Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do wikis work for any topic? How about math?

Sabah Karam from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, recently wrote to me asking:

“I have been doing research on how wikis can be used to teach students
how to do mathematical proofs…. I would like to know if you have any thoughts on if you think we this is a realistic effort and, so, how we can achieve this goal.”

Great question! I personally believe that a wiki can succeed on any topic. A wiki is merely a tool for collaborative document authoring by a group. The more important factor that determines the success of a project is the vested interest of the team members (or community) working on it.

So to ensure success in a project like collaborative authoring of mathematical proofs, efforts should be placed into:

  • defining the output (deliverable) and the timelines of the project

  • defining your community (i.e. team members) that will work on the project

  • selecting the right tools to enable the community to produce the desired product in the timeline specified (a wiki is one example of a good document collaboration tool)

  • providing a convincing argument to members of the community to educate them about the value of the tool(s) that were selected for the project

  • providing training on these tool(s) for those members of the community who need it

  • overseeing the completion of the deliverables folloowing the agreed upon timeline

On the subject of wikis that concern themselves with mathematical proofs, there are two that I know of Proofwiki and PlanetMath. Does anyone else know of any? if so, leave a comment below.

Image credit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Text messaging in your teaching

Note: Please welcome this guest post by Scott Morrison – Instructional Designer at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.

The Site 2009 conference in Charleston South Carolina was a real awakening for me. During this session I saw several themes emerge and was presented with some very practical information. My sense from the conference was that we have entered an era where the speed at which we can collect, or in the case of the educator, give information is what will lead to our success. Specifically I mean we are not in an age where cell phones are new technology and we train and then deploy new ideas. During a round table discussion Kevin Thomas, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Annsley Thornton School of Education, drove this point home when he discussed how he uses cell phones in teaching.

Cell phones are not new technology to the average North American high school or college/university student. They use them frequently and well. Further, they often carry them with them at all times. This presents a unique opportunity for us to quickly and easily interact with our learners. Instead of placing content, notices, or updates on an LMS and hoping that your students find it in time, it is possible to email that material in the form of a text message to your learners. The benefit is that they have the information instantly, it is portable, and it is easy for educators to deploy. Also, the learner doesn’t have to go and seek this information and it saves them time. As was hinted at during the conference LMS (Learning Management System) may be going the way of the dodo bird. Although I don’t necessarily think that will happen anyway time soon, I do see this being a useful tool that isn’t bound within the constraints of the LMS.

To do this create a distribution list for the students in your class using their cellphone numbers and providers. For those that do not have cell phones simply collect email addresses. To enter the phone to text address in your email client consult the service provider's website. For example:
Keep in mind that your messages can only be 180 characters long. Thanks to Kevin Thomas for his wonderful idea and Eric Tremblay for suggesting we share it here.

If you have used text messaging in your teaching, please share some examples of the types of messages you send to your students by leaving a comment below.

Image credit: here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Web 2.0 can knock your socks off!

I participated in a great online talk yesterday by James Falkofske, Director of Online Learning, St. Cloud Technical College (here's a link to James' blog). His talk was titled: Easy Steps for Expanding Desire2Learn with Web 2.0 Tools. In general, I love talks like this. There is always some little gold nugget that I can take away and use. Well, in this particular talk, I took away two:
  1. A web application index that catalogs all kinds of examples of Web 2.0 tools: If you go to that page you will see that each application indexed has a short description, is tagged with key words for searching and has a link to the site where the application resides. even has an RSS feed so that you can keep track of recently added applications. Nice! There are lots of goodies here and with the increased pace of appearance of Web 2.0 tools, the RRS feed gives you a great way to stay informed.

  2. A slideshow application that will knock your socks off! Seriously. It’s called Animoto. Using the photos you provide, it will make a 30 second professional looking slideshow (with fancy transitions) and a soundtrack. It has a few ways to output the video for you – including automatic export to YouTube! Slick! It even has an iPhone App so that you can build your video on your iPhone instead of your computer. Neat. For a fee, it will let you make much longer videos. It’s a great application to add to your digital storytelling toolbox for you or for your students – the production value is high. Want to see a demo of a video I made myself using Animoto? Check it out here.

    Also, Animoto itself keeps a small collection of case studies showing Animoto videos being used in education to give you some ideas.
Do you have a favorite Web 2.0 app, or do you have experience with Animoto? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Make your own cartoons online

Ever wanted to be a cartoonist, but can't draw? Welcome to my world. Anyway, I came across today and this website is letting me live my dream (free of charge!). I can now easily make cartoons by simply dragging and dropping backgrounds, characters, and props, etc. Try it. You'll like it. Here's a sample 3 panel cartoon that I made - it took me about 10 mins. Not bad for a 1st time.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Love your students and they will love you back

If you read this blog, you know I’m a big fan of Micheal Wesch. I’ve never met the guy but I have watched him quite a bit in his YouTube videos. Late in 2008, he received the Professor of the Year award from Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT). He delivered a short acceptance speech on Nov 20th, that is worth watching. He’s introduced by a former student who clearly admires Dr. Wesch and goes on to explain the wonderful role model that he is. That's always a nice feel good moment. Then Michael takes the podium and at the end of his acceptance speech, he shares with the audience a mantra that he says to himself every time he talks in front of a group of people: “Love your students and they will love you back.” They were words of wisdom from his wife seven years ago. Spectacular!

It’s a great mantra. So many times, teachers, professors and instructors get bogged down in the technical details and mechanics of how their course is running that they can sometimes forget that for learning to occur, they have to genuinely care about their students. So having a mantra like this that is used regularly can be of great service in bringing this idea to the forefront of a teacher on a daily basis. Students are important – they need to be cared for - without them where would teachers be?

Image credit: here.