Tag Archive | educational technology

Thoughts on Education – 3/9/2012 – Using technology in the classroom

I’m going to try and get back to some of the education issues that have been coming through my Evernote lately.  I’ve got quite a backlog over the last couple of weeks while I have been grading, so I should have plenty to write about over the next week or so.  Today, I want to concentrate in on the general category of technology in the classroom, as I have been accumulating quite a bit on that recently.  Of course, the recent Apple announcements and developments are relevant to this as well.

I’m going to start here, with a general article about what teachers think in general about the use of technology.  As the article itself says, the results are not particularly surprising, but I will put up the general infographic here, as it illustrates what I think is not too far off from what I see, especially among the younger faculty.

I hope that you can click on that to make it bigger, but the basic message here is that the majority of teachers surveyed thought that technology in the classroom would help both the learning of the students and their engagement with the material.  In fact, the two questions that refer back to the older “technology,” namely textbooks, got the lowest Agree responses and the highest Disagree responses.  Again, I don’t think there is anything surprising at all about this, but I wanted to start here.

In a similar vein is this article from The Washington Post, which discusses how textbooks are failing to engage our students and help them learn.  He notes that textbooks are not effective at engaging students because that is not what sells textbooks.  We don’t choose a textbook (me included) because I think it is going to be some sort of magical panacea to solve all of the problems for my students.  Instead, at least in history, we look at them primarily in terms of coverage.  Which textbook covers the material we want to cover is more important than which textbook students will like.  In fact, I have often found that if you talk to a group of instructors about choosing textbooks, the textbook that is most likely to be appealing to students is often dismissed out of hand as not being what works for us as instructors.  So, there is a fundamental disconnect there.  My feeling about this is echoed in the article as well, where one teacher is quoted as saying, “Even when adoption committees include content specialists, these people typically evaluate the accuracy of the content, rather than whether the instructional strategies are effective.”  In fact, the author quotes another educational administrator, who noted, “The educational community was quick to respond to the (legitimate) criticism of textbooks but quicker still to adopt their horrific replacements: excessive use of lecture, worksheets, movies, poster making, and pointless group work.”  We are flailing around as far as I can see.  I feel like that myself, where I am just trying so many different things all the time without ever knowing what I’m doing.  That’s why I’m doing this, so that instead of trying new things at random, I am trying to plan things out.  Anyway, there’s a lot more to this article, and I do recommend it as very interesting reading when we think about how the old technology options are failing us.

And, when I read this article from the Chronicle, I saw myself and how I use technology a lot of times.  Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way.  As it says, in online courses, especially at the community college level, “the professors are relying on static course materials that aren’t likely to motivate students or encourage them to interact with each other.”  While I get a lot of compliments from students about the way my course is organized, I know that I use few real tools, and I certainly do not effectively encourage interaction in my classes.  The article goes on to talk about a study where the results came from.  That study concluded:  “It found that most professors relied on text-based assignments and materials. In the instances when professors did decide to use interactive tools like online video, many of those technologies were not connected to learning objectives, the study found.”  I certainly would say mine fits this completely.  My course, is completely text-based.  There is little to no video or interaction in my own materials.  I have adopted some from McGraw-Hill that I use in conjunction with my textbook, but that is actually in a completely separate classroom from my own in Moodle.  While the article does note that technology is again not a panacea to solve all of these problems, I think that in the online environment, a failure to be innovative in technology will cause the students to treat the course as a chore to get through.  Of course, I may just be thinking some fairy-tale thoughts here that a student could really feel completely engaged by an online course, but I think I could do better.

As we think about the future of technology in the classroom, there are a lot of directions it could go.  I’ve been exploring some of those in this blog as I have gone on here.  I am trying to keep current on what’s going on out there, and trying to see what ideas might work for me.  This article from Mind/Shift talks about the future of technology in the classroom.  The article considers the near, medium, and long term forecast for technology.  In the near term they consider mobile apps and tablet computing as the center piece of where we are going.  We certainly are thinking about that at my community college.  The faculty work group that I’m on has been given iPads to explore and the task of finding apps that can be used in the classroom to enhance learning.  As well, we will be buying classroom sets of iPads to use.  So, nothing new there based on what I have seen.  The mid term is going to be gamification and the use of data to influence education.  I have also been exploring gamification in this blog, so I guess I’m right on top of that topic as well.  As to the use of data, if the big assessment push we all seem to be on is any indication, I think we’re already on this path.  I don’t know how far it will go, but it is certainly a trend that we are involved in.  The longer term is going to include gesture-based computing and increasingly ubiquitous connections to everything.  I certainly agree that those are both technologies that could come into play.  What is interesting about the article though is that the so-called future of technology in education includes little that I’m not already engaged with.  I guess that means that instead of looking to these things to come out in the future, I need to figure out how to use them now and just get on with it.

So, where am I going with this.  Still thinking, but moving along.  I want to incorporate technology, and I want relevant change.  I don’t want change for the sake of change, as I feel like that is what I have been doing for quite a while here.  I think that more is needed, which is why I keep working on this blog.  I need real change that comes with solid thought and evidence behind it.  It will still be an experiment, of course, but I would like it to be an experiment that is directed in a productive manner.  So, I shall keep thinking and planning.  It’s hard to do more in the middle of the semester.  Let me know what you think?  Those of you who teach, what are you thinking of doing?  Are you looking to change something?  Those of you who do not teach, what would you like to see?

Thoughts on Education – 2/12/2012 – Is Technology the Solution?

I haven’t had much time to sit down and think about education since Thursday.  It’s funny how the weekends slip away from you.  I do have a big backlog of articles after having not done them on either Thursday or Friday, so I’m going to stick with more reviews today.  I haven’t quite figured out what’s a good mix here, more of my own stuff or more article reviews.  Of course, even in the article reviews, I am including a lot of my own thoughts as well.  Right now, I’m doing article reviews when I get 4-5 articles I want to look at.  However, I do look at so many places for information through the week, that it is honestly quite hard not to have that many articles to examine.

Using Technology to Learn More Efficiently

OK, so to start, just ignore the large Jessica Simpson lookalike on the page there, as distracting as her stare is there.  I was interested in the article from the title, which is what gets me to save most of them for review later.  So, often as I’m sitting down here to write about them, I am reading them for the first time as well.  Sometimes they are so irrelevant or don’t do what I want that I simply don’t do anything with them at all, such as this one today.  This one almost got a delete as well, but the concept is at least interesting, even if it links up to an older style of learning that I don’t want to encourage in my own classroom — flash cards.  The article profiles a company that is digitizing flash cards and remaking them to encourage better retention and more honest use of flash cards.  The more compelling idea is the creation of a schedule and the push for accountability to the students to complete their work.  As the article notes, this is really an attempt to reduce the unproductive cramming before an exam and open up a broader studying schedule.  However, the ultimate limitation here is the students.  They are the ones who have to make the decision not to cram at the last minute, and I have a feeling that the students who would do this with this program would be the same ones who would be least likely to put off all of their learning to the last minute anyway.  Still, I’m all for accountability, especially if it could be integrated with that idea from yesterday on using Google Docs to gauge student progress.  So, maybe as a tool that an instructor could put together and release to the student, this could work.

The Gamified Classroom (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

“Today, students are expected to pay attention and learn in an environment that is completely foreign to them. In their personal time they are active participants with the information they consume; whether it be video games or working on their Facebook profile, students spend their free time contributing to, and feeling engaged by, a larger system. Yet in the classroom setting, the majority of teachers will still expect students to sit there and listen attentively, occasionally answering a question after quietly raising their hand. Is it any wonder that students don’t feel engaged by their classwork?”

This, again, goes back to the issues I’ve talked about in several other posts, especially the last one.  If we are talking about student engagement, then I think we are failing with the lecture model, especially to the most current generation of students, which is who this article series concerns.  I just have to look out at my own classes on lecture days to see the problems, with maybe 1/3 paying active attention, 1/3 paying occasional attention, and 1/3 completely disengaged from the material.  Of course, is gamification the answer?  Of course not.  But can we learn something from this educational trend?  Very likely.  Perhaps it can bring in greater engagement and even foster creativity rather than rote learning.

The role of technology can both help and hinder learning.  The article refers to a number of ways that technology can help engagement, through having the students involved in project based learning and higher levels of engagement, using both apps and clickers.  What is interesting is what the author sees as one way that technology is reducing that engagement as well, the smartboard.  I’ve not seen that criticism before, as the smartboard is often held up as one of the prime ways to engage students.  “Unfortunately, our classroom is often filled with technology that only exists to better enable old styles of teaching, the biggest culprit being the smartboard. Though it has a veneer of interactivity, smartboards serve only as a conduit for lecture based learning. They sit in front of an entire classroom and allow a teacher to present un-differentiated material to the entire group. Even their “interactive” capabilities serve only the student called upon to represent the class at the board.”  I have been suspicious of smartboards as a save-all, but I had never really been able to figure out why I didn’t like them.  I find this argument compelling.  From my own point of view, they seem to just be a new version of the chalk board, offering nothing more than you can find with the method.

“In schools, our students should be using technology to collaborate together on projects, present their ideas to their peers, research information quickly, or to hone the countless other skills that they will need in the 21st century workplace–regardless of the hardware they will be using in the future. If we’re just using tech to teach them the same old lessons. . . we’re wasting its potential. Students are already using these skills when they blog, post a video to YouTube, or edit a wiki about their favorite video game. They already have these skills; we have to show them how to use them productively and not just for entertainment. This is where Gamification comes in. Games are an important piece of the puzzle–they are how we get students interested in using these tools in the classroom environment.”  I agree.  Ha!  What I always tell my students not to do, present a big quotation and say they agree, but I guess I’ll hold myself to a lower standard than them.  Still, I think this is an insightful look at the problems with just throwing technology at the problem.  You can’t just hand teachers technology and expect them to transform everything.  Technology is not the solution, although effective teaching with effective technology could be part of the solution.

The last two Parts of the series deal with how this might take place in practice.  I’m not going to go through all of that here, as the information is diverse and hard to summarize.  So, check it out if you’re interested.  I think what is most interesting is the push for self-pacing and self-motivation for students.  Tying completion to rewards beyond simple grades and pushing the students to do more.  This is an interesting idea, but I do wonder if our students are ready for this.  That is always the problem with these articles, that they project these things into an ideal world where students are not motivated because we aren’t motivating them.  Yet, the real problem is often much more complex.  Our students are as varied as can be, and the reasons for motivation or lack of motivation are varied in the same way.  How do you motivate students who are working two jobs, taking care of kids, sick, taking care of sick family members, in school only because their parents think they should, in school only because they think the should, and so forth.  In other words, when students aren’t required to be there, such as at college, how does this push differ?  Something to think about.

The loss of solitude in schools

And, I’ll close for today with an opposite view.  Here, the author is warning against the push for project-centered education, one where we emphasize interaction and group work over individual absorption of material.  She makes the case that education is inherently a solitary process, where we engage with and absorb difficult material until we learn it.  As she says, the emphasis on group work and interaction produces students that “become dependent on small-group activity and intolerant of extended presentations, quiet work, or whole-class discussions.”  In other words, they forget how to learn on their own.

She also notes that the push away from the “sage on the stage” can be just as damaging for students.  “Students need their sages; they need teachers who actually teach, and they need something to take in. A teacher who knows the subject and presents it well can give students something to carry in their minds.”  I have never done much with small group work, so I can’t say one way or another how this works.  I have generally done either lecture or discussions.  I don’t know how to evaluate small group work, and so I have not done it.  Perhaps this is short-sighted of me, but I just don’t know how to give a grade for group work that is not just on the end project.  In other words, how do you hold everyone accountable?  I know, from talking with my wife and remembering my own experiences, that group work is inherently unequal and very frustrating for those who want to do a good job, as they generally end up doing most of it.  I don’t want to put students in that position, and have never been much for this idea.  I could be convinced otherwise, but I am skeptical on the idea of small group work.  I know that many of the changes I’m looking at making involve small group work, but I just don’t know what to do with it.

Anyway, enough for today.  Please let me know what you think or if you have any responses to the ideas I’m presenting, as I don’t want to be working in a vacuum on this.

Thoughts on Education, 2/1/2012 – Digital Learning Day

So, Happy Digital Learning Day everyone.  OK, so I had no idea it was that day either, but that’s what I found out as I started moving through the educational news that I read every morning.  I guess it’s appropriate that I’m working on this project at this time then.  I certainly envision any changes that I make to my class to include a significant digital element.  In fact, I would like to go ahead and include more of it in my class now, although I am not sure how at this point.  Thus, part of what I am doing is trying to figure out how to use all of these new tools out there and how to use the various ideas that I am trying to accumulate.  I want to make something new and relevant, and I think that digital technology has to be at the center of it.

What is unfortunate about all of it is how hard it is to find good digital tools for higher education.  If I was teaching K-12, there appear to be a lot of apps out there for use, although I, admittedly, have not evaluated them to see if there is real quality or just quantity.  For higher ed, there’s a lot of stuff out there for organization, note-taking, and whiteboarding (did I just make up that word?).  There’s not much that seems of actual use in a classroom outside of access to resources.  in that category, there’s a ton of stuff out there.  Simply get the Smithsonian, PBS, TED, or many other apps out there, and you have a ton of free content at your fingertips.  If you’re not using Flipbook on an iPad, you are missing out on one of the most spectacular apps that I have ever come across.  So, if I want content, I can get it, but that still puts the creation of assignments and linkages on me.  I know that’s part of my job, but I kind of expected there to be some actual premade content out there for higher ed, and there just isn’t very much.  There are things to show, but not much set up to do.  I was talking with my Dean about this, and he suggested that it is because there’s more money in K-12 ed than in higher ed, and that when there is money in higher ed, it goes to research, not to teaching.  Certainly, in teaching at a community college, I’m really at the low end of the totem pole for these types of things, but I just imagine what could be out there.

I guess if I was ever to consider a different career, I would love to go into the educational technology field.  I’ve considered getting a second Masters in Instructional Design or something like that, but this lack of content seems to be a huge hole in the educational ecosystem.  I don’t know if there’s any money to be made in it, but I’m just waiting around for someone to make it at this point.

In thinking about Digital Learning (caps intentional on this day), I have done some reading, and I’ll include a few of the interesting things I’ve looked at here:



MindShift is one of those programs I found through FlipBook.  I like their discussion of education and technology and read it daily.  Again, if you’re interested in the topic, check them out.  Anyway, I like this article, as it evaluates the role that technology can play in the classroom.  I’m going to have to think on it more deeply at another time.  I like the first three points as some basic starting ideas on technology

  1. Don’t trap technology in a room.  This is very true, as the computer lab is something that many of us (like me) have no access to, and so if I want to use technology, trapping it in a single room makes it useless unless you are one of the lucky ones to be able to schedule in that room.
  2. Technology is worthless without professional development.  Completely agree.  We don’t get any of this provided to us, and I remain so busy between my teaching life and home life that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to go out and participate in professional development either.  I’d love it to be a more real part of my actual job, and I really am going to have to figure out how to make time for it, as it is never going to be just given to me.
  3. Mobile technology stretches a long way.  Use the resources that you have.  A good number of people are carrying around high-powered computers in their pocket.  Give the students some reason to use them beyond texting.

Beyond that, I need to follow up on some of the links in the article, and I have it saved in Evernote (another great free app) to do just that later.


Another thing I read every day is Inside Higher Ed.  They have a number of educational technology resources, and this one celebrates Digital Learning Day as well.  Interesting links off of the page mostly, although I like seeing the discussion generally in this blog.


Through the Inside Higher Ed site, I also found this resource.  I will check out the video later (my internet connection at home is not cooperating for streaming video from my living room right now, and I don’t feel like moving to the bedroom for a stronger signal).  But the broader site of Teachers Teaching Teachers sounds promising and worth checking out more.

Anyway, that’s a few links for today.  I have some on gaming in the classroom that I’ll save for sometime in the next couple of days, so hang on for that.

Thoughts on Education, 1/30/2012

Continuing to think about education, using articles I have saved in Evernote.


“Tips and success stories for effective mobile learning”

Mostly focused on K-12.  It talks about “bring your own device” schools, much like the Weatherford ISD is trying.  I’m curious how that will go.  The question, of course, is what do you do with the students who do not have a device?  That’s as far as I got though, as the second and third pages of the article require you to log in to read them.  It was not particularly relevant, and so I didn’t think it worth logging into a random site I’d never heard of.

Click to access mobile_star.pdf

“Education‘s Guide to Mobile Devices: Everything You Need to Know About Mobile Tech and Your Schools”

OK, so I registered for this one.  It is much more interesting, even though it is, again K-12 focused.  I just wanted to note a couple of things here.  I fully agree with the following:  “To make the most of mobile technology, teachers must have proper training, and schools must go through a change management process, says Greaves.  Technology-rich schools whose principals ―have formal training in change management far outperform the technology schools where [principals] don‘t have this formal training,‖ he says.  ―At a lot of schools, they just provide the technology and think that, by itself, will carry the day.  But if you don‘t actually give [educators] the training of what to do with it, nothing changes.‖  A change management leader looks at the students within a class and evaluates to what extent they are working on a fully personalized basis. ―If 30 kids in class are all doing the same thing,that‘s a clear sign that you haven‘t changed anything,‖ Greaves adds.”  I totally agree, and I find that to be the hugely limiting thing for me with adopting new methods of teaching and integration of technology.  I always feel that I am doing it all on my own.  I feel that I am way out in front of where most people are, and I often feel lost in trying to decide what to do.  I also feel limited in resources, although being part of the QEP this year has helped in that regard.  Still, I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness and could use a lot of help to develop the random ideas wandering through my head.

There is also an interesting resource there called PD360, which is, unfortunately aimed at K-12 only.  There is no option to sign up as a college instructor, but it is apparently hundreds of hours of professional development online.  Maybe I should check out Starlink, if that’s anything like it.


“Shifting the Classroom, One Step at a Time”

OK, so this one has me pegged from the first paragraph:  “Teachers who are interested in shifting their classrooms often don’t know where to start. It can be overwhelming, frightening, and even discouraging, especially when no one else around you seems to think the system is broken.”  I feel like that all the time.  So, of course, I’m going to read this closely.

The whole post is interesting, and I need to explore it in more detail.  There are three links to talks here that I need to watch at some point when I can have some time at a desk with headphones rather than sitting in the living room with my computer as I am doing now.  That’s always the thing, creation is hard.  Doing something new is hard.  I want to dive in and recreate very soon.  Do I have the time/resources for this?

I highly recommend this as a starting point to rethinking the classroom!

“What’s So Great About Schools in Finland?”
I like these things:
  • All administrators have worked as teachers
  • They don’t focus on tests
  • Teaching is a revered profession
  • They trust teachers
An interesting, short piece.  It talks about turning the classroom into a learning experience for everyone, including the teacher.  Unfortunately, it is focused on a small liberal-arts college model, which makes it hard when you have many more students to deal with.  Still, an interesting idea that would be nice to integrate.
“Blogs vs. Term Papers”
OK, so I really want some feedback here!  What do people think about the blog idea?  I’m thinking of reconstructing the classroom.  This would be a total reconstruction, ditching papers for weekly blog posts and a requirement to respond to other blogs in the class.  Would that be a good idea?  Would that be crazy?  Let me know!