I let the course get away from me.  

I’ve since gone back and have viewed the videos, and reviewed the discussions.  I think I got out of that particular MOOC what I wanted.  I’m now in another MOOC through Coursera, Foundations of Virtual Instruction.  I have MOOC time twice a week, for 2 hours each time.  I’m already more invested in FVI than my first MOOC.  More intrinsic motivation.  I’m not behind, and I’ve aced the quizzes.  The discussion groups are a little more active.  They even offer a way to receive recognition badges…however, you need to pay for them.

MOOCs are a way to keep on top of recent innovations in your field, whatever that field may be.  It’s a way to connect with MOOC users worldwide, and start building a network.  MOOCs are self directed, and learner focused, and are really just beginning to connect users globally.  I think I will be taking advantage of MOOCs in the future, even though it’s highly unlikely the instructor will ever give me a virtual fist bump.

Man, some students are so needy, eh?

SAMR + SmartBoard: Reflections on a Webinar

Last night I presented a webinar on using Smartboard and the Smartboard software (Smart Notebook) in an adult ESL classroom, and although I received some positive feedback, I wasn’t happy with it.  I had a few tech glitches, lost my mic at one point for about 30 seconds, and then my son forgot I was in a live webinar, and proceeded to the kitchen to make a sandwhich… loudly.  I muted myself and then shouted “LIVE webinar going on!!!”  Then, for a split second, I wondered if the mute button was really working, given that the tech that night had so far been a bit wonky.

I will record it again, myself.  I’ve been collecting my webinars and uploading them to my webpage at weebly.  

I wanted to introduce SAMR to my ESL peers, because it’s a model/continuum that has resonance and reflects how I feel about using technology in the classroom.  This, I did, but not as well as I wanted to.  So I’ll outline my points here:

Smartboard is a tool that can be used in any number of ways – it all depends on the instructor.

(NOTE: the picture above isn’t me!)

SUBSTITUTION:

A Smartboard can simply be used as a blackboard, whiteboard or screen, with no change in how the classroom material is being developed.  Instead of picking up a piece of chalk, the instructor or learner writes on the Smartboard. Instead of wheeling in a clunky media cart and reaching up into the rafters to deploy a film screen older than I am, just use the Smartboard as the projection screen for movies, or PowerPoints.

AUGMENTATION:

Once you start getting comfortable with SmartBoard, then you begin to realize the myriad of uses it has.  But you begin slowly, and now you learn how to upload other document types (Word, PPT, PDF) into Smart Notebook so that exercises can be annotated, or taken up.

MODIFICATION:

Now you begin to realize that you don’t need to spend hours online searching through interactive online games for your learners; you can create SCORM-like materials yourself without needing to be an IT professional with a specialty in Instructional Design.  By exploring and modifying existing templates in Smart Notebook, you can now produce material that is immediately relevant to your learners.

REDEFINITION:

This is the transformation end of the tech continuum.  How is the tech changing your delivery?  Is its use meaningful and mind expanding?  Can you do things with the tech that you couldn’t do without it?  With a Smartboard, I’d argue that yes, you can.  At the very least, all of your class notes can be exported as a PDF, and uploaded to a class website.  Enabling learners to access class notes and materials hands control of the learning experience over to the students.  Of course, not all have access to the internet, or a computer for that matter, but those that do have access, or that can get to a library, will now be able to collect and review classroom material on their own time.  Perhaps they were ill for a day or two; now they can catch up.

For those that do not have digital access, or lack the know-how to navigate the web to locate the teacher site and download  the files, the teacher could print off the Smart Notebook file pages, like a PPT, in slide-format to save paper.

So that’s what I wanted to convey last night, but I remember looking at my slides, realizing that I had 189 of them, and an hour to deliver it in.  I rushed through it.  So, I extend my apologies to the patient Tutela members who attended, and to the ones who will watch it later!  To really get a good grasp of this tech, ideally, I’d like to present it in a lab, with an actual Smartboard in front of me.

To be fair, using the BBB webinar platform, I’m able to interact and reach members across Canada, members who would not realistically all be able to attend a live conference.  Hmm, a piece of tech that’s changing how PD is delivered… Kind of transformative, don’t you think?

Word Up – on SAMR, that is…

Technology for Technology’s Sake

If you’ve been reading the latest e-learning articles and blogs, you’ll note that the current in vogue ideas of technology in the classroom is that the tech used needs to serve some kind of purpose.  Why is this particular tech being used?  What’s its function?  How does it play out in the overall learning objectives?  And if a simpler mode of delivery could be used, why isn’t it?

Many of the writers that I’ve been reading are cautioning the use of tech in the classroom, and argue that simply using a Word program, for example, to write up an essay, is a waste of time.  That this use of tech is merely “substitution” and does not further learning in any meaningful way.  A further argument is that the tech used, ideally, should be of the higher SAMR – the redefinition level  of tech use in the classroom.  You know, the mind expanding, we never could have done this 20 years ago, type of tech.

Who’s Your Audience?

That’s fine, for an audience of learners born and raised in the western world.  An audience of adult ESL immigrants is different.  They have different needs.  They have had a different kind of exposure to tech, if they’ve had any at all.  And before  I get back to the “Word program example”, I want to revisit the SAMR model for a moment.

I’ve looked at SAMR before.  Here’s another picture below,  just to refresh your memory.  The idea behind SAMR is that tech use is a kind of hierarchy, with the ultimate goal to reach the redefinition stage.

Redefinition means being able to guide your leaners in a way that expands their mind, that takes advantage of multi user collaboration, critical thinking,  creativity and problem solving in a way that standard classroom procedures and a textbook can’t.

Using a WORD document, then,  would not be considered a mind expanding activity.  Its use is old school, CALL-style tech that we need to step up from.  It most certainly isn’t redefining.  Or is it?

Think about what functions are available in a typical Word program.  You know what happens when you make a spelling or grammar error; the red or green squiggly lines appear.  This makes the self-editing process decidedly easier, and quicker.  Clicking under a red-squiggly line opens up a drop down menu of suggested corrections, allowing the writer access to more options when correcting her or his writing.

Once satisfied with the document, students can peer correct by sharing their documents in an active directory, via email, or in an LMS.  An editing peer can then select “track changes”, and “add comment”, then forward the peer edit back to the original author.

The question is, is this essentially different than a handwritten piece that goes through the same process?

Substitution:  “Tech acts  as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change”.

Certainly, a Word doc could be used as a simple substitution, but there are functional changes that the learners take advantage of (spell check, grammar check, track changes, using pre-loaded templates, thesaurus, word count, formatting options, including headers and footers)

Augmentation:  “Tech acts as a direct tool  substitute, with functional improvement”.  At the very least, Word is augmentation for the reasons listed in substitution.

Modification: “Tech allows  for significant task redesign”.  Learners can insert tables, create charts and graphs, save the Word document as a pdf, or use a “book creator” app to add images, and professional formatting.

Redefinition:  “Tech allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable”.  Connecting to the internet allows access to search engines.  I’d argue that teachers are now able to use search engines to do a quotation enclosed search of a paragraph submitted by a learner to check for suspected plagiarism.  Programs such as “turnitin” are based on this same technology, allowing teachers to determine whether the work submitted is an original piece, or something pulled off of the thousands of free essay sites available on the internet.

Alternatively, learners can further use internet research on their Word documents to find similar points of view, or contrasting points of view.  Final drafts can be posted on a class blog, and thus opened up for comments and suggestions from a much larger audience.  This can also be done in the LearnIT2Teach blog, which opens up blog writing to the ESL community (students can use just first names to ensure confidentiality.)

Depending on how its used, Word can be on any level of the SAMR model, from straight substitution through redefinition.  I am not, by the way, proposing that the use of Word is the only piece of technology that can be used in a writing class. The tech writers who claim that using Word isn’t advancing learning in any meaningful way are not thinking of the bigger picture, nor are they considering how Word can be used in an Adult ESL class to expand learning, to develop critical thinking skills, and to develop multi user collaboration creatively.

Book Report Example:

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.