Issues in ET: When Tools Break Down

Over the past 5 months I have been integrating a class set of Flip Mino HD (6) at every opportunity. Mainly, I justified the purchase of these devices on the premise that:

  • French Immersion students would be motivated to speak French if they were filming each other
  • French Immersion students are self-conscious when speaking French and being able to film oral presentations would allow them to get it right
  • French Immersion students would be able to improve their oral communication skills by watching themselves and others more closely

All the above proved to be true: students excelled when given the opportunity to use this technology. We used the Flips as an alternative mode for oral presentations. We used them for self-evaluations and peer evaluations, and we also used them in structured group discussions.

Now, 1 unit is malfunctioning after only 5 months of light usage, and the whole unit / student ratio has been disrupted. Moreover, there is an underlying fear that another unit might begin to malfunction, in which case I will have to re-think several activities / projects in my course. With over 100 students and no prep time, that’s not a gamble I’m willing to take. Although the units are still under warranty, sending it out for repair will likely mean being without for weeks… Solution: giving students the option of completing each task / project with or without Flips or bringing and using their own devices to school.

So what does this add up to? Well, we know that learners excel when given the opportunity to use the right tools (recall Debating With iPod Touch in the Classroom), and we also know there are some very valid arguments for not using technology: dependability issues, financial cost, time cost. The only feasible solution as I see it, is that schools begin to focus their attention on wireless access and multimedia sharability (interactive white boards in the classroom), and that students come to school with their own handheld devices (many already do). Additionally, it would be helpful if course design reflected students’ ability to meet learning outcomes in various formats (audio files, video files, live presentations, written submissions, collaborative projects). This model would not only provide a seamless environment rich in learning opportunities, it would take financial pressures from school administrators (having to constantly upgrade, fund, replace, repair, support…), as well as pressures on educators having to learn, keep up with, spend valuable teaching time teaching students about technologies that may not be meeting their individual needs.

One might argue that having students use their own devices to meet learning outcomes would leave some students behind, the ‘have-nots’. But would that be any different than only being able to provide tools for a selected few within the school budget?

Troubleshooting

For those using Flip Mino HD, here is a tip that might save you some time:

Interesting adventure this has been… Thanks for the suggestion, however I had already tried resetting with no success… After going over this in my head all day I believe that the green 70s zig-zag freak show occured because of conflicts between the original software that came with the unit and the updates which have intalled themselves over time.

Flipshare software is intalled on your computer when you connect a unit for the first time, these files are stored on the unit in a separate folder and are never updated. The camera receives updates to another location. The assumption is that everytime you connect you syncronize updates. But when I connected the unit to my new laptop it installed the original software, which is now dated, this created a conflict with the unit which now operates from a newer version… What I did was to connect the unit, find the latest updates, download and install and voilà!

So far so good, the problem seems to have been resolved. Anyway, this is what I think happened. Sadly, when I called Pure Digital’s help desk this morning after a very frustrating night last night, I was told to reset the unit as you’d mentionned. However, after I described what was happening and what I had already tried, the teckie told me to send it in for repairs, that if it could not be fixed they would likely send me a refurbished model, that it would take over 1 month, and that she herself would not want a Flip if they gave her one! (No kidding!) In retrospect, I wonder why she said that, and why she could not, as the hired tech support, have saved me the time and frustration by just telling me what it took me hours to figure out… Some help! I wonder if the merge between Pure Digital and Cisco shorthanded her in some way… Anyway, problem solved… For now…

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Classroom Debates with iPod Touch and Facebook

Challenges:

By definition, formal debates limit participation because only 1 person at a time may speak. The idea was to use hand-held devices (iPod Touch) to provide more participants an opportunity to participate, critique, review, and argue.

The Debate:

As expected, access to hand-held devices boosted participation. Out of approximately 45 participants (2 groups back to back), our Facebook debate page showed that over 137 online communications (complete sentences discussing the topic at hand) were made possible because of this device. Given our time constraints, this clearly would not have been possible in a conventional classroom debate. Out of these contributions, about 1/4 were formulated after class time since students were told that they could continue to contribute for an additional 48 hours after the event.

Debriefing:

An overwhelming number of students described the experience as ‘great’, ‘engaging’, ‘fun’, and ‘so cool’. Many expressed that it was extremely beneficial to them to be able to say what they wanted to say when they wanted to say it. Some also said that they would not have participate as much or at all if they had to speak up in class. Many noted that using technology to debate allowed them to think before they expressed their thoughts.

Some drawbacks were mostly related to the application used (Facebook). While the application allowed us to debate simultaneously, it is not designed for this type of discussion. One of the reasons why is it was chosen was because many students were not allowed to join ‘Twitter’ but already were Facebook subscribers. Another problem that caused some frustration was that our initial access router could not support more than 10 devices so we had to install a more powerful router. This caused some frustration on the part of the students. Some students also expressed that those who were technologically challenged felt that they could not compete; as they attempted to type their thoughts someone faster would trump them.

Conclusion:

Overall, this tool was extremely beneficial to both students and myself. They allowed everyone to participate simultaneously and to continue adding even after class had ended. The device promoted the use of the target language created an intensely engaging environment in which students could express themselves freely. Having access to the discussion transcripts at my own convenience allowed me to conduct a more thourough assessment of student contributions.

Recommendations:

  • hand out devices only once all instructions have been given
  • provide access in the classroom on a regular basis so that all students may acquire the desired skills (typing with thumbs / interface familiarity)
  • use a more ‘discussion’ oriented application that will refresh instantly when students contribute
  • FOR THE SECONDARY CLASSROOM, IT WOULD BE USEFUL TO HAVE A ROUTER THAT CAN EASILY BLOCK ACCESS, FOR EXAMPLE, IF IN-CLASS ATTENTION IS REQUIRED

Site Reviews: WYSIWYG

WordPress Sites

WordPress is what I am currently using to support students in my F2F courses. Although the free version does not provide users with a back-up option, page code is easily stored on notepad and pages could be swiftly restored should anything happen. What I love about WordPress is that it is more interactive. It allows students to follow any changes via an RSS subscription. Also, it is ultra easy to embed various media into any page. There is no need to download images to your computer, for example. They can easily be inserted by simply copying and pasting the image URL. Best of all, WordPress affords portablitly. Making changes to my website has never been simpler, at that, I can use any computing devide, even my phone!

Wix

Wix is especially cool because it allows one to create dynamic Flash pages without any knowlege of Flash, html, or javascript. It can be edited remotely, or locally. I found Flash to be a bit cumbersome so I have used it only for the static parts of my website (main portal). It would be a great plateform for student websites since the free version affords web hosting at no extra cost.

Google Sites

I built this site in just a few hours as part of an MET group project. I was shocked at how intuitive and user-friendly was. Being that it is a Google tool, Google Sites affords the integration of many indispensable productivity tools such as Google Docs, Google Wikis, and Google Groups. The drawbacks of Google Sites is that it will only accept it’s own preassigned code, so one could not embed other widgets than those provided by Google. It makes the site less versatile, but it’s free and a great platform to work on solo, or collaboratively.

Wetpaint

Wetpaint is very much like Google Sites with the exception that it will accept a wider variety of code. This makes Wetpaint slightly more versatile than Google Sites. Before creating an entire site, I would strongly suggest creating 1 page using a couple of different software to see which seems more intuitive to you, and which affords the elements you are looking for to support learning and teaching. Again, it’s free.

PBWorks

PBworks offers a free version and a great way to create a class website or wiki but the interface is not as attractive as some other wikis, nor can it be customized to a great extent. On the positive side, it does not contain any advertising, it does have an RSS function, and many really exquisite features for tracking student work and collaborative effort. Moreover, PBworks seems determined to become a wiki giant and it provides many opportunities for free webinars (that are excellent by the way, and will carry over a period of a few weeks) and incentives for educators, including a great tech support team.

Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver is great in that it is versatile. By editing the code for each page, which can easily be found on websites like w3school.com, one can customize layout, add widgets and various learning objects. Building Dreamweaver sites can result in the over-accumulation of pages, files and documents. To edit pages, one has to either synchronize, which can be tricky, carry files around on a portable drive, or carry the machine on which the local folder is locate. Nevertheless, it allows the most freedom where

Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching

Follow me on Delicious and explore my collection of cool Web 2.0 tools, sites and articles for learning and teaching.

* Bubbl.us – Concept Mapping
* Slide.com – Presentation
* Scribd – Document Sharing
* Google Docs – Collaboration
* Google Groups – Asynchronous Discussion
* Gmail – Messaging & Email
* Delicious – Social Bookmarking
* Picnik – Photo Editing
* Survey Monkey – Online Surveying (pop-up)
* Polldaddy – Online Suveying (wiget)
* Toondoo – Cartoon Editing & Publishing
* Voicethread – Multi-Sensory Forum
* Wikispaces – Collaboration (more about wikis)
* VoiceThread – Multimedia Discussion Tool
* Slideshare – Presentation
* YellBox – Syncronous / Asyncronous Discussion
* Dimdim – Syncronous Discussion
* Screencast – Multimedia Storage / Sharing
* Jing – Screencasting
* Drop.io – Safely share media / documents

Shift happens in Social Studies: Should instructional design apply across disciplines?

Link to ETEC 532 paper

This paper is based on the premise that a constructivist approach is best suited for the study of society and its history. This is because subjects like history and social studies are inherently based on constructivist principles. That is, they are in themselves constructs subject to cultural norms, personal experience, and other biases. Being able to gather primary sources, evaluate them, categorize them, and form a position based on what is known, is what history and social studies are all about. The discussion also offers a new way to present social studies curriculum to students so to maximize learning, retention, and the development of indispensable skills required in the information age. SSCIE (Social Studies Constructivist Instructional Environments) would consist in a web-based system of archives linked directly to the ministry of education’ learning outcomes which would allow students to work toward meeting the requirements for each through their own choice of artefacts.  Each, choosing from a wide variety of media, and producing evidence of their learning through the construction of a wiki which would then become the basis for summative assessment. I strongly believe that if this model should ever become a reality, it would revolutionize these subjects, support both learning and teaching,  as well as generate a whole new set of attitudes towards history and social studies.

While I was working on this assignment, something came to me: should instructional design apply across disciplines? Typically, when there is some kind of big conceptual breakthrough  in education, it is implemented across the board: multiple intelligences, collaborative learning, online education. Further, I thought about a French 10 course I had developed for online delivery, and recalled how I felt throughout that online education was not well suited to language learning because  immersion, as well as non-verbal language, are an essential requirement for fluency.

I believe that the reason for this seemingly homogeneous attitude toward instructional design is that decision-makers are often quick to implement innovation without considering the most important and central component of any subject: the prescribed learning outcomes. So while this instructional design might revolutionize social studies, it would not work in a language course, for example. The sooner we realize that each discipline / subject requires its own theoretical framework, the better off we and our students will be.

Works Cited

Maxwell, Wendy. (n.d.) Research to Support the Implementation of ‘Histoires en action!’. Retrieved August 2, 2009, from http://www.aimlanguagelearning.com/docs/research.htm

When technology takes precedence over learning: the importance of individual preference

The MET program requires students to use, navigate through, integrate, and evaluate new media technologies for communicating, publishing, and creating a number of digital artefacts. This is central to the capstone experience for this program since it is only through hands-on experience that one can truly appreciate the affordances of web tools and gain expertise. It has been my experience, however, that dictating to students which tool to use to meet a particular goal can have adverse effects on learning. This is because students come into the program with a unique skill set which is known only to them. Consequently, a one-size-fits-all approach may result in a great deal of time being wasted by students trying to climb a steep learning curve, therefore placing the technology at the center of the learning experience as opposed to the topic at hand.

Cmap – What do we know about how people learn?

The artifact above was created as part of the ETEC 512 course requirement. For this assignment students were asked to map out the various theories of learning as they were examined throughout the course so to understand how each was related or overlapped, as well as to demonstrate learning. All students were to use the same software: CmapTools. CmapTools is a cool piece of software that allows multiple users to collaborate on a map from a distance, and affords one-step web publishing, which is great for sharing your work especially in the case of online or blended education. It also provides users with a wide spectrum of design elements and tools, all the necessary stuff to turn a concept map into a work of art.

Although I considered myself to be tech savvy, I found this software to be extremely cumbersome, especially given the fact that the assignment required the map to be constantly altered as new knowledge was made available throughout the course. In all, the map was to be re-constructed 5 or 6 times based on peer / instructor feedback. Many of my colleagues shared the same frustrations, that is, having to spend so much time on the software itself and therefore neglecting other aspects of the course: reading and research. As much as I understood the educational value of concept mapping, I vowed never to have anything to do with digital concept maps, ever again. In the end, what resulted from all the hours spent on my Cmap were some 30 color-coordinated boxes that might have taken me a few minutes to jot down on a piece of paper. In hind sight, it is clear that in order to be able to engage in mapping the various theories and sharing them in a virtual environment, some kind of technology was needed. At the time the course was designed, CmapTools must have seemed like a reasonable choice for it afforded the required graphics and publishing capabilities. But I later wondered how my experience (and that of many others in the same course) might have been different if I had been given the freedom to choose a tool more suited to my skill level.

A few weeks passed, and as I contemplated having to use a mind map to illustrate the structure of my eportfolio, I found myself making eye contact with the CmapTools icon sitting on my desktop. After opening it and fiddling with it for some 20 minutes, I agreed that there had to be an easier way to do this so I began to look for another tool that might help me achieve the same goal without the grief. After a few Google searches, I came across Bubbl.us 2.0. It took just a few clicks to create the object I needed and made me realize how much easier editing was with this particular tool.

Lesson learned: While it may be necessary at times to dictate which technology students will use to achieve a particular goal (an LMS for example), giving students the freedom to choose a prefered tool might just prevent technology from taking precedence over learning. For other assignments, I was given ‘carte blanche’, and I recall looking for, and using, whatever technology afforded the path of least resistance precisely because the course content / objectives remained intuitively at the top of my priorities. What’s more, who better suited to match my skill set to a particular tool but me? Stephen Petrina contends that technologies are complex instruments of learning. He states that technologies ‘augments, enhances, extends or magnifies our senses’. He also asserts that technologies are literally a part of us. The relationship between the ‘cyborg’ and his creations then, can be exemplified in a more simple analogy: the artist and his tool. Only the artist knows what tool is required to obtain a particular result because each artist’s perception of the finished product is unique, and so are his / her skills.

In my opinion, and based on personal and other cohort members’ forum discussions, personal preference should be at the heart of any framework or model of media selection, however, personal preference and individual skill sets are seldom addressed in such frameworks. A perfect example of this is Bates & Poole’s (2003)  ‘A Framework for Selecting and Using Technology’. Although Bates & Poole acknowledge at the onset that ‘it is impossible for any single teacher to stay abreat of new developments in technology’, the basis for their framework does not reflect this crucial truth to technology selection. On the one hand, letting students choose a tool they are comfortable with will optimize the quality of the finished product (learning), and will serve to educate educators as to what’s new in technology since today, the Web offers a myriad of free tools, new ones being developed at warped speed. And the only ones who are truly active in exploring the new real estate called the Internet are the ‘digital natives’ themselves.

Works Cited

Bates, T.  & Poole, G. (2003). A Framework for Selecting Technology. In Effective Teaching with Technology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Petrina, Stephen. (in press). Curriculum and instruction for technology teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.