Category: ed tech

I’ve apparently forgotten about my blog for the past year. I am not even sure personal blogs even for a professional audience are even warranted any more. Many folks in my field have shifted to spending much more time on Twitter. Twitter is not for me. I appreciate nuance too much to be limited to 140 characters per post. I don’t even particularly enjoy sifting through retweet after retweet or link after link being posted. Twitter serves a purpose for some and I can see that some people really feel connected and part of a professional learning network . . . and that’s great for them. I see more promise with Google+ (largely because of how well it’s working for photographers — my hobby). Google+ expands on Twitter and allows nuance. I find it hard to justify a blog that might be seen by 10 people versus the same message being posted to Google+ where the potential for a much wider audience exists. So, I’ll probably keep this blog going. I mean, 1 post a year shouldn’t be too hard to maintain, eh?

About a decade ago, I decided to no longer use Blackboard. My thinking is that I should be using tools that my students (current and future teachers) can also use. Most k-12 schools do not have Blackboard. Why should I model a tool that ends when students are not taking classes at my university? I shouldn’t. So I began a quest to find the replacement, preferably an open source solution. Through the years I have used static HTML pages to PostNuke (died in 2008). I settled into using Drupal for a number of years and I really liked it. I still really like it; however, it was not a tool that was easy to replicate for the typical teacher even though it is free. I decided I really need to be using Moodle and I switched full time to Moodle about 2 or 3 years ago. I like Moodle well enough. I wouldn’t say that I am an expert at Moodle, but I know it well enough to set up my own Moodle servers and to train teachers to use it and do some fairly detailed problem solving. But I don’t tap into many of the features so that’s where my limitations are with Moodle.

Well, this past semester I started shifting away from Moodle. I still use it, but I now use it mostly as a placeholder. It’s a place for my students to go and login to find the weekly parameters that I post. I also post links to assignment rubrics and other external links in Moodle. But when my students want to see what the requirements are for week 1 then they click on a link to the Week 1 Parameters and it opens a new window displaying a Google Doc. If students want to read an assignment rubric then they are also clicking a link to a Google Doc. I can create my materials in Google Docs as easily as working in any typical word processor (or office app for that matter). When I am ready to share the file I click on the sharing settings and make the file available to anyone who has the link. I also make sure I do not click to give the person permission to edit (at least not for my weekly materials).

Google Docs Sharing Settings:

Google Docs Permissions

My Class Moodle Site:

Moodle GUI

I can post the link in Moodle so that students merely need to click on “Week 3 Parameters” and get a new window open showing a Google Doc with all of the requirements for week 3 provided. Each item has a description of what students do to complete that item. Additionally, the item might have a link to click and get more detailed instructions (e.g., a link to another Google Doc). I can add images or screen shots easily. I can link to a podcast easily . . . all from this single Google Doc that becomes the roadmap for the weekly session. Students do not want to click in one place to find discussion parameters and another place to find the lecture materials and another place to see assignments; rather, students want to see it all in 1 place. Why not provide that to your students?

I am not ready to give up on Moodle, but I am pretty comfortable with using Google Docs as the nuts and bolts of my online classes. I still have the grades being stored in Moodle and I still want to support Moodle as a product. I just think Google Docs is super easy to use and requires very little effort to get up and running. While it’s not open source, it is freely available, for now, so that helps accomplish my goal of modeling free or cheap resources for my students.

Twitter has rapidly become THE social breaking news service. We know that Twitter can break news just about instantly. Bam! It can easily beat the mainstream media. Unfortunately, Twitter can also break news incorrectly. Bam! Someone tweets that Rep. Giffords is dead and it takes hours to get the twittervse corrected. No big deal because another story comes along and it consumes the discussion for its moment. Moment after moment being tweeted and retweeted. Twitter never stops flowing. That’s partly what makes it great, I suppose. I could watch the Grammys without turning on my television and instantly learn who each of the winners were as they were announced. Sure, I also had to filter out some guesses and commentary about outfits and various emotional reactions, but the gist of the process gave me the results.

The International Society for Technology in Education recently asked readers whether a PLN can replace traditional professional development. I think most of the educational technology community seems to believe that a PLN can most certainly replace traditional PD. And, teachers are increasingly using Twitter for professional enlightenment and support. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development had an article a year ago explaining why teachers should try Twitter with part of the justification noted that, “Twitter becomes a constant source of new ideas to explore.” This is true. Very true.

An article on Nature.com recently discusses how social media was used by “peers” to scrutinize a newly released article (this article from Science) that traditional media was trumpeting as potentially having a great impact on society (e.g., NPR and the WSJ). There are many issues to address here, but I am going to skip ahead and note that the traditional blind peer review model is not broke, but it could certainly use some reforming. I am not sure having tens, hundreds, or thousands of people “reviewing” an article is productive given that the message will almost never be consistent and will almost always be contrasting and mixed. A social review with a proper filter is clearly needed. Researchers and others are still trying to figure out how this new voice can be integrated into more traditional paradigms. I suspect we will figure out a way to bring the Twitterverse into the fold. We need to. And, I need to move on to the actual point I wanted to make.

Right now, I think the scholarly review process is light years ahead of traditional media in trustworthiness. I don’t mean to imply that the scholarly review process is perfect, it’s clearly not; rather, I am just noting that the process is much better than other forms of publication. Traditional media, for all of its flaws, is still more reliable than Twitter and blogs where there is no editorial review of what is posted or not. Maybe an individual here or there on Twitter or on her/his blog has gained trust and a good reputation. Fine. But the vast majority of blogs and Twitter accounts are not scrutinized properly, if at all. I can write something on this blog and state it as fact (e.g., “Multiple Intelligences is the most important educational research around and is the key to improving schools”) and not receive a single comment telling me that I am wrong (in fact, I am completely wrong). Principal X can do a Google search and find my blog and see that someone with a Ph.D. has just explained that Multiple Intelligence is important and decide to buy M.I. curricular materials and schedule professional developments on the topic. This is currently a fatal flaw with social media under the status quo. To be fair, schools have jumped on unsubstantiated bandwagons over and over again throughout history (e.g., Brain Gym right now). This is where administrators need to be worth their weight in gold, but I digress.

So, can a PLN replace traditional professional development? Sure. If the traditional PD is not based on instructionally validated practices and research then it’s just like Twitter. I don’t recommend this. But if traditional PD is implemented well, I don’t think Twitter currently stands a chance for the masses of educators. Please note, I am not suggesting that selected individuals can’t benefit from Twitter; they can — perhaps you can. Perhaps you have a great filter for the constant flow of information? The people a teacher follows are shaping the messages being received, so the Twitter experience is going to be different for me versus the next educator. My caution is just that *most* social media currently has no standardized mechanism in place to check the reliability and validity of information being posted; that’s left to each individual teacher. And I hate to see educators jumping on the new bandwagon(s) du jour . . . or, should I say, the bandwagon of the instant?

This entry was a demonstration for someone on Twitter who posted a question. Just FYI.

Here is an example of a Google Presentation that I published and then Google provided me with the code to paste right into this Blog entry:

I had control over the size as well. I chose small. I didn’t need to add it to the HTML of the blog entry; rather, I hit paste right in the text area. Ta da!

Prediction lists and top 10 or 21 things lists tend to be popular for bloggers and get retweeted on Twitter, particularly around the start of a new year. What I find lacking in many of these lists is that the justification for this claim or that one tends to be brief; very surface level stuff. I would much rather delve into a single topic in more detail, which cannot be done on Twitter and is therefore relegated to blogs. So, in that vein I am providing a “list” of 1 prediction for the coming years with regard to technology in education — at least a prediction I haven’t seen made elsewhere.

1. Many schools will try “online instruction” and realize mediocre results.

“Online Learning,” “Hybrid Online,” “Blended Learning,” “Virtual Classrooms” are all hot phrases in education these days. A Dept. of Education report in 2009 really provided the springboard and validation to the concept of online teaching and learning. The Dept. of Ed. report concluded, in part, that students who did all or part of their learning online performed better than students who did the same course traditionally (face-to-face). What more does a school need than a research report released by the Dept. of Education?

Locally, I see one of the largest school districts in the state shifting some core subjects to a blended online learning model. Kids are going to their real teacher 1 day and then going “online” for a few other days away from their main teacher. Many school districts are also turning to technology for “online” credit recovery – e.g., having students sit at a computer and complete commercial modules that are called online learning experiences. This is not meaningful online teaching and learning regardless of what it is being labeled. These experiences actually do work for some kids, but I still cringe when it’s called online learning because this is far from the ideal online learning experience and I don’t think calling this online learning does any favors to folks who are truly teaching online.

These trendy phrases are really misunderstood by the general public. Actually, many educators and administrators also misunderstand these phrases. I suspect that each person has a different vision of what online learning entails just as we all have our own vision of what traditional instruction entails (e.g., lecturing, project-based activities, group work, writing, reading). Unfortunately, the end result for many online credit recovery programs and K-12 online learning experiences ends up being the most convenient or the cheapest option that uses the “online learning” label (and, money does drive many decisions . . . most perhaps, so I don’t discount that). I am merely noting that calling something “online learning” does not ensure that learners are actually experiencing meaningful online learning. And, I am not sure anyone has figured out affordable credit recovery solutions that work really well, so there’s that.

Online teaching and learning require some essential components:

1. Teaching and Learning both take place online. If the instruction is more like a CD-ROM approach to teaching then we’re back to the 90s with regard to technology in education. The 90s was when we were often just happy having kids working on computers regardless of what they were doing or how they were used. The research back in the 90s was also fairly mixed because of the ambiguity in best practices. We have moved beyond that old school approach to technology integration. Unfortunately, many schools are not beyond that stage even though real online instruction is vastly superior to CD-ROM based lessons and truly online experiences must reflect this, which leads to . . .
2. Learners must be engaged. The instruction should allow for learners to be engaged with the content (what many CD-ROM packages did/do), the instructor, and with other learners – neither of these final two interactions occurs with CD-ROM based instruction. Simply buying a commercial curriculum that is hosted online does not equal online teaching and learning.
3. The instructor must have a voice in the instruction; the instructor must allow his/her personality to be apparent. The instructor voice should be visible in the instruction and while engaging the learners.

Blended learning requires that the teacher be available to the student during the online portions of the learning as well as during the traditional portions. Meeting with a teacher 1 or 2 days a week and then sitting in a computer lab with a proctor and no online interaction with the teacher is not a blended learning model; rather, this is a cheap knock-off model that will produce cheap results. Yet this is happening and will continue to happen in some schools, unfortunately.

K-12 online learning and blended online learning don’t have to go through these phases of experimentation for online instruction, but they will. That’s my thinking for the next many years. And, much money will be spent going through this process where schools try and shift more learners to what they call “blended” or “online” learning because it’s in fashion.

I don’t want to leave this blog entry on a down note, so I should point out that some schools are getting online teaching and learning right. These schools have teachers in classrooms teaching and also facilitating the learning that occurs online. Eventually these schools will start to stand out and the model will spread . . . but it’s going to take time. This also takes the realization that online teaching and learning is not a way to save money and it’s certainly not a way to reduce the teacher workload. Such is life in the k-12 world.

last week i gave up on the College of Education Moodle site i was running. not completely, but we had a site that was set up by a grad student 2 years ago along with a domain and hosting space online. the grad student left shortly after setting the site up and there was nobody around who wanted to maintain the Moodle site for the COE faculty . . . thus, i took over the job because i wanted to encourage faculty to use Moodle instead of Blackboard. none of our students use Blackboard in their own teaching so why model Blackboard when we could be modeling a tool many teachers now have at their disposal? anyway, we have about 20 faculty members who have created an account on the Moodle site so that’s a pretty good start. maintaining the Moodle site is not that difficult of a job; well, it shouldn’t be that difficult. unfortunately, i did have an episode where students were made administrators by one of the professors (big no-no). one of the students had his account hacked and the hacker went wild enrolling in every class and causing a bit of havoc before i figured out what was happening. i have also had students lose their password and forget which email account they used and a few professors who couldn’t figure out how to enroll a whole class ahead of time, etc. — typical stuff.

anyway, the current site is located in a folder called, “moodle” which inside another folder called, “moodle” and this directory is at the top level of our site. in other words, our main domain points 2 folders down to the Moodle site — this never made sense to me as the site is only being used for Moodle. but i digress. i tried upgrading the current Moodle site to a 1.9.9 from its previous version (1.9.3) just before the semester started in August and that’s when things went wrong. here is my tweet from back then:

upgraded COE #Moodle site – 1.9.3 to 1.9.9. uh oh – “Version mismatch: assignment can’t downgrade 2008071713 -> 2007101511 !”

the whole site stopped working, so i wasted a bunch of hours trying to fix that when i really needed to be preparing for classes. eventually, i got the site back and working even though there are error messages on the Notifications page to this day (and we really run a vanilla Moodle site — no extensions or themes or anything extra added). also, when you log in now, you log into the main site, which is one student’s Moodle page for a student teaching assignment instead of the generic main page listing all of the courses. hmmm. people can still login and navigate to the files and Moodle pages they need, but it’s clearly not messed up and it’s not something that is an easy fix as just getting it to this point forced me inside of the MySQL databases using phpMyAdmin.

well, when i went to upgrade to Moodle 2.0 this past week, i decided to skip upgrading the previous site that is error laden and instead created a new top-level directory for the College of Education: coe. next week, i’ll redirect the main domain to the coe directory and send an email out to all faculty that the new Moodle site is replacing the old one, but the old site is available for folks who aren’t ready to upgrade or for any reason they want to stay on the old site . . . and, i will no longer be maintaining the old Moodle site. also, i am passing off the reigns as the Moodle administrator to a colleague. hopefully, version 2.0 is much easier to maintain. fingers crossed for her sake. i do know that we’ll be much more careful about who we allow to be an administrator so that should help bunches. the point i’d like to make is that maintaining a Moodle site is equal parts being an expert Moodle user and also working behind the scenes as a geek.

now, off to upgrade my personal Moodle site to 2.0 . . . wish me luck.

in my many years of teaching online, i have only had a few classes where the final presentations occurred synchronously and online. we’ve tried the tools built into Blackboard and Wimba in the past. however, this semester i am planning to use Skype and Google Docs (Presentation). that is, i *had planned* to use Skype. i downloaded the latest version and the beta for the Mac allows for video conferences. neat. more than that, Skype allows folks to have group video chats of up to 10 people. perfect! i have 15 students but i was going to have them split into 7 and 8 (with me, 8 and 9). things were coming together. we were going to use Google Docs so everyone could see the slides being discussed, etc. — certainly not ideal, but fairly simple in the grand scheme of things and free.

well, that was my thinking . . . until i found this about the Mac version: Group video calling will be in the new beta – coming soon.

worse than that, it appears that Group video chatting is going to be a paid feature: Trial group video for 28 days.

And, the quality isn’t likely to be very good when having more than 5 people video chatting: During the beta release we recommend making group video calls with up to 5 other people. You can try it with more than 5 but getting the very best experience will depend upon the computer each person is using and the bandwidth of their internet connection.

hmmm. i guess i am back to considering Elluminate via Blackboard. we haven’t even opened Blackboard this semester, but online & synchronized group sessions just don’t have a viable free and/or open source solution. i am excited about Big Blue Button, but it’s coming along slowly and isn’t something that the typical professor can easily install and use, yet. ah well, fingers crossed for the future.

i am a co-Chair of a special interest group on Mobile Learning for the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE). we are a fairly new special interest group and recently started a website and blog centered around mobile learning. i won’t normally copy my blog posts from there to here, but i will this time to help generate interest in our site and our Twitter account on mobile learning (@MLearningSig). here is my latest blog entry from the site:

Last month I made a blog post discussing the need to explore 21st Century Literacies as part of a 1-to-1 computing program. I suggested that schools define what they mean when they refer to 21st Century Skills and then develop the means to measure those skills. This is no small task, but the data can potentially be quite valuable in justifying a 1-to-1 program.

Almost as if on cue, I read an article this week that just came out and fits perfectly with this theme. The citation is as follows:

Bebell, D, O’Dwyer, L. M., Russell, M., & Hoffman, T. (2010). Concerns, Considerations, and New Idea for Data Collection and Research in Educational Technology Studies. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(1), 29 – 52.

And, while the title implies data collection in educational studies, the reality is that these recommendations apply to any kind of program evaluation — particularly to school implementing 1-to-1 programs. I encourage anyone starting a 1-to-1 program or involved in a program to read the article, but I’ll provide a few highlights as an appetizer. 

Early in the article, the authors note that very little research exists between the causal relationship of technology and student achievement. This was something I noted in my first blog entry and why I suggested that we also look at skills beyond typical measures of student achievement. The article even explores dynamic phrase, “technology use.” Early in the history of technology in education research, many researchers wanted to measure the use to technology and they remained very general (e.g., a teacher who sometimes used technology with students = technology use). As technology use has picked up, the researchers have become more specific and stringent in who is using technology and how often they use technology (e.g., most definitions now expect students to also use technology; not just teachers). Research has also moved from many students sharing to 1-to-1 computing in many studies. Beyond use, the types of technology being used have changed quite drastically over time. We have some schools with big computer labs and desktop computers while also having schools where students are using mobile iPads ubiquitously. The nuanced uses of technology can vary greatly from school to school, teacher to teacher, and student to student.These evolving definitions make it hard to compare changes in actual technology use across place and time.

The article also has a discussion of standardized testing and technology. This discussion is fairly extensive, but a good recommendation from this section is that most standardized testing takes place using paper and pencil, which fails to reflect to the use and benefits of technology. For example, students who use technology tend to write lengthier and higher quality essays than similar students using paper and pencil. In other words, if you want to test the effects of computers on writing then you should also test students while they are using computers for writing.

Finally, the authors discuss the context in which educational technology takes place. Measuring the effectiveness of technology on a particular student can fail to take into account the classroom technologies available and rules; the schools policies and technologies; and the district technologies and vision for technology. The research often fails to look at how students are using technology at home as this use can also impact school use. This type of comprehensive analysis is referred to as examining the hierarchical structures. More meaningful data collection takes into account the big picture and the authors of this article suggest that future research try and include these deeper levels of context. 

I encourage school leaders and individuals involved in 1-to-1 computing initiatives to find this article and delve into it if you can find it.

there has been much hype about the Google and Verizon proposal for the future of Net Neutrality. my experience is that many people are fairly ignorant about Net Neutrality and have not given the subject much thought. now, if you’re reading this blog then chances are likely that you’re not ignorant on the subject. but i wanted to provide an account of why Net Neutrality is something that i desire . . . that i expect . . . and that i require to be effective in my profession.

let me first provide a brief overview of Net Neutrality as it’s being discussed here in America. Wikipedia provides a fairly succinct description so i’ll quote it here:

Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions by Internet Service Providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and no restrictions on the modes of communication allowed.

The principle states that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for the same level of access, then the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access.

now i want to provide a description of how i currently teach and how that could be disrupted without Net Neutrality. i teach at a decent sized public university in Michigan with about 25,000 students. i largely teach online or hybrid courses to graduate students enrolled in an education technology integration master’s program. i use open source tools like Moodle and phpBB and even sometimes Drupal. i am eagerly looking forward to using Big Blue Button, which is open source web conferencing software that allows me to synchronously meet with students and share classroom resources — all online (e.g., VOIP; but also other protocols). in the meantime, i use Skype to video conference with individual students or we’ll use iChat to video conference for an advising session or to discuss current curricular issues in a specific class.

Net Neutrality fits into my workflow because it ensures that the tools i use also continue to work for my students and me during the semester these students have paid for an education. i understand that discussing my fears about Net Neutrality will inevitably make me appear to be a conspiracy theorist since many of these fears have year to materialize. however, we have already seen Comcast block users from using peer-to-peer file sharing protocols. a peer-to-peer file sharing program allows users to share large or small files easily. so, if i were to make an instructional video for my students that was 25 minutes long, i could place this video into a Bit Torrent file sharing program and provide access to my students who could download this 25 minute video directly from me without using a service like YouTube (which has a 15 minute time limit anyway). this Bit Torrent connection is a direct connection between my students and me and it is efficient. unfortunately, the bigger use for a Bit Torrent service is to share music, videos, software and files, which are often illegal depending on the copyright and so it gets a bad rap. but the fact remains that i can use this service to better educate my students and Comcast blocked this service. this has already happened so the fears are not unsubstantiated.

my concern is that Comcast (my provider) would enter into a deal with Blackboard (now the owner of Elluminate Live). Blackboard could make a deal with Comcast ensuring that their Elluminate tool gets priority access. Elluminate is a tool that is in direct competition with Big Blue Button. potentially, Comcast could make Big Blue Button no longer work or become extremely slow so that video fails, which would force my students and me to use the more expensive Blackboard Elluminate for our needs. while my university provides Blackboard for my use, i do not use it because there are no school districts around who also use it. i would rather use tools that are being used or can be used by public and private schools who are strapped for cash — thus, open source solutions like Moodle. the notion that Comcast or another ISP could block access to freely available tools or websites should be the catalyst for most citizens to contact their various elected officials in congress. tell them you want Net Neutrality right now.

now the Google and Verizon proposal does propose enacting Net Neutrality to the wired internet that most homes have. unfortunately, they specifically noted that they do not want this policy to apply to the wireless internet. this includes mobile phones, for example, but it also is starting to go beyond mobile phones. here in Grand Rapids, we now are a little over 1 week into having WiMax 4G from Clearwire & Sprint. this means we now have a wireless BROADBAND network for the city of Grand Rapids — this is happening more and more across the USA. and here, they are even providing broadband to individuals who cannot afford typical broadband at a very reduced rate (potentially $9.99). this network would be excluded from the Net Neutrality proposal that Google and Verizon outlined last week. but we should be against this even if it just included mobile phones as my students will often email me when they notice a problem on our class website. i need to be able to get in and fix the problem right away and i’ll typically use my smart phone. i need my smart phone to be able to access the websites and tools i use and that wouldn’t be guaranteed under the Google/Verizon proposal. why should my smart phone be forced to access a different internet than my laptop? it shouldn’t!!!

the internet is certainly an entertaining tool much like television. many people see it very much like the tv industry so it’s harder to prioritize Net Neutrality when you think the internet is just a giant fun toy. however, the internet is much more than entertainment and has now become an important way for citizens to participate in all aspects of society. a few years back, democrats in Michigan were able to vote in a primary election from their home using the internet — read: citizens participating in a democracy online. many people learn about political candidates or issues by using the internet; we pay our city water bill online; we can go online to check the latest appraisal on our home and fight property tax increases when we feel the appraisal is wrong. many people rely on the internet for their employment and/or to comparison shop and find local businesses, etc. — in fact, e-commerce is now pushing towards $200 billion spent online each year. the next Google or Amazon could be starting in a garage as i type this and a lack of Net Neutrality could prevent them from ever getting off of the ground. enough from me, but if you want to read a nice review of the Google and Verizon deal from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, please see this link.

once again, i urge you to contact your elected officials in congress and tell them you want Net Neutrality right now for wired and wireless access to the internet. do not allow Google and Verizon to shape the future of how we educate our students.

the Center for American Progress (the think tank that John Podesta runs) has a new report out describing the failures of teacher prep programs. the report can be found here: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/07/teacher_accountability.html

the gist of the report is that a new accountability system is needed to ensure that more quality is being injected into teacher prep programs and teacher licensure. the report provides a number of recommendations for individual programs and also states. for example:

  • Program accountability—and teacher preparation itself—must focus exclusively on what improves instruction and produces necessary school changes.
  • State accountability for teacher preparation should be built on a set of clear signals about program quality that policymakers can understand and program faculty and institutional leaders can use.
  • Signals of program quality must be empirically based, measurable indicators and should be derived from a small number of key outcomes.
  • Every state’s teacher preparation program accountability system should include a teacher effectiveness measure that reports the extent to which program graduates help their K-12 students to learn.

i suspect that this report is not going away; certainly reform is coming. i think it’s time for those of us in ed tech to promote how technology can play a larger role in improving teacher education and k-12 teaching. if new accountability models are going to be developed then having future teachers held accountable for information literacy skills is necessary, for example. this is our chance to help build classroom observation standards that include integrating educational technology effectively. i encourage everyone in ed tech to be involved in helping to shape our future for the better. this is no time to be passive.

if nothing else, read through the report and start thinking about how you can help shape our future for the better. and then act!