Google Apps and Collaboration – a TeachMeet Melbourne Perspective

As I said in my last post, I presented at the October addition of TeachMeet Melbourne. With a Google Summit happening in Melbourne this week, the focus of the meet was Google Apps and Collaboration and lots of first time TeachMeeters attended as a result of being in town for the summit.

Apart from my presentation on Google Maps in Education and related websites that incorporate Maps, there were sessions on Google+ Hangouts, Google Drive and Sites for portfolios, YouTube Video Editor and Collaborative Video recording, Google Calendar appointment slots and a nice intro from Chris Harte about Teachmeet history with a focus on sharing ideas, not apples ( with a hint of a dig aimed at apple with a capital A, I think:P). Finishing the night off beautifully was a heartfelt reflection on the need for looking after ourselves and each other, in itself a form of collaboration (minus Google!)

Below is a collection of tweets from the meet that may inspire you with new insights or encourage you to explore our new learnings further. My twitter tag is noticeably absent from the list – I was too busy as the official timer on the night and possibly got too comfortable on the very oversized beanbag I reclined in for the duration ( the free beer didn’t help either!) Enjoy!

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.

Using Padlet (f.k.a. WallWisher) across the curriculum

Over the last few years, I’ve been looking for ways to make interactive whiteboards actually interactive. Despite the hype around them, iWBs still promote stand at the front content delivery and the interactivity is limited to the two students/teachers holding the pens. Everyone else is still pretty much a passive observer with regular doses of disengagement. With the recent creation of iPad mirroring software like AirServer and Reflector, the whiteboard has become more interactive with the ability to project multiple iPad screens onto the board. This is still a limited solution as only so many iPads can fir on one screen. In recent times, though there has been a proliferation of Web 2.0 collaborative tools that have the potential for full class interaction. My favourite at the moment is Padlet.

Formerly known as WallWisher, Padlet started out as an online pinboard where unlimited users could post notes on topics being discussed en masse. It allowed for everyone to have a voice in a discussion and provided teachers opportunities to save and store brainstorming and discussion sessions online for later review. As WallWisher, though, that’s where its functionality ended. It was pretty much an unlimited post-it note space ( correct me if I’m wrong – it may have allowed for some media posting. I can’t remember). Now, with a major upgrade and name change, Padlet has morphed into a full blown online interactive whiteboard, collaboration, presentation, lesson management system with massive possibilities for teaching and learning. Before demonstrating how I have used Padlet in the classroom in ways I couldn’t have in the past, I’ll give you a quick(ish) tutorial in how it works.

Access.

One of the benefits of Padlet is that it doesn’t require registration if you just want to create a board for quick use. You simply go to the website, click on the Build a Wall icon and create a wall for immediate use. I would recommend teachers create an account, though so you can store all of your created walls for repeated use. Students never need to create an account so the Under 13s can happily use this tool without any fear of breaking any user policies (as long as you ensure they don’t reveal any personal info!)

Padlet has a wide array of sharing tools to make your wall accessible. Check out the screenshot (left) for more detail. You can embed it into a blog, where it is fully active within, email a link or subscribe to it, post it to a number of popular social network sites and my favourite – create a QR code for instant access with a QR Code Reader app. In all my lessons using it this year, I have saved a lot of login time having the QR code in the room for students to scan and go straight to the wall on the school iPads. They are now around their classrooms so they can return any time.

It is best used on a computer for full access to all features but, other than attaching files, works very well on iPads and, I assume, other tablets.

Creating a Padlet Wall.

In creating a wall, you have options to add a background, a title and title image, modify privacy setting. choose between two layout options, create a custom website address and choose notification options. This can all be done within minutes before sharing the wall for others to interact with.

Modify address Add background  Privacy
   
 Layout  Notification  Title

Adding content

Padlet is extremely easy to use. Just simply double tap the screen and the multimedia note appears. The screenshot below shows how it works.

That’s pretty much it. The true value is in what we do with the app. Below are two walls I have created in the last fortnight. The first is a Maths lesson involving surface area, volume and algebraic thinking with my Extension group.

I created the  3D ‘sculptures’ using the Think 3D Free iPad app, took screenshots and imported the shapes straight into the wall. Titles and information was added easily. I then added the problem to solve and added a screenshot of a table to support the problem solving phase of the lesson.

To begin the lesson, the students scanned the QR Code with iPads to go straight to the page. Having direct access to the problem through Padlet rather than looking at a screen from a distance had the students engaged from the start. They were able to get straight down to working at their own pace in tackling the problem. The benefit of Padlet was soon apparent as each pair of students were given one sculpture to find the volume and surface area of. As soon as they had the answer, they were able to add their results to the Padlet wall for the rest of the students to access. This is in contrast to having to wait for everyone to finish and add to the board in a traditional sense. Let me note here that the measurement aspect was not the main focus of the lesson so quick calculation and sharing was important.

Once all the measurements were shared on the Padlet wall, the students were ready to create their tables to start looking for patterns in the pricing. The rest of the lesson wasn’t dependent on Padlet from this point but its next benefit was in collecting the students’ work to feed back to their classroom teachers. Having all of their working out, answers, collaborations, tables ( not all on there at the moment – still a work in progress) collated in Padlet means the teachers have access to what they did with me. On top of that, the students were able to embed their work on to their personal blogs for their parents to see what they were doing.

The second example below was used for an Inquiry workshop focusing on Asian Immigration to Australia. Over five sessions, all of the Grade 6 students worked with me using this wall. I wanted them to have access to a range of data that I hoped would generate questions and discussions. As I was not going to have a consistent role in the rest of their Immigration investigations, I wanted to use a tool that could collect all of their wonderings that their classroom teachers could access during the ensuing weeks to develop further. Padlet supported this greatly.

I was able to take screenshots of graphs I made in Excel and add them to the wall. A great feature of Padlet is that you can resize your content to fit in a small area for an overall view but by simply tapping the image, it enlarges to full size for easy view. This allowed the students to see the graphs in detail in their own time if they wanted to go back to make their own observations. This is in contrast to having a single view on a whiteboard that can become inaccessible to children working at their own pace.

As you can see from the wall, the students were able to add all of their observations and questions directly on the wall. Note that as the wall filled, dragging a comment to the edge of the wall created more space for as many comments as they could add. This is a stark improvement on the limited access they get when they have to share real post it notes or a limited sized sheet of paper or take turns to add their thoughts. Using Padlet allows the students to be fully involved in the thinking process at all times. The follow up to this is that common questions can be grouped together on the Padlet wall adding to the collaborative process.

What I have also achieved in building this wall is pooling together a large number of resources in one easily accessible online space. The graphs, the videos, the PDF documents are all stored in a common place and can be viewed at full size at any time. The QR codes are sitting on the classroom walls, allowing the students to access this information at any time.

In using Padlet in both of these lessons, I loved that the students had personal access to info at all times, were able to contribute to the wall at their own pace and could view what others were contributing in real time. At the teacher level, I loved being able to collate all of the resources in one space, resources that can be enlarged for useful viewing when needed. I love that in a collaborative teaching environment, I can collect student group work to share with their classroom teachers. I love that I can now have a truly interactive whiteboard that keeps all students involved in the learning process.

These are two examples but Padlet offers many opportunities for engaging teaching and learning across all curriculum areas. If you have used Padlet, I would love to hear about what you have used it for. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a try. Easy to use, many possibilities.

Maths Maps – an engaging way to teach Maths with Google Maps

It’s been around for a few years now and had plenty of interest from around the world already, but Mr G Online has only just discovered Maths Maps. From first impressions, I am absolutely blown away by the idea. The brainchild of leading UK educator Tom Barrett, (now based in Australia), Maths Maps uses Google Maps as the launching pad for Maths Investigations.

Barrett’s vision was for teachers around the world to collaborate on building Maths Maps, examples of some seen in the screenshots on the left. Here is a brief description of how it works from the Maths Maps website.

Elevator Pitch

  • Using Google Maps.
  • Maths activities in different places around the world.
  • One location, one maths topic, one map.
  • Activities explained in placemarks in Google Maps.
  • Placemarks geotagged to the maths it refers to. “How wide is this swimming pool?”
  • Teachers to contribute and share ideas.
  • Maps can be used as independent tasks or group activities in class.
  • Maps can be embedded on websites, blogs or wikis.
  • Tasks to be completed by students and recorded online or offline.

The collaboration aspect worked like this: ( again from the website)

How can you contribute?

  1. Explore the maps below for the ideas already added, follow the links to open them in a new window.
  2. Send me details of which map you want to edit and your Google email address and I will add you as an editor, follow the link from the email invite.
  3. Click on EDIT in the left panel.
  4. Zoom close to the city and it’s surroundings. (Don’t forget Streetview)
  5. Find some TOPIC ideas you can see.
  6. Add a placemark (use the right colour for the age group it is best for – see purple pin)
  7. Explain the activity in the description.
  8. Change the title to show how many ideas there are.
  9. Send out a Tweet or write a blog post to highlight this resource andencourage others to contribute.

For those of you who have never edited a Google Map before, you need a Google account to do so. Here is an annotated screenshot that shows the basic layout of the Edit stage. I know I say it a lot to colleagues who don’t believe me, but it is very easy to do, like most Web 2.0 tools.

I’m not sure I could handle the world wide collaboration long term but I think this would be very manageable at a school level if you could get together a team of teachers willing to contribute. To me, it is a great way of presenting worded problems in real life contexts. On one level, with the emphasis on teaching children how to analyse questions for standardised tests, this would be a more engaging way of presenting the problems to the children. On a more creative, engaging level, it provides opportunities for linking Maths to real problems, not just questions out of a textbook or practice test sheets.

Beyond the question level, it provides opportunities to investigate all Maths concepts as you can see from the screenshots above. Adding the investigations to an always available Google map means students can access the problems anytime, anywhere and can work at their own pace. I always see tech solutions for recording work for students to complete as a benefit, not extra work. Instead of photocopying or getting children to copy down unfinished problems in a rush before leaving, the work is stored online. It means it can be shared with other classes as well.

The image here shows how Maths Maps was set up to add problems and investigations for all grade levels so collaboration can take place across levels, allowing for differentiation possibilities. Barrett just colour coded the placemarks to match a grade level.

If students have access to Google accounts, it is a great opportunity for them to create their own investigations, taking it to a higher thinking level for them. Students in higher grades could create maps for lower grades to investigate or for their fellow classmates. If nearby schools wanted to join in, they could and, of course, you could go the Maths Maps website route and find some schools outside your area to collaborate with and learn so much more about the world.

Of course, there is no reason why it has to be limited to Maths. You could do the same investigations with geography heavy novels, historical events, geography investigations, anything you can link to real locations. It’s certainly open to a lot of possibilities and, while I know it’s easy for me to say, it doesn’t have a huge learning curve and, with collaboration, shouldn’t take too much time to create. If you are going to type out some questions and print out on paper anyway, it will not take much more effort to create this far more engaging option instead.

Here’s a direct link to one of Barrett’s embedded Maths Maps, 27 Measures Activities in Madrid. You can explore this in detail and get a greater sense of the range of real world Maths you can find in real geographic locations.


View 27 Measures Activities in Madrid in a larger map

And, since I’m one teacher who always has to practise what I preach rather than just post ideas from others, here’s my first attempt at starting a Maths Map around Melbourne – unfinished and early days but might test it out with a few of my colleagues and the Grade 5/6 students.

View Measuring Melbourne in a larger map

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.

Preceden Timeline Maker:”The Easiest Way to Make a Timeline”

With a big history unit coming up in Term 1 for the 5/6 teams, I’ve become a bit obsessed with making History timelines. I’ve already reviewed Meograph earlier this year and posted my multimedia Meograph timeline on Australian History for your viewing. I’ve since discovered a simpler, more linear and cutback timeline creator that I can see having both advantages and disadvantages over Meograph. I see myself using both for different reasons.

Preceden Timeline Maker has been around since 2010 but this is the first time I have discovered it. Unlike Meograph, which is more of a multimedia storytelling tool with timeline capabilities, Preceden is very much a timeline first and foremost. As you can seen from the annotated screenshot above, it has an easy to follow layout that presents as a clearly labelled timeline of events.

The timeline consists of layers and events. The layers are a good way of categorising the events, especially useful when dealing with an historical period with many different themes. The layer titles are placed at the beginning of timeline left of screen but stay anchored and visible as you scroll across the timeline.

Events can be colour coded, either automatically or manually. If the event is a particular moment in time, it is represented by a coloured dot placed along the timeline in the date/time zone it belongs to. If it is an event that lasts over a period of time, it becomes a coloured horizontal bar that stretches across the timeline from starting date to finish date. Each event occupies its own vertical space so as you add more events, the dots or bars fill the page from top to bottom. If the event name is short enough, it fits inside the bar but if it is longer than the bar duration, it is located to the right of the bar. By allocating each event to its related layer, the events appear in that specific section. If you designate the event as a milestone, a vertical line stretches from top to bottom, acting as a visible dividing line between other less significant events.

At first glance, Precenden appears to lack multimedia functionality, with the emphasis on the timeline itself. Images and links, however, can be added ( which I’ll describe later) and they can be viewed by ‘mousing over’ the event, appearing as a temporary popup box. Any notes you add for detail also appear in this pop up box.

In the top right corner, you will notice a zoom feature. This is a useful feature that alters the appearance of the timeline. You can zoom in or out of the timeline from as accurate as seconds to as wide ranging as 10 billion years, meaning you can represent any time period in historical records. There is also the auto function which fits the whole timeline to your viewing window.

At the bottom on the right hand side are other functions worth noting. First, there is the embed instructions, which will take you to the embed code so that you can embed your timeline into your own website or blog. Note that the embedded timeline. as you’ll notice in my example below, only presents the timeline itself – the popup info window does not work in embedded timelines, nor do you see the event list. You should include a link to the original for full viewing. It should be noted that any changes that you make are automatically updated in the embedded timeline.There is also a option to rearrange the layer order, through a simple drag and drop UI. There is a function for importing CSV files (instructions included) so that you can create data in a spreadsheet offline, then import for visual publication. You also have PDF, Image and CSV export options.

One final option to note is the Rename function. While not obvious, this is where you will find the delete option if you want to get rid of your timeline. Obviously, it is also where you can edit the name of the timeline.

When you add an event the dialog box below appears.

Here you input the name of the event and have the option to alter the colour of the dot, text or bar with the popup colour editor to the right. A preview is shown directly below the text. Next you allocate a layer to the event and enter the start and end times. Finally, there is a Notes box where you can enter additional information about the event, insert an image or hyperlink.

Images can only be inserted from the internet – you can’t upload images to the program. Read the FAQ section for instructions but basically you copy the link to the image from its original website location ( it should be Creative Commons or your own images only) and insert exclamation marks before and after the URL ( as seen in the example above). To insert a hyperlink, you use other simple code, again described in the FAQ section. It’s a bit clunky but simple enough once you get the hang of it.

The final function in the event dialog box is the Advanced feature, which gives you the option to make the event a milestone, as described earlier.

As well as the timeline itself, a list of ordered events is also published below the timeline, as seen in the screenshot below.  This is where you can easily view the images, the information about the events and access the hyperlinks without mousing over the timeline. It is also where you access the editing features and bring up the event dialog box to make any changes.

While I am obviously impressed with the multimedia ( audio narration, video/image, map, timeline) features of Meograph, I also like the simplicity and timeline focus of Precenden. I am particularly impressed with the control over the timeline ranges from seconds to billions of years. This makes it useful for a lot of time based Mathematics possibilities as well as the usual History emphasis that timelines get used for. It also makes it easy to compare the duration of different events and put time periods and events into perspective, when comparing, for example, the 100 years war to the First Gulf war. the life cycle/span of a turtle compared to a fly or the time frame of human existence compared to the whole of Earth’s existence.

Precenden is free to use, with one caveat – all of your timelines are viewable (but not editable) by the public at all time, even before they are finished. You can view all public timelines from the Shared Timelines link at the top of the screen. You will seen timelines with one event and others with 100s. As long as you don’t include any private info in your timelines, this shouldn’t be a reason to avoid it. They make their money by offering a private timeline option with the paid account ($59 a year)

Teachers can share their account with students by activating Teacher mode in the account settings. It gives you a code to give to the students. This is not as good as it sound though, as with this option, the children are limited to only five events per timeline, hardly enough for anything worthwhile. The usual Under 13 restrictions are in the Terms of Use. However, I emailed the creators for clarification and they said my Grade 5/6s could use it as long as no personal information was provided.

It works on an iPad for creating. The scrolling and mouse over viewing functions don’t though.

I can see a lot of benefits to Preceden and can see myself using it in a lot of curriculum areas in the future. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Below is an embedded view of my incomplete History timeline to show you how it looks embedded in your blog, You can view the full timeline here to see how the mousing over, zoom and scrolling works.

Make a Timeline at Preceden.com

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)

The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.

Other

Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

Digital Media and Learning – what’s missing in our curriculum documents

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Credit goes to John Elfrank-Dana for posting an article on Schoolbook titled “Wanted:New Standards that Embrace Technology” that has inspired me to reflect a little deeper on my understanding of this topic.

It seems that many countries are in the midst of new curriculum documents being introduced. In the time between the last and the latest, personalised learning and student-directed learning have been positioned at the forefront of contemporary teaching and learning. What has also accelerated over that time is technology possibilities in schools. I use the word possibilities deliberately here because, while everyone seems comfortable with the theories and pedagogies behind personalised/student centred learning ( even if it hasn’t quite come to fruition just yet), in many schools great numbers of leaders and teachers are still behind the 8 ball on what can be achieved with technology in their classrooms. Sadly, our new curricula, still appears to be as well.

Elfrank-Dana, in the post credited above, laments that the USA’s new Common Core standards hasn’t addressed the impact of new media. Likewise, in my country Australia, our new National Curriculum, which comes into effect in 2013, is also struggling to show a deep understanding of digital technology and its role in learning. Yes, it often includes the phrase ‘with digital technologies’ and ‘media texts’ in many of its content descriptions but to me they stand as add ons to the more specific literacy or numeracy skill they are referenced with. We are yet to have a National Curriculum for Technology and are still stuck with state level documents that were written “pre-Google”(let alone have any relevance to the Web 2.0/social media of 2012 and beyond).

So it is left up to individual schools to push the boundaries of digital learning until our curriculum writers catch up with the pace of change. If we are going to be true arbiters of change in schools, we need to be aware of the skills that aren’t listed in our curriculum but are vital for developing learners who can cope with the fast changing world they are growing up in. That’s why I was grateful to find in the article above the white paper on Digital Media and Learning by Henry Jenkins et al from MIT, titled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (downloadable as a PDF if you want to read the whole 72 pages!)

This part of its summary really caught my attention:

A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement. Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

The new skills include:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United States. Everyone involved in preparing young people to go out into the world has contributions to make in helping students acquire the skills they need to become full participants in our society. Schools, afterschool programs, and parents have distinctive roles to play as they do what they can in their own spaces to encourage and nurture these skills.

While the skills listed above rarely reference digital media specifically, it is clear that all of these skills are both developed and needed in using digital media for learning. While it is true that many of these skills have been and can be developed with traditional media and teaching practices, it is clear to me that they haven’t been in may cases and need to be addressed for all of us to succeed in what the Jenkins refers to as today’s Participatory Culture, one that is awash with digital technologies.

So how do we address each of these skills with digital learning as the focus? I’m going to give that a try.

Play — the fact a 2 year old can master the basics on a iPad quicker than her mother suggests that students already have the Play skill down pat. It also suggests that our students can learn a lot through play, which can be undermined by the “chalk and talk, drill and test” pedagogies still prevalent in many (certainly not all) classroom environments. We need to let children learn through playing more, something that is hard to do with just words on paper or a whiteboard or from a teacher’s mouth. Digital media offers the opportunities to explore preferred media sources. It also allows students to work at their own pace and level by choosing their entry and exit points to a learning task delivered through digital media, rather than sitting through 10 minutes of teacher lecture about content they already know. It also teaches them to think about possible solutions and strategies rather than always calling on the teacher instantly. On the creation side, being able to use digital tools allows the student to explore the possibilities of the software, restart quickly if the original idea didn’t work, try out the vast array of tools available and do it all independently IF we give them the opportunity to play with it (instead of giving then a narrow focused teacher tutorial based on our ideas).

Performance — As teachers, we ask students to connect with opposing points of view , people in history and characters in stories. Traditional drama and role play has an impact here but digital media offers the students opportunities to role play independently. Setting up Facebook type profiles of historical figures or novel characters allows them to use their communication model of choice to explore relationships and share each other’s interpretations. Twitter can be used in a similar way to have dynamic, realtime comversations as adopted characters. Adopting avatars to communicate provides introverted students the ability to communicate their ideas behind closed doors yet still get to perform. Using a web tool like Xtranormal lets them create and view re-enactments or conversations in an attention grabbing format that exceeds listening to a shared reading in a traditional model.

Simulation — Once the domain of the highly trained tech geek only, now children can use a myriad of web, tablet and computer based software to make sense of their world. From simple programming tools like Scratch, 3D modelling with Google Sketchup to Animation packages like iStopmotion and data crunching software to create real time graphs of statistics, students are no longer restricted to interpreting visual representations of information but also showing their understanding of it through creating simulations in a form they respond to – visual.

Appropriation — There is so much content on the Internet today that Google alone cannot sort it out for you. A big part of participatory culture now is curation tools. People all over the web are taking responsibility for collecting relevant websites under topics of their choosing and sharing them with the world. Tools like Scoopit, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Diigo can be searched as alternatives to search engines as the curating has been done for you. It’s not a easy skill though as many just grab any site they find and don’t sort through what is worth keeping. This has to be taught. This is a great way for collecting media content for class research as well and an alternative to boring, wordy bibliographies.

Stories can be told by pulling content from your social media feeds through tools like Storify. Emerging web tools like Meograph lets you publish compelling stories by combining video, audio, images, maps and text, creating multimodal texts that appeal to this generation and replicate the multimodal style of non text references we work with today.

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. An important skill in today’s busy environment, students need to develop skills in handling multiple tasks. Digital learning used well allows us to keep track of all of our work, giving us the ability to move in and out of different work spaces online or stored on our personal hardware choice. Organised digital media makes it easy to locate multiple sources, if we’ve worked on our appropriation skills.

Distributed Cognition — for me, this is the result of mastering all of the other skills in the list.

Collective Intelligence — Social bookmarking tools like Diigo, collaborative tools like Googledocs, sites like Edmodo and blogs where students and teachers can interact with each other purposefully will develop the idea that we work and learn best when sharing with each other, the antithesis of standardized competitive testing and comparison.

Judgment — Probably the most important one on the list. When I was a child, I had two newspapers, a couple of channels we watched the news on and Encyclopedia Britannica. We didn’t have to make many decisions about whether the information was accurate or not. Fast forward to today and our students are confronted with 59 million results for a Google Search, limitless cable news channels of varying bias, opinion based blogs, millions of YouTube videos and a combination of gossip and factual news coming from Twitter and Facebook feeds. If there is one thing we do with our students in time at school it is to teach them how to sort fact from fiction. Explain that just because the site appears first on Google doesn’t mean it’s the best. Tell them the difference between .org, .com, .gov and .edu. Show them the importance of checking the references on Wikipedia. This should be the number one skill in any curriculum for today’s schools.

Transmedia Navigation — I think I covered this in appropriation but suffice to say that most of the media today is awash with varied media types. Students need to learn how to disseminate.

Networking — The important skill needed to work with collective intelligence. In a global world, networking is vital and we can’t lock kids away in their classrooms and hope they learn how later on. This leads on to the final skill…………

Negotiation — up there with Judgement in importance, this is reflected in the message of the cartoon at the start of this post. We can’t network if we can’t cooperate with others and treat them with respect. We can’t network if we don’t know how to accept but still argue with different viewpoints. And we can’t expect cyber bullying to stop if we don’t educate our children how to responsibly use social media. As parents we need to be in control and as teachers we need to embrace digital learning at school so we can give them opportunities to use digital media for useful purposes instead of just writing garbage on Facebook or Twitter about a kid or celebrity they don’t like. This has to be part of our curriculum, not blocked by decade old laws like COPPA and SIPA.

So when you open up your new curriculum in the new year, follow what’s in there. It covers important skills we all need. But don’t be slaves to it. There’s a lot more we need to do to create the learners we want for the challenges of 21st century life.

Can your class survive a week without Technology?

Scenario 1: The wifi and router at school is dead and needs to be replaced. Your entire grade’s work is either on the now inaccessible School server or sitting online on one of 10 Web 2.0 tools you have been using. The collaborative online discussions the students have been having on Edmodo have been cut off from the real world and our reflective blogs are now in no mans land at school. The class has bookmarked 30 top quality references to support the projects they have been researching for the last two weeks. Panic stations or alternatives are planned for?

Scenario 2: There has been a spate of “accidental” screen breakages on the shared laptops and iPads. Several stern messages have been delivered to the grade with no change in care and the screen carnage continues. The decision is made that the only choice is to ban access to all ICT to drive home that there are consequences for a lack of responsibility and accountability and that next time you’ll really be a friend by stopping the mistreating of equipment or reporting incidents to teachers. Your entire grade’s work in either on the now inaccessible server etc etc……. Hesitant to ban or necessary to have gain through pain?

Scenario 3: Being the early adopter that you are, you have spent the last 6 months trialling a truckload of Web 2.0 tools with your grade. Like 99% of the population, you don’t read the terms of use ( I certainly didn’t this time last year 😱 ). Days before all of your class are to hand in their Glogs/Prezis/SlideRockets/Xtranormal/GoAnimate/Animoto videos, you receive emails from these companies informing you that you have breached their No Under 13s policies for free accounts and all of your students work has been deleted as per the clearly stated Terms of Use and Privacy policies you didn’t read! Your entire grade’s work ………. you know the drill.

Before thinking I’ve overdramatised, I know from personal experience that these scenarios can, have and will continue to happen.

The question is – are we prepared for these scenarios to happen?

Clearly from the subject matter of this entire blog, I am an absolute advocate of technology integration into all aspects of education. I’ve been a driving force of change in ICT in all the schools I’ve worked in. In the Contemporary learning environment of the cliched “21st Century Classroom”, there is no turning back. We live in a tech driven world with a tech driven society.

But I also taught in the Luddite era of the late 80s and early 90s before the Internet existed and computers were barely accessible to most schools. The students managed to learn and learn well. Through Facebook I am now in contact with many of those former students ( they found me, I’m not a stalker😁) and they all live happy, successful lives.

When I look at the access and opportunities to tech our current students are getting in Primary (Elementary) schools and look at what they are moving to in High School ( hint: in many cases, it’s far less than we offer), I sometimes do ponder are we setting them up for disappointment in a couple of years. ( Don’t lose faith in me, I quickly come to my senses and realize we aren’t preparing them for high school; we’re preparing them for life beyond so we are doing what is right for them.) Exams are still pen and paper, tests are still pen and paper, we still have to make sure they can handle pen and paper.

So do we at times go too far with this technology push? Can our students research without Google? Can we teach them without our interactive whiteboards and flipped videos and online lesson delivery systems? Is it that bad if the students hand up hand written reports with crossed out words and bad paragraphing and have to rewrite it all over again just like we used to successfully?
Do we have to force the artistic children in our grade to make a kitschy Glogster poster when they’d rather paint, draw, cut and paste their way to their own creation? Can a kid with an infectious personality, an engaging voice and some effective hands on props and snapshots outdo the kid with the whiz bang but superficial-in-content Prezi or PowerPoint? Are we breeding a future generation who won’t cope if their boss expects them to listen to his voice and not watch his presentation? Can our students – and us – survive in a classroom without tech?

Contemporary teaching and learning – is it about the 4 Cs – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical thinking – or the 4 As – Apple, Android, Acer and ActiveInspire? Obviously, I believe in both ( maybe not the Android/Acer bit😜) but I think we do need a bit of balance in our classrooms. Sometimes it just humans. We can survive.