Archive for July, 2010

July 31, 2010


As I’ve been exploring various aspects of e-education, I can’t help but wonder about privacy of identity and work when dealing with K-12 students. There is a need for balance between protecting the safety of our students and allowing for the benefits of online collaboration. What better way to learn a language than by speaking to someone who speaks that language fluently. A myriad of opportunities exist for our students to do this. What about sharing work online and receiving feedback from other students around the world or from experts in the field that the students are working in? There are places to engage in intelligent debate on any number of topics with experts and students throughout the world. There are more opportunities to learn on a truly global scale than ever before but as soon as you take advantage of these opportunities, you open yourself up to any number of risks.

There are any number of predators online that he we hear about in the media on a daily basis. If you listen to the news, nobody online is who they say they are. Most people on the Internet are harmless, but as in the rest of society, there are those who are up to no good. We can teach the students to protect themselves, but the predators are good at what they do and students will get drawn in.

Everything that is written online is permanent. Anyone who is interested in knowing about you can build up a profile by searching the web. If a student gets drawn into a discussion and innocently says things that can be taken out of context, these words are documented and come back to haunt him later in  life. There is paranoia about how future employers and government agencies can use information based on profiles developed through the Internet. And know matter how hard you try, this information is permanent. A short trip to the WayBack Machine will prove this point.

Of course, there is also the issue of theft of intellectual property. A student’s hard work can easily be stolen by others in the same class or half-way around the world whether the intent is to share the work or not.

It is a tough line to walk with our students. How do we ensure the safety of our students while still allowing them to reap the benefits of learning online? With everything, there are risks it is how we deal with those risks that is key. An Art class may walk through the neighbourhood to draw the local architecture. As soon as they step foot off campus they run the risk of being hit by a car. Does that stop us from taking our students across the street? Not typically. We teach the students how to cross a street safely and ensure that the crossing is as safe as possible (ie. we cross at a light rather than sprinting across the freeway) and hope for the best.  Likewise, we need to teach the students of all the potential risks of using the internet, set up the environment in as safe a manner as possible and trust that all will go well.  You can’t stop the drunk driver as much as you can’t stop the hacker or online predator.

The problem with learning on the Internet is that the risks are not as clearly identified and the manner in which these risks present themselves changes seemingly daily.  Facebook is evil and can only be used for cyber-bullying.  That is what some think.  Facebook, Twitter and whatever the next big thing is on the internet are only tools are not, in and of themselves, evil.  I have kept in touch with a number of ex-students through Facebook.  I would have lost touch long ago without it.  For me, it is has some great benefits.  But, of course, there are the stories of students and teachers becoming the victims of vengeful people who take out their frustrations in a very public way.

The best we can do is learn as much as we can about the new technology and teach responsible use.  We shouldn’t ban it, although responsible filtering is entirely appropriate in a school setting.  The more the students know, the better they can deal with whatever comes down the pipe, whether it be in physical or cyber-space.

July 20, 2010

Teaching Backwards

Photo by Patrick Haney

Something that Alan November said last summer has been resonating more with me recently.  I can’t remember the specific quote but he essentially said that school work should be done at home and homework should be done at school.  Technology allows us to rethink how we work with students by allowing us to remove the traditional constraints of time and location.

As a student, how many times have you come from a lecture and known that you missed taking down some important bit of information?  The speaker was saying so much that you couldn’t possibly get it all in your notes, or you got distracted at a key moment or, more likely, drifted off and later heard others talking about something you missed.  Likewise, have you ever got stuck trying to complete homework only because you realize you don’t quite understand what you thought you did and it’s three in the morning and there’s nobody to help?

The reality is that lectures, which can be an important part of the transfer of knowledge, are easily recorded and disseminated via digital means.  A teacher can record not only the words, but also the images, of almost any topic that they need to speak on and post these lectures on a web site for easy retrieval.  The student can listen to the lecture (or parts of the lecture) as many times as they want.  If they drift off because the teacher’s voice is about as exciting as Ben Stein’s, no sweat, they can go back and pick up where the snoring drowned out the teacher’s voice.

This allows the students to be more active in class and allows the valuable time and location dependant material to be dealt with when the student and teacher are together. The students and teachers then spend their valuable time together in class working on application of the knowledge.  Application makes knowledge relevant and helps it to stick.  When the teacher and other students are in the room to help each other, there is immediate help then when disaster strikes and the student gets stuck.  Less frustration.  Teachers can monitor the work as it’s being done and help understanding immediately. More opportunities for students to teach students.  More meaningful interaction between students and teacher.  Good all ’round.

Will every teacher do this?  Of course not.  It’s more effective to do a demonstration in science when it is live, rather than recorded (mind you, there might be an argument for filming those explosions coming out of the chemistry lab!)  There are certain courses that are all about application and an in class demonstration of a concept that can immediately be applied is perfect.  Sometimes concepts are complex enough that working through them together is a better approach.  But even then, wouldn’t a pre-screening of the topic the night before the class make the work in class more effective?

What are the down sides to pre-recorded lectures? It takes prep-time to do it.  Don’t teachers have enough on their plates?  Sure.  But there are multiple approaches and ways to think about this.  #1 Once you have the lectures done, it makes the following year much easier.  And class time then doesn’t need to be as teacher-centred.  #2 Who says that the teacher has to record all of the lectures?  What a great learning experience for the students to have to teach each other!

More and more teachers seem to be moving to this model.  You can see the evidence on elementary school, high school and university web sites.  Do you teach this way?  How do you make it work?  What are the positives and negatives for you?

July 14, 2010

The World is Open

I like working in a library.  It is my job to take recommendations on books, investigate them and buy the ones that are appropriate for the school’s library.  The people that recommend books are experts in their fields.  I have science teachers, math teachers, english teachers, art teachers and many others who know way more about their field than I do recommending books.  The down side is that I have to learn to read way faster if I’m going to read everything we buy, let alone read everything that is recommended!

Sometimes I get to stumble on a book that I just can’t put down.  The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education is one of those books.  The author, Curtis J. Bonk, is an educational technology evangelist.  He is a devout proponent of the value of technology in education.  He uses the acronym We All Learn as a springboard for his discussion of the impact that technology is having on education.  This is how the acronym is defined:

W – web searching in the world of e-books
E – e-learning and blended learning
A – availability of open source and free software
L – leveraged resources and OpenCourseWare
L – learner participation in Open Information Communities
E – electronic collaboration
A – alternate reality learning
R – real-time mobility and portability
N – networks of personalized learning

Each of these sections are given a full chapter with examples from a variety of institutions or companies that have implemented or developed these technologies.  Bonk is able to add a twist to even the most traditional (if that word can be used in the context of educational technology) applications of the concepts that he is dealing with.

I find some familiar in each chapter but am often confronted with a way of using technology or a way of thinking about education that shifts my thinking in significant ways.  What I like is that Bonk is an education evangelist first and a technology advocate second.  He seems to be constantly looking at teaching in ways that were not possible in the past due to limitations in cost, location or time.  Technology can reduce or eliminate these constraints in many instances making access to information across the ages more readily available and viewpoints from every corner of the globe accessable without the huge monitary and time expense.

The complants about the book are minor.  At times Bonk is a little too evangelical for my tastes, but I get over this easily.  As with any print publication, it is out of date before it hits the ebook stores, but the trends are relevant even if the statistics are slightly out of date (the book was published in 2009).  Finally, I have to treat the book like coffee.  One cup at a time so that I can process the information properly and never to close to bed time or my brain won’t shut off when I go to bed!

If you are interested in the book, it is available in hard cover and in ebook formats from all of your regular ebook suppliers.

July 6, 2010

iPad – the sequel

So, I’m loving the iPad. I’ve discovered what a great note-taking tool it is. I attended four days of classes in New York and used the iPad and Evernote as my main notepad. I love that I can sync my notes across two computers and my iPhone!

The big thing that I’ve been getting my head around is the video output from the iPad. As a teacher, the iPad could be extremely useful presentation tool. I have been given a VGA adapter to play with to figure out how the damn thing works. For someone who has become quite used to the ease of Apple’s history of plug and play, this was more of a challenge.

The first issue is that Apple doesn’t make it easy to find out that you can’t simply plug the iPad into a projector and BAM! everything on your screen is now projected. That’s the way it works on my MacBook, why not on the iPad? If you download the manual through iBook, you will find a paragraph that explains that only certain applications can project or can be viewed via a monitor. I found more thorough information at iLounge in a review from June 18th.

The short story is this: Keynote, YouTube, and Photo fully support display through the VGA connector. The Video app also displays video assuming that it is not copy-protected. That is, my copy of “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” plays beautifully on my iPad until I connect it to a projector. The projector is somehow an unauthorized device to play my purchased material through!!!!

Another issue is that if you want amplified audio for your presentations, you have to output your audio through the headphone jack. Depending on how you set up to make your presentation, you could have cables running everywhere!

The good news in all of this for me, is called Expedition. Designed as a 99 cent web browser with VGA functionality, it can open other types of files to be projected. I also use Documents to Go. When you click on the info button on any document in Documents to Go, you have the option of opening the document in other programs, including Expedition. You will loose some of your fancy transitions in your PowerPoint presentation, but you can scroll though the slides and user the built in laser pointer (also available in Keynote) to draw your audience’s eye to the important bits.

The good news is that, according to iLounge, the code to implement VGA output is pretty simple and easily added by developers. Hopefully, as the native iPad app list grows, more software will include this function. Perhaps Apple will include it in OS4 for the iPad!

July 4, 2010

Don’t You Love Summer?

Jazz at Lincoln Center Marquee

My head has gotten a little away from technology for the last week or so.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but technology has become more the tool than the toy.  I was lucky enough to be in New York for a few days taking a class on teaching Jazz improvisation.  Brilliant and inspirational.  Had the iPad with me.  That never ceases to be a topic of discussion as soon as it comes out of the bag.  Evernote and the iPad have become my newest best friends.  I took all my notes on Evernote through the iPad and everything was seamlessly synced to my iPhone and my MacBook Pro.  No matter where I am, I am reminded of who said what, when!  I saw a number of people using their iPhones as digital recorders.  Not something that I did given that I saw staff for the academy recording each class as well.  I’ll get those later!

Next week is heavy technology, so expect some posts.  I’ll be starting to podcast a music theory class that I teach, I’m looking at ways of integrating a number of pieces of software (webware?) with my school’s web site and I’ll have three days of meetings with other like-minded folk from my school to look at further ways of implementing technology in our classrooms!  I love the lazy days of summer!  😉