Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teaching with cellphones impacts learning?

Note: This is a follow-up message to an item posted to eLearning Acupuncture a week ago (19 Nov 2008), so be sure to read the original post first before reading this post.

I left off in the last post with the intention of testing if the use of cellphones in teaching contributed positively towards student learning. So here’s the simple experiment I designed.

First, a week after I exposed the class to the cellphone exercise in trying to answer the question “what is the mechanism of action of cyanide’s toxicity” via text message, I posed them the same question again. Only this time, they could not use their cellphones – they had to personally know the answer at that moment. The result is that four people out of 24 students answered the question correctly.

I approached these four people to ask the follow-up question: “Where and when did you learn this fact about cyanide?” Of the four people who answered the question correctly, two of them were the students who had successfully completed the cellphone activity last week, one was someone who independently looked up the answer because of her exposure to the question in last week’s cellphone activity, and the last person was someone who knew the answer from a previous course.

picture of resultsSo here is how I interpret this data in combination with last week cellphone data.

First, let’s examine the people who successfully accomplished the cellphone task last week and let’s see if their accomplishment from last week affected their learning. Of the two students who accomplished the cellphone task last week both were able to correctly answer the question regarding the mechanism of action of cyanide one week later. Both students identified the previous week’s cellphone activity as being the time and method that they learned this answer. So for 100% of these students, success with the previous week’s cellphone activity did indeed contribute positively to their learning. They demonstrated this by retaining this knowledge for the period of at least one week.

Second, let’s examine the student who did not successfully complete the previous week’s cellphone activity yet was stimulated by the activity to a great enough extent where she independently researched the answer and was able to demonstrate her knowledge one week later. Did the cellphone activity affect her learning? YES! On the surface this sounds quite positive doesn’t it? However, there were 19 other people in the class who where not stimulated by the activity to a great enough extent to independently research the answer as she had. So for 1 out of 20 (or 5%) the activity stimulated their learning despite being unsuccessful with the cellphone activity. For the other 95%, there was no positive impact.

Third, the student who previously knew about the mechanism of action of cyanide was unaffected by the activity – he already knew the answer.

So taken together, despite a very small sample size, there is a suggestion that cellphone use in the classroom might positively affect learning. Maybe just enough of a suggestion that further investigation on the subject is warranted. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pay Attention to Teaching with Cellphones

The Jordan School District in Sandy, Utah, produced a provocative presentation in April 2007 on TeacherTube entitled “Pay Attention”. It’s a nice video that runs about 7 mins and 40 secs. I’ve watched it a few times over the year to refresh my memory about some of the key ideas in it. I like a lot of them personally.

Starting at 3 mins 50 secs into the video, this sequence of text appears:
Did you know that over 1.5 billion people, all over the world, are walking around with powerful computers in the pockets or purses?

“When you lose your mobile, you lose part of your brain.” – Student from Japan.

“Phones have become an interesting enabling tool. Invented to connect us all together, it has become something much more…” – Warlick, D. (2007). At your Service.

Since your students already know how to use this technology, why aren’t you using it to teach?

Think of ways you could use cell phones to teach…Language, Poetry, literature, Public Speaking, History, Math, Storytelling, Geograpahy, Writing,

Text Messaging (SMS) alone could be used for: pop quizzes, student polls, spelling bees, math experiments, science experiments, book reports, peer tutoring, class presentations.

Imagine giving your class this assignment:

Class you’ve got 10 minutes to received a text message from anyone outside of this school…Please find out: 1. What they had for breakfast, 2 What the weather is like where they are, and 3. The one thing they as purchased. Bonus points will be given for messages received from people in other countries using languages other than English.

Talk about acquiring useful data! This data could then be used in nearly any class to teach a wide variety of essential skills: graphing data, food preparation, predicting economic trends. Cellphone to teach? Absolutely!

Well, I tried this experiment yesterday. I tried to see if I could integrate the use of cell phones into my class. I was teaching a 3-hour first year Chemistry Lab on the spectrophotometric analysis of hemoglobin in human blood. We used a classical reagent cocktail (called Drabkin’s Reagent) that contains potassium cyanide. I asked the students a simple question for bonus marks:
“Please receive a text message containing the mechanism of action of cyanide’s toxicity by the end of today’s class.”

Of the 10 people in the class who had their cell phones (most people don’t come to the lab with their phones), only two people were able to accomplish this task during the allotted time. 2 out of 10.

Is this a success or is it a failure? I don’t really know because I did not set out my research question ahead of time. (It just goes to show you that scientists are routinely engaging in poor experimental design! HAHA!).

However, if I reverse engineer this a little bit and think about possible research questions to judge the success of the experiment against, then these come to mind:

Q1. Were students excited by a research activity that involved cell phones?
A1. Anecdotally – yes. There was a real ‘buzz’, a sustained ‘good vibe’ in the class and it all positive.

Q2. Were students able to participate in this research activity on a cell phone without any technical training by the instructor?
A2. Yes. No one approached me to ask me how to receive a text message or how to operate their phone in any way.

Q3. Were students able to complete successfully this research activity on a cell phone?
A3. Only 2 of 10 were able to complete it in a 3 hour period. Some people, including me, might interpret this as a fail. In general, the majority were not able to complete this task in the time allotted.

Q4. Was the quality of the answer received by text message of sufficient high?
A4. Yes. I judged both answers as correct although they were quite abbreviated as you would expect with text messaging as a delivery mode.

Q5. Did this technology-enabled research activity contribute positively towards student learning?
A5. I don’t know. However, I am going to test this. I’ll be sure to put my results in a future blog post. Stay tuned!

If you have any experience using cell phones to teach, please let us know what you did and how it worked out by leaving a comment below.

Note: image credit located here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Artful Science of Instructional Integration

Note: Please welcome this guest post by Marc Tremblay - teaching on the front lines in Toronto, Ontario.

The challenges of creating effective instructional designs are an ongoing and healthy preoccupation in the minds of most teachers. Though they are often exposed to new instructional practices through professional development, teachers must consider a well-thought integration of a variety of approaches.

Beyond Monet: The Artful Science of Instructional Integration, by Barrie Bennett and Carol Rolheiser, tackles the complexity of instructional design by breaking it down into distinct elements. These components are based on psychological and social research which have been applied in education.

Many aspects of this book make it a valuable resource: concise explanations of theoretical foundations and a recognition of the need for excellence in teaching skills make this reading exciting and motivating. There are model lesson plans which demonstrate the application and integration of several instructional practices. The authors also maintain a website updated with current developments in research in education.

Key parts of this book deal with cooperative learning structures, the brain and students’ sense of well-being in the classroom, induction, differentiation, the practice of asking questions in a classroom discussion. These are all things we sometimes struggle to perfect and desire to master in order to create engaging, effective and meaningful learning scenarios.

So what’s with the title, Beyond Monet? Well, it addresses the need to apply scientific methods of self-reflection such as observation and analysis rather than simply relying on intuition: experienced teachers combine several instructional practices for effective teaching, yet often they struggle to explain clearly to novice teachers exactly what they did. One just doesn’t rely on a nebulous creative streak to be a good teacher. This book encourages in-depth understanding of teaching practices and learning content so that one can then apply one’s creativity in lesson design.

Beyond Monet : the artful science of instructional integration / Barrie Bennett, Carol Rolheiser.
(Toronto) : Bookation, c2001.
ISBN: 0969538839

Thursday, November 13, 2008

FOR SALE - Experienced Online Instructor

Are you seeking an experienced online instructor to teach at the post secondary level in the following fields: chemistry, physics, biology, biotechnology, molecular biology, mathematics, pharmacology, statistics, educational technology, education, or ethics? If so, please contact ME - I am for sale. Seriously. A CV and a detailed teaching dossier can be made available to interested parties. I can teach entirely using Web 2.0 technologies or I can teach within your school's LMS. You decide. I am 100% learner centered in my approach.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Newspaper Frontpages from around the World

Some people don't know about this. It's the website of the Newseum in Washington, DC. Billed as the 'World's most interactive museum', it contains a very nice resource of newspaper frontpages from around the world. For example, this morning, via twitter, many of my friends shared links from this website to show a visual representation of the Obama Presidential victory. This morning, Newseum showcased quite an extensive compilation of various newspapers - there were 682 frontpages from 66 countries!

Newseum's gallery of today's front pages is here. (Note: these pages load up slowly - be patient.)

Newseum's geographical index of today's front pages is here.

They even keep an archive of newspaper frontpages for dates and events of particular significance. You can see the list here.

If you are interested in infusing current events into your course materials then access to these newspaper frontpage images could be very useful! (Note: be sure to read their copyright statement before using any of this material. You can find a link to it at the bottom of each page.)

Tip: If you want to see if there are any archived versions of newspaper fontpages for a particular date in the past, then just use the following link and substitute the last 6 numbers by the numerical value of the date (i.e. for May 14th, 2008 use 051408):