Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning

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Found this fantastic infographic touting the success of infographics. Reading it ( or more correctly, viewing it) immediately focused my thoughts on the use of visual texts in classrooms today. Click on the screenshot above to view the animated, interactive info graphic that presents  13 reasons why we should use infographics ( or visual texts in general). Unlike other infographics I link to on Mr G Online, I’m not going to discuss the specific points presented – that would be contradictory to the message of the infographic. I’ll let you get your own meaning from it. However, I am going to reflect on how it made me consider the use of visual texts in education.

If we take at face value the research this infographic is based on, human beings are, at heart, visual learners. Our first written languages were image based (hieroglyphics). Our first recorded historical artefacts are cave paintings. Before the Bible was printed, the story of Christianity was predominantly told through Church Art. Museums are based on our desire to see artefacts firsthand.

I in no way want to devalue the importance of reading. Making connections with the printed word promotes creativity and imagination as we strive to interpret the  detailed writings of an author. Words allow us to add our own meaning to written texts rather than have an artist’s or film maker’s interpretation forced upon us. Reading is vital for learning and engaging with the world.

Having said that, though, Literacy Education has been dominated by the written word, and to a lesser extent, spoken word in the form schooling has taken over the 100-200 years of formal education as we know it. In recent curriculum documents we have seen viewing make its long awaited debut, but it still seems to be a poor relation compared to the other strands of Literacy. Improvements are being made, but as teachers do we fall back to written and spoken texts because its easier for us?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.57 AMIf our brains are visually wired, then it makes sense that we visually present information, instructions, new learning, methods. If half our brain capacity is involved in visual processing but we present our lessons verbally or in written text form, how much are we getting through to our students? If 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes, then why do we persist in TALKING so much as teachers? How much more learning could take place if we had much less word based instruction (written or oral) and much more Visual instruction, considering we can make sense of a visual scene (0.01 sec)  so much more quickly than a spoken or written scene.

I’m not saying teachers don’t use visuals – I’m saying we need to A LOT more.

 

 

 

  • In Mathematics we take away the visual representations far too early in our quest to rush in Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.25 AMthe algorithm and written methods. Singapore’s visual pedagogy in Maths Education is an example of how it should be done.
  • Textbooks include plenty of visuals but are still dominated by the written text in putting forward the primary content. The visuals seem to be add ons. It should be the other way around. Start with the visuals as the primary content and support it with accompanying text.
  • How often do we complain that our students don’t follow instructions? Or that they don’t remember anything we taught them? How often are these instructions 10 minute monologues based on fifteen points teachers think are important to get across but in reality have no hope in getting across to overloaded children’s memories? Is ‘teaching’ verbally for 10 minutes resulting in students ‘learning’? Yes it takes more time to create and then present a visual alternative but do we waste even more time repeating lessons or instructions that would have been delivered more effectively with visual elements.
  • In our quest for improved standardised test scores, we cram more literacy lessons based on written texts at the expense of the Visual Arts. We spend countless hours teaching children to comprehend worded Maths problems but ignore how much visual representation of number concepts can improve their problem solving techniques.
  • “Flipping the classroom” has its pros and cons. Like any pedagogy it can be done well and poorly. But if at its heart is the ability to provide relevant, purposeful visual resources that can provide  a learner with extra support outside and within the classroom environment, we can’t be doing a bad thing.

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The world of our students IS overloaded with information. The expectations of our curricula are overloaded with information. How we present that information then is important. If it is primarily written and verbal we may well be banging our and our students’ heads against the proverbial brick wall if, despite the best of intentions, that information is not filtering through the brain’s barriers to processing and retention of information. We owe it to ourselves and our students to dig deeper into the theories and statistics highlighted/implied in this infographic to ensure we are giving everyone the best chance to learn. What do you think?

TouchCast – interactive, browsable web in a video – insert possibilities here!

 

For a fully interactive version of this video, go to the Touchcast website and see it in action.

Just when I thought the Explain Everything iPad app was going to be my ‘go to’ app for everything in Education, this new app comes along. Touchcast (App Store link) is described as ‘the Web in a video’ rather than video on the web. It creates fully browsable, interactive videos that embed everything from websites, Twitter feeds and Youtube videos to polls, quizzes and news tickers inside your video creation.I’ve only just started experimenting  with the app and am yet to create a completed video, but I’ve already started getting a feel for how it works. Like all iPad apps, its dead easy to use. Using it effectively and with purpose is the crucial step.

While the above video and product website gives you a fair intro to the use of Touchcast, I’ve taken some screenshots of the app to show some of the features available. I have tested most but not all (greenscreen for one – sounds like a winner if it works well!).

newtouchcast

When you open the app, a number of themed touchcasts ( News, Business, Sports, How to, Review, Travel Diary) are available as well as the option to create one from scratch.

createnewtouchcast

If you select a theme, the option to add the title and search terms is provided. This creates the Touchcast title automatically and adds relevant content related to the subject to be used straight away, as seen below with the inclusion of a news ticker from Google News, a Twitter Feed and News Headlines. You can delete these if you don’t want them. Deleting content is as simple as selecting and dragging the thumbnail at the bottom to a ‘magically appearing’ trash icon.

autocontent

If you create a Touchcast from scratch, all the tools are at the bottom of the screen. The basic tools are Camera, The Record Button, Effects, Whiteboard, Titles and vApps.(see below)

tools

There are many title styles to choose from but all have a similar look to the Titles seen on TV programs

titleoptionscameratools

One of the most powerful features of the app is the capacity to add vApps. These are the interactive, live and embeddable extra content elements that can be added to your video as you record. Ideally though, you would add and prepare all of these elements before recording. The screenshot below shows all of the vApp options. It’s an impressive list of options that can help create a truly interactive and educational experience in the school setting. Imagine an interactive presentation that calls up web pages, images, polls,quizzes and rating systems, slide shows from Flickr, working GoogleMaps. There is certainly potential for overkill from both teachers and students but the possibilities for screencasting/flipped lessons, multimodal presentations, digital story tellings, project presentations, reports, reviews, surveys are there to be considered.

vapps

Once a vApp is created, they appear in a thumbnail view at the bottom of the screen and with a simple touch they can appear and disappear from your video at your discretion. As I said earlier, by preparing all of the vApps you require before recording, you have great control over their use during the video creation process.

Another useful feature in the Educational setting is the Whiteboard. You can call up multiple whiteboards and switch between visible boards to record notes or invisible in order to draw or type directly onto the video or images

whiteboard

To help with the flow of your recording, Touchcast comes with a built in Teleprompter. This is found in the Camera tool.This allows you to write a script to follow as you record rather than umming and aahing your way through your video. You can alter the speed at any time. Also within the Camera tool options is the ability to swap between front and rear cameras

teleprompt

Special effects include a Green Screen option ( will check this out when I get access to my GReen Screen), video filters for different effects and sound effects such as applause, laughter and emotional expressions ( a bit cheesy, but some will like it!)

effects

filters

soundeffects

Opportunities for digital literacy and multimodal learning abound in using this app but there are some limitations that are not obvious until you start using the app.

 

  • First there is a 5 minute limit to the length of the video. Probably not a bad thing as you could fall in the trap of going overboard. Also this 5 minute limit doesn’t restrict you from pausing the video and viewing the interactive elements and multimedia content ( e.g. the embedded YouTube clip can be as long as it is in its source location). 
  • While you can save your project along the way as you add in all of your extra elements, once you start recording, you cannot go back and edit or continue. Once you start recording, you can pause but if you want to stop or exit the app, you can only save as a non editable video not as a project. I hope they can change this option in the future. You can re-record the video if you make mistakes and restart without losing all of your vApps, however
  • Another limitation is that the only additional video you can add is through the web. You cannot add your own video (only photos)  from the iPad. This is probably reasonable, considering the file sizes this would create. You can always add your video content to a Youtube account and then add it.
  • As this is a very recent startup, at present it is a free account for users to experiment with. At present, this means a maximum of 60 minutes of video on their site. There are plans for paid accounts in the future but as it stands now, 1 hour is it. Of course, you can store videos locally on your iPad within the app, but you can’t save to Camera Roll. You can export to a Touchcast account on their website, share via social media and post on YouTube. Be warned, though, the YouTube video is only a video – there is no interaction. That is only possible through Touchcast. However, for presentation only purposes with all the content included, YouTube export is a way of storing more content if you dont need the interaction.
  • As with most Web tools, the Under 13 caveat applies. There are some features you woud want to monitor.I have emailed Touchcast for clarification on whether it is OK to set up a teacher controlled account for students to post content from their iPad app. I’ll post their answer if and when they reply.

While it’s early days in my experimenting , I’m really excited about this app. The use of it can really encourage creativity, problem solving, planning, and a range of digital literacy skills. Like any tool, we need to make sure purpose comes before play. There is more to ed tech than engagement. We want it to make a difference. Check it out. It’s a free app but you do need to set up an account (not a lot of info required – user name and password). Would like to hear from anyone who has used it and appreciate ideas on how it can be used for educational purposes. Like most tools on the Web, they don’t start out aimed at schools, but we tend to find a way to embed them in teaching and learning.

iPurpose before iPad


The two above images are good examples of purposeful thinking about iPad usage in schools.

One, a screenshot of an oft-used tool known as iPad As.. by edtechteacher.org, focuses on what the iPad can be used for and provides links to various apps that can be utilised for those functions. It goes without saying that it is a very useful website for schools thinking about iPads. It provides nutshell explanations of a number of apps that relate to each iPad as… category as well as pricing. It’s a good introduction into the functionality of the iPad that counteracts the misconception of iPad as consumption NOt creation tool.

The other, The Padagogy Wheel, is one of many variations on applying Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills to iPad apps. It develops from the general learning action verbs/skills we want our students to acquire to technology based activities that relate to these skills and finally to a selection of apps that can support this development.

Both tools have supported my reflection on iPad use in school and are worth checking out in detail. Having said that, though, I feel they both fall short in what is needed as a resource for implementing iPads in education. iPad as… does a good job at presenting uses for iPads in school – what they can be used for – but doesn’t really provide depth about the skill development that can arise from their use. It’s still action/activity emphasis rather than pedagogical/learning emphasis. It’s great to know that you can create videos, and it describes what the app can do,  but how will this improve learning and what learning will it improve is also a priority iPad schools need to address. I think it also pigeon-holes apps as one trick ponies – I’d like to emphasise the apps that can be used to develop many skills.

The Padagogy Wheel provides many links between skills and tech activities but doesn’t really address what iPad apps address which skills and activities specifically other than lumping them into a particular category. It too, tends to classify the apps as one trick pony options rather than seeing them as multiple category options.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are great tools but there is room for improvement in creating a tool for supporting time poor iPads in Schools implementers in planning, selecting, justifying and integrating iPad apps in education.

Which leads me to attempt a herculean task… I’m going to try to blend the best of both of these resources and address the short falls I have mentioned by creating my own resource. But it’s going to be a work in progress for a while and I hope to get support from Mr G Online followers, subscribers, users and casual visitors.

I’ve started creating a table of important skills, some derived from the Padagogy Wheel, and actions, some derived from iPad As… What I am planning to highlight is that there are many apps that can be use for many purposes and for developing many skills. For example, I have already added “Explain Everything” to 9 categories as I see it as a multifunctional app and one worth its price because of the educational benefits it provides. Over the coming months I plan to add text descriptions to each category to explain how the apps listed address the skill or action they have been linked to and may also link them to other online sources that show them in action. I’ll also provide direct links to the App Store, as I always do on this blog when I mention apps so you can check them out yourself if you want.

Now this sounds like a big task and it is. So I do need some help. What do I want from you? Anything you can give. Just add them to the comments of this post.

  • Examples of apps that help to develop specific skills
  • Additional skills I haven’t listed here
  • Examples of apps that are multifunctional.
  • Explanations of good pedagogical practice with apps. Don’t worry, all credit will go to you when I include your suggestions.
  • Links to blog posts, websites, Youtube tutorials, open wikis, nings etc that promote good practice that I can link to from here.
  • Examples on add ons like bookmarklets for curation sites, websites that work well with iPads ( Flash-free) that can still be categorised under these headings for iPad use.
  • Spread the word regularly through Twitter, Facebook, Curation sites like Pinterest and Scoop-It to keep educators coming back.
This post will look messy for a while as new ideas get added. A blog may not be the best storage place for it in the long run. If I actually get the support – and it’s likely I won’t – and it grows I will probably move it to a separate website for better functionality. It may well be better as a wiki but  I didn’t want to move away from Mr G Online unless I needed. For easy access in the meantime, I will add this post to my main menu at the top of the blog so you can come back to check revisions. I will be planning weekly updates at least, more if I get regular contributions I can just copy and paste in from the comments.
I really hope I can get this off the ground. From reading so many blog articles, I can see there is a huge need for clarity in using tech like iPads. If you have been a regular reader of Mr G Online, you would know I am a big proponent of Pedagogy before Technology. That’s why I want iPurpose before iPad. Hope to hear from some of you soon.

 

IPAD AS VIDEO CREATION IPAD AS AUDIO RECORDING

iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

Explain Everything Art Maker Animation Desk iMotion HD AudioBoo
 Whether creating live action videos with iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, animated stories with iStopMotion, Animation Desk and iMotion HD or how to tutorials with Explain Everything, the iPad is a great tool for video creation. Creating videos with these apps develops organisation and planning skills, supports story telling skills in non writers and enhances creativity and problem solving in many ways.
 IPAD AS BOOK PUBLISHER  IPAD AS DIGITAL STORYTELLING
StoryWheel
Book Creator Creative Book Builder StoryWheel    Sonic Pics Explain Everything Toontastic Storify
Video Scribe HD
Providing opportunities for authentic writing with a real audience outside the classroom, publishing real books using the iPad can improve motivation and actual writing skills. With sufficient access, tech based writing can employ the editing capabilities to encourage children to write without worrying about rewriting from scratch. With the real possibility of publishing books online or in the iBookstore for others to read, children will be encouraged to put more effort into editing and improving their written work. The possibilities for multimedia additions allows for more creativit There are more ways of telling stories these days than text and pictures. Some students have stories inside them that don’t get shared because of a lack of writing ability. Let’s give them opportunities to tell stories orally until they are ready to write so that they can develop their imaginations and story telling for when they are ready to write. These apps all allow for alternatives to traditional writing texts, either through combining audio and images seamlessly in a variety of formats
 IPAD AS GRAPHIC NOVEL CREATOR   IPAD AS READING SUPPORT
 Strip Designer Comic Life     Book Creator iPrompter Creative Book Builder iBooks
Explain Everything
Creating stories with audio, highlighted annotations, vocabulary support through linked dictionaries, scrolling screens provides support for students who lack reading skills. Getting children to record themselves reading gives them feedback on their progress as well as support for independent practice.
 IPAD AS COLLABORATION TOOL  IPAD AS PRESENTATION TOOL
Edmodo VoiceThread Skype Evernote Keynote  VideoScribe  Haiku Deck   VoiceThread
Instapaper Whiteboard Popplet Comic Life  Explain Everything  Skitch   iPrompter
  IPAD AS A WRITING TOOL  IPAD AS BRAINSTORMING TOOL
Comic Life  Writing Prompts SpellBoard Tap Dictionary iMind Map 3D  Popplet  Skitch Inspiration Maps Lite
Notability
Notability Whiteboard
  IPAD AS INFORMATION COLLECTOR  IPAD AS INFORMATION MANAGER/ORGANISER
 
 Evernote Edmodo   PollDaddy Socrative   EverNote  Edmodo Pinterest  Instapaper
Notability
Notability  Notability
 IPAD AS NOTE TAKER  IPAD AS PROBLEM SOLVER
 Notability Hopscotch
 Skitch  Evernote  Notability    Wolfram Alpha Numbers  Hopscotch
 IPAD AS GRAPHING TOOL  IPAD AS RESEARCH TOOL
Wikinodes Notability
 Numbers  Wolfram Alpha  Doodle Buddy    Wolfram Alpha PollDaddy  WikiNodes Notability
 IPAD AS DATA COLLECTION TOOL  IPAD AS A ROLE PLAYING TOOL
 
Edmodo  PollDaddy   Socrative Numbers  Edmodo   Puppet Pals    
TagPad Evernote EasyTag
IPAD AS A CLASS MANAGEMENT TOOL IPAD AS AN ASSESSMENT TOOL
ClassDojo  Notability
Edmodo  Socrative   ClassDojo   Explain Everything   Edmodo Socrative  Notability 
IPAD AS A MAPPING TOOL IPAD AS A CALCULATING TOOL
Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.32.29 PM   
Routes Explain Everything Skitch Geocaching Numbers Wolfram Alpha MyScript Calculator
MyMapsEditor
My Maps Editor
IPAD AS DEMONSTRATION TOOL IPAD AS COMMUNICATION TOOL
Skitch Explain Everything  Skype    Edmodo  Skype
IPAD AS AN ARTISTIC TOOL IPAD AS A DESIGNING TOOL
ArtRage Garageband Snapseed RoomPlanner
ArtRage GarageBand  Snapseed iStopMotion Skitch  Explain Everything   RoomPlanner iDraw
Phoster ScrapPad
IPAD AS AN EXPERIMENTING TOOL IPAD AS A DEBATING TOOL
Hopscotch  
Explain Everything   Numbers Hopscotch     Edmodo  VoiceThread Skype  iPrompter 

 

 

 

Ensuring “the Internet doesn’t make our children stupid”

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This infographic on the Social Times appeared in my Zite feed the other day and it got me thinking about how we are preparing our students to use the Internet. While infographics are never definitive sources of valid information, the statistics provided leave us as teachers and/or parents with much to address. Since I’m firmly in the “The Internet is NOT making our children stupid, it just makes it easier for stupid people to show themselves to the world” camp, I’m going to put my thoughts out there in this post and address some of the points made in this infographic.

Let’s make it clear from the outset, the Internet “ain’t goin’ nowhere!” Regardless of continued fears and resistance from politicians, ‘shock jocks’, parents, teachers both young and old, and yes, even some students who haven’t had the exposure we assumed they all get, the Internet is and will continue to be the all pervasive information providing and social networking juggernaut we see every day in our lives.

Look no further than the first stats in this infographic. Regardless of the source or the overall accuracy, there is no doubt that a lot of our students do have an identity on the WWW from a very early age (90% by age 2??). My Facebook friends bombard me with countless unsolicited photos of their toddlers, photos that 15 years ago would have resided in a dusty photo album on the coffee table at their home.

Sit at any restaurant (or theatre, museum, train, hospital ward, church!) today and you will be surrounded by youngsters (50% by age 5?) blankly tapping away at smartphones and tablets so their parents can get some respite from them.

And the teens? Their whole life is online. Nearly all of them (95%?) always communicating (80% on social media?) from anywhere, anytime (49% online from phones?).

So that’s the reality we face. We do not live in 1950s Pleasantville anymore.  Therefore, keeping a curriculum shaped by leaders who grew up in Pleasantville, focussed on the 3 Rs but not technology is not facing the world we currently live in. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been teaching the Rs with great rigour for 25 years and continue to do so today. I just do it through technology  (AND ‘old school’ methods).

Now the big problem for me in all this is this misguided notion of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’. A lot of educators and parents use this as a reason for not ‘interfering’ with their children’s internet use. “They know more than me!” is the typical response….And it’s wrong. Being ‘born’ into a culture does not make you an expert in it. Just because a 2 year old has worked out the touch interface of an iPad doesn’t mean he can select appropriate tools to learn. Just because a 15 year old knows how to search YouTube for how -to guides to learn how to use a popular Web 2.0 tool doesn’t mean she can produce a quality presentation that will educate fellow classmates. Skill ≠ knowledge and understanding. Any teenager can mechanically drive an automatic car within a week of driving lessons. As parents, we still need to teach them to drive safely and responsibly.

Our kids aren’t stupid because of the Internet. They are sometime stupid on the Internet because they’re kids. They may have been born digital, but just like the rest of their life outside of the digital, they have much to learn in the digital world. And the rules we as adults understand outside the digital world still apply inside the digital world. So let’s look at what this infographic highlights and discuss how we should address it.

Blaming the Internet for Shorter Attention Span?

It is a constant cry from teachers everywhere – my class has no attention span. Fact or Fiction, complaining doesn’t address the issue. One thing that has become clear over the years is that more and more children are identifying themselves as Visual learners. There is no doubt we are living in a Visual World. When my parents were at school, TV didn’t exist, let alone the Internet and iPads. Books and newspapers were the only way to learn so children learned that way. Children were entranced by the written word and had to use their imagination to picture a character or a scene. Today, though, we live in a world where Pixar has replaced Shakespeare as the world’s great storyteller. Newspapers are replaced by TV News which is now being replaced by Online News. It’s the reality we face. It’s not going back to the old days. It’s not the internet’s fault though. Kids have become more visual so we have to present more visually. Teachers can’t expect their students to attentively listen to them talk or read to them for 20 minutes when their life experience is visual text. We do have to change our mode of teaching. We have to be more visual.

BUT (and I’ll be using that world a lot in the next few paragraphs)… there does still need to be balance. Parents need to still make reading part of their kids’ lives from birth. Parents need to hold back the iPad/DS as babysitter/entertainer while their children are developing their minds. Parents and Teachers have to command attention from these children by engaging with them, expecting their attention and a quality response. Don’t blame the internet if we let them replace us with it.

 Bad Habits from the Internet?

Left under trained, yes our so called ‘Digital Natives’ will fall victim to these bad habits. We could say that the proliferation of social media with its unlimited threads of comments, links, polls and information is breeding a generation of skim readers trained in reading 144 characters and nothing more. Keeping track of 1000 Twitter followers and  Facebook friends can often lead to missing important content amidst all the mindless guff. And doing all this while listening to music and replying to text messages can tax even the best multitasking minds.

BUT….

What are we as adults doing to teach them a better way? Knowing this is their natural way, teachers need to teach digital literacy skills so they know how to handle this information overload. Reflection through blogging or curating through social bookmarking needs to be part of the educational environment for these kids. Expectations for and lessons in detailed reading need to be commonplace. Just like we taught students how to read encyclopedias and textbooks in the pre-digital age, we have to TEACH them how to read the Internet. It’s not the Internet’s fault. It’s just a MUCH bigger version of the old reference source. It takes a different approach. And too many of us in schools haven’t recognised that yet.

Internet Blamed for Poor Research?

No denying this is an issue. Copy and paste, Google as reference in bibliographies, Wikipedia plagiarism, relying on poor quality links on Page one of 200,000 are all commonplace problems in the classroom.

BUT….

Is it the Internet’s fault? Are kids stupid because the Internet is full of rubbish or are we stupid because we haven’t taught kids how to access the most comprehensive source of information in existence? We are not doing a good job of teaching students how to research in the digital age. It’s a big job and just setting research assignments without spending a large chunk of our literacy program teaching them how to search for credible sources on line is not helping. How much do we as teachers really know about how Google works? What are we modelling to our students? Are we teaching them how to use Wikipedia responsibly or just banning its use because we don’t have time to show them its benefits. When have we shown them how to research through interviews, surveys, searching for primary sources online ( they are everywhere if we can get past Answers.com!), organising excursions/field trips, inviting/seeking out experts as guest speakers? Do we teach left/right wing bias that is found in textbooks and literature past and present or just blame the Internet for all the misrepresentations of history? We’ve got a lot of work to do as teachers to prepare our children as the Internet continues to exponentially grow in size.

Plausible Solutions?

I’m not doubting the issues raised in this infographic are not real. And yes, the Internet is a factor. But it’s not the Internet’s fault. We, parents and teachers, are responsible for how our children develop. They are growing up in a world foreign to the one we were kids in. As adults we have to be proactive in helping them not become stupid on the Internet.

I like the four points at the end.

Limit Internet Use and Encourage other interests. At home and school. Children need balance and variety in their lives. This needs to start early. Much to his dismay, my son, unlike all his mates, was “denied his natural right” to a video game console until he was 11. During these years of trauma, he learned to appreciate reading, Lego, role playing, puppetry, history and geography as well as the necessary doses of football, cricket and basketball. Like his sister, whom he is very close to, he developed an ability to concentrate for long periods of time and entertain himself without technology. They still got their dose of the internet regularly, with and without Dad, but the word boredom has never been in their vocabulary.

At school, we need to get the balance right too. Don’t over rely on the Internet. Entertainment value does not always equate to educational value. Sometimes some left over cookies from Camp can engage your students in learning fractions more than a whizbang ‘interactive game from the internet’ projected onto a whiteboard screen. Expose students to old school and digital age. The natural world can still be a wonderful experience.

Emotional Intelligence and Active Role. The Internet and the iPad should never have replaced parents as entertainment options. Kids today who have bad attention spans are the result of lack of human interaction. If we don’t talk to our kids, they won’t know how to communicate. We should be the first port of entertainment, not technology. Same at school. This current push in some circles to replace teaching with technology is ridiculous. Humans must interact with humans to grow up as humans. Nothing more to say on that.

And as for this Digital divide between the natives and the immigrants – get together, old and young. It’s a multicultural society we live in. Get on the technology with each other. Adults, learn some of those new fangled Web 2.0 tools and enjoy them with your kids instead of making excuses. Kids, let Mum and Dad in on your online experiences. Just like families used to enjoy time together before the digital age, make the effort to enjoy online time together.

Adults, we have to be part of the solution. Don’t blame the internet. It’s not making kids stupid. We’re letting it. Don’t let it happen.

Edmodo vs Blogging (updated and reposted from a post originally published in September 2012)

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I originally wrote this post in September 2012. With a new school year beginning in Australia and plans to ramp up blogging and Edmodo at our school this year, I have updated this post to use with my staff with more screenshots, new ideas and some additional references to the iPad use of these tools with dedicated apps. For those who have seen it before, you may like to revisit.

When introducing transformative teaching practices involving technology, you have to be careful not to overload the senses of the tech novices on your staff. What took über geeks like me a couple of hours to master can take a life time for others. This year at my school we’ve begun to dip our toes into the waters of online communication (some staff are already swimming while others are still sitting on the edge thinking they’ll drown without support). We’ve introduced both Edmodo and blogging to varying degrees this year. Grade 6 embraced Edmodo from the start and used it in many ways, following in the footsteps of a trial program I began with some of the current teachers last year. Grade 5 came to the party a bit later and are working towards good practices with support from current teachers who were part of the trial last year. Grade 3 and 4 have recently jumped on board and are currently in the experimental stage, with some of the more tech savvy trying out more advanced features.

The Grade 6s have taken to blogging this term, although more as private digital portfolios rather than true blogging with a global audience. However, class blogs have started to surface ( still limited to class member only access) and this has started to blur the lines between Edmodo and the class blogs. Our ICT Leader recently attended a network meeting and other leaders there questioned the purpose of Edmodo if they were already blogging ( until they actually investigated Edmodo – few actually knew of its existence). The point for me though is how to make a convincing argument for both Edmodo and blogging being transformative teaching and learning tools that we should be embracing. The purpose of this post then is as a reflection tool for me to consider the purposes of both platforms before selling them to the staff. It’s also a cry out for you, the reader, to share your experiences of both Edmodo and blogging. Do you use both or tend to focus on one?

In a nutshell, I see Edmodo as an all encompassing classroom management/teaching and learning/collaboration system. Blogging, on the other hand, while it can be used for all the purposes just mentioned, is a tool for writing, publishing and sharing your body of work, be it major writing tasks or quick reflections on life or school work. While it aims to share and craves feedback, blogging is a personal tool. Edmodo, however, it more group oriented. Because of the differentiation between the two, I think they should both be part of classroom practice.

EDMODO
Groups – My favorite feature of Edmodo and a big difference between itself and blogging. I’ve written a few posts on how I’ve used groups to organize my lessons with different small groups. In a contemporary open learning environment in which children are grouped by needs and interests, I appreciate the convenience and ease of creating groups for different subjects or smaller groups within that group so that specific groups of children can collaborate and discuss.It takes no time to set the groups up and they can be altered at any time. These groups are then linked to other features listed later. It’s simply a feature blogging doesn’t offer (as far as I can tell – correct me if I’m wrong)

Collaborative Discussion – the simplicity of the Edmodo discussion wins me over compared to blogging. Simply add a note explaining the topic of the discussion, which can include images, videos, embedded links to other web tools, links to other sites, click Add and the discussion begins. All it takes is to hit the Reply button and the discussion is in full swing. The one feature I would like Edmodo to add is the ability to reply to a specific comment like you can in blogs. It can be a bit cumbersome having to write a reply to someone who wrote something 10 comments back.

Assignments and Gradebook – I love this feature because it becomes a class management system. While I appreciate the ability to comment on a student’s blog, for assessment purposes you would prefer to communicate directly and privately with the student. Using the assignment feature, children can send their work directly to you for feedback and assessment. The feedback is only seen by you and the student and the child can resubmit their work as a response to your feedback. Each assignment is linked to a student’s Gradebook where a teach can store grades ( of your choosing) and comments.

File Sharing – as I mentioned in the Collaborative Discussion section, sharing files is very easy with Edmodo. While you can do this effectively in blogs through widgets and links, the Facebook like nature of Edmodo makes sharing a link to another site quickly more timely than blogs.

Of course, it can get a little messy when the posts come in thick and fast and they get lost at the bottom of the page or move to the Previous page section, a feature shared with blogs and other social network sites……which leads us to the solution to this problem>>>>>

Folders and Tags – Tagging is an easy way to group posts around the same topic so you can access then from your tag list later on when they disappear of the front page of posts. Folders can also be set up to store specific posts on a common topic. Both tags and folders can be shared, although only the creator can add to them.

Polls and Quizzes – while more advanced polls and quizzes can be created by dedicated web tools and embedded on blogs, the polls and quizzes on Edmodo can be created much more quickly, albeit only by the teacher. Quizzes can be multiple choice, written answer or fill in the blank and can be useful in collecting data for a range of subjects. With the way testing is becoming a major focus in education, this can become a way of acclimate sing children to the testing process while making it relevant to the class day to day learning. Witt scheduled posts becoming a recent feature, teachers can create a number of quizzes in one sitting but set them to appear on Edmodo at specific times throughout the year.20130209-112757.jpg

Calendar – the Edmodo calendar is a effective way to help your students manage their time. Teachers can add daily events to the calendar and all assignments are automatically added as well. You can post events for specific groups as well so only those who need to see the event do. It adds to the class management capabilities of Edmodo that is simpler to use than blog calendars. I would like students to be able to add events, though.

Library/Backpack - for teachers it’s called Library; for students it’s the Backpack. Either way, it offers a easy to use file uploading and storing system, handy, when you do work at home or school and want to continue it at the other location. Better than emailing or USB data stick.

Extrinsic motivation through Badges - Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like to use stickers or awards, Edmodo has its own reward system called badges. You can create your own (but it’s a lot easier to just grab badges already created by other Edmodo teachers – I’ve collected 190 of them from my connections) and to encourage or acknowledge student effort or work, you can simply select their name in your class list, select a badge and award it to the students. There’s a badge made for just about anything and many come with a comment. Used wisely, it’s a good way to collate a whole bunch of comments for your student reports without doing any more work than giving that badge toa student.

BLOGGING
I’ve written a few blogposts about the benefits of blogging that you can read here if you haven’t seen them. Here’s what I think differentiates blogging from a system like Edmodo.

Open/Closed Collaborative Discussion – Blogging can certainly allow for collaborative discussion and provides you with a level of control over who takes part on the conversation. If you have a public blog, anyone can take part in the conversation. If you have more rigid privacy settings, you can restrict who participates. For me, though, Edmodo is the better option for instant, collaborative discussion and feedback. With most school blogging wanting some level of moderation of comments, there is the time consuming and inconvenient need to approve every comment before it is seen by others. Edmodo, on the other hand, allows for instant posting and replying because of its secure, closed environment. Yes, popular blogging platforms allow for the set up of dedicated forums but to go through the process of setting up that, it makes more sense to put a link to Edmodo on your blog and use that as your forum.

Collaborative Assignments – This is where blogs exceed Edmodo in the collaboration area. While you can share resources, have debates, and contribute to each others work collaboratively on Edmodo, blogging allows for full scale project collaboration. Individual or class blogs can give access to other users to publish work together. Users can either create their own posts or have permission to edit other users’ posts. Images, embedded web tools , videos, comments can all contribute to a shared project between two users, a whole class or even multiple classes – in your own school or worldwide. Yes you can create groups in Edmodo for different classes to share work in but it’s not as wide ranging as blogging collaboratively.

Publishing and sharing work – it goes without saying that blogging is about sharing your ideas, interests, passions and work of any nature with others. Edmodo is great for sharing a link to your blog, but the work all takes place on your blog, in all the ways I’ve outlined in the other categories in this section of this blogpost.

Tags and Categories – Edmodo and Blogging are very similar in this area. Tags are a great way for creating access to specific posts by using keywords related to posts. Categories allow you to group posts under subject areas. Blogging categories offer more flexibility than Edmodo folders in that you can file a single post under multiple categories.

Audience – One of the benefits of Edmodo is that it is a secure, teacher controlled environment restricted to teacher control and a clearly defined set of users. This is also a drawback if you are looking for a wider, open audience. Blogging gives you both options. If you are looking for purpose for writing well, audience is important. Yes, you can keep your blog private or control who views it, but you can open it up to the whole world to share in your journey and provide you with feedback and incentive. Student bloggers get the opportunity to decide on their audience access and the level of communication they have with them. They don’t get this choice with Edmodo, which his heavy on teacher control.

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As a portfolio – While Edmodo has its backpack/library for no fuss, easy to access file uploading and storing, it works more as a filing system. Blogging offers more of a publishing/presentation tool feel to storing your work. It can act as an adequate word processing/publishing option with decent formatting tools, weblinks and ability to add images. It allows you to embed web tools for instant viewing of linked work, whereas Edmodo, while offering embedding, requires you to click on the embedded link to view the file ( albeit within Edmodo). Stored files on Edmodo are private ( unless shared in folders or individually posted to specific groups) whereas on a blog you can open it up for anyone ( or a limited few ) to view and comment on.

Both Edmodo and blogs allow for parental interaction. Edmodo provides a parent code that links the parent to their child’s posts and connects them to the teachers as well. With a blog, students can add their parents as subscribers if they are running a private portfolio blog so parents can view and comment on their work.

I think the feature sets I’ve outlined for both platforms show a clear difference in usage but also shows how beneficial they can both be. Nevertheless, I’d like to hear from other users of Edmodo and blogging. Have I missed something that you think is important to either? Do you have uses of either that eliminates the need to use both. Please join the conversation.

UPDATE:

Edmodo App vs WordPress Blogging App on iPad

The Edmodo App was given a substantial update recently, which I outlined in a post late last year.

The WordPress App is what I use for blogging on the iPad as it is compatible with Edublogs/Global2. There is a dedicated Edublogs app but it is not as advanced in features as the WordPress app.

Before you can use the WordPress app with Edublogs/Global2, you have to enable remote publishing in the settings. Go to settings in the Dashboard and select the Writing section. Under Remote publishing check both the Atom Publishing and XML – RPC options.

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Then open the WordPress app and go to the Settings to add new blog. Select Self hosted blog and type in your blog address and username and password to connect to your blog.

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Once logged on, you can easily view and create new posts. The editing function is something you need to get used to. It is in HTML markup language so it can look a little confusing when you format text, add links and import multimedia because you only see the code, not the actual image or formatting. Also, when you add images, they are added to the end of the text, fine if you are editing sequentially, but a pain if you want to add an image earlier in the text. If this is the case, you have to cut and paste the code and move it to the earlier section of the text.
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One bonus with the app is that you can compose and edit while offline, meaning you can draft posts ” on the road” and then upload later when connected. This is useful if on school excursions or camps and you want to record reflections. The only problem is that the images can’t be added offline – you need to be connected to add images. You can also do some more detailed editing of your blog using the web based format in Safari or other iPad browser, although it can be a bit clunky compared to the normal computer experience ( it is improving )

Whether using Edmodo or blogging, the iPad is now a viable option. On the iPad Edmodo app, you can easily log in and out so a shared iPad can be used safely. Using WordPress is a bit of a security issue if sharing an iPad because you don’t need to keep logging in to the blogs.

Book Creator for iPad – updated again for greater e-book functionality (tutorial)

A lot of iPad users in schools have already heard of Book Creator for iPad. I’ve written about it before on my blog before. Nevertheless, I have put together a how to guide in different formats (ebook, PDF and video) to showcase its features and highlight its new features just added in a recent update that how to guides online don’t feature at the moment. ( the how to guide included in the app is still the original guide that doesn’t include half the current features). It’s one of my must have apps for my school and the tutorials are to support my staff and students, most who still haven’t used the app yet,  in learning how to use the app. While others reading this may have checked the app out before, these tutorials may still be of use for you

Book Creator for iPad Tutorial by mcglee1966

 

 

 

Download iBook version of my  Book Creator for iPad tutorial (created using Book Creator )to read on your iPad here.

 

 

 

Here is the video tutorial I made and uploaded to YouTube. It is in 2 parts because it runs for about 28 minutes in total and YouTube won’t let me upload videos that big!
PART 1

PART 2

Meograph – 4 Dimensional Story Telling Web 2.0 Style

What I love about Web 2.0 apps is the simplicity. Bloated desktop apps like Office and Photoshop, with their hundreds of menu items and toolbars, are powerful tools but become difficult for non techies to handle. Web 2.o tools, on the other hand, are focused on specific purposes, allowing them to be streamlined and simple enough for anyone to use.

Meograph, a relatively new tool ( released in July, 2012 and still in Beta form) is one such simple to use but still powerful web app. It sells itself as a “4 Dimensional Story telling” app. In a nutshell, it allows you to tell stories through (1)images/videos, (2)narration,  (3)maps and a (4)timeline (hence the 4 dimensions) OR WHO/WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. Now this could be done using a variety of software options but what I love about Meograph is that the whole process only involves 8 simple steps, which I am about to outline for you using the above screenshot and some simple instructions. There is also a video embedded below that provides a demo of the tool.

  1. ADD A MOMENT. Once you have set up your FREE account and created your first Meograph, click on +ADD A MOMENT. This brings up the simple data field box for you to input the required information.
  2. THE DATA FIELD BOX. Here you can see the 3 fields to input information. WHEN, WHERE and WHAT. Type in the year or specific date (in MM/DD/YYYY format), the location the event took place (be specific for correct location on map) and information about what happened. The information can be a single sentence or at least a whole paragraph – I haven’t tested its limits but some of my entries have been over 100 words. Once you have added the information, it becomes part of a list of dates. If you add another Moment that occured before your last entry, it will automatically move the moment into the correct chronological order.
  3. LINK. You can add a link to related information by clicking on the Link button and typing or pasting in a website address. The link appears between the image and timeline in a black band. The website page name appears but if it is a PDF web link you only see a diagonal arrow icon.
  4. TEXT. The information you input into the WHAT field is displayed above the image in a simple text box. If you want to add extra information, you can edit the text here instead of the small WHAT field.
  5. MAP EDITING. You can change the Zoom level of the Map by clicking on the CHANGE MAP ZOOM button. You will get a familiar Google Maps slide scale to enable you to zoom in or out for your desired result. That is the only editing you can do – you can’t drag the map around or move the placeholder.
  6. MEDIA. You can upload an image or embed a YouTube clip using the two buttons provided. You can only add one or the other – not both. You don’t paste YouTube embed code; just the page link. You can resize the image and move it around. With the YouTube clip, you can select specific sections of the clip so that your viewers don’t have to view the whole clip when you are only referring to a specific part. This is a useful feature – I only wanted to show 3 minutes of an hour long documentary on YouTube for my History Meograph below.
  7. NARRATION. You can record narration for each moment to help tell your story more effectively. The length of your narration determines how long the moment plays before it moves on to the next moment. Without narration, the Meograph moves from moment to moment almost instantly. The maximum length of narration for each moment is 20 seconds.
  8. MAP VIEW OPTION. You can choose between Google Map or Earth view for the Maps in Meograph. What isn’t in the screenshot above is the option to include or exclude Lines connecting placeholders as you move from moment to moment.
  9. SAVE. Once you have finished your Meograph or you simply want to stop your editing for the day, you simply click the DONE AND SAVE button which returns you to the ready to play Meograph page. You can always click on the Edit button if you want to continue to add or make changes.
  10. PLAY CONTROLS AND TIMELINE. At the bottom of the Meograph is the Timeline and controls. If you want to simply view the Meograph, hit the Play button and it will progress from Moment to Moment. The timeline is like a video progress bar that has the dates displayed instead of the minutes played. There is a time display on the far right. If you want to manually control the progress of the story, pause the video and use the FF/REW buttons for greater control. This is recommended if you want to check out the linked information.
That’s all there is to it. ( One more thing – it has share and embedding options so that you can add your Meograph to your own website/blog, as I have done, or post it directly to Twitter, Facebook and other popular Social Media sites like Pinterest, Google+ Delicious and StumblUpon.) If you want to see first hand how to use Meograph, you can check out the tutorial video below.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

While I have found Meograph to be a very useful and simple to use storytelling tool, there is room for improvement. Of course it is still only in Beta so there are still glitches to the tool. Since the creator actually asked me to do a review, I will list my ideas and criticisms here. I’m not sure if these can all be addressed but hey, worth an ask.

  1. The Timeline. The only way to move from event to event is using the video controls. I would like to be able to drag the timeline dates across like you can on videos so I can move more quickly to a specific time or event without laboriously going moment by moment. This is probably not a big deal for quick stories but in a big presentation like my History Meograph it is needed. Meograph is being aimed at the Education and Journalism markets so there will come a time when I’m not the only one making really long meographs!
  2. Maps. Would like to be able to move the map around rather than just zoom in and out. Would like to move the placeholders too. Some of my locations were a bit inaccurate and a quick drag of the place holder would fix that problem.
  3. Text. Not a big deal but possibly some simple textformatting tools wouldn’t go astray for greater emphasis – size, colour, bold, italic would be enough. Then again my opening paragraph did talk about Web 2.0 simplicity vs Software bloat, so no drama if not done.
  4. Full Screen view. At present, the Meographs are a touch small to view. A Full screen option like Youtube and other video sites offer would make it better for viewing, especially for whole class viewing on a screen or iWB.
  5. Image AND Video instead of OR. Again not a big issue but sometimes I was faced with the choice of using video or image. Would have been nice to use both. Same goes for….
  6. Multiple Links.  From an Educational perspective, it would be good to link to multiple references to verify accuracy of information.
  7. iPads. You can watch it on an iPad just fine but editing is very difficult. Sometimes I managed to add new moments but often the buttons didn’t work. of course that is common with a lot of web 2.0 tools ( but not all). Be interesting to find out if it can be improved.
Everything else is Beta based Bugs. Sometimes it slowed down to a walk, especially when adding additional text. There were times when images or videos wouldn’t load and I had to close the browser and restart a session. There was a bit of a lag when inputting Where/When/What Data at times as well. Sometimes there was inaccurate map placements but that may well be Google Maps’ problem ( Apple’s IOS maps aren’t alone in location errors).
Having said all that, I have found MeoGraph to be a great addition to my teaching toolbox. Below is a yet to be completed but still lengthy Meograph I am putting together for my Grade 5/6 teams who are teaching Australian History this year. I see a lot of possibilities for History, Geography, Biographies, place and time based narrative investigations in this tool. I would like to hear from teachers about whether they would use or have used Meograph.
(Word of warning: Like most Web 2.0 tools, the Under 13s get a raw deal here. However, I can’t see why you can’t set up a class account controlled by you to avoid COPPA problems-Meograph’s Terms and Privacy policies are inconclusive here and the site itself doesn’t seem to have any inappropriate material easily accessible once logged in. It appears possible to use one account on multiple computers – I’ve tested it with my Meograph and even added different moments from different computers logged in at the same time. Meograph might not agree with me here but I’ve said it)

21st Century Fluencies

21st Century Fluency Institute from Fluency21 on Vimeo.

The 21st Century Fluency Project is an organisation dedicated to improving education. Central to their vision is their focus on the development of what Lee Crockett, seen above in the video, calls the critical skills students need in the 21st Century to succeed. The organisation has developed these 6 major Fluencies in responses to questions asked by all interested in the education of our children.

Solution Fluency – the ability to solve problems in real time
Creativity Fluency – thinking creatively and divergently in both digital and non digital environments ( a key distinction made by Crockett in the video – we are not talking only technology here; these are life long learning skills for everyone, not just tech lovers) to develop solutions to see problems
Information Fluency – Crockett here talks about the higher end of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy – evaluating, analyzing, synthesizing, comparing/contrasting – to make sense of the information overload they experience in a Google/Wikipedia driven, media rich world
Collaboration Fluency – ability to work collaboratively ” in physical and virtual spaces with real and virtual partners” ( again not throwing out traditional forms of communication but also embracing digital forms )
Media Fluency – communicating learning not just in writing and in speech as we have been accustomed but also in multiple multimedia formats, the communication forms of the present and future.
Digital citizen – Crockett mentions ethical thinking, action, accountability, personal responsibility, resilience, risk taking, global perspectives and understanding a diverse range of cultures in a global world our current students have no choice but to be part of

Their Website goes into a bit more detail on each of the fluencies and also contains links to a range of resources to support their philosophy as well as regular blog posts on specific topics regarding 21st Century Learning ( they even linked to one of my posts in April!)

These are big concepts and challenge a lot of teachers today. For school administrators and experienced teachers currently involved in leadership, these are ideas that were never really explored back in our training days or years in the classroom. Some of these ideas may be beyond our comprehension or comfort level. What I am excited about with what Crockett is “selling” in this video is that the 21st Century Fluency Project’s solution goes far beyond your standard Professional Development session in  a way that I think will make a big impact in schools still on the leaning curve towards true 21st Century Learning.The 21st Century Fluency Institutes Crockett describes here is based on workshops that are follwed up with months of collaborative support freom their team to embed their innovative practices into your school’s way of being. It is far more beneficial to a day of keynotes and hour long workshops that we come back from excited but then lose the impact of as time goes by and we are disconnected from the experts. Its a great PD model that I hope is adopted by others. Watch the video, visit their website and hopefully get engaged and involved. Our students deserve the chance.

For Australian readers, here is a link to information about the workshops being run in Australia in February/March next year

Technology – Providing Incredible Opportunities for Students whether we want it to or not

We hear bad stories about young people using technology, especially the internet, at a monotonous regularity. YouTube is awash with ridiculous copycat videos of boys putting themselves in danger. Forums are flooded with a steady stream of insults and rumours from teenagers protected by anonymity. As teachers, we are constantly dealing with reports of cyberbullying on Facebook and Twitter we have no personal control over. If you believed the media shock jocks, every kid on the internet is either an idiot or in great peril.

But I want to tell a different story starring my daughter, her best friend and a small group of friends ( including my opportunistic son!). This is a completely different story that highlights the amazing opportunities that today’s available technology offers our students. It’s also a story about how, if given the freedom, children will take what we ‘make’ them do at school and take it to a whole new level that the limited minds of us teachers don’t even plan for. It explains why student led learning can be a success if we don’t restrict our students from going beyond our stated objectives. It shows how true engagement doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom for children to achieve great things and how technology can allow young students follow their dreams without the restrictions we had in the past.

It begins with a simple project for my daughter’s Studio Arts class. They were asked to create a short Horror film for their major term project. That was the only requirement. My daughter and her friends, from this point on known as BatFilms Productions. ( long story I won’t go into – suffice to say I am listed as ‘Lucius Fox’ in my daughter’s address book)  could have just coasted through the class this term, like apparently some students did, cobbled together a few clips on the computers at school and handed in a bland DVD in a plastic bag to get their ‘At Standard’ mark and go back to studying for their Maths and English exams. That’s all that was expected of them – a video.

Instead, this is what happened. The formed BatFilms Productions. ‘Best Friend’ (who in the 10 years she’s been coming to our house I have never heard utter more than one sentence at a time yet was the star of the movie)  set herself the task of writing the script for the 9 minute ‘epic’. ( the script does not get handed in to the teacher). My daughter started work on the Film Poster and DVD sleeve cover ( also not expected) using her favourite app on her iPad, ArtRage. She is also a budding artist, having attended an after school art class since she was 8. She paints with both natural media and digitally on the iPad, all in her spare time, completing works of art for family members on a regular basis.

Over the Term 3 holidays, while most of their class mates were hanging out at resorts, shopping centres or in front of the TV, Batfilms Productions got together on a Thursday for an all day, all night rehearsal and filming marathon – during the holidays! My kids came home just before midnight, exhausted but excited. “School work” was the highlight of their holiday – and my son wasn’t even part of the assignment. He just went to be the cameraman but is now an official member of Batfilms Productions. Of course by this stage, it had moved beyond school work. A passion had been ignited and it just continued to grow.

While Daughter, who inherited her father’s tech geek gene, got to work on the film editing and production, piecing together hundreds of clips of outakes, bloopers and useable video, Best Friend started thinking about publicity. She set up a YouTube Channel ( not part of the assignment and not connected to the school component at all) and a Twitter Account (again, not part of the school work). Best Friend’s Cousin, also a member of BatFilms, started working on the Film Trailer on iMovie ( also not part of the assignment requirement) and Daughter decided to add a professional edge to the opening credits using another iPad app Intro Designer (she upgraded to the full paid version to get the Horror Movie template ). When she found out about Bsst Friend’s YouTube/Twitter idea, she decided to use her Weebly account to create a Website to advertise Batfilms and their future plans.

Back at school, they discovered their clips weren’t opening on the school computers. Daughter calmly announced she would take them home and convert them ALL on her MacBook using Handbrake. When they viewed the converted files back at school, they noticed pixelation in full screen. They could have accepted mediocrity – at this stage some students hadn’t even filmed their scenes yet – but instead Daughter took them all home again and re did the whole conversion process at a higher resolution setting.

After all that not for extra credit effort, the film was finally completed. It was only now that I found out all they had to hand in was a video. Everything else was their own choice. They handed the movie in completed but all the teacher got was the DVD. What they kept for themselves was a film trailer, extras sections with bloopers and outtakes, a professional standard DVD sleeve and Film poster, and the potential for a real audience through their YouTube Channel, Twitter account and website, none of which would have been encouraged by the school.

What also came out of this was the genesis of a film company with plans made by a group of teenagers to create  more films together. Best Friend already has a script on its way for Movie number two, the completed movie Midnight Man is on Youtube, the Twitter account @BatFilms has started attracting followers and the website tells the story of the fledgling crew and their plans.

The movie itself is pretty good for a bunch of teenagers’ first effort. Me being me, I offered some constructive criticism, suggesting it needed some background music for mood. Daughter said they’d do that for the NEXT movie. Yep, they’re more interested in improving the next movie, the one they have DECIDED to do in their own time, no the one for school.

So what is the message of this story for me as a teacher? Well, there’s several.

  1. Our students are capable of so much more than what we expect of them. They’re not really motivated by grades; they are motivated by engagement. Their reports will probably have the same At Standard score as the slackers who are still working on their films. But BatFilms don’t care. They’re working on their next movie.
  2. As teachers, we need to broaden our learning outcomes and assessment. All these students will be assessed on is the video under the umbrella of Studio Arts. But what else have they demonstrated? Collaboration, entrepreneurism, initiative, teamwork, commitment to excellence, independent learning, communication skills, visual arts, planning, time management and preparation. One of the strengths of Primary School is that your teacher takes you for all classes so she can possibly credit you for all this. Secondary school teachers with their single subject focus may only focus on their narrow subject based outcome. We need to credit our students for unintended outcomes.
  3. We need to know our students’ passions and interests and give them opportunities to grow. The Studio Arts teacher should let the Drama Teacher, the English teacher, the Art Teacher,  the History teacher, the ICT teacher all know what these students are willing to do. Given the opportunity, these kids would put together a great interpretation of Romeo and Juliet or a World War Two battle through the sheer engagement of digital media, showing more understanding than their standard written essay. What they got out of this experience will not show up in a two hour exam.
  4. ICT provides opportunities that us teachers never had when we were students at school. We are limited by our own experiences. We shouldn’t limit our students’ possibilities. Instead of dwelling on the fake death reports and insults on Twitter, explore the possibilities of connecting to promote creative pursuits and worthy causes at school. Use blogs and websites and Youtube. Which leads me to ….
  5. Trust that students can use the Web constructively and responsibly. BatFilms is not a secret project. They are loving that the geeky father is promoting them on his longwinded, highbrow educational blog. Daughter told me straight away that Best Friend had set up the Twitter account. All the parents were asked by the children for permission to set up the YouTube Channel and Twitter. I’m following @Batfilms and Daughter has already blocked a follower who was promoting inappropriate material for them. Daughter is already a Weebly veteran, having set up a website Gleje Comics, displaying her comic strips series and soon to be released animations. She registered her site on the Comic Book Archive to promote it and has followers. ( She’s aiming for a career in computer animation.) They are responsible kids whose only interest in the internet is promoting their talents. Give students the opportunity to be responsible and creative and they will become good digital citizens.

So let’s not limit our students. Let them explore every possibility and bring their own goals along. If we are not getting the best out of them the traditional way, we need to try it their way. Trust technology to open up those possibilities. They’ll do it without you anyway. BatFilms did. Wouldn’t we prefer our students to put in all that effort and be rewarded and acknowledged for it at school as well as outside? Wouldn’t it be better to tap into that energy and enthusiasm and be there to add our experience and knowledge to the mix to improve the experience? I’m reading enough about how we don’t need schools or teachers as we know them anymore. We do. Students still need us. But we need to meet them in their world and support them there. And for those who want to dwell on the students who didn’t make the same effort to argue against the engagement factor of technology, go ahead. I’ll focus on the positive story of BatFilms Productions.

P.S. Please check out the video. They’d like an audience. And Daughter’s comics too.

Who’s running Quality Control and Fact Checking in a Tech Rich, Differentiated, Personalised Classroom?

It was definitely much easier to teach in the ‘olden days’. Everyone read the same text, researched the same topic, wrote the same text type, answered the same question. The students worked hard, studied and took and passed ( apparently everyone did if you listen to the nostalgic educators and parents of times gone by) the same test.

Then along came this pesky new age world of personalising and differentiating teaching and learning with its notion of student choice and planning for a wide range of student interests and abilities. Along with it came a whole lot of challenges for teachers as they passed topic selection into the hands of the children.

No longer does the teacher have access to all knowledge being learned during the unit of work. No longer does the teacher have complete mastery over the content of the class novel. In a single Inquiry Unit, there may be 15 different topics being explored by your class. If your class runs Literature Circles or Book Clubs, there may be 5 or more novels being read concurrently. In these instances, how much is expected of the class teacher to be on top of all the content involved in the individual student’s choice?

At first glance, teachers may point to the fact that today’s curriculum is not about content knowledge any more. It’s about skill development, creativity, collaboration and communication. At a simplistic level, that may be partly true. We can’t escape the fact, though, that accuracy and understanding is still paramount. While an 8 year old will survive making the odd misinterpretation or copying the wrong information down, a 20 year old medical student can’t be confusing a pharynx with a larynx or thinking a 3:4 ratio means 3/4 and 1/4. So the question needs to be asked – How well are we dealing with Quality Control and Fact Checking in the Differentiated, Personalised Classroom? This one question brings up a whole lot more questions that every teacher needs t0 consider.

Are we expecting students to provide evidence for every fact they state in a report (and are we checking them)? In the days of one topic/one book, the teacher had the source of the information and could quickly determine the accuracy of the student’s statements. We knew everything we needed to know about the plot, characters and themes of the class novel. We taught them how to write a bibliography and footnotes whether they really needed to or not. A bibliography is not enough today.  We need to expect digital literacy skills like hyperlinking and bookmarking to be part of a digital report so that as teachers we can check not only that the information is accurate as we read it but also that it hasn’t just been rewritten or copied.

Are we putting more emphasis on the presentation and not enough on the content? In the name of engagement, teachers ( with me leading the charge!) are exposing students to a myriad of great web tools for presenting their work. Do we sometimes get seduced by the magic of a Prezi, Glog or Voki and reward the students for how their presentation looked rather than the quality/depth of the information presented?

Do our assessment rubrics give enough credit for the accuracy, depth and understanding of the information or are these factors downplayed at the expense of grammar, text structure, presentation and checklist of what requirements were met?

During the research phase, do we spend enough time checking that the information collected by students is relevant and accurate or do we spend all our time giving feedback on the quality of questions, time management and selection of ICT tools for presentation?

Do we check for understanding of the references they use to research their topic? We need to expect more than just copying notes. The students should be summarising the notes, writing questions about the information they have found, listing what addtional information is still required from other sources. This takes time to develop in students but it’s important for developing real critical thinking. Just rewriting notes in a different sentence doesnt show enough understanding.

Do we feedback about the quality of the references, the relevance of the information?

How much attention do we pay to the student’s ability to record notes that support the investigation?

Do we spend time checking that they are identifying enough details from a text? Too often students will highlight random sections of text to show they have found some key words but ignore major details within the same paragraph. Utilising a web tool like the social bookmarking site Diigo, we as teachers can collaboratively support students in highlighting key ideas. The tool supports sharing an online text AND annotations, highlighting and comments in real time. This is an improvement on waiting until the end of the week to hand up work to the teacher for checking. In the digital literacy environment, we can be more timely and strategic in our feedback while also checking the references being used.

Are we expecting our students to prove they have fact checked their own research by referring to several sources for each key idea or fact? We often criticise the use of Wikipedia because of its crowdsourced information but don’t question other references’ validity. We need to ensure that we have taught our students to check for the credentials of the source, ( .org/.edu/gov vs .com, blog vs scholarly), how up to date the information is, how to cross reference multiple sources. Again, digital literacy skills like hyperlinking to the source within their text for instant verification puts the onus on the student to prove their information is correct.

Do we encourage collaboration as a way to check for quality and accuracy? We need to consider the role of wikis, social networking sites like Edmodo and Twitter and blogs in crowdsourcing support in checking each other’s work. Maybe we need to rethink the idea that we only go public with finished products/published work. Why can’t we post drafts and brainstorms on our blogs and put it out there for others to critique, check, support, add to, fact check? Why not tweet out ideas to a worldwide audience to get feedback or answers. Following experts on Twitter could get you the support you need. One example I’ve seen is Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from Australia, a media savvy scientist who often answers tweets sent to him. I’ve read teacher blogs mentioning how they have organised other teachers via Twitter to mentor students in their grade.

There is no going back to the old way of teaching. Differentiation and Personalised Learning is here to stay. And so it should be. However, we do need to make sure we have measures in place to ensure we are monitoring the quality and accuracy of the information our students present in their projects. Many teachers can find this a challenge.

It’s probably more of a challenge in Primary schools where teachers tend to be generalists who teach every subject. It’s a lot to expect them to be on top of the information in Science, History, Health, Economics, Geography, Technology and Environmental Studies on top of every novel the students are reading. So we have to efficient in checking in on students at all stages of their research, not just at the presentation stage.

What challenges do you have in monitoring your students’ personalised learning? What processes do you have in place to manage? I am interested in your experiences. Join the conversation.