Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

My EdTech Choices: More ‘why’, less ‘wow’ (now)

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Another tweet-inspired post. Twitter really is great PD, as long as you’re happy to read the links and think about how they apply to your own practices and thought processes. @FernandaDesani retweeted a link to this article at Education Week Teacher: “Why Twitter and Facebook are not good instructional tools.” (I don’t think the headline really fits the thrust of the argument. Was it inserted by a sub-ed?)

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The author (Paul Barnwell) writes as a teacher sharing his experience of using tech in class, and the article boils down to: Wow! Huh? Hmm. Early adoption of cellphones and PollEverywhere gave him and his class a taste of tech, but got sidetracked by distractions. He discovered that kids aren’t really as tech-savvy as they might be made out to be, though are personally engaged by social media. Other services seemed to provide more of a gimmick to grab attention than give longer-lasting educational value. Then came the Hmm. He thought about using tech in a creative process, using web 2.0 to teach the desired skills, not just engage them. He moved up Bloom’s taxonomy.

This experience rings true with me and, I’m sure, with many other teachers out there who have access to technology and the freedom to try things out. I’m certainly glad I got over the Wow! phase before having two kids and more serious professional roles. Getting started, I spent hours – and hours – fiddling with ideas, trying out services, experimenting and, more often than not, dumping the work and starting again. I made documents and handbooks, built websites and even tried to install Moodle on a portable hard drive to test it out before the school had made the decision to use it.

There was a lot of ‘Huh?‘ as I expected things to work but they didn’t. A collaborative GoogleSites project became an exercise in copy-pasting, Prezis were a pain in the WordPress to embed and turned out to be little more than flashy powerpoints anyway. My edtech history is littered with the fossils of apps unfit for purpose. Once we had Moodle installed I was super-genki for it, spending literally months trying to get the provider to integrate it with Turnitin.com. I took an online course in extended online teaching, built resources and courses for my classes and IB Diploma Programme and five-year review. I then started to become enamoured with GoogleApps: nicer looking, easier to edit and collaborate on and worked with GMail. When I moved here to CA, with an older version of Moodle and no Turnitin integration but fully GoogleApps powered, I dumped Moodle completely.

Probably my biggest ed-tech regret has been building almost all of my IB Biology presentations in SMART Notebook.

As a trainee teacher in the UK when SMART Boards were taking off, there was significant ‘Wow!‘ They weren’t something I’d seen as a student and I brought the enthusiasm overseas with me. I used it a lot, but soon realised that one board in one position didn’t really facilitate much interaction and I had not predicted the rise of 1-1 or mobile apps which would render the board itself pretty much redundant. Before we had Moodle, I was determined to build an online course management system with WordPress, which has become i-biology.net. This worked nicely with SlideShare, so I took that on too and had to convert every presentation to a powerpoint, by taking screenshots and pasting them in. I’m proud of the work – it’s my online textbook for Biology and used heavily – but it’s time consuming to update. There is no SMART here and it’s a Mac platform (I have SMART installed on an old PC), so I have little right to download and use updated SMART Notebook.

I find myself starting all over again in Powerpoint when I feel the need to edit or update. I wish I’d just done it this way in the first place – my decision making years ago had been tainted with the notion that ‘powerpoint’ was a dirty word. Really, it has been used as a euphemism for ‘sage on stage’ teaching. For the content-heavy IB Biology course, they have been very useful. I don’t lecture from them very often, as they are there for students to read, click through and question. They form just a part of a more interactive suite of tools for students to use.

I’ve had a lot of learning experiences with tech in a relatively short time. I’ve learned a lot and I think my teaching is the better for it. Now I’m more experienced, I think more carefully about the tech I take on…

…so now I’m at the ‘Hmm‘. 

Rod Murphy, IT Coordinator at BIS when I was there always asked the question “How will this impact student learning?“, which has become my ed-tech mantra. I think more carefully about the tech choices I make, and then put in the time and effort needed to learn how to use them. I have a core of tech tools I use, and build on them as necessary. My decisions now are based on the following thoughts:

  • Is it more than a flashy gimmick?
  • Will it facilitate thought, reflection, engagement collaboration or reasoning?
  • Will it make learning more visible as formative or summative assessment tool?
  • Will it help students and/or facilitate differentiation and feedback?
  • Is it worth the time and admin required to set up to use effectively?
  • Does it focus on process over product – will students be sidetracked into hours of clicking?
  • Is there someone else using it well and if so can I learn from them or will I be contributing to saturation of the tool and detracting from the impact it has in their class?

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My Suite

WordPress

My communication and public face. Course management. Students also use WordPress as their mission portfolios, and I use them as often as is appropriate for posting labs, One World essays and so on. I love it.

SlideShare

For presentations and documents to embed easily into WordPress and maintain a high standard of presentation. Easy to use and replacing documents is quick.

Quia

Easy formative assessment on content-related questions. I find written or verbal discussions more useful for feedback on higher-order thinking, but I have thousands of questions in Quia which are great for pre-assessment, checkin simple content or concepts.

GoogleSites

Used more for internal communication, coordination tasks. Can be set to community-level access-only and documents can be embedded or attached. I use it heavily with my Biology class – each student has their own GoogleSite built from the subject guide, which they use to track progress, build links, record their work and reflect.

GoogleDocs

Great for collaborative work where thought and process are more important than a pretty product which, in my class, is most of the time. Data spreadsheets, discussions, tasks instructions and rubrics, department admin and meeting agendas.

Mobile Apps

A lot of students in my class have smart phones, many of those are iPhones. That’s enough to use in group tasks, and they do seem to enjoy cracking out their devices once in a while. As the year has gone on, I’ve gathered a list of free apps we use in class, and will ask students to install them at the start of next year. Here it is.

Socrative

Used in a similar way to Quia, but for in-class quizzes, concept-checking or for a bit of fun. Engages student devices, can lead to collaboration and discussion. I don’t use it excessively, though, for fear of saturation and boredom.

Facebook and Twitter

As communication tools, in a more one-way manner. My facebook page is like a reading list or links to cool articles that students might enjoy. My Twitter contains that plus discussion with colleagues and more ideas. Students have the choice to follow either, both or none. I do not friend or follow students, as I feel uneasy about invading their personal space online. I have no plans to use Twitter in class – it is their domain and I think needs to be kept that way. Students here chat a lot on Twitter and if I want to use online discussions, I’ll use alternatives – I don’t want to lead them into distractions and I also don’t want to force kids to have accounts if they don’t want them. I certainly don’t want to limit their thoughts to 140 characters or fewer.

Picasa and YouTube

I have the Picasa WebAlbums app on my iPhone, which allows me to take snaps in class (lab work, whiteboards, equipment set-ups) and send them straight to a shared, secure folder. Students can grab them and use them in their lab reports or blogs if needed. On YouTube I post tutorials, usually on Excel or Word functions to help students get over the clicky-clicky issues.

Microsoft Office

For presentations, notes, spreadsheets and so on. I build some data-analysis sheets for classes to use as handbooks for choosing and using data processing and presentation methods and write standard-submission documents in Word which have page sections, headers, footers and space for the references sections. Self-assessment rubrics are always pasted in, as are instructions. We have lessons on how to make the Word Citation Manager work for students, and meet academic honesty requirement. The aims here are to allow to students to focus on learning objectives and minimise clicking time and needless hours on formatting. I want to see their thought and analysis.

Turnitin GradeMark

If work is not submitted to their blogs, it is sent to Turnitin. There are drafting stages for assignments and students have access to originality reports and can re-upload if needed. I have an extensive comment database and use it for grading and feedback.

Pasco and Vernier probes and software

Being Science, these are used often, where appropriate. They produce quick, visual data and meet the IB Biology ICT requirements.

Whiteboards

Nope – not the SMART Board. Proper whiteboards for problem-solving and peer-instruction. Find out more here: $2 interactive whiteboard.

Paper

Yeah, sometimes. It doesn’t cost $1000 if you spill chemicals on it, it is mostly scrap paper we use and for tests you need it (though I do use Quia for the multiple-choice questions).

Author: Stephen

Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator at Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan. Formerly MYP HS Science & IBDP Bio teacher and missing it terribly. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer.

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