Viewing entries in
21st Century Learning

The Teaching Professor Technology Conference 2015

TPT 2015

This weekend I presented on gamification at the 2015 Teaching Professor Technology Conference in New Orleans. This is my second Magna conference, and it was fantastic. I met some wonderful people and learned some excellent strategies for using tech in my teaching. Below are my presentation materials.

I look forward to participating with this community of learners again in the future!

Here are some other resources I have written on using gamification in your classroom:

Guest Post: Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

This guest post is written by TeacherJ. She is a blogger and edtech enthusiast, and in this post she explores the similarities and differences between gamification and game-based learning. Watch out for her blog!

What is More Effective Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

Photo Credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via Compfight cc

The increase in ownership and usage of mobile devices by students led to a change in the way educators deliver their learning materials and handle their classes. Research from McGraw-Hill Education and Hanover revealed that smartphones and tablets usage in 2014 skyrocketed among college students, where more than 80% were said to be using mobile technology to study. The number has jumped by 40% in total since 2013.

The trend in mobile learning (mLearning) has led to two kinds of eLearning methods: Gamification and Game-based education. You may have come across these two processes before, but you may be unsure of which is the better method to apply to your class. This article will detail you everything you need about Gamification and Game-based Learning.

Defining Terms

Before we dwell on the effective nature of the two learning methods, we will define the difference between Gamification and Game-based Learning.

Gamification: This process applies game-like features to your usual lessons, by including rules and mechanics from certain games to encourage behavioral patterns in your students. The use of a leaderboard is one of the most common gamification styles applied by many educators and even businesses today. Enterprises use the process to boost customer interaction and increase employee participation. It is expected that 50% of institutions will gamify their processes this year, as reported by Gartner back in 2011. Apart from using a leaderboard, educators can apply gamification by turning achievements into rewards such as badges, progress bars, or through a point system.

Game-based Learning: This is a learning procedure whereby participants play games to learn and understand their subject and topics better. Many educational apps for students apply game-based learning, especially for younger students who require a more interactive approach to education. One of its known benefits is its ability to enhance learners’ problem solving skills. For the younger students it has been proven to enhance their cognitive skills.

The common ground

Although gamification and game-based learning are different from one another, the two have common variables in terms of usage and their platforms. The two learning processes are very relevant due to the increasing adoption of mobile devices by students and educational institutions. The numbers presented by McGraw-Hill Education is expected to grow in the future, as more portable devices such as wearables, are set to revolutionize the classroom environment. However, the supply-side complexity becomes a common problem for many as there are various devices running different operating systems, making it difficult to create a learning process that fits all mobile users. Today, we have smartphones that have curved, large 5.1-inch screens such as the Galaxy S6 Edge which O2 says runs the latest Android 5.02 Lollipop OS, while there are handsets with smaller 4-inch screens running older Android OS.

Final Question: What is more effective?

Both learning methods appear to be highly effective for students, especially since it makes the usual boring classroom into an interactive and fun environment. As technology in the classroom changes, educators and their processes will have to evolve, too. The important matter that we have to take note here is that the two-game inspired processes aim to promote mastery of academic content. Educators will have to ensure that they apply the 3 E’s in mLearning (Engaging, Effective, and Easy) to make the most of their eLearning sessions.

What are your thoughts on the affordances and constraints of gamification and game-based learning?

Thoughts on Social Networking

This semester I created a project in which my students built and participated in a personal learning network (PLN). This is something I have done in the past several years, and I have learned a lot about particular digital tools, teaching strategies, and overall wisdom from other people in the same profession.

When something is rewarding, it's easy to assume others will immediately see the same value in an activity as I do. I mean, they signed up for my class, so they must have some interest in using digital tools to communicate and collaborate, right? Well, not exactly. The aspect of a PLN that I neglected to consider is that many of the connections I have made took years to become meaningful. That is, my personal cycle of reading/seeing ideas, trying them, reflecting, trying them again, more reflection, etc., has been a process that started a long time ago, even before I had what I would call a PLN. I became aware of two very important facts regarding a PLN:

  1. Most of the "treasures" I found from sources in my PLN were solutions, or even just tweaks, to instructional problems I had been slowly addressing over a long period of time. Many times, the stuff I discovered and found helpful was just a minor point in a blog post or forum that uniquely addressed one little thing I had been wrestling with. What I considered a major discovery amounted to little more than "what's the big deal" to other people.
  2. This was going to be a very difficult thing to sell within the course of one semester. 16 weeks. 15 class meetings. Less than 45 hours. I have easily spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours skimming, sometimes perusing, resources from people all over the world. It may be wishful thinking to expect that 45 hours spent doing something that is meant to take much longer will actually make a difference in a student's professional thinking.

Being the adventurous type, I forged ahead knowing the results may be less than convincing. My first step was to make some suggestions for the students about which sources they include in their PLN. Building the network is the hardest part, and I knew most of them did not know how to get started. Based on my own experience, I suggested the following sources, along with their possible affordances and drawbacks.

Facebook

A hodge-podge of life events, shared videos and articles, and pictures from people who I may or may not have known in person at some point. The things they post sometimes make me want to respond, then I'm like "I haven't seen that person in 20 years! And even then I hardly knew him." There are professional groups and pages on Facebook, but I find they get buried by all of the random things people share. The few professional pages I have "liked" do not seem to be updated very often, and I end up just being distracted by cat videos.

Twitter

Twitter is like candy. It seems fulfilling at first. I read quotes and re-tweets and people's random (very concise) thoughts, and it almost seems like I am learning something for a second. And then it's gone, but I still want more. So I keep scrolling. I have found some excellent resources that consistently link to good articles and posts, which has caused my attitude about Twitter to improve in the last couple of years. Some people who I follow tend to share too much, and there does not seem to be a good way to filter. The stuff I am looking for gets buried by the people who share too much.

LinkedIn

This social network tool has always been a mystery to me. I would say about three-fourths of my LinkedIn contacts are people I know, with the remaining quarter being people I have never seen in my life. Occasionally I will get a notification that one of my "contacts" recently joined LinkedIn, yet I have no idea who this person is. Other times, I get contact requests from people in my geographic area who are clearly just trying to, well, network. I usually add the person if there seems to be some common interest, whether it is our city or field of expertise. Then there is this strange thing called Skills and Endorsements. I understand the premise behind this feature (people are willing to vouch for my skill set), but I always chuckle when I get an e-mail telling that so-and-so has endorsed me for a skill in which so-and-so knows absolutely nothing about. You mean this guy I have never met just endorsed my skills in curriculum development? He must know something I don't!

In terms of using LinkedIn as part of your PLN, they do have many Groups you can join. Some of them are centered around an organization (alumni of a particular college or another professional organization), while others are based on interests (e.g., designing innovative higher ed. learning spaces). If you want to stay caught up with the discussions, you can opt to receive updates and digests via e-mail. If you want to participate, you have to go to the website. The groups have a discussion board/forum look and feel, which is not my preference. Of all the social networks in my PLN, this is the one I refer to the least.

Google+

My first thought was, Why do I need another place to waste my time. How in the world is this going to be different from Facebook? Well, Google+ has surprised me. I have found some very active and interesting communities, and I honestly say I find something of interest every time I scroll through my feed. I have also become pretty active in my sharing within these communities. I have made some good connections, gotten good feedback, and found the experience to be enriching. (Not all of my students felt this way about Google+, but I did not consider that when giving them a grade ... ha ha.)

Blogs

I still like to follow several blogs, but I have found that sound bytes from Twitter, Google+, and Facebook have squeezed them out a little. I used to follow blogs through Google Reader, which disappeared, and now I use Feedly. I do not really make time to check in that often, but I still log in about once a month. I end up marking whole sections "as read" because I know I will never read most of the stuff. I will skim the headlines and make sure I am not missing something really good.

Here is the list of my PLN that I share with students to get them started. I have also started to dabble with Reddit and Scoop.it, but I have not used them enough to speak to their suitability to this project.

    • G+:
      • Appademics
      • Open Source in Education
      • Google Docs and Drive
      • Best Educational Apps for Kids
      • Higher Education & Technology
      • Technology in Education
      • Technology & Innovation in Education
      • EdTech and Professional Development
      • Educational Apps for Kids
      • ISTE Teacher Education Network
      • Educational Technology
      • Gamification in Education
      • EdTech
      • Connected Learning
      • School Technology Leadership
      • Google Apps in Education
      • Google Hangouts in Education
    • Twitter:
      • Edutopia (@edutopia)
      • EDpuzzle (@EDpuzzle)
      • Socrative (@Socrative)
      • Wesley Fryer, PhD (@wfryer)
      • WeAreTeachers (@WeAreTeachers)
      • TechSmith (@TechSmith)
    • Blogs:
      • Alice Keeler
      • Tony Vincent
      • Two Guys and Some iPads
      • Moving at the Speed of Creativity
      • Daniel Willingham

So, what are your thoughts on different social networks when building a PLN?

Managing Learners: Tools for organizing your class

Of the many ways ITC has changed (and is changing) education, none seem more obvious than e-mail and learning management systems. It seems students these days expect ubiquitous, continuous access to course content and their teachers. How do I know this? Well, for one, I commonly get e-mails from students in the middle of the night. I am no longer surprised when I wake up in the morning to e-mails from students, most of them sent well past midnight. I do not think they expect an immediate response, but it reveals a student's mindset when you see he has sent a message in the middle of the night the instant he had a question about an assignment or grade. Second, my students are quick to let me know if they cannot access a course document or cannot see their grade. If the gradebook in my LMS were a section of the Oregon Trail, it would look like this.

The course syllabus? It probably looks more like this.

I am digressing. Anyway, teachers these days must anticipate the "right here, right now," mindset of many students and parents. Over time, report cards were augmented by weekly take-home folders, then daily homework planners, and now the LMS has crept into K-12 schools. Some schools have adopted an LMS that every teacher is expected to use. This was the case at the private school where I worked a few years back. Teachers at this school were expected to post grades, assignment details, worksheets, and other announcements each week. In other cases, a teacher may choose, independent of the rest of the school, to use an LMS in this way with students and parents.

This past week in my class, we explored various options available to teachers who want to use an LMS for managing learners and organizing content for their class. Before we looked at any platforms, we discussed the features one would expect to see in a LMS, and we listed them on a shared Google Doc, which the students filled out as they explored. Here are the results of our exploration.

Features Edmodo Chalkup Homeroom
Upload course materials
Upload materials in a variety of media (e.g., post a video for students to watch)
Discussion tool
Message tool
Announcement tool
Dashboard with upcoming assignments
Submit assignments
Submit using a variety of tools
Quiz tool It may be there, but we couldn't find it
Embed content from other sources Only from pre-selected sources
Features of this tool that may be particularly appealing. Links to Google Drive, Archives class data, calendar linked to assignments for multiple classes. Teacher can annotate papers, messaging feature, flashcards Interfaces with Apollo (the BYOD presentation tool). Quizzes can be tracked in realtime using a simple dashboard.

There are some obvious omissions on this list: Schoology and Google Classroom. This is mainly because we only had 2 hours and 40 minutes, so I had to make some choices about what to analyze. We already had someone demonstrating Edmodo, and I felt like Schoology was similar enough to skip past it. Some of the students actually mentioned it as we discussed Edmodo, and they were able to identify the similarities and differences themselves. I would have LOVED to show the class Google Classroom. I would love to see Classroom for myself, for crying out loud! Yes, most of their tools and features are available and free to everyone, but there are some that are not. This is especially true of GAFE, where if you are not in the club, you are WAY out of the club. So, this class exercise was not exhaustive, but I believe it gave the students an in-depth look at different ways to design an interface, features to include and leave out, and how easy different tools are to use.

What am I missing (and don't say Google Classroom!)? Are there features or whole platforms I didn't address?

Learning How to Learn: Growing a PLN

As a teacher, professor, or instructor at any level, one of the keys to survival is knowing how to continually learn and grow. Personal learning is one of the characteristics of teaching effectiveness. It is easy to get stuck in a rut in any profession, but teaching is especially vulnerable to this tendency because teachers are continually having to adapt to new students, new materials, new mandates, and new approaches to learning. It's surprisingly easy to just find a comfortable middle ground and float along, usually at the students' expense.

One of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever pursued as an instructor is connecting with other educators in my PLN (personal learning network). Learning from other instructors, most of whom I will never meet in person, has expanded my knowledge, skills, and understanding of the teaching and learning process in amazing ways.

What do you mean by "connect"?

Over the past several years, I have participated in communities of practice with other educators around the world. Some of them live in my city, others live on the other side of the planet. I have used a variety of digital tools to create my PLN, all of which have contributed to my professional growth in some way.

Blogs

Over time I have created a list of blogs by like-minded educators who have a similar goal: design and implement innovative teaching strategies to increase student learning, engagement, and motivation. I use tools such as Feedly and Flipboard to aggregate blogs so I only have to look in one place to see updates and new content. Most of these blogs are focused on educational technology and classroom teaching, but just because I use technology to stay up to date does not mean I am only learning about technology. I have learned strategies for facilitating discussion, embracing diversity, addressing cheating, and many other teaching topics.

Communities

In addition to following a collection of blogs, I also participate in different communities. These communities are hosted on social networking sites, and they are pretty easy to follow. For example, I am currently in about 15 Google+ communities, and I can get updates on new posts by scrolling through my news feed. I also follow about 30 different educators and innovators through Twitter, and it is pretty easy to scroll through updates to see their latest ideas and discoveries. Finally, I have joined a few different LinkedIn groups, and I get a weekly digest of anything that has been happening there. The point is, I do not have to spend a lot of effort staying updated on what is going on in these different communities, and when I do get updates I almost always learn something new.

Participation

The final way that I have gotten involved in my PLN is to actually participate and be a contributor. This blog has become my channel for processing, sharing, and reflecting on my own teaching ideas. Most of my posts would just sit isolated in cyberspace if I did not share them with my communities. By not only learning from others in my PLN, but also sharing my own experiences, I have become an active participant in this global experiment known as the World Wide Web. It's one thing to try other people's ideas, but it is downright exciting to find out other people are learning from me and trying MY ideas with their students.

Casting the Vision

This semester in my graduate-level technology class, I decided to do something new. I created a semester-long project where my students would build, engage, and participate in their own PLN. The first phase required them to join various communities of interest and follow different folks on blogs and Twitter. I gave them some suggestions, but I know some of the students have already branched off into their own interests. The second phase was for them to share what they were learning within a private Google+ community that we all joined. This way we could share what we were learning in a safe, secure place. The last phase, which is still underway, will be for the students to share what they are learning within the communities they have joined. This may mean sharing items they find, writing and sharing their own blog posts, or participating in discussions online. Since this project is currently underway, I can't really measure whether or not it is going well. It's going better than I anticipated, but I will not know the extent of everyone's participation until a few more weeks have passed. It took me a few years to become fully immersed in my PLN, so I can't expect a full conversion from my students before we've even reached midterm. But I'm committed to see this through. I cannot understate the value of my experience learning from and engaging with other innovative teachers. It has been transformative and deeply rewarding, even though some of those other educators have no idea I am learning from them. I would be remiss not to provide the same opportunity to my students.

So, what strategies or projects do you use to get teachers immersed in their own PLN?

Give students timely feedback with a leaderboard

Turning something into a game does not necessarily mean people will suddenly like it. Atari learned this the hard way with their E.T. video game. It turns out that betting the farm on a mediocre video game based on a blockbuster movie is bad business.

The same is true with gamification, a term being thrown around a lot these days in education circles. The general idea behind gamification is that game mechanics can be used in non-game environments in order to get some of the same outcomes typically associated with games, such as engagement, problem-solving, cooperation, and motivation. Many teachers are applying the principles of game mechanics to course design in order to motivate their students in ways traditional instruction does not.

If a teacher wants to be successful at implementing gamification mechanics in the classroom, there are a few principles that must be addressed. Foremost, the game must be well designed with clear goals, rules, and roles. Kind of like teaching. In my own experience, another aspect of a successful game (and teaching) is timely feedback. In order to make good decisions that help the player keep moving forward, they need to know where they stand. There are many popular activities that rely on the concept of leaderboards, which have the dual role of informing players where they stand and creating drama for both players and observers. Figure skating, gymnastics, X Games, freestyle skiing, golf, and diving are just a few of the sports that use leaderboards.

Leaderboards can be applied to educational settings as well, but there are very few tools available that teachers can use to create and use them efficiently. One such tool is Leaderboarded, but it is not free and seems be designed more for business than education. After looking around and not seeing many options for my own leaderboard, I decided to do what I do best: build one using Google tools. Below are the steps to help you get started on your own leaderboard. You can also view an example of my leaderboard spreadsheet, and feel free to copy it into your Google Drive if you want to see my formulas for each column and worksheet.

Step 1: Create your point structure

Before you can have a leaderboard, you have to decide where the points are going to come from. You have lots of options for students to earn experience points, quest points, or any other kind of value that can be added to the total. I kept it simple and based my point total on attendance and modules completed. Every time a student is on time to class, they get 100 points. They get 50 if they are late, and zero points for missing class. Even if the student is sick. I'm playing for keeps here, folks.

Step 2: Set up your spreadsheet

I have found that I am more likely to keep my leaderboard updated if I have very few values to keep up with. The more complicated the "game" becomes, the more there is to enter. Personally, once I start feeling overwhelmed I am likely to get behind on entering values. The more behind I get, the more irrelevant the leaderboard becomes. So, keep it simple.

As you can see from my example, I created a separate sheet for each set of points. One for attendance and one for modules. I used the SUM and COUNTIF functions to tally the values for each sheet. I chose to use the digit 1 instead of 100 or 50 because it is easier to enter. I can have the spreadsheet multiply by 100 on the Participation worksheet so I don't have to.

You will use the Participation sheet to add up all of your totals from attendance and modules. This worksheet is important to include because you will use a pivot table to create the actual leaderboard, and you must have all of your points on one sheet to do that.

Step 3: Create a pivot table

What is a pivot table, you might ask? Well, it is a data analysis tool built into most spreadsheets that lets you sort, add, average, or do other functions with the data in your spreadsheet. For this example, we are going to use the pivot table to display each student's total points and rank them from highest to lowest. Here is a screenshot of what this pivot table will look like when it is all set up.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.05.54 PM

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets_and_Pictures

Make sure every student in your leaderboard has a unique name, otherwise the pivot table will combine the totals for both students with the same name. I used numbers to keep the first initial separate. You will notice I have a battery icon for each student. I did this by creating a Rank worksheet and using the VLOOKUP function to apply the correct icon based on the student's total points. I did this more as an experiment. If you embed this spreadsheet using HTML, the images will not show up, so don't get your hopes up.

Step 4: Share the sheet with students

At this point, you have several options for how to share your leaderboard.

Option 1: The Whole Spreadsheet

The simplest option is to share the link with the class or embed using the iFrame code Google gives you. If you share the entire sheet with the class, which I DO NOT recommend, you will want to protect your functions and make sure it is only viewable to those with the URL. If you choose to embed the entire spreadsheet, go to File --> Publish to Web. This will share your entire spreadsheet, so you need to make sure there isn't any sensitive information that you don't want the whole class to see. If you use icons for levels like I have done, they will not show up when you embed.

Option 2: One Worksheet from the Spreadsheet

If you only want to embed the leaderboard, you can use a special URL to show only the page you want. It looks like this, and I will show you how to plug in the appropriate values.

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/[Spreadsheet ID]/htmlembed?gid=[worksheet ID]&amp;single=true" height="1000" width="100%"></iframe>

Here is where you find those values in RED:

Google_Drive_--_Page_Not_Found

 

This will embed only the sheet you want to share, but it will not show any images you have in the cells.

Option 3: Interactive graph from Spreadsheet

A final option for sharing the leaderboard is to create an interactive chart from the leaderboard and embed that wherever students will be looking for updated results. Here is how you do this:

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 2

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 3

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 4

 

Screen_Shot_2014-06-22_at_11_07_11_PM

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 5

 

And that is how you do it. This will take some tinkering, especially if you are not familiar with spreadsheet functions or pivot tables. I spent quite a bit of time messing around with this until I got it to work just how I wanted. I need to give credit where it's due for giving me this idea. I got the original idea from the EIPS Technology Blog, and I modified my leaderboard based on this design.

 

 

Ripple Effect

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 9.00.09 AM Last fall I taught a class on Digital Communication and Collaboration. We talked about, among other things, the power of creating a PLN (personal learning network). We read a book on this topic, shared a few articles, and had some interesting discussions. What we never really did was create or participate in a PLN in a meaningful or transformative way. This included me, who had always been a solitary and introspective kind of guy. I followed a few blogs and tweets, but I was not an active participant in any kind of PLN. This makes teaching the benefits of a PLN a really hard sell, to say the least. At the end of the semester, I was determined to change that.

I started this blog in 2009, and until this January had never had more than 20 views in one day. I would post sporadically and rarely shared anything I wrote. The blog, for all intents and purposes, was a sandbox for me to kick around ideas and journal some of my experiences as an instructor, faculty member, and techie. My total number of views (if those analytic statistics can be trusted) from 2009 to 2013 was roughly 1,800. My point is, I was not breaking any kind of internet records with my blogging skills. On a side note, let me just tell you that keeping a blog going is hard work. This is due to the fact that:

  • I'm one guy
  • It's not my job
  • TCU and my family keep me quite busy
  • I am not a fount of awesome ideas

Having shared this, you can see that the baseline was quite low and any movement of the needle would be easy to detect.

Coincidentally, around the beginning of the spring semester I shared some tech ideas with my college in a faculty meeting and decided to write them up in a series of blog posts. Based on my experience the previous semester in my class, I was already connected to several communities and groups on Google+ and Twitter. So, I thought why not share my posts in those communities and with a few folks via strategically placed tweets. What happened next really opened my eyes to the potential of connected learners and social media.

On the image above, you can see in green where I wrote something new on my blog. I blurred out the dates and stats because I guess I'm kind of self-conscious and it kind of feels like taking a screenshot of my bank account. Anyway, as soon as I was done with my blog post, I would send it out to a few different Google+ communities and on Twitter. The orange arrows represent the activity around that post from those communities. This consisted of sharing, retweeting, scooping, e-mailing, Facebooking, etc. my  content with others. Since I use Wordpress, I was able to see the source of my web traffic. The buzz would wane over a few days, then sure enough someone else would pick it up and share it again, causing my stats to spike again (though never as much as the first time).

An interesting observation from this is the 3rd green arrow. I posted this but decided not to share it with my usual peeps. It was more introspective and not really that interesting to most people. Someone who follows my blog, however, shared it on Google+ and Twitter a few days later, causing quite the spike in traffic for a couple of days.

This has been an interesting and serendipitous experience, to say the least. I am a self-described technology ninja, an emerging technology samurai, and not really a technology shogun (leader) at all. Jumping into the world of sharing, re-sharing, and joining the larger ed. tech. conversation has definitely let me see firsthand how powerful this can be in a person's personal and professional life.

And yes, I plan on sending this out for the masses to read, share, and re-share. If you want. No pressure.

Are You a Technology Ninja or Samurai?


ninja-samurai

I will start by stating the obvious: There is a HUGE difference between learning to use technology for yourself and using it effectively in the student learning process. Both applications of technology have specific skill sets, they inform each other, and they are both important. In the educational technology world, you might see this dichotomy through various lenses: digital media literacy, TPACK, SAMR, or some other framework you're fond of presenting at conferences.

My awareness of the massive difference between these technology applications came when I began encouraging the students in my large, 100-person education course to bring their laptops, tablets, and phones. OK, I don't have to actually encourage college students to bring their phones to class. Pry them out of their hands? That's more like it. Anyway, once I began infusing my class with activities that require technology, I realized I am not as good as teaching with it as I thought I was. Yes, I knew how to do some cool things to present information to my class, but when it came to using technology in real time with 100 students in a way that kept them active and engaged, I had a lot to learn. This is when I decided I was a pretty good Technology Ninja, but I had a long way to go until I was a Technology Samurai.

What do these two terms mean? Let me explain.

Technology Ninja

Ninja were covert agents who specialized in espionage, assassination, sabotage, and infiltration. They were skilled at disguising themselves as servants, camouflaging themselves with trees and other objects, and scaling the walls of buildings like Spider-Man. Their objective was to infiltrate enemy dwellings without being seen. In fact, there is probably a ninja in your pantry right now, scooping out your peanut butter with a Chinese Throwing Star.

As a Technology Ninja, I have gotten really good at using technology in ways that my students hardly know it's there. My most recent set of posts about Outsmarting the LMS is a good illustration of ways to be a Technology Ninja. You can embed documents and web pages, install scripts, and set up forms to make your job easier, and the people actually using these tools have no idea about the magic you have worked on the back end. They just know it works.

While these ninjutsu techniques save me a lot of time and energy in the long run, they do very little to influence the lived experience of my class meetings. Most of the work is done in the background, usually in the form of tinkering, testing, and modifying. It wasn't until I told my entire class of 100+ students that I wanted them to bring their devices to class that I realized these skills were not sufficient for me to reach the level of technology greatness I have always aspired to achieve.

Technology Samurai

When I first began thinking through these ideas, I wrote this out as SAMRi. Get it? SAMR with a lower-case i, like Apple does, only at the end of the word instead of the beginning. Because I am aiming for the R (redefinition) in SAMRand after I achieve the R in my technology integration skills/knowledge, then I will be a technology SAMRi! Uh ... yeah. Anything that needs that much explanation is not as clever as I initially thought it was. Also, SAMRi would direct a lot of traffic to my blog by people looking for Saudi Arabian folk music.

So, what is a Technology Samurai? The traditional samurai were an elite class of noble Japanese warriors, dedicated to protecting their culture, leaders, and territory. Unlike those stealth and sneaky ninjas, they were skilled at hand-to-hand combat and infantry tactics. Their weapons of choice were swords, kama, longbows, daggers, and armor. They were skilled horsemen, and they were also known to use rifles and cannons in the latter years of their existence. Samurai were also governed by a strict honor code, characterized by discipline and loyalty. In a word, they were fearless.

You know what else is fearless? Telling your class to BYOD. Unless you have thought through the details of your activity, you will have students knee deep in Pinterest or Facebook before you can say, "OK, let me just try one more thing to get this to work." Students love technology, but not in the way nerds like me think they love it. They love that technology connects them to the things they love.

So, after having done this for a semester, I have started coming up with a few essential skills that every Technology Samurai must master. These skills/tools are focused primarily on teaching in a BYOD or 1:1 environment. I will address being a Technology Samurai in the areas of digital media projects, collaboration, research, etc. in the coming weeks.

Sync your class

You must have a way to get every student in the same place and keep them there. Your class LMS page won't work. Neither will a Facebook group or Schoology or Edmodo. Why? There are too many other features to look at. Grades, assignments, forums, friends. Too many distractors. You need to keep them all in the same place at once. I recommend a tool like Apollo or Top Hat. If all of your students are on iPads, you may consider NearPod. Each of these tools has something in common: they put your content on every screen in the room at the same time. Yes, students can stray away, but not as much as you might think.

Reduce Friction

This is something that took me awhile to figure out. Personally, I do not like logging in to things. I would much rather log in once and then have the tool remember me. Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter .... they are great at this. My school's LMS? It's like Guy Pearce in Memento every time I close the browser window. Whenever possible, I try to minimize the number of times students have to log in to do class activities. Once is ideal, twice is acceptable, three times is just getting to be plain annoying.

Collect student responses

In addition to getting all of the students in one place, virtually speaking, you want to keep them engaged. A good way to do this is to involve them in activities that make them think then require a response. There are several tools that will let you do this. Apollo and Top Hat have built-in student response features. Socrative and Infuselearning provide another way for students to respond, and they do not have to set up an account to do it. They just enter the class code, and they automatically receive a prompt every time the teacher posts a question.

Deploy links

Another important tool to have in your arsenal if you are going to teach like a samurai is to be able to deploy links to the class. By deploy links, I mean send the student out from your synced content to other content (videos, web pages, forms, etc.). Apps like Apollo and Infuselearning have a built-in link tool that will send a URL to every student logged into your class page or presentation. This is really handy if you want students to spend a few minutes reading and discussing an article, blog post, video, or image. You can also send the students to an editable Google Doc, Sheet, or Presentation if you want to give them a place to discuss or share ideas.

An acceptable alternative to sending links to students is using a URL shortening tool, like bit.ly or goo.gl. Just remember to use a serif font so the students can tell the different between capital I and lower-case L. You may also want to consider if this is appropriate based on the size of the room and projection system, the age of the students, and number of times you are having them key in shortened URLs. If you have a bunch of these on the board, it may get confusing to the students.

Facilitate group work

Another skill to master as a Technology Samurai is to keep students engaged in group activities with their computers. I mean, the students have lugged their computers to class and followed along up to this point, so why not do some things with computers that computers are uniquely good at doing. Maybe that involves editing the same document at the same time, or adding slides to a common presentation. You can have them pin and explain places on a map.  Annotate or draw images using the drawing quiz tool in Apollo or Infuselearning. Create a 5-picture story, or capture a 30-second explanation on Educreations. I'm not trying to exhaust the possibilities here. If you went to the trouble to have the students bring their computers to class (or went to the extreme trouble of providing a device for every student in the school), then leverage the capabilities of a computer. Don't use it like a pencil then complain that students just want to look at Pinterest.

Showcase the students

Now that you have had the students doing some activities on the computer during class, showcase their work. Display their annotations and diagrams. Flip through the presentation and let each group present their page. Show the 5-pic stories and see if the students can guess the topic. Watch the 30-second explanations. This part of the BYOD learning environment is more than the payoff. It's the point in the lesson in which you communicate to your students whether you, as the chief learner in the room, value this activity as a real learning endeavor or just a hi-tech time filler. If you truly value the work they are doing, then devote time to acknowledging, praising, critiquing, and sharing the fruits of their labor. If you blow past the showcase, don't be surprised if the students show less enthusiasm and engagement the next time around.

You should strive to be both a ninja and a samurai. A samja. A ninjurai. A SAMuRinja. Both skill sets are important for teachers these days, for different reasons. One will keep you learning, the other will help you focus on student learning. The way of the ninja and samurai is not easy. They involve risk, uncertainty, failures, faith, persistence, patience, creativity, and problem solving. There is great cost in becoming a lifelong learner, but it's not nearly as costly as settling in and ceasing to grow and develop as a teacher.

So, what are your examples of being a Technology Ninja or Samurai? I will follow up on this, and I would love to hear your ideas.

Some Bullet Points and a Picture

As a teacher, I am always making instructional decisions. More often than not, these decision manifest themselves as questions. What do I want the students to know, understand, or be able to do at the end of my lesson? Who will do most of the talking, me or the students? Where does this lesson fit in the big picture of the class? Will I use technology? Will the students use technology? In addition to asking myself these questions, I am also continually looking for ways to teach better. That includes instructional strategies and technology. In some cases, the stars align and I discover strategies in which technology allows me to teach a lesson in a completely new way. For those SAMR enthusiasts out there, this would be R, or redefinition.

One such idea I recently came up with is an activity I call Some Bullet Points and a Picture (SBPAP). Yes, I have a dry sense of humor. This activity builds on the time-tested teaching strategy of having students work in groups and put their ideas down on chart paper. I love this activity, especially for class reading activities. I will assign an article, divide the class into groups, have them read a specific section of the article, then summarize and share their section with the rest of the class. This is a great way for the students to take ownership of the article and teach it to each other. It also gives them an advance organizer for when they go back and read it again for the exam.

SBPAP is the same idea as using chart paper, but the students summarize their group discussions on separate slides in a Google Presentation. I did some minimal setting up before class by creating the presentation, making it editable for anyone with the link, and creating a separate slide for each section of the article. The students then went to the Google Presentation, found their slide, and began summarizing their section of the article. The only two rules were 1) they had to paraphrase every main point in their own words, and 2) they had to find a picture that characterized their main points. The students used the research tool to find their images so they did not have to leave Google Presentation. Overall, the students loved the activity and we had a lot of fun seeing everyone's slides get edited at once.

There are some obvious advantages to doing this activity with a Google Presentation instead of chart paper:

  • The summaries are all in one place, so I can see which groups are making progress and who is not
  • Since the students are all working on the same presentation, I can project it and have each group present their ideas
  • The research tool allows the students to search for images, videos, quotes, charts, facts without leaving the presentation
  • After the activity is over, I can export the presentation as a PDF and post it to my LMS
  • The slides give me a record of what we covered in class, especially for students who missed and want to know if we "talked about anything important"
  • I don't have to figure out what to do with the chart paper after the activity is over

SBPAP was a great way to engage the students and have them actively learn the content. I will definitely do this again, and I may even think of some other ways to modify this activity and leverage more features of Google Presentation.

What are some innovative ways you have used Google Presentation in your classes to facilitate group work or engage the students?

Outsmarting the LMS: Creating a DIY Learning Module

Everyone is talking about the "flipped classroom." I just attended a conference where this term was used approximately 57 times every hour for 4 days. My first response to this term was positive when I heard it a few years ago.  The flipped classroom is a teaching approach where teachers provide resources for students to build their background knowledge outside of class and use class time on activities that leverage face-to-face interaction, such as discussion, group problem-solving, and collaboration. This contrasts with the "traditional" model, where instructors spend class time transmitting information, and then require students to engage in the aforementioned higher-level learning tasks on their own outside of class. This concept has so much curb appeal because students, generally speaking, don't like lectures, and instructors don't really like the behaviors associated with lecturing (e.g., falling asleep, playing on phones, doing homework for other classes). Once you strip away the buzz words, the descriptions of "kids these days and their mobile computer thingies," and a mish-mash of learning theories, you realize the basic premise is the same model teachers have used for years. My teachers assigned reading outside of class, my coaches required me to lift weights and do endurance runs (yes, I'm a runner) on my own, and my music teachers expected me to practice my part so that group rehearsals were about dynamics, tempo, and other music terms I can't seem to recall. The difference, of course, is that technological innovations have changed the variety and delivery method of learning materials being pushed to students before they come to class. Teachers can compile videos, readings, simulations, quizzes, games, and other media to communicate the same concepts that were traditionally transmitted in class via lecture.

There are many tools on the web that help an instructor facilitate a flipped lesson. EdPuzzle, eduCanon, and Ted-Ed come to mind. Each of these tools has its unique affordances, but they require students to have an account and to sign in. What if you want to avoid that part and skip straight to the learning module? This is where Google Drive comes in. I will briefly demonstrate how to build a DIY learning module with Google tools and add-ons.

Step 1: Create a Google Form

Google Forms is an excellent tool for creating web-based surveys. Users can add a variety of questions, from simple text to a grid. There are also some simple media and layout tools, such as adding images and video, page breaks and section headers. These are all great tools if you want to manage the flow of the survey. Google has created some excellent tutorials on how to create and use their forms. Below is an example of one of my forms I created a for a learning module in my college. The videos were created by a state agency for the purposes of a required training that is no longer supported by said agency. In other words, they gave us the videos and want us to handle the training in-house.

Texas_Ethics_Online_Training_-_Google_Drive

Step 2: Set up the spreadsheet

The results from this form will automatically feed into a Google Spreadsheet. This is a great way to keep track of who has completed the training, but by itself a spreadsheet is not very useful for grading the quiz. Using a simple script for Google Sheets called Flubaroo, you can create a key and automatically grade the results. The scored quizzes are put in a new sheet within the spreadsheet, and it will also e-mail the results to each student, if you choose that option. I have the spreadsheet set up so I am notified every time there is a change. Here is a example of a graded quiz.

Texas_Ethics_Online_Training__Responses_

Step 3: Create a certificate of completion

In my case, the students and faculty who complete this training need a certificate. The state agency used to do this automatically through their training module, but now we have to do it. Since there are so many people completing this training, I needed a tool to automate most of the process. My tool of choice is the Google Docs add-on Merge by MailChimp. To do this, you first add the add-on to your Drive account. You then create a merge template, like the one below:

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive

Next, you open the Merge by MailChimp panel.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 9.36.06 AM

You will need to do some clicking to merge your two documents by:

  1. Choosing the spreadsheet you will use as your data source
  2. Choosing the sheet from within your spreadsheet
  3. Identifying the header row (which will determine the names of the merge tags)
  4. Identifying the column with e-mail addresses, where the merged documents will be sent

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive 2

You will also need to add merge fields to the document, which will pull data from the spreadsheet and input it into the template. You do this from the Merge Tags section in the MailChimp panel by simply placing the cursor in the document where you want the merge tag and clicking  the merge tag in the panel.

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive 3

The form that is mailed to each person in your spread sheet will look something like the screenshot below. Notice, the person's e-mail client may strip out some of the formatting, such as fonts or colors. The details at the bottom of the merged document were added from the Email Info tab in the MailChimp panel. Also, the merge fields in the actual e-mail will not have brackets.

_Test__Texas_Educator_Ethics_Training_Course_certificate_-_curbyalexander_gmail_com_-_Gmail

And there you have it. Yes, it is pretty involved, but not much more than doing the same thing through SoftChalk or iSpring or any other eLearning tool, and it is totally FREE! This method could be used to give students survey or test results with feedback, digital badges, or progress reports. I should add one final word, which is that there will be some tinkering along the way. Each tool I presented here has a learning curve, and unless you have used mail merge in MS Word before, this will take some patience and repetition. Coming from someone who has done this using just about every possible method and tool, this process is pretty slick once you get used to it.

So, what tools do you use for this type of learning object? Is there a step I am missing or an easier way to do this? Let me hear from you.

All In: The New LMS

Today I attended a presentation sponsored by Apple about the changing role of mobile technologies in higher education, particularly colleges of education. This is of particular importance to my college right now because we are beginning to talk a lot about how and why to use different types of technology in our courses. Many faculty have been using technology for many years in their courses, but we are starting to see a shift in the role of technology in terms of how students access and use information. The presentation today, given by John Landis, Ph.D., was very much in line with the conversations I have been having with some of my colleagues over the past few months.

I will be honest, Dr. Landis' presentation was impressive. He is a great storyteller and is current on the trends and predictions sweeping through both K-12 and higher education. He understands that technology has traditionally been used to help teachers do what they've always done more efficiently or faster. He knows that students these days can get the same content traditionally transmitted from the instructor on any device, anywhere, at any time. And it's usually a lot more interesting. None of this was new to me, but it was still delivered in a fresh and relevant way. Landis presented a blend of theories, examples, and demos, primarily from his MacBook and iPad Mini, and the technology worked like a champ. He mirrored his iPad display using an Apple TV, and could switch pretty quickly to his MacBook Air to demo other programs. As a pretty heavy tech user, I was impressed that he was able to change speeds in so many different ways without so much as a hiccup.

What this presentation made very clear to me, however, was something I have been mulling over for quite some time. It is this idea that in order to fully leverage the benefits of one device, you must fully employ all of the devices in that particular ecosystem. In this way, Apple is actually becoming a device-based LMS. Just like Blackboard or Moodle have a suite of tools under the hood, Apple has an array of powerful tools that can really change the way teachers and students approach learning. The catch, however, is that one must buy in to the whole ecosystem in order to really see these benefits. For example:

  • I can create a customized, multimedia iBook on my MacBook for free, but it only really handles Mac-based media (.mov, Keynote, Pages, etc.).
  • Only my students with an iPad can download the multimedia version of the book and get the full benefit. Students running Mavericks can also read the book on their Mac, but students with Android or Windows devices are left behind.
  • I can mirror my iPad to my MacBook using AirServer, but it's not stable and does not work over my schools WiFi. If I want to really mirror my iPad, I need an Apple TV.
  • I can sync content across devices with a variety of tools, but the only way to sync ALL of my content is with iCloud, which is only for Mac.

The point is, each tool Dr. Landis showed us does amazing things. I want to try everything he showed us (except for the stuff I am already doing ... I want to keep doing it). But the only way to leverage the capabilities of each tool is to use it as part of the Apple Ecosystem (a term he used repeatedly). Apples are meant to work with other Apples, and there is really no motivation to make them work with Android (Google) or Windows. My workarounds, as I have found, are much more complex than the typical tech-using teacher is willing to mess with. I have found a way to teach from my iPad without using AirServer, which is a pretty awful replacement for an Apple TV. I use Google Docs to host and share course files, which works pretty well most of the time, but it's not as slick as content aggregated in an iBook. I have founds ways to do the things I want to do, but it's always a little more work when I am doing this across devices and outside "the ecosystem."

My take-away message is that Apple, Google, and Windows really are trying to create a system, and already have, where users must be "all in" in order to reap the benefits of their technology. More than ever, their tools only really play well with their own family members, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to lead a balanced digital life across platforms. With the exception of a few apps like Evernote or Google Drive, content on your device stays on your device.

I have no idea which ecosystem TCU will join, but I think they will eventually need to decide. These companies, which control the market, are leaving us very little choice otherwise.

One to Many: Using Ustream for an online study session

I try to be responsive to my students each semester and make adjustments to my courses that let them know I value their opinion. There are some things I don't change, such as assignments or due dates, but there are other areas in which I can be responsive. One such area is providing the students with resources that will help them be successful on the exams. After the first exam, some students were freaking out about the sheer amount of information I was expecting them to remember. In order to focus their efforts, I began sending out learning objectives after class. I think this helped, but some of them still felt overwhelmed.

This is when I decided to hold an online study session. I had been playing around with Google Hangouts, and I thought this would be a great tool to facilitate a study session. However, after some testing and investigating I realized this was not the best tool for what I was trying to do. Google Hangouts only allows 10 people to join, and I have over 100 students. There is also a 2-minute lag in the Live Broadcast between what I am saying in real-time and when the audience actually hears it. This may work well for some types of broadcasts, such as a live event or a performance, but this does not work very well for a question and answer session.

After some exploring, I found out about Ustream. This tool is very much like Google Live Hangouts, in that someone can set up a broadcast and allow viewers to watch through a Web browser. I set up a channel for my class, which I sent out to the students the day of the study session. Presenters can either broadcast from the browser, using the iOS app, or download Ustream Producer and broadcast from their desktop. The browser and mobile app use the camera on your device, and you can only show your face. The Producer program lets you also share your desktop, which is what I used to share documents and slides from the class.

Once I had everything set up, I started broadcasting and recording the review session. The hardest part of this session was speaking to an empty room. Ustream is different than Google Hangouts or Skype in that only allows one-way communication. This caused some awkwardness because I did not get any feedback from the audience. I kept checking to see if the presentation was still recording, which made it even more awkward. The students sent me their questions using TodaysMeet, which is a simple, impromptu chat room. There is no sign-in required, and the room can be saved indefinitely. The recorded presentation is embedded below:

Video streaming by Ustream

The feedback from the students was quite positive about this review session, and the whole process was quite easy. This took about an hour of my time in the evening, and this is something I an easily incorporate into my class each semester. I hope to find more creative ways to host study sessions, but this was a good place to start.

Teaching Naked: The workshop, not the dream

Last week, I attended a workshop hosted by our teaching excellence center called Teaching Naked. This is a catchy title for both Jose Antonio Bowen's book and workshops, but I find it a little ironic considering the content from his presentation. When I think of "teaching naked," I think of eliminating all adornments and superfluous elements from the class. I had a professor at UVa, Dr. John Sanderson, who taught this way. For an entire semester, he taught our Tests and Measures class without the use of PowerPoint, a LMS, or any other instructional tools. He showed a couple of short video clips on the VHS player, and he would occasionally bring some handouts. Most of his diagrams were written on the board when we arrived, and the majority of the class was discussion and lecture. It was an engaging class and quite helpful in my development as a researcher. I had already taken Stats I when I took Dr. Sanderson's class, and he did a nice job of filling in the gaps of what I had missed the first time. He truly taught naked. On the other hand, Dr. Bowen's workshop centered on using A LOT of technology. His approach to teaching could best be described as the "flipped classroom." He presents students with a variety of media to watch, think about, and learn outside of class, then uses class time to engage students in activities that require face-to-face human interaction. I like this approach to teaching and hope to emulate it with the same skill as Dr. Bowen, but I do not consider it "naked." In fact, it is quite heavily adorned with a host of social media tools, to the extent that I wondered how a students, or the professor, would keep up with it all. He talked about e-mail, Twitter, Socrative, Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, Skype, YouTube, Merlot, and several other tools. What he did not talk about at any point in the talk was PowerPoint. In fact, the take-away message from the workshop was, "Stop delivering boring lectures using PowerPoint and start engaging your class more ... during class time."

Some of Dr. Bowen's ideas were not new to me. Socrative, Twitter, YouTube videos, Google Docs. I use each of these tools in different ways to support my teaching and keep students connected to the class. Other ideas where, quite honestly, not ever going to be part of my workflow: Facebook groups, Skype, or MOOC's. But I did take away some ideas I would like to implement either this semester or in the spring. I have already taken one suggestion, which is to send student materials related to class electronically after class is over. This way, they are not reading the paper instead of listening. I also would like to try broadcasting a Google Hangout session live sometime before the next paper is due. I have responded to nearly 30 e-mails in the last two days, each of which ask essentially the same 3-4 questions. I will give the Hangout a try and see if anyone joins in to ask questions that everyone can hear the answer to. This also lets me record the session, so students who miss can watch it later. I have never been that open to devoting time in the evenings in this way, but after spending at least two hours in the last couple of days responding to e-mails, I like the idea of reducing this down to an hour. Show up, let the students ask their questions, and get them to work.

In addition to some new ideas to apply to my teaching, the hour and a half spent listening to Dr. Bowen speak was quite enjoyable. He's funny, intelligent, and has some very keen insight into the way students think and approach school. I haven't decided yet if I will read his book, but I will definitely look through his website for some new ideas. In no time, I will be teaching naked too!

Clicker concept vs. Clicker hardware

The first time I saw a demo with clickers, I was hooked. I was a doc student at the University of Virginia, and the Curry School of Education had a class set of  30 clickers and a receiver that professors could check out and use with their classes. A colleague and I checked out the clickers to use with a class of preservice teachers. We spent about two hours setting them up and testing them, and everything seemed to be on track for an exciting romp of student engagement and deep learning. (sarcasm). Honestly, we just wanted to see how they worked and look cool in front of the students. The short story is this activity totally flopped. The student accounts did not work and only about one-fourth of the clickers would register with the receiver. We spent a little time doing the awkward technology dance, then we bailed on the idea and proceeded with our activity sans clickers.

I have had this same experience in a dozen or so classes, workshops, meetings, and conference presentations. Thankfully, none of these have been at my expense, other than the annoying time lapse created by people insisting something will work if they bang on it long enough. In my own teaching, I had all but abandoned the use of clickers simply because they never seemed to work properly. Rather, I would use strategies that I knew were more stable, such as Google Forms. I could create a short form, send it to the students (via e-mail or a bit.ly address) and get instant feedback from my students. The interface was pretty simple, and assuming I didn't ask my students questions requiring a long, wordy response, I could take a quick pulse from the class in a matter of minutes.

Most of my classes have met in computer labs, so access to a browser has never been a problem. However, I had to rethink how to implement this strategy when I was in a traditional classroom. I tried having students send responses from these forms using their phones a couple of times, but the forms did not render very well on the small screen. This was also before smartphones had the kind of saturation they do now. About half my students had smartphones, and some of them were a little sensitive about using data for school activities (though no one seems to hesitate when it comes to sending and receiving texts during class). Go figure.

Once I started teaching a large lecture-type class at TCU, I knew I had to start thinking again about ways to engage the class. I found it very difficult to encourage discussion among a hundred students, and the "think, pair, share" technique was wearing thin because their mini-discussion never went anywhere. Very few of the students actually wanted to share their conversation with everyone else, and those that did were my usual suspects who did all the talking. I began researching ways to facilitate clickery-type activities in my large class without making the students buy actual clickers (at a $100 a pop) or bring their laptops (and all the wifi connectivity issues that come along with that).

After a lot of searching around and trying different apps, I settled on Socrative. Socrative is an app that works on multiple platforms (i.e., browser, iPhone and Android app, tablet), and it can be controlled by the teacher from either a computer or mobile device. Teachers can send out general questions (Multiple Choice, True/False, Short Answer), or they can create quizzes ahead of time and send those to students. Responses from preformed quizzes can be aggregated into a spreadsheet and sent to the teacher for later analysis. There is a separate app for teachers and students, and there are separate URLs for both if anyone is using a browser.

The best feature of this app, in my opinion, is the ability to create quizzes in a spreadsheet and upload them to the teacher account. I have found the spreadsheet to be much easier to use than the web interface because of how easy it is to copy and paste items, as well as move things around. Here is an example of a quiz created using the template, and you can download it from Socrative here. Once students have completed a preformed quiz, you are given the results in a spreadsheet. Below are two examples of what these reports look like. Correct answers are highlighted in green and incorrect in red. You can also see if a student did not respond. Students have to enter their name before they start the quiz, but I deleted them in these examples.

Running a close second to the spreadsheet-import feature is that results are updated in real time on the teacher app or account. I could display the teacher screen and see the results change as students sent in their responses. I still have not found a way to show both the questions and the results at the same time, but this hasn't been a deal breaker for me.

Quizzes can take the form of traditional MC or TF, short answer, Space Race or short answer. My college students had a strange euphoric response to the Space Race activities, which I cannot fully explain. Actually, the response from the students was very positive. They all added the app to their phones, and I would put SOCRATIVE at the top of the page that included a question. Without fail, when  SOCRATIVE popped up on the screen, the class instinctively grabbed their phones and waited for the question. They even memorized my room number, which was helpful for those times I became the absent-minded professor and couldn't remember it.

A final perk of this tool is that it runs through the Cloud rather than relying on infrared sensors to send and receive signals. As long as both the student and teacher devices are connected to the Internet, the tools works. To date, I have used this tool about 100 times and never had issues with data being received. I have had a few instances of students getting a weak signal on their phones, but those instances have been isolated and infrequent.

On my mid-semester questionnaire, several students mentioned this tool specifically and remarked that they liked seeing the results from these short discussion questions show up immediately on the screen. Turns out, students like seeing how their ideas or opinions compare with everyone else. They also like using their own phones or computers to do this without having to purchase an clicker. Pedagogically, I would typically have the students discuss the questions in pairs or groups of three and make them converge on an answer. I tried to make the responses such that students had to choose between all seemingly good options. I like to think the discussion was the best part of the activity and the technology just facilitated it.

So, how do you facilitate class discussion? Do you use clickers or apps to do this? What are you techniques?

Mission Control

I have always been one of those teachers who likes to show a lot of stuff on the screen. Before projectors, I displayed graphs, charts, images, and graphic organizers using a TV or overhead projector. I have always loved supporting what I have to say with visuals. So, it should come as no surprise that my computer, or any computer, is a necessary resource for my teaching.

I also like to switch back and forth between media. I am that guy who always has about 10 tabs open in a browser, and an addition 5 programs running on my computer. I switch between slides to documents to video to applications. I'm sure this drives my students crazy, but they get used to it. One thing I never got used to was being trapped behind my computer while I teach. I am definitely not one of these roam-the-room types, but I don't like to stand behind my computer and constantly have to look down at my screen. Since I utilize far more tools than just PPT, the little clicker thing never really worked for me. What I have always wanted is a miniature control panel that fits in one hand and allows me to switch seamlessly between apps and media, and even mark up that media for emphasis.

Well, during the Fall semester this capability literally fell at my doorstep when my department bought me an iPad. I had always wanted to use an iPad, but I didn't want to spend the money. I tend to be a late adopter when it comes to new devices. Anyway, I got the news from my dean that I would be getting an iPad, so I began researching ways to use it as a mission control for teaching.

Mirroring

My first task was to figure out how to mirror my iPad on the screen of my MacBook Pro. I discovered there are basically two ways to do this. You can use the iPad as a remote desktop and control the computer using the device. I tried PocketCloud, Doceri, and Splashtop 2. PocketCloud never really worked for me. I would be logged in, but I would have trouble connecting my two devices. Doceri worked pretty well, and even allowed me to mark up the screen, but it cost money and I didn't really like trying to find things on the screen. Besides, I was far more interested in teaching from the iPad apps than I was using the programs on my computer. Splashtop actually works really well, and I was able to get it for free. However, it is still just a remote view of my computer, which is not what I want. I much prefer the interface and ease of use of the iPad.

To keep this short, I settled on AirServer to mirror my iPad on my MacBook. There are a couple of programs that do this, and I liked this one best after downloading a couple of demos. AirServer fools your iPad into thinking your MacBook is an Apple TV, so you can use the built-in AirPlay to wirelessly mirror your device. For AirServer to work, your MacBook and iPad must be on the same wireless network. My university is very strict when it comes to using the wireless network, so this kind of thing is blocked. I found out, however, that I can pair my MacBook with my iPad using Bluetooth, and it works just the same. The only hiccup is when I try to stream video from the iPad to the MacBook via Bluetooth. It almost always freezes, so I have started playing video files directly from the hard drive. Other than that, this is a great solution that has not failed me yet.

Apps

The next thing I had to do -- and I am still doing -- is find apps that enable me to enhance my teaching with the iPad. I mean, if there is no value added, then why spend $12 for AirServer and bother figuring out how to mirror the display? I did quite a bit of reading and researching different apps that do the things I want to do in my classes, and I have found a pretty nice set that I rely on regularly. Here they are by category.

Presentation Slides

  • SlideShark: Easy to import and sync from the cloud, and maintains animations and formatting
  • Explain Everything: A nice combo of slides and an interactive whiteboard. Also lets me record my talk and upload it directly to Google Drive or YouTube (which I have yet to do.) By the way, when I Google "explain everything," it gives me a definition for the word "everything." Now that's pretty funny.

Cloud Syncing

  • SugarSync: This lets me sync everything (that I want) from my computer to the cloud. I can then access it from the iPad and send it to just about any app.
  • Google Drive: This basically does the same thing, with the added bonus of displaying Google Docs, which I use a lot. This interface is also much better for images and PDFs.

Student Engagement

  • Socrative: This is a clicker app that still just blows my mind. I hope it stays free forever, but I'm sure it won't. I can send out quick polls to my class, both forced-response and open-ended. I can also create quizzes and exit tickets, and have the results e-mailed to me in a spreadsheet. I will probably write exclusively about this app later.

In order to demonstrate how this works, I have created a short video of how I move between apps during one of my class meetings. This is unedited, but you will get the point.

"I used to think I was good at explaining stuff ... "

I've taken a hiatus from this blog since August 28. I actually have started three other posts that I abandoned for various reasons. Well, now I'm back. For now.

This year as I began my new position, I was given access to a whole new variety of digital tools. At UNT, it was digital fabrication and energy monitoring. I had enough devices to give one per group of students, which meant I could do some really cool things. It's a lot of fun teaching project-based learning to future teachers when you have the tools to do it. Of course, there were other things we didn't have at UNT, like interactive whiteboards and mobile devices (specifically, iPads). So, there were some other important skills that were hard to teach.

At TCU, I don't have the project-based learning tools, but I do have an interactive whiteboard, my own iPad and cart of 20 iPads for students to use in class. This has opened up a whole new domain of learning and teaching with technology. I have been able to do activities with my classes I thought I would never be able to teach. My goal over the course of the next several weeks (months?) is to post some of these activities, along with examples from students.

The first activity I would like to talk about is Flipped Classroom lessons using Educreations. I have been piloting several of these Digital Whiteboard apps, such as Show Me, Explain Everything, and Knowmia, and Educreations was the best fit for this activity. Show Me also would have been a good fit for my activity because it instantly syncs lessons to the Cloud and you can access the video files from a browser. Additionally, it lets you download a copy of the video file to your computer in case you want to do additional editing or combine lessons. Educreations does not have this capability yet. As a side note, Explain Everything (paid) and Knowmia (free) are very robust tools and worth learning. They allow you to import and export media and projects to other Cloud services like DropBox, Google Drive, Evernote, and Box. There are many tools for presenting content, including embedding web pages, video, and audio files.

For this activity, I gave the students three "badges" they were to earn: video editing, screencasting and a flipped lesson. The idea behind the flipped lesson is that students present content to students to watch and learn at home with the intention of doing more collaborative, hands-on activities at school when everyone is in the same room. The students worked in pairs to create and record a short lesson, which they later uploaded to the class Educreations account.

Beyond the simple interface of the tool and how fun it was to create mini-lessons, I knew this was the only way for my students to see the importance of developing this competency as a future teacher. The students commented on how great it would be to create examples for how to correctly work math problems, edit their writing, convey science and social studies concepts that students and parents could watch at home during homework time. This is usually when students have questions, and many parents feel frustrated trying to help their children. I can't speak for everyone, but I routinely would tell my dad, "But that's not how the TEACHER did it!"

An added benefit for this activity is that students got to practice explaining academic concepts at a level their students could understand. You really have to think about such aspects as pacing, language, examples and sequence when you are planning these lessons. The students were able to practice presenting to students without dealing with some of the environmental factors that often stump early-career teachers, such as crowd control and limited attention spans. As one student explained, "I used to think I was good at explaining stuff, but this activity really forced me to think about what I was saying and how fast I talk." Even though this was not my intention, the class got an impromptu lesson on micro-teaching.

I plan on integrating this strategy into my classes many more times in the coming semester. Ideally, I could work with a teacher (or two or three) and have my students create mini-lessons based on the content being address in the schools. My students would get experience teaching lessons in a concise, understandable way, and the teachers and students would have resources to utilize at home. An added benefit would be feedback from teachers and students about the quality of their lessons and explanations. We'll see how this goes.

To see some examples created by students in my class, visit our Educreations page.

Connected to what?

I've had this thought more than once during the past few weeks: What if I delete my Facebook account? I have no real reason to delete it, and I certainly have nothing against Zuckerberg or the company (though recent history has definitely exposed his true business sense). I haven't posted anything I'm trying to hide, and there is no one in my Friend list who I believe to be a liability. So, what is the source of these feelings?

Hollowness.

That is the feeling I am left with when I look at Facebook. To me, it is a very hollow. I know it is not that way for everyone, such as my sister who is very involved in playing various games with several of her friends. I know many people who chit-chat back and forth with their friends all day, as if they were in the same room. I think this is great, but it's not the experience I have had. I'm not sure it's the experience I want to have.

The obvious advantages to Facebook are the networking and being able to see what people are up to (assuming they choose to share their lives) without having to ask. Networking, especially in this day and age, is a benefit. It's nice to have a central place where you can send people messages, knowing it will go directly into the e-mail inbox. It's also frustrating when you never get a response from someone, knowing your message went directly into their e-mail inbox. To this end, I would say this has been my main use of Facebook.

Facebook also does a nice job of keeping people who would not ordinarily be in your consciousness in your consciousness. Stalking, lurking or whatever you want to call it probably is not a benefit, except for those moments when you think, "I wonder whatever happened to old So-and-so," then you proceed to find him or her on Facebook, only to discover he lives in Peoria, Illinois and sells sand to hourglass companies. "Oh," you think to yourself, and move on. But at least old So-and-so is in your thoughts in some way, which is a way to stay connected to your past, I guess.

For me, the hollowness comes from knowing there are many people in my Friends list who want to know about me but aren't really interested in knowing me anymore. They want to have a connection to me in case I ever come in handy but they aren't committed enough to actually connect. I have a handful of friends who actually do write back, chit-chat or want to get together from time to time, but I am starting to think those are the friends I would have stayed in touch with even if there were no Facebook.

Like I said, hollow.

The main question for me, however, is not the impact this 21st century digitally-driven social networking has on me. I'm a grown-up with a great job, wonderful family and sense of purpose in life. I can deal with a little hollowness. The bigger question is how does this type of connecting affect people who have never known anything else? How are my children going to define friendship? Will they grow up thinking that people are information you need to simply find out? That once you know the person's information, you "know" that person? Will they believe the lie that you are what you share? Will they feel compelled to tweet, update, instragram or whatever every single experience they've had, or even worse, manufacture experiences just because they think they'll make for a good tweet, instragram or update?

When I think about the true friends in my life, I think of inside jokes, mountain adventures, long stories to fill long bus rides to school events, secret pacts made by a campfire, calling each other over college breaks to find time to hang out. I think about talking over dinner, serving together with someone other than ourselves in mind, playing phone tag for weeks until one of us catches the other person at home, road trips. Friendships should be so heavy with shared experiences they leave a wake in our past that never really dissipates.

I'm sure my children will use Facebook (or something like it), but I am starting to believe I will have to be purposeful if I hope to keep it from becoming the central piece in their social lives. Lives are more than data, and connection is more than updates. One way to help with this is to keep my account open and use it responsibly. And Friend them when they're old enough.

Guest Blogging in the U.S.A.

The following post is something I wrote as a guest blogger on Wes Fryer's popular blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity. My contribution will be posted on June 21.

The satisfaction to be derived from success in a great constructive enterprise is one of the most massive that life has to offer.

-Bertrand Russell

The first time I remember “creating” something for a school assignment was in 3rd grade. Up until this point, what I remember about school involved completing worksheets at my desk, reading from various texts in front of the whole class, and being placed in groups based on my ability in math and reading. This all changed in Mr. Beaver’s class, my 3rd grade teacher.

Mr. Beaver involved his students in various activities and challenges, most of which required us to build something with materials we found at home. He would come into class one day and toss out some ambiguous statement as if it were a hook with a worm: “My daughter bought a kite this weekend, and it works pretty well. I wonder if she could have built a kite out of supplies she found at home. Nah, probably not. That’s too hard for someone her age.” This was just enough for a few of us to go home and try to prove him wrong. During the school year, we had several projects that involved creating things: electromagnets, dioramas, kites, maps. For a kid who liked making stuff anyway, it was a fun year in school.

This experience probably planted the seed in my mind that projects are a fun and engaging way to learn. As a teacher, I tried to implement several different projects throughout the year, and now I spend a fair amount of time helping other teachers design and implement student projects in their classrooms.

Most of the work I have done in recent years has centered around digital media: teachers helping students combine images, audio, video and/or text to express their learning through such products as digital stories, documentaries, podcasts, virtual museums and comics. More recently, however, I have been involved in projects that cross over from digital media to physical media, otherwise known as digital fabrication or desktop engineering.

The focus of this initiative, under the direction of Glen Bull at the University of Virginia, is to teach students to apply math, science, engineering and technology skills and concepts to real-world problems. Students create digital models of objects such as electrical circuits, windmills, and gears, print and cut them using special equipment, then construct the components into a physical object. This short video describes the process of digital fabrication.

The concept of creating virtual 3D representations of objects before creating the physical object is not new. Many of the things we use everyday - cars, homes, buildings, city plans, electronics, and aircraft - were first designed and tested in a virtual environment before the physical object was ever built. Similar to storyboarding in movies and game design, virtual models help designers test and troubleshoot their products without making potentially costly mistakes that waste resources. As teachers, we want our students to be problem solvers and identify areas for improvement early in a process rather than later.

An integral part of this initiative has been training teachers - both in-service and preservice - how to integrate engineering and fabrication activities into their existing curriculum. Our research has confirmed a line of previous studies that many in-service and preservice teachers, especially at the elementary level, lack confidence when it comes to teaching math and science. This can be a barrier when it comes to encouraging teachers to create engineering design projects for their students. In response to this problem, we have been replicating engineering design projects being done with 4-5 grade students in Virginia with preservice teachers in North Texas.

If you are interested in reading examples about digital fabrication in a teacher education course, I have provided a few for you here:

The University of Virginia also has a wealth of resources on this topic, which can be accessed for free on the Make to Learn website. Most of these activities do not require a Silhouette cutting machine and have been successfully implemented in some classrooms with nothing more than scissors. I have also found some excellent activities at robives.com, but I have yet to try any of them with students or teachers.

My hope is that sharing some of the work being done in the area of desktop engineering with a larger audience will generate some interest in doing this type of work in the classroom. This initiative is in its infancy, yet it has already attracted quite a bit of attention and buy-in from several school districts, universities and the National Science Foundation. The need for our students to be creators, thinkers and innovators has never been greater, and there seems to be no better way to foster these qualities than to engage students in activities that require creativity, thinking and innovation. Students already have a reputation for being massive consumers of digital media and other technological innovations, and they are one of the largest groups to create and share digital content. Now, with the emergence of desktop engineering we have the resources at our fingertips to help them discover the relationship between virtual and physical media and further explore what it means to play with media.

Why digital text is here stay

As if anyone would even argue this point, I just had a flash that served as one more reminder why digital text is here to stay. This is also why The Cloud is here to stay, and why eReaders are here to stay, and why the discipline of close reading is here to stay. Here's what happened.

I was crafting an e-mail to a friend about a possible digital media study this upcoming fall. In my message, I decided to mention Jonah Lehrer's book ... again. Have I told you about his book, Imagine, lately? Do you need the hyperlink so you can buy it? Am I a sycophant yet? Anyway, there was a phrase from his book that I wanted to use (i.e., claim as my own), but I couldn't remember it. I reached to get my Kindle, and realized it was at home, as are all of my other devices that have this book on it. So, I looked up Kindle on Google, and found out they have a Cloud Reader for computers. Why wouldn't they? I mean, Amazon can sync my other devices so that when I put one down and pick up another later on, I start reading right where I left off. In a matter of 5 or so clicks, I was looking at Lehrer's book at the exact place where I stopped reading last night. I located the phrase (meta-idea), and went right back to my e-mail. Actually, I came right to my blog, then I will get back to my e-mail ... after lunch.

This kind of thing was not even possible a few years ago. If I needed to look at something in a book, I had to either bring the book with me or wait until I got home, to my office, etc. Now I have every book I own (in digital format) right in front of me whenever I need to look something up. I don't think I will ever buy another printed book again. I'm sure publishers will still send me copies of books to review, but if they ever give me the option, I want the eBook. It's important to note, I still had to read the eBook. If I want to make a note, I have to actually make the note. If something in one book makes me think of something in another book, I have to be disciplined enough to write it down before I forget. The eBook (or any digital media, for that matter) does not do the thinking for you, but boy oh boy, does it change the way I approach my scholarship. I love the Web because I find all kinds of resources I never knew existed, but what I really love is to be able to reference those resources I have already read, thought about, re-read, took notes on, and integrated into my existing knowledge base. The perfect storm of taking the time to sit still and read something, mixed with ubiquitous access when I can't remember a phrase or term or quotation. It's the epitome of distributed cognition, to me.

Oh, and my back doesn't hurt anymore from lugging around all those books.

Podcasting and Learning

I've been orbiting and occupying this big ol' Ed Techy world for quite a long time. So, I've read countless papers, proposals, articles, and chapters on "Why my media is better for learning than your media." I've studied this from a cognitive, social, motivational, and developmental perspective, and I am still not convinced that one medium is better for learning than any other. I do believe that all media have different affordances that make them better-suited for certain contexts, learning styles or learning tasks. Needless to say, I've done (and continue to do) my homework  on this one, and I get a little annoyed when people who just perhaps haven't done as much homework on this topic make blanket statements like this one:

 A new study found that students who listen to lectures on podcasts test better than those who listen in class. (You can read the entire article here.)

The "new study" in question is taken from a 2009 article in New Scientist, and it's reporting on a study done in the same year by Dani McKinney. I found these links in a 2012 blog post by Michael Hyatt. My issue is not with bloggers quoting bloggers quoting bloggers, some of whom don't understand educational technology research. The problem I have with this quote, and those like it, is that it is stated as if this were "proven" fact. Here are some things to consider when reading results from this type of research:

  1. Learning is complex and influenced by many, many factors: motivation, engagement, prior knowledge, environment, aptitude AND delivery method. To say that students who listen to a podcast at home will score better on a test than those who come to class and listen to the lecture is absurd. This can lead to all kinds of misconceptions about learning, multi-tasking, learning styles and media. "You can learn astrophysics while washing the dishes and updating your Facebook status!"
  2. Most educational technology research studies have a long list of limitations. The findings are almost always limited to the study in question, with some suggestions on how to scale it up or replicate the results. This is called "job security" for us academic types.
  3. Teacher-created exams may not be the best measure for student learning. Sure, they're great for assigning grades, but they are often mismatched with the learning objectives, and if they are multiple choice, there's a chance the students could guess and get the right answer. The test items may also be written in such a way that it is easy to eliminate answer choices and choose the right one without really knowing the material. I did not read the entire research article, so I will not make any judgments about this instructor's exam.

Online and hybrid learning environments are here to stay, and the research into best practices and learning outcomes for this model of teaching will only get broader and better. Studies such as the one I reference above are an important part in this process and must be done. Any research study should produce more questions than answers, which this one obviously did (Do podcast lectures have the same effect over an entire semester?) But please, if you are going to quote studies like this, look at the original research article and temper your statements with a qualifier or two. Michael Hyatt and Mile Elgan have thousands and thousands of readers. If I go back and read this tonight, I will have one. People believe what they read, and they especially believe what they read when they WANT to believe it. If you want to do better on tests, or learn something new, try the time-tested strategy of applying yourself and taking ownership of your learning. Don't expect media, podcasts or otherwise, to do for you what you aren't willing to do for yourself.