Friday, December 09, 2011

Must Watch: The best Prezi of the Year!

A colleague of mine, Dr. Jean-Marie Muhirwa, recently returned back from the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) E-Learn 2011 World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare & Higher Education held in Honolulu, Hawaii on 18-21 October 2011. He told me about one keynote presentation that had a very high impact on the audience and after seeing it myself, I have to agree that it's one of the best prezi-type presentations I have ever seen. If you are new to Prezi, then check their website out. I asked Jean-Marie to give us a little summary of the morning of this presentation, and this is what he wrote.
The Techno Troubadour and Teacherpreneur by Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona was undoubtedly the most popular keynote presentation of the conference. The big Hawaii Ballroom at the Royal Sheraton was packed despite the fact that it was schedule at 8:30-9:30 am, a bit early by Waikiki standards where there is so much to do and even more to see 24/7. Most of the attendees grabbed a muffin or a croissant and a hot drink form the tables at the huge entrance hall and rushed in the room. Everyone was eager to secure a good spot, close to the stage and to the big screen. Because of their creative work, the presenters have arguably become superstars in the field of EdTech. They were featured in a Washington Post article and are regularly interviewed scores of by mainstream and specialized publications, mostly in North America and in Europe. No small accomplishment for what started as a collaborative effort from a World History teacher (Burvall) and a technology specialist (Mahelona), both from Hawaii. The result was the successful History for Music Lovers to teach history online through music parody. Over the last few years this partnership took the initial project to new heights by addressing some of the most fundamental and complex issues related to online learning, creativity, copy rights, social justice, etc. No wonder the resulting prezi made Educational Technology scholars, academics and practitioners from around the world rub elbows that early in the morning on October 19 2011. Although there were a few glitches during the playback, especially since it had to be fast-forwarded to selected videos due to time constraints, it looked like the engaging prezi stole the show to its creators’ live presentation. However, the packed conference room shrunk to less than 20 attendees during the Keynote conversation with Burvall and Mahelona, scheduled 10:00 – 11:00 am the same day. Not blessed with the gift of being everywhere at once, I had to follow the crowd to equally inviting concurrent sessions. The one I was heading to was entitled’ A Novel Pedagogical Evaluation Model for Educational Digital Storytelling Environments by colleagues from Greece.
  • Gosh, I wonder how much time they spent putting together the whole thing, one attendee asked me unexpectedly while we were exiting the room.
  • A lot, I bet!... That’s all I had the time to reply before our paths diverged.
On my way to the next presentation, I overheard another attendee mentioning to his friends that he was impressed by the engaging prezi but couldn’t quite see how he could possibly harness its potential to benefit his online students. There you go! Even the prezi of the year didn’t escape the rule: there is no meeting of academics and professional s without hard questions. Assuming the technical skills and the subject matter expertise are warranted as it was the case in the Burvall-Mahelona partnership, where do you find time and pedagogical skills to design a prezi that is worthwhile to your students? A good question to ponder during the upcoming holidays while enjoying the best prezi of the year.
So after seeing the prezi, what do you think? Any juicy tidbits in there that are interesting to you? If so, leave a comment below.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don’t use Facebook for teaching your class – use Edmodo!

If you are like me, you probably had not heard about Edmodo until right now. I had never heard of it until it flew across my twitter stream in a posting from a colleague. So what is it? It’s a web-based social network space for teachers and students. Its safe and easy Facebook-like interface allows the class to collaborate, connect, share content, access homework, etc. It’s free for both students and teachers. To appeal to today’s mobile generation it also has both iPhone and Android apps. So the idea of anywhere, any place, any device learning can be truly experienced using Edmodo. Here’s the Edmodo at a glance video. Have a look at it and let us know if you think this would be good for your students by leaving a comment below.

Afterwards, check out the Edmodo in Action page that showcases several examples on how Edmodo can be useful in Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, and Math clas There are also examples of how Edmodo can be good for teacher professional development and for parents to connected to their children’s learning.

There has been a lot of controversy about the appropriateness of teachers 'friending' their students on Facebook ... Edmodo eliminates all this. It's task specific; it's for school. No more blurry lines between personal life and school life. It's simple, it works, and it's easy. Edmodo is like a learning management system but with all the boring linear structure taken out and all the fun of community building injected into it. I like that shift. So will your students.

Note: In Dec 2011, it was reported that Edmodo raised 15 million dollars in funding to expand their operation. Interesting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Controversy: Letting students run their own school within a school!

Have you heard of the Independent Project? It’s controversial. If you haven’t heard about it than take a moment to watch this video:

Along with the link to this video, I posted this question on my twitter feed last month: “Do you agree or disagree with students running their own school within a school?” An old friend of mine, Dave Kirk, wrote a very thought-provoking email to me about how this subject touched him personally as a young student. He has allowed me to share it with you here:

“This is very cool. I love the idea behind this project and applaud those who helped to make it happen.

I would like to see more young people take such responsibility for their learning and view their teachers, schools, and textbooks merely as one set of many resources and one possible structure for learning rather than "the way to learn". The earlier in life one discovers that they can direct their own learning the better off they will be.

I had a few teachers in my education who understood that sitting in a classroom listening to them was just one way to learn and not necessarily the best way to learn - certainly not for everyone. I got along well with these teachers as they allowed me to take control of my learning (which often involved poor attendance in their class) and gave me the support to learn in other ways and trusted in me to do so.

My parents were also quite supportive of this approach. I remember my dad saying to me one day when reviewing my report card "I will ignore the numbers I see in this column (attendance) provided you continue to achieve numbers like the ones in this column (marks)". I remember that moment very clearly standing in my parents' kitchen, what I heard my dad say to me that day was "I trust you to be responsible for your learning and to have the discipline and good judgement to choose for yourself the resources and methods which will enable you to succeed."

I continued to post excellent marks and my father kept good on his promise to let me have complete responsibility and authority to direct my own learning. He never asked where I was during class or how I managed to learn the material and to me this was the ultimate expression of his trust and faith in me.

I consider that short conversation in my parents' kitchen to be the most powerful conversation my father and I ever had.

I thoroughly enjoyed viewing this documentary...thanks!”

After reading Dave's email – does it reinforce or challenge your initial thoughts about the Independent Project? Let us know by writing a comment below.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Educate the Mobile Generation: Convert WORD documents to ePub and MOBI

You’ve seen the headlines and heard the buzz as much as I have: smartphones are taking over the planet, e-books are selling like hotcakes, and, tablets like the iPad are cannibalizing laptop and desktop computer sales. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to conclude that Mobile computing in the hottest trend in technology since electricity was invented. With this fact in mind, I asked myself this question – are my course materials mobile-friendly? Can my students easily get the materials in my course onto their mobile device be it an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android Smartphone, Sony eBook Reader, Amazon Kindle, or Barnes & Noble Nook, etc.

Well, I was a bit embarrassed by my answer. My answer was ‘sort-of’. I was providing nice printer-friendly PDF files as one format and PDF does work on most mobile devices but it’s not optimized for mobile delivery. So I decided to try something new. I am converting my WORD documents to ePub and MOBI (for Kindle) formats. So I Googled around to get some help and found this very useful posting by Jeremy Reimer dated March 24th, 2010. It really guided me in the right direction. This is what I did:
  1. I took my WORD source documents (*.doc) and ‘Saved As HTML’ (or “Save as Web Page” for the Mac version of WORD) using the built in function in WORD.

  2. Then I opened the HTML file up in Dreamweaver. I then used the fantastically useful feature in Dreamweaver of Commands > Clean Up WORD HTML.

  3. Then I used the second most fantastical feature in Adobe Dreamweaver: Commands > Clean Up HTML.

  4. Then I applied a unique class attribute to each Lesson Title in my HTML document so that I could use this unique class attribute to generate a Table of Contents for the ePub and MODI files later. I did it really simply. I found the lesson title in the HTML code and then noticed right before it was a paragraph code (<p>) so I changed that to <p class=”TableOfContents”> for every lesson title or section title of my document that I wanted to show up in the Table of Contents.

  5. I then downloaded a free copy of Calibre. It’s an eBook reader software for computers. In addition, it also converts from one eBook format to another. So I loaded the HTML version of my document into Calibre.

  6. Next, using Calibre I chose to convert this HTML version of my document into an ePub format. There are some settings you can play around with; however, I generally stayed to the default settings with one exception: the Table of Contents. I specified that I only wanted items in the Level 1 of table of contents that had a paragraph code with class = “TableOfContents”. Here's the exact syntax that I used in Calibre: //h:p[re:test(@class, "TableOfContents", "i")]

  7. Finally, I repeated step 6 while choosing MOBI as my output file format instead of ePub.

  8. Done.
I emailed myself these two files and tested them on my iPhone. They both work well. Links are active, footnotes work, Table of Contents is exactly how I wanted it, and images look fine.

Now I am going to put up the ePub and MOBI versions of the course materials on the Learning Management System for students to have access to if they want to optimize the experience for mobile devices. At the end of the semester, I’ll survey them to see which file formats they used and when, etc.

If you have developed any other useful methods for converting WORD documents to ePub and MOBI format then please leave a comment below.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Don’t police plagiarism! Instead design assignments that cannot be plagiarized.

Who says Facebook is a useless waste of time? This morning on my ride to work I was checking my Facebook on my iPhone (don’t worry - I was not driving!). I saw a post by a friend of mine on my news feed who was sharing a post by a friend of his entitled “NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again – and Faces a Backlash.” The link brought me to the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that instantly riveted me to its text. It is a fantastic story of the real life struggles of university teachers in the war against plagiarism. You just have to read it before you continue on with this post. So take a break right now, go read that article and then come back here.

OK – so now that you’ve read the article I hope you agree with me that it is definitely interesting. What intrigues me about it is the last paragraph that provides some options on a different approach: designing assignments that cannot be plagiarized. Realistically, I think it is difficult to design assignments that are completely void of any risk of plagiarism; however, assignments can be designed that minimize the risk considerably (i.e. they provide disincentives to plagiarism). I’ve got a few ideas (most are applicable to the online classroom as well as the face-to-face classroom) and many of them involve student-to-student interaction, which is a bonus to those instructors that are seeking to make their courses more interactive:
  1. Group work. In my experience as a student, instructor and instructional designer, group work places additional pressures on students to avoid plagiarism. It is probably because the risk is greater. Should plagiarism be detected then the entire group risks sharing the same consequence. By using this student-to-student collaborative approach you also put additional responsibilities on students to develop their intra-group communication and teamwork skills. Skills that are required in every workplace! Bonus!

  2. Discussion. When it comes to expressing one’s idea in a discussion forum posting online that might be about 100-250 words in length or in a structured discussion in the face-to-face classroom, plagiaristic behaviours do not seem to immediately rise to the surface in most students. Most students can manage well in this form of cooperative student-to-student participatory activity. Therefore, designing a component of your assessment scheme devoted to discussion will be wise choice.

  3. Presentations. Once a students, has the additional pressure of having to share their ideas to the class in public, then the desires to plagiarize the work may be quenched to some degree. Public display is the driving factor here. Combine this presentation approach with the group work approach and then there could be a synergistic effect to the plagiarism disincentive.

  4. Peer review. In some courses it is difficult to avoid having a term paper in the assessment scheme – so plagiarism can become attractive to students in this scenario. So what strategy can be employed to discourage plagiarism in this setting? I can think of two ideas. The first is to have the first draft of the paper be subjected to peer review. Build into your assessment scheme that each student will select one first draft from a classmate and perform a critique on it. Give them a structure and a rubric for their critical feedback. Have items on the critique rubric represent anti-plagiaristic characteristics such as proper citation format, original work, consistency in voice and style across the paper. Of course, associate grades with this critique exercise so that people have an incentive to do a good job. There’s a chance that this peer feedback could set the student on the right track early in the process should any weaknesses be present. 2) Require that the students post the first draft, the associated critique and then the final paper electronically into an online discussion forum for all class members to see. This public display of one’s work at every stage adds the disincentive to plagiarize because the term paper may be exposed to more eyes than simply the instructor’s.

  5. Retain and display past student work for future classes in the form of a public wiki. Frame the term paper assignment in the context of building a repository of knowledge in the field to be shared publicly with the world using a wiki. Each time the course is taught the wiki expands with new student-generated work. The fact that the student term paper will be shared with people outside the classroom may provide additional disincentive to plagiarize.

  6. Have student’s build/create something that isn’t a term paper. In physics class have them make a rubber band racecar, test it, calibrate it, document the entire process and then have them race it against classmates at the end of the semester. In biology class, have go out into nature and photograph something themselves, repeatedly over time so as to observe developmental changes, and have them document their findings. In math class, have them go out in the world and collect real life data to use in the assignments. In English class, have them write original short stories and then practice their literary criticism skills by formally commenting on the original work of one of their peers. In history or journalism class, have them go out and interview people as sources for the material in their papers. In any class, have them make a movie or a digital story. By creating something they are working on something new - something different. It is more difficult to plagiarize when the subject matter is ‘new and different’. For most students, it will be more fun to unleash their creativity on the subject then to invest hours trying to devise plagiarisms schemes that will result in an equally creative product.

There are many more ways to design assignments to include disincentives to plagiarism. If you have a good idea, please share it with us below as a comment.

Bonus Tip: Don't do away with proctored final exams. There are already well-established plagiarism protections in these environments. Just avoid making exams worth 60% of the final grade, etc. The pressure to score well on such a high stake assessment can be crushing for many students.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Three ‘MUST HAVE” best practices in teaching online courses

If you came to read this posting to find a definitive list of best practices in teaching online courses, then please accept my apology.
I will not be compiling the large golden list of best practices in online teaching. Why you might ask? Well – because there is no definitive list. There are far too many variables in play in the online classroom (or any classroom really) to be able to represent all the best practices in online teaching in a short list. However, I do want to take a moment to discuss some findings by a research team who studied groups of online students at South Texas College and West Virginia University’s College of Human Resources and Education. What they focused their research upon was asking students in online courses very simple questions about the instructor behaviour:
  1. Please describe one thing the instructor did that helped you to succeed in this course.

  2. Please describe one thing the instructor did that hindered your success in this course.

The results are fascinating and you can read them all in detail in the original publication (pdf). However, summarized briefly are the four major perceived instructor actions that were responsible for course success:
  • Providing feedback that helped students understand their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Focusing discussions on relevant issues
  • Encouraging students to explore new concepts
  • Helping students clarify their thinking

Now, summarized briefly are the three major perceived instructor actions that hindered course success:
  • lack of feedback that helped students understand their strengths and weaknesses
  • poor communication of the important course topics (i.e. lack of course and lesson objectives, and lack of clear links between course material and the course description)*
  • poor instructions on how to participate in course activities/assignments*

If you examine these two lists you can make some additional observations which distil down to the three ‘MUST HAVE’ best practices:
  1. The topic of ‘feedback’ appears on both the positive and the negative list. That demonstrates how critical this item is to students. It’s a must. The distance instructor must be highly skilled in providing timely and detailed feedback. Furthermore, I will argue that this feedback has to be perceived by the student as being customized/personalized feedback for them. It’s not enough for the distance instructor to mark all the assignments with a simple number grade and then to broadcast to the class a message with the general strengths and weaknesses found in the assignments. Each student’s assignment must have specific and detailed feedback on it for the feedback to be perceived as positive success factor by students.
  2. The remaining ‘course delivery’-type points are focusing discussions, encouraging students and helping students clarify thinking. This type of feedback can be more class-based in nature. Well placed messages in the discussion forum guiding the discussion, introducing a relevant current event or highlighting the merits of a particular discussion point can go a long way. All these items can be done publicly for the entire class to see and benefit from. So the instructor must have a public presence in the online class.
  3. Note that the last two items marked with the asterix (*) in the negative list are instructional design weaknesses. They can be easily corrected with some additional up-front effort refining of the course materials prior to the delivery of the course. As an instructional designer I have experienced some instructors groaning when I have suggested to them that they formulate course objectives and lesson objectives. I’ve also heard similar groaning when I have provided feedback stating that the course assignment materials are not detailed enough, that a rubric would help or that a model solution might be useful to students. It’s true that formulating these support components of the course take time and that for some instructors the task is onerous because they are content-experts not instructional design experts; however, the findings in this paper clearly show that lack of attention to the instructional design components can be directly detrimental to perceived student success.

So despite this not being the definitive list, I certainly feel that these three findings that I have grouped together above are valuable best practices for the distance instructor in online courses. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why are you re-inventing the wheel? Use these education videos!

Almost every day something comes across your Twitter feed which is a golden nugget. A perfect little resource, tool or story that can help you in your practice of being an educator. However, once in awhile you hit the mother lode. Such is the case today with a blog called Open Culture: the best free cultural & educational media on the web. I was compelled to visit the site with their recent posting entitled 125 Science Videos: Our Greatest Hits. Wow – it’s a very appropriately titled post. There’s some great free videos on this list that touch on subjects relating to Astronomy, Space Travel, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Neuroscience, etc. Some of these videos could be used to augment a distance learning class or they could be shown directly in a face-to-face classroom setting. I took the opportunity to view a few of them. Some particularly interesting ones from my perspective were the Physics of the Bike, the Periodic Table of Videos project, and of course the very funny bit that Technology is Awesome but Nobody is Happy.

There’s a lot more interesting posts on this great Open Culture blog. So quit making plans to re-inventing the wheel by mounting your own video production company. Instead take the time to peruse all these free media objects. There will certainly be some appropriate ones for almost any course topic.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Student-to-student interaction in small distance courses

I have been asked several times about ideas for injecting student-to-student interaction into distance courses when the enrolment numbers are likely to be low. Some instructors feel that with low enrollment numbers that it might be better to design an assessment scheme that contains only individual work. However, I feel differently. I think that one of the factors that determines the satisfaction level of a student with a particular course is the community of learning that was present during the semester. To have a community student-to-student interaction is required. So despite a very short class list, you can still form an effective learning community. Some things you could consider include:
  1. Discussion. It’s the gold standard in cooperative student-to-student interaction. The deliverables are still individual but the students need each other in order to complete the tasks. There are many different ways you can build a discussion activity. Probably the most common way is for the instructor to post a few questions in the discussion forum at the beginning of the week and then ask students to answer a question in a reply post and then to comment on the answer to another student’s reply post. There are other ideas too. Select one student per week to write a summary or critique about the week’s required readings and then ask the other students to comment on their summary/critique in reply postings. There are many different models you can choose. You are only limited by your creativity here. And be sure to set clear guidelines about the quality and quantity of postings required to earn grades in this activity. These types of activities could work with as few as two or three students.

  2. Peer feedback. In courses where there is a major paper or a project, you can inject cooperative student-to-student interaction by assigning students the tasks of reviewing the first draft of a classmate’s final paper/project. Provide them structure/guidance on what the feedback should be like and then have them submit their feedback to both the student and to you. You of course will grade the quality of their feedback. One idea to push the envelope further on this type of assignment is to conduct the entire exercise out in the open in a discussion forum. Have students post their 1st drafts to the discussion forum and assign classmates to post their feedback/reviews of the 1st draft also to the discussion forum. Students can benefit by seeing 1st drafts of papers/projects of others as well as the feedback each person received. Of course, the graded piece at the end conducted by the instructor should be kept confidential and not be placed into the discussion forum.

  3. Group work. Cooperative student-to-student interaction is not the only type; there is also collaborative student-to-student interaction. That’s when you assemble a small team of students and assign them to produce a single group deliverable. In a small class – that equates to one team. It can be a paper, a Powerpoint presentation with speaker notes, a video, a podcast, a project, etc. It doesn’t matter – be as creative as you wish in choosing a deliverable that relates directly back to the learning objectives you are trying to serve. The key to conducting this type of activity is providing supports to help students accomplish this task at a distance. Almost all students will know how to work in a group in a face-to-face setting; however, in distance courses many students have far less experience. So I suggest the instructor prepare three supports: 1) a handout that explains some tips and tricks to effective teamwork at a distance. The handout should be tailored to match the deliverable in the specific course. In addition to discussing the deliverable, it should also discuss basic team functions such as the concept of needing a team leader, the importance of defining expectations between team members and role definition of members to facilitate task assignment, etc. This handout should include a standard team dynamic description (Bruce Tuckman’s model is the standard). 2) A mandatory Learning Team Charter. This requires students to create a document that contains all their contact information (including skype/twitter/facebook/IMs/TextMsgs), their expectations for the project, their personal strengths, weaknesses and interests. This document is central to starting the team off on the right foot with their communication strategy, and 3) Advice on tools. Create a private discussion forum for them where they can communicate, advise them that they can use brainstorming tools (like WallWisher - see this post) to generate ideas for their group paper/projects, advise them that they can use a wiki to collaboratively author a single document without emailing multiple versions of the document over and over, advise them that they can use a file repository service (like dropbox) to share centrally resources they collect while conducting research on their paper/project. One other important aspects of group work at a distance is that a component of the final grade MUST include peer evaluation. I suggest the component be fairly large – like 20%. 20% of the grade for this assignment should be based on a confidential evaluation of their group members that students submit only to the instructor at the end of the course. This gives incentives to students to perform at a high level in the team activity. Let’s face it – group work at a distance is an important skill to develop because it is increasingly present in almost every workplace. So giving students the opportunity to develop these skills in university courses is very worthwhile.
The above three categories of ideas are not exhaustive. There are many more ways in which you can inject student-to-student interaction into a web-enabled distance course even if the enrollment numbers are low. What are your ideas? Leave a comment below.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Is ‘Simple’ a four letter word in eLearning? Are bells & whistles blinding us?

For the last decade in distance education and elearning, I have repeatedly come across the theme that “more is better”. You’ve heard it too I’m sure: more links, more optional material, more practice quizzes, more solutions to self-assessment questions, more video clips, more audio clips, more flash animations, more HTML, more mouse-overs, more student-to-student interaction, more discussion, more group projects, more online activities, more simulations, more wikis, more blogs, more web 2.0 tools, more textbook publisher resources, etc. We’ve heard it so frequently that we can begin to believe it. However, when a course is being designed, what should the driving force be when considering design elements? Should it be “more is better”? Obvious answer: NO! We need to take a deep breath and go back to first principles: Instructional design. It is for the benefit of the learner in their practice of learning and it involves using a systematic approach to the development of learning materials. This approach involves an analysis of learning needs and goals, and based on this analysis decisions can be made about the course materials, level of interactivity (i.e. student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor) and assessment strategies. I argue that the ‘more, more, more’ approach can act counter-productively in student learning. With so many activities, so many learning objects, and so many different tools to navigate that it is not surprising that some learners feel overwhelmed and fall behind. Simple designs that demonstrate consistent and logical links between the objectives of the course all the way through to the types of assessments presented to the learner while using appropriate technology to support these logical linkages can avoid the ‘cognitive overload’ phenomenon that overwhelms some learners. I think we need to pay more attention to simple and effective instructional designs, and we need to pay less attention to the “more is better” approach to courses. Let’s start thinking less about which new and cool technological feature to “add” to a course and let’s start thinking more about “raison d’ĂȘtre” of a course: for the learner to learn. Ask yourself hard questions like “do I really need 378 HTML pages in this course”? So I challenge you all to re-examine your courses and actively pear down things that do not directly support the aim of your course. Make it simple. Make it elegant. Make it easy for learning by learners. That’s just my two cents. How do you feel about this issue?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quickly and Easily Create a Historical Timeline Handout

I know that this blog talks about educational technology and that the readership often examines these postings to receive tips on how to use new tools for learning. But sometimes, I am compelled to write about an old tool particularly if the old tool can be used quickly and easily to create something useful.

Today I stumbled accross a nice tutorial video (1 min 39 secs long) on how to use MS-Excel 2007 to make a timeline depicting a series of historical events. The output it makes would be great as a handouts to students in class or via distance, and what I love best about this tutorial is that it really walks you through step-by-step. So if you have never used Excel before you can still accomplish this task easily.

The tuorial video as well as the associated text-based instructions are produced by Microsoft Education. If you have never visited their site, it's worth it. They have a fantastic page that lists all their how-to articles pertaining to several of their software programs including Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Publisher and Windows Live Movie Maker. The topics are quite varried and some other good articles include developing an interactive story in PPT and creating a class newspaper in Publisher.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Is Google good for education? Take a LitTrip or explore an Art Museum thanks to Google

Ben Daley, Chief Academic Officer and COO at High Tech High, has recently posted a lovely list of 24 Google products that have an application to the field of education. I knew about the educational applications of some of these products already: YouTube (1, 2, 3), Google Scholar, Body Browser. However, there are many on this list that are new to me. Here are two products that caught my eye in particular:
  1. GoogleLitTrips. Basically, it leverages the Google Earth platform to intertwine geography with reading novels. Check out this recent article in the National Post on the subject.
    Also, have a look at this video featuring Jerome Burg as he describes the GoogleLitTrip concept. It won a Microsoft Education Award in 2010!

  1. Google Art Project. Google has partnered with some world class museums to bring their artwork to students anytime and anywhere. Using the Google Street View technology, students can explore museums and access high resolution images of artwork. They can even listen to audio tours while exploring paintings. Check out this video below introducing the Art Project.

Do you have a favourite Google product that is a great fit with education? If so let us know by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Re-thinking assignment late penalties in distance courses? Is it time to think outside the box or not?

David Truss recently posted a fantastic commentary on a blog post by Tom Schimmer entitled: Enough with the Late Penalties. The subject is about late penalties in school. Essentially the argument they both make is that if you examine the objectives of most courses, rarely is there an objective that relates to punctuality or ability to meet deadlines. If this is the case then why do the large majority of courses issue marks (i.e. penalties!) to students based on when they hand in their work? It's a fantastic argument that I feel is very thought provoking.

I can think of three reasons for late penalties in distance courses:
  1. Most assignments are formative assessments and in order for them to have a chance to function as such they need to be submitted and graded prior to the student beginning work on subsequent assignments. Removing late penalties and theoretically allowing students to hand in their material anytime during the course may circumvent the benefits of the formative assessment-feedback cycle.

  2. Cheating. Students that hand their assignments in ‘early’ and receive their feedback can share the feedback with other students who have not yet submitted their work. For assignments that have specific answers (unlike large essay assignments) this opens a large potential avenue for cheating. Some people may argue that the instructor could simply delay giving feedback on this assignment until all submissions have been received but I think that’s equally dangerous. Students these days want prompt feedback – not delayed feedback.

  3. How about instructor marking? As an instructor I can be more efficient, objective and consistent if I mark all related assignments in the same condensed timeframe (preferably on the same day). By allowing students to hand in their material anytime, then the instructor will be marking the same assignments on various days and consistency may falter.

Are there more reasons that I have missed? While I like the noble idea of not penalizing students for the date at which they submit their assignments if the course objectives do not address aspects related to punctuality, etc., I think the three reasons I have presented above are important enough that I would not want to ignore them.

What do you think about late penalties? Should they be abolished or not? Why? Is the only possible penalty 'marks'? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

eLearning – do we know what the heck we are doing? Are we in a rut?

Trent Batson, executive director of The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning, has just published a thought provoking article in Campus Technology (dated 19 Jan 2011). As a practitioner in the field of eLearning I read Trent’s article with great interest. Many of the points he touched upon really rang true to me. For example, he writes: “The shift in education is away from learning autonomously to learning collaboratively.” This statement applies broadly to education and I feel it is important to highlight this concept in an eLearning and distance education context. When I am a member of a Course Development Team that develops web-enabled courses, too often I slip into the rut of placing the academic content first in my priority list while placing student-to-student collaborating and interaction as a much lower priority. Why do I do this? I think there are several reasons:

  1. It’s easier (and faster) to put together content then it is to put together meaningful student-to-student collaboration experiences. Content is easily sourced with the maturation of the Internet and professors do not have unlimited amounts of time to devote to course development activities.

  2. Most professors have more experience putting together content than designing meaningful student-to-student collaboration experiences. Professors are content experts and many lack the specialized training in educational design.

  3. Some members of academic departments still believe that content is king! The perception exists that allocating some student energy towards collaboration only decreases the amount of time they have to spend learning the content and that this is a non-desirable effect. Some of these same people believe that teaching and learning is exclusively about lectures and textbooks. Some of those same professors build assessment schemes that test only a student's ability to regurgitate content. In the end what does the degree mean? That the student is good at memorizing? Does the workplace need the majority of staff to be good at memorizing?

  4. There is some student push-back to collaboration and interaction especially at a distance. Many provide the all too familiar complaints such as “it’s too hard”, “I hate group work”, etc. Well – being a productive person in the workplace REQUIRES interaction and group work with other staff (some of which are not geographically co-located). So despite being perceived as “difficult or hard”, collaboration is a required skill to master early in all disciplines.

Reading articles, like Trent’s, help situate and realign myself better in the big picture of education. Have a look his article and let us know if any points ring true to you. Leave a comment below

Monday, January 10, 2011

Should I buy books about technology in education? Answer: NO!

This post is not intended to offend Barnes & Noble or any other book seller. I received a great question over the weekend asking if I could “help finding a good book about technology in post secondary education” and I had to take a couple of days to think about it. I have some fantastic books on the shelf about Instructional Design but I have very few about Educational Technology. Why? Well, I think it is difficult to find a one-stop resource book that describes the best practices in using technology in post-secondary education. There are a few factors that come into play that make this challenging:

  • Technology is an enabler, not a driver when it comes to sound instructional design and course delivery. So the front end design analysis must be done to identify the objectives that you want to accomplish in your course. Once the objectives are clearly articulated then the best pedagogical tool and strategies can be selected to meet the specific objective. So you see the selection of pedagogical tools/strategies (including technological tools) comes second – not first. So it’s challenging to write a book with a chapter called ‘Virtual Worlds’ because in my view that’s putting technological tools first!

  • Pedagogical/technological tools and strategies can be used in the classroom and out of the classroom, and the same tool and strategy may not produce the same results under those two different conditions. Approaches need to be customized according to the setting and also according to the types of students involved.

  • Technological tools and strategies change faster than print. So the large majority of information and knowledge about this topic is not found in books – it’s found on the Internet in Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

So the permutations provided by combining the three points above together contribute to why a good comprehensive book on the subject is difficult to find. If you are a teacher, where does that leave you? How are you supposed to learn about how to select pedagogical tools to meet the needs of you course and your students? Do you just give up?

No you don’t give up silly. You work smarter and you make a commitment to go and learn about what’s out there, and more importantly, you find out how it's being used effectively and in what contexts. Here are some strategies that you can personally adopt:
  1. Examine your PLN and make sure it is working well for you. The goal of the PLN is to provide you with a support system of like-minded people asking like-minded questions and together you can act as a large professional development resource for each other. Invest time to perfect your PLN - the return on the investment will be measurable. If you need more info about PLNs, I’ve written about them before.

  2. There’s an implication in point 1 above: that you do not have to re-invent the wheel. Just use someone else’s wheel IF it meets the needs of the course and the needs of the students. So the challenge is in sharing ideas with your PLN. There are some very effective ‘tricks’ for sharring ideas on the Internet. For example, Twitter has this thing called hashtags which allow users to tag their postings using keywords. For example, the hashtag “#edtech” is a key word that you can imagine might be useful to follow to learn about the topic of educational technology. Well, you can follow it directly using your favourite twitter client (like Tweetdeck for example), or you can follow it indirectly by using a hashtag aggregating service like This service can display a selection of Twitter postings from the last 24 hours having any specific hashtag and as a bonus the postings are presented in a nice tabloid newspaper style. Check out the newspaper for the hashtag #edtech. This link refreshes with all new content filtered off the Twitter stream every 24 hours. Other hashtags like #elearning, #education, #teaching may also be interesting to look at regularly.

  3. Points 1 and 2 above are great but there is a critical piece missing: you need to give back. Start telling the world (i.e. your PLN) about your successes and your failures in your teaching. By taking the time to articulate your experiences you will be amazed at what benefits can come to you directly. In my view, being reflective of your practice as a teacher is a requirements for growth in your proficiency. So write a blog, contribute to a wiki, post to twitter or update your status on Facebook. It doesn’t matter how you do it – it just matters that you DO it.

If you have any other strategies for learning about best practices in educational technology, feel free to share them by clicking the comment link below.