Monday, May 31, 2010

The power of Voice in online classrooms

Consider this scenario.

You are an art history teacher and you are assigned with teaching a distance course. In the classroom, you have had great success with a teaching approach that involves showing photos on the big screen and building teaching moments by discussing with students the important elements of the image. You want to translate this teaching method to the distance realm. Of course, you have several challenges:
  1. The students are geographically distributed and, therefore, using an audio-enabled online synchronous presentation room (such as Elluminate Live!) would be difficult for scheduling reasons.

  2. You could write down an accompanying piece of text to go with an image where you describe the concepts and then you can ask students to engage in a text-based discussion around the concepts. But somehow the mechanics of this activity sound so ‘artificial’. It lacks that intangible quality of a face-to-face discussion while being able to point to parts of the image. It’s a poor substitute for what you have become accustomed to in the classroom: exchanging ideas both student-to-instructor and student-to-student while talking together, etc.

  3. Your department has given a very small budget to help with the creation of your course – $100.

Does this sound like a daunting scenario?

Welcome to Voicethread. It’s a tool for having conversations around media. It’s a way to share with a group of people one or more images placed into a VoiceBook. Together you can make a series of audio comments on the images that everyone can hear and playback more than once. These voice comments can also be augmented with annotations to the images that highlight areas of interest – much like pointing to a section of a slide while talking in class. The power of this service becomes fantastic when you realize that students *and* instructors can both leave audio comments on the same image. So assembling together the audio commentary from a group of students is a great thing to experience. You can definitely feel the collective energy of the class much more intensely than you can with a written discussion forum. It gets much closer to providing that intangible feeling of face-to-face discussion while being completely asynchronous. For about $100 you can use it with a class of 50 students and it's entirely online with no software to install.

Do you want to see it in action? Michelle Pacansky-Brock, an Educational Consultant, has put together a few demonstration images into a Voicebook so you can experience the power of this tool.

If you want more info on Voicethread be sure to watch the intro video from the makers of Voicethread themselves. Also, visit (and contribute to) the Voicethread page on the classroom 2.0 wiki for additional resource related to Voicethread.

Do you have any exeprience with Voicethread or do you see an application for it in your field? Share your ideas with everyone by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Do you care about Web 3.0?

Have you heard the buzzwords: Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web? Are you clueless as to what exactly these are? Do you even care? Well, if you don't care then you can stop reading now (*smile*).

If you have continued reading then I must share with you a little tidbit I recently found. A mini-documentary by Kate Ray called A Story about the Semantic Web. It will give you some glimpses into the 'bleeding edge' of this idea and how the experts are struggling to make the Semantic Web become a reality.

Do they know what it will look like? No.
Do they know what is will require to build? No.
Do they know what it will do? No.
Do they know what we will be able to do with it? No.
Do they invest a lot of time thinking about it because they can sense the potential? YES!

Take look into their world by watching this 14 minute video.

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.

What do you think about this video? Leave a comment below.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Technology in the Classroom – Hindrance or Help?

I know the title of this post may seem inappropriate considering the times we live in. Our world would come to a standstill without technology, so why are we even asking the question if it would be more of hindrance than help in a classroom? The fact is that technology is good when used in the right way, but when you don’t know how to use it or if you use it for the wrong purposes, then it is more a destructive weapon than a constructive tool.

When it comes to the school classroom, there’s a reason why technology should be restricted. Consider a scenario where children are allowed to use their notebook computers and iPods to take notes or augment their study sessions, where they can access the Internet during lessons to look up difficult words or find simple answers to complicated subject matter, and where they can use technology to communicate their responses to their teacher instead of having to raise their hand (i.e. like clickers which are a boon for shy students who are silent in class because they are too inhibited to raise their hands and speak when a question is asked – students can type in their answer and receive instant responses as to whether it is right or wrong).

While this enhances the learning experience and broadens the horizons of students, it could also prove to be distracting for some. The Internet offers too many distractions, some of which are downright dangerous for kids who don’t know better. Also, with student-teacher interaction being relegated to technological realms, are we not turning real classrooms into virtual ones? Why not allow students to take online classes from their homes if we are going to use technology to communicate inside the classroom?

Again, the answer to these questions lies with the people who use and benefit from (or lose through) this technology. Students need to be mature enough to be trusted with technology, and the right age to do this is perhaps when they’ve moved on to college and are more responsible when it comes to using the Internet. At the school level however, they need more supervision and levels of control.
While there’s no doubting the fact that technology can be a huge help in the classroom, it’s up to the educators to see that it is used responsibly. Otherwise, what is definitely an advantage turns out to be more of a disadvantage.

This guest post is contributed by Shannon Wills, she writes on the topic of Internet Providers. She welcomes your comments at her email id: