Why e-learning is so hard

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I found this infographic created by Lean Forward on the fine educational website Edudemic and I thought I would share it with you. The author of the post, Jeff Dunn, feels it is missing one important role, the teacher. My take on this infographic is that these are the roles the teacher takes on when implementing e-learning. Yes, the teacher does have to ensure good pedagogy is involved in any e-learning but on the other hand e-learning can be seen as THE pedagogy. Whatever way you look at it, though, it’s a fairly large workload to take on.

As Project Manager, the teacher ensures the learning is on track, supporting the students in managing their time and workflow. As well, the teacher must also instruct the students in how they become their own Project managers so they can organize themselves effectively.

As Instructional designer, the teacher is ensuring that the students have all the necessary skills and tools to complete their task. The teacher is also responsible for identifying that the task is meeting required learning outcomes. There is no point in a creative, technological presentation if it doesn’t involve quality learning and part of e-learning is striking a balance between the technology use and the learning that needs to take place.

As Multimedia designer, the teacher’s role is to support the level of creativity that is possible through using tech tools. Often students don’t know how to use the tools creatively. You only have to look at their overuse of WordArt and animated laser text in PowerPoint as evidence that software features does not equal creativity. Teachers need to provide good models of creative use of software so students produce something worthwhile. The creative use of software can enhance the learning from products created; poor use can hinder learning.

This is the key pedagogical component. As E-learning developer, the teacher needs to “control” the mix of technology and human interaction in the e-learning environment. We need to make sure we are not substituting teaching for whiz bang tech that doesn’t drive discussion and interaction on its own. The teacher and students drives the engagement and interactivity, not the technology. The tech is the instrument or tool to enhance the learning but by itself, without true engagement from the human participants, it’s just tech for tech’s sake – the too regular result of educational technology lacking purpose and control.

As Quality Assurance, the teacher role is self evident. We expect quality. The use of technology should produce quality in appearance but we need to make sure we get quality in content as well. This is sometimes overlooked as we get dazzled by the technical wizardry of a Prezi or a Glog. Bells and whistles teach us nothing if they have nothing to say.

What also comes across in this infographic is the need for each “person” to have some skill level in the tech tool being used. While I have often said that teachers don’t have to be experts to allow students to use technology, I’ve also said that students know how to use tech but don’t necessarily know what to use if for. In the experimental stages of technology learning in classes, it’s OK to let the students do the teaching of the basic “how to’s” but for truly effective e-learning teachers need to improve their knowledge. And that’s why e-learning is so hard to do well. Students can e-teach; we need teachers for students to e-learn.

Finally, this infographic highlights how much time is involved in effective e-learning. To me, this stresses the need for teachers to work as teams for e-learning to take place. This is the way teaching is moving anyway, so it’s a matter of teachers realising that e-learning is achievable if they work together. Share the planning, collaborate between grades, bear the burden of these roles together, not individually. Utilize the strengths of individual teachers for the common goal. Who is the Project Manager among you? Who can best deal with Quality Assurance? Who has the creativity in them to be Multimedia designer?

Whether you are implementing an iPad program, starting blogging at your school, using social media like Edmodo for collaboration, using Web 2.0 tools for the first time, or any other tech based initiative, teachers have to take on all these roles. And if you look at it closely, teachers have been taking on these roles well before technology came into prominence.

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Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

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

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 

PROS FOR BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.

CONS OF BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

Web 2.0 for the Under 13s crowd

As I lamented in my last post, many of the fabulous Web tools out there are restricted to users 13 and over. This limits what Elementary/Primary schools students can access online to create content to collaborate. To save others at school some time, then, I have compiled a list of popular/well known Web tools that can and can’t be used by children under 13 – 1), so we are legally covered in what we are allowing our students to use and 2), so they know what is available. Please note that generally the sites that allow for under 13s still ask for parental permission ( even Edmodo if you haven’t read the Terms of Use) so a solid school user agreement is needed to use these tools. Some of the sites are not US based so are not bound by COPPA and CIPA regulations. It still requires schools to carefully check out what can be viewed on these sites to ensure they are appropriate to access.

The difficulty with some sites’ policies is that they don’t all state emphatically that Under 13s are not allowed. They just refer vaguely to not being intended for use or not knowingly seeking personal information from Under 13s. In some cases we have personally contacted sites to confirm their policy. I recommend you do the same – I’m not a lawyer; I’m just expressing my opinions. The links below generally take you to the Policy or FAQ sections to explain use/non-use by students under 13.

 

Available to Under 13s – Free Available to Under 13s – Paid Restricted to 13 and Over
PHOTO SLIDESHOW/MOVIES INTERACTIVE POSTER INTERACTIVE POSTER
Animoto for Education (strict supervision expected as outlined in Education Terms) Here is some info about setting up student accounts GlogsterEDU (Teacher account that can be used to create private student accounts linked to Teacher account- 30 Day Free Trial available which saves your work and students’ if you want to continue with paid option )  Glogster (free account not allowed for Under 13s)
SOCIAL BOOKMARKING AND COLLABORATIVE NOTETAKING 3D ANIMATED STORYTELLING SOCIAL BOOK REVIEWING
Diigo (Teacher account that can be used to create private student accounts linked to Teacher account ) Xtranormal for Education (Teacher controlled accounts)GoAnimate for Schools (secure environment)  Shelfari ( access to any type of book on Amazon so right to limit access to 13 and Over )
EDUCATIONAL NETWORK COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR SOCIAL NETWORKING
Edmodo (Secure teacher controlled system) BitStrips for Schools (secure environment controlled by teacher) Twitter and Facebook ( we all know that even though millions are on Facebook)
BOOK PUBLISHING BOOK PUBLISHING PRESENTATION TOOL
StoryJumper Classroom Edition ( Like Edmodo, a secure teacher controlled system) Zooburst for Educators (secure Teacher Controlled environment Sliderocket(recently changed their policy to not allow Under 13s   – confusing because it implies that with parental permission Under 13s can register and yet they blocked our accounts)Prezi (actually limited to 18 and over)
BOOK PUBLISHING INTERACTIVE TIMELINES
3D ANIMATED STORYTELLING
StoryBird for Schools ( same as StoryJumper) TikiToki (Education account has more options) Xtranormal( it is very easy to find some inappropriate animations on Public version – right to block)GoAnimate
BOOKMARKING MULTIMEDIA AVATAR COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR
Symbaloo (no special conditions – can search for general public’s symbaloos but generally a barebones bookmark button site) Voki (Teacher managed environment) ToonDoo (very clear wording in policy about Under 13s -even the ToonDooSpaces for Schools)
FILE SHARING/CLOUD NETWORK COLLABORATIVE NOTETAKING BOOK PUBLISHING
DropBox ( tricky one – not directed towards Under 13s but if permission granted and no Personal Information is provided – teacher sets up account without using child info – it seems to be OK. School discretion I feel on this one. If web based system is avoided, I can’t see a problem – it’s just like saving to computer)  Evernote (paid account required for sharing and collaborating on notes) Zooburst (a pop up book maker not available to under 13s makes no sense to me but laws are laws!?)
MINDMAPPING SURVEY CREATION
Popplet (not sure about this one – am awaiting a reply to an email I sent for clarification – will change here as soon as I receive reply)UPDATE:reply from Popplet says that as long as teacher creates the account and is responsible in monitoring the account, under 13s can use.                          PollDaddy (can’t work out how why this kind of site is restricted but it is. If you have the iPad app at least the students can conduct the surveys but teacher will have to publish them and log in for results)SurveyMonkey (mentions minors for other countries and Under 13s for USA)
COLLABORATIVE PRESENTATION GOOGLEDOCS
VoiceThread ( a free account must be created by a parent or guardian with permission )  GOOGLE ACCOUNTS        (including Public Google Docs. Hard to find this policy without searching- not in Terms of Use section –  but it is clear on Under 13s restrictions)
PRESENTATION TOOL VIDEO SITES
Prezi EDU ( Tricky one – hard to read policy but after checking forums found a response to a question regarding Under 13s from official Prezi rep that stated with specific parent permission Prezi can be used by Under 13s. See forum links here and here ) SchoolTube ( lacks clarity – can view but can’t upload is my interpretation)YouTube (public site restricted to 13 and Over in terms of user accounts – but like Facebook a lot using it anyway.Schools have to be aware of the terms though.)Vimeo (quite clear in the wording of their policy re: Under 13s)
MULTIMEDIA AVATAR                   
Voki (Supervision recommended, parental permission required and personal information avoided
WEBSITE CREATION
Weebly for Education ( teacher creates student accounts )
WIKIS
Wikispaces (parent email or teacher setup only)
BLOGGING
Edublogs ( no mention of Under 13s – Schools to think about level of privacy settings)Kidblog ( must be over 13 to register but can use with permission if someone else registers for under 13 student)
COMIC/CARTOON CREATOR
BitStrips (parent email contact for approval)
GOOGLE DOCS
 GOOGLEAPPS FOR EDUCATION                     School wide implementation required

Permission for Under 13s required 

WORD CLOUDS
 Wordle   Tagxedo
COLLABORATIVE BOARDS
WallWisher 
INTERACTIVE TIME LINES
TikiToki (limited Free account)
NOTETAKING
Evernote ( another confusingly worded policy – suggests the service is not directed at children but then implies that its more about private information and letting parents know its happened. Get permission, create the accounts and probably OK. )

LINK TO SYMBALOO BOOKMARKS FOR THESE TOOLS

Even though I complained in my last post about restrictions, you can see from this chart that there are still plenty of tools available for the Under 13s. Some of the free options are restricted compared to the paid equivalents but you are paying for the secure environments provided by the education versions. I’m going to continue to investigate more possibilities and add to this post during the year. I’ll also be checking in regularly to see if the policies change ( as happened with SlideRocket) to ensure we are complying with legal requirements. I recommend everyone do the same. It’s one thing for parents to let their kids access sites without checking the terms of use but as schools we can’t be complacent.

Contact sites if you are unclear what their policies are saying. Discuss the possibility of using level budgets to pay for some of the paid options – while they do cost money, they may be better use of money than superfluous stationery or an excursion for the sake of an excursion. Above all, if we are to convince politicians and educational leaders that the Under 13s need access to the Web to learn responsible digital citizenship, then as teachers we need to be responsible and vigilant in their use of the Internet.

Would love to hear from others about other tools I have not listed above that are accessible to the under 13s. Join the conversation.

The problem with underage bias in Web 2.0 tools for schools

The online world of 2012 is a very different beast to the Internet environment of the late 1990s and and early 2000s. Social networking didn’t exist beyond email and chatrooms, dancing baby animated GIFS predated cats playing pianos on YouTube and publishing on the Web involved uploading fairly static webpages using basic WYSIWYG HTML software like Pagemill. Children,educational institutions and government bodies were new to the whole Internet craze and when nasty popups linking to porn and violence began proliferating, it was a natural and necessary reaction for adults To want to protect our innocent children.

Out of this environment of fear and uncertainty rose two laws in the USA that today have a huge impact on education today – CIPA and COPPA. ( Disclaimer – as an Australian teacher, I had little knowledge of these laws until only recently. I don’t profess to be an expert and would be happy to hear from US readers who can explain them more thoroughly). Circa 2000, when these laws came into effect, they made sense. Today, though, I think it’s time for a rethink. Prevention, banning and blocking needs to be replaced by education, engagement and appropriate use encouragement.

I’m writing about this because of recent events at my school. Last year, a tech savvy group of Grade 6 students started presenting their projects using a number of web 2.0 tools they were using at home. At this stage at school we were only dipping the toe in the water with online tools and at first glance, teachers and students were very impressed and wanted to follow the lead of these trailblazing students. It was only after I checked these sites’ terms of use and privacy policies that I discovered the constraints of using some of them. We knew Facebook was off limits to under 13s ( not that the children were necessarily following that rule at home with or without parental approval) but it didn’t dawn on us that these great educationally appropriate web tools were classified under the same umbrella as the social networking giant.

Fast track to 2012 and much investigation and rewriting of school acceptable user policy later, we had employed a range of web 2.0 tools that we had permission for children to use. Then out of the blue, one particular site changed its policy Terms and our students were locked out of their work the day before an assembly to present their work! We contacted them and were informed that because they were under 13 they were not allowed to use the site. We hadn’t broken their original policy but for some reason, even though we had parent permission, they were no longer allowed access.

So this is my beef. Back in 2000, children needed to be protected. There were no education programs dealing with digital citizenship teaching the children how to behave responsibly. Filters needed to be put in place to prevent risk taking students from accessing inappropriate material. There wasn’t much else for students to do on the Net other than look at stuff and play some Flash games. Fast forward to 2012 and the Internet is now an ever changing hive of engaging educational activity. Collaboration, publishing, blogging, video conferencing, researching and so on keep the students too occupied in real tasks for them to waste their time googling unnecessary pictures. (Yes, I know some still do, but hopefully you get the point.)

Educational authorities are espousing the importance of a 21st Century education but apparently that only begins when you become a teenager. Personalised learning is supposed to be about meeting the needs of the individual student but laws limit a 12 year old to Dora the Explorer and ABC for Kids while his 13 year old friend is creating powerful, interactive, collaborative projects online that are wowing classmates and teachers alike. I understand the privacy protection. As a parent, I put a lot of effort into teaching my children as they grew up about what they could and couldn’t do online. Now they’re both teenagers whom I can trust to behave appropriately.

And that’s my point. In 2012, it should be about teaching the students AND their parents ( and in many cases, their teachers as well ) how to exist online. I believe it is far more effective getting younger children to learn ‘on the job’ so that responsible digital citizenship is second nature to them once they reach 13. Waiting until they’re 13 and throwing them in the deep end without supervised training is a poor substitute.

Education in responsible use is the way we are heading in Australia. We still have our filtering ( which is still a necessary precaution) and our government is going too far down the filtering path for ALL Internet users, so I’m not preaching about a superior government here. But programs to educate responsible Internet use while being able to take risks and learn how to deal with problems are better than prohibition. Having said that, educational leaders here still make their own choices about how far they want their schools to go online but guidelines are guidelines, not restrictive laws that prevent potentially great products from being created.

I know US Congress has its hands full at the moment with more important matters, but any time education is on the agenda, can the conversation go beyond standardized testing, teacher layoffs and education budget cuts and move on to amending COPPA and CIPA to match current practice? It just might free up teachers of younger students to do great things with greater access to great tools.

So what do you think? Should Under 13s have more access to web tools? Or should we continue to protect them from a possible inappropriate animation or slideshow? Join the conversation.

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Writing Ballad Poems through ICT tools

After a lot of administrative work last term, I’m finally back regularly doing what I like best – teaching. In my role ( one of many ) as a Lead Teacher supporting the 5/6 Team, I get to teach small groups of students in workshop environments in areas of need and/or choice. This term, the Grade 6 students are beginning their writing workshops by focusing on different narrative forms. As a songwriter, I’ve written many songs in the Ballad style, telling stories through song. This was a natural fit for me to take on a Narrative Workshop based around Ballad Poetry. Combining my talents in writing and ICT, I have decided to heavily incorporate Web tools to teach this unit. Here’s a rundown of how I plan to do it.

My main tool for delivering this unit of work will be Edmodo. I’ve created a subgroup within the main Grade 6 Edmodo group specifically for Ballad
Poetry. Before the lessons even begin next week, I have posted links to Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a YouTube video of the Ballad of Paul Bunyan for an American ballad example, a site showcasing all the ballads of Robin Hood as an introduction to how traditional ballads as story telling originated and a link to a website that has a published version of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, ensuring the students are also exposed to our native Australian ballads. During the next 3 weeks of the unit, I will be encouraging the students to post their own search results of ballads so that they can be exposed to a wide range of the ballad poem form. I think exposure to examples are important in any writing unit, especially in a form they are not accustomed to.

A final link I have provided on the Edmodo page is a excerpt from the Simpsons’ episode, “Bart the Daredevil”, in which Homer goes hurtling down a slope on a skateboard and over Springfield Gorge, with disastrous results as always. When I read and chose Mulga Bill’s Bicycle as an example ballad, my mind immediately flashed to this episode as it related beautifully to the experience of Mulga Bill crashing his bicycle in similar circumstances. I felt that the students would need a contemporary link to this century old poem, and despite the objections of some in educational circles to the Simpsons, I get great engagement from my students whenever I use the cartoon as a crossover into other literature and thematic discussions.

My plan is to begin the unit reading Mulga Bill’s Bicycle and break the poem down into a sequential series of events. I’ll then present the clip of Homer’s disastrous skateboarding experience and do the same breakdown of events. Using the stanzas in the Paterson poem as a guide, we will co-write a ballad of Homer Simpson’s Skateboard. Here I will introduce the students to another Web Tool I like using for quick and easy collaboration – WallWisher. I’ve embedded the shared Wallwisher Pinboard into a post on Edmodo already. The students will review the Simpsons clip while working collaboratively on building the ballad in WallWisher through post-it notes of individual stanzas of rhyming verse. As they experiment, we’ll be able to see everyone’s attempts on our interactive whiteboard. As each stanza appears, we’ll be able to arrange them into a sequential order to tell the story.

20120422-070609.jpg

This way, I’ll be able to emphasise the idea of freely writing parts of poems that flow easily from your imagination instead of being stuck on a particular part and not progressing. By using the post-it notes on WallWisher, we will be able to manipulate individual verses and insert new ideas that fit when they arise. By having the board embedded in Edmodo, we will be able to continue this collaboration beyond the classroom lesson time for homework during the week or during independent writing time.

Once the students start drafting their own poems, we will use Edmodo as a collaborative platform for supporting each others’ writing. Children will be encouraged to post their drafts for others to comment on, allowing them to get assistance from myself or classmates if they get stuck for ideas, rhyming words, rhythm and structure. Once their drafts are ready, I will ask them to submit the writing through the Assignment feature of Edmodo. This will allow me to annotate their work with my suggestions and note, but not correct, grammatical/spelling issues ( correcting doesn’t teach them to edit independently).

We’ve identified that this cohort of students is reluctant or lack skills in editing their writing. I want to address this by allowing them to draft, edit and get teacher feedback through ICT. It means they don’t have to rewrite texts completely, instead just making changes where necessary. I’m hoping this will encourage them to make several revisions to their text, rather than the draft/correct/publish cycle we have perpetuated too much as teachers. Edmodo’s Assignments allows for several revisions to be submitted with the ability for teachers to feedback on each new attempt.

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Early on in the unit, we will be co-creating a rubric that will guide the students in composing their ballads. This will be posted to Edmodo so they can constantly refer to it as they are drafting and be aware of expectations as well as the structures and features to include in their ballads.

Finally, I’m going to spend a short time near the end of each lesson ( one hour duration ) presenting publishing options. I’ll be encouraging but not requiring the students to consider multimedia tools to present their ballads. By the time the unit is over, I would have already seen and assessed their ballads through the Assignments submissions process and as a result they will already have a written option available. I want to encourage the idea that publishing is not just for the purpose of handing up work for the teacher to assess. We should celebrate the creation of the ballad through a movie version, a multimedia slideshow, a comic strip, a blog post for others to see and comment on, or maybe turn it into a song Mr G style!

I’m looking forward to how this process will pan out. If it goes to plan, I hope that other teachers will try out the lesson structure and the use of Edmodo to encourage better editing of written work by students. I’ll return to this post at unit’s end to reflect on how it went. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other teachers about how you have used Edmodo or similar Web Tools to track writing progress.

Wikipedia – what are we afraid of?

WikipediaVia: Open-Site.org

I’m one of the 23% who don’t ban Wikipedia.

I don’t understand the concept of banning an information resource. I get the criticism of Wikipedia. I understand the limitations of Wikipedia. For the life of me, though, I don’t understand banning its use. Why are we in the Educational World so fearful of this Wikipedia thing that 73% of teachers according to this infographic still prevent its use?

We all want our students to be good researchers. Part of this desire, I assume, has led us to develop programs in our classrooms that help to improve our students’ Web Search skills. I mention that because perhaps one of our problems with children and Wikipedia is that 99% of its articles end up on the first page of any Google Search. Are we banning Google Search? No. Well then, instead of banning Wikipedia, let’s look at whether we are educating our students in how to disseminate accurate information from the garbage. Why? – because the other 9 sites sharing the Top 10 Search page are just as likely to be as potentially unreliable as a source of information as the Wikipedia article, sometimes more so. So let’s work out how to support our students in learning good research skills through accessing the tool, instead of avoiding it.

Wikipedia references its sources of information.

Go to any article of useful length on Wikipedia and you will find linked references or quoted text sources. WIkipedia is often a summative recount of all those sources of information. It’s why students go there. It does a lot of the hard work for them. Now, if you want them to do the work, require them to seek out some of those sources and check the accuracy of that information. What is the reliability of the source site? What bias might this source have? What type of website is it? ( you can discuss the merit of .com v .org. v .edu or newspaper articles vs blogs or discussions) If we use textbooks instead of Wikipedia, isn’t this what we would be doing – comparing and cross-referencing for accuracy? Surely it is an easier learning task to check out 10 sources online than trying to flick between 10 different books and random pages within it? Technology isn’t about making it easier so that we don’t have to think. It’s about making it more effective so we do the job more quickly while still learning the same amount or possibly more. If we teach effective use of Wikipedia, this should be the result.

Wikipedia is no more or less biased than any other source of information.

One of the big bugbears with Wikipedia is that it can be contributed to by anyone. This can definitely result in biased, unsubstantiated garbage that needs to be filtered out. Any Obama/Bush/Gillard/Abbott/Lady Gaga/David Beckham/Charlie Sheen (etc, etc) hater can freely post hate speech on a wiki article. Eventually, though, it is found by Wiki editors and removed, but yes, by then it has already spread to the ill informed. But guess what?  This same overheated, one way stream of half truths can be spread by every other form of media from both sides of the political, ideological or religious spectra. We don’t ban our Left wing or Right Wing shock jocks from spouting their diatribes of exaggeration on a daily basis. So why ban Wikipedia? Again, let’s use it along with the extreme views of other media sources to educate our students about fact and opinion, checking out both sides of the debate, fact checking your information. This is of far more educational value than banning a resource that has much to offer, despite its limitations.

Wikipedia is about as accurate as any other resource. Check the stats.

Look at the above infographic. We’re quibbling over 0.94 mistakes per article when comparing Britannica to Wikipedia; 2% accuracy differential when comparing textbooks to Wikipedia. Are those numbers a reason to brand it unreliable and ban it? When any school library would be full of books about the Solar System that still list Pluto as a planet and have atlases without East Timor on the map as a nation? There is no such thing as 100% accuracy. All surveys come with that +/-2% disclaimer. In the 21st Century Curriculum, in which critical thinking is one of the key skills, we should be embracing resources that encourage challenging their reliability and allowing us to edit for accuracy.

Make the students part of the solution, not restricted from the problem

Wikipedia is open source. If we find mistakes, we can fix it. An error in a textbook stays there. A misquote in a news program remains said. If we want to engage our students in truly useful research, then get them involved in editing Wikipedia. Make them check their sources. Get them to be the information creators, not the takers(plagiarisers). That’s real learning. And it’s far more useful than banning.

Throughout history, banning has never worked. Cigarettes and Drugs are still around. Inappropriate websites find ways to be accessed. Hey, Nazis and KKK members are still out there in numbers. Banning the use of Wikipedia is not going to stop us from using it. Just look at the stats above. So let’s get serious in Education and embrace this information provider, using it as a teaching tool for critical thinking. That’s my take. What about you? Does your school ban Wikipedia? Do you agree or disagree? How do you encourage good research in your students? Join in the conversation.

Getting teachers on board the iPad Express

Technology has been with us since I’ve been a teacher. I started my career succumbing to the alluring aroma of the Gestetner (Ditto/Banda/spirit duplicator) machine and its purple stained sheet. Then the photocopier arrived and we didn’t think it could get any better than making copies of a page for every child. The reality is that many teachers still rely heavily on the immediacy and simplicity of the photocopied black line master provided by someone else. It is far less confusing that all that technical mum jumbo introduced with the computer in the 90s.

The challenge then with the iPad is like anything else computer related. Can we get the teachers on board? Regardless of Apple’s PR machine telling us how magical and simple it is, despite the fact a toddler can pick one up and play games without batting their cute little eyelids, the fact remains there are still many teachers who haven’t embraced laptops after 15 years of exposure let alone a completely different system present in the iPad. Already inundated with training in new Maths and Literacy methods, weighed down by the pressures of Personalising learning and continuous assessment, asking the reluctant techno phobe to spend time learning the tricks of the wonder tablet can be a big ask.

So how do we do it? For successful integration of iPads in classrooms to happen, you have to convince the classroom teacher that it’s worth the effort. In no particular order, these are my suggestions (with a little help from my blogging friends).

Get Leadership on board.
Sometimes it’s easy for leaders to see or hear about something and want it to happen. They then pass it on to the next level with the specific expertise in the area to make it happen. Nothing wrong with that.

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That’s distributive leadership and in theory it works effectively. The problem arises when there are so many initiatives within a school there is a battle for ‘airtime’ to get your ‘baby’ in the spotlight at staff meetings, planning days, and so on. So, for me, it becomes really important that if the iPad is to become reality at the school, the leadership of the school have to live with it as well. Staff have to see the leaders of the school embrace the iPad at the school. The leaders have to initiate conversation about it. They have to be seen using it and talking about how they can see it being used in their area of expertise. Everyone expects the ICT leaders to do it. They’re experts – it’s easy for them. But if the previously reluctant literacy or numeracy co-ordinator presents a staff meeting using the iPad as a tool, if the principal shares a reflection made using an iPad, maybe, just maybe, the unsure members of the staff may have a go at trying out this new device.

Early testers
You can’t expect everyone to jump on board just because you’re excited. Everyone has their own stuff to do and won’t take the time to try something new just because you want them to. From my experience, compliance doesn’t work. Teachers go through the motions in public or give it a go for the required time, then go back to their preferred way of being when no one’s watching. Hey, I’ve done it, so let’s not kid ourselves.

A far more practical way is to get the Willing involved. Get a small group of early adopters together, preferably one from each level if you can, and build their capacity for using the iPad. Give them the chance to discover new ways of teaching with it. Provide opportunities for them to share their ideas with their colleagues. Some team teaching/collaboration could show the reluctant how the iPad can work with their students. Of course it won’t be all plain sailing. They’ll get distracted by the gimmicky. They’ll misunderstand what some apps can do. They’ll be unsure of all the possibilities. However, over time, with support, I think it will work.

Professional Development
Obviously not the typical “everyone sit in front of an interactive whiteboard and watch how great this is” style of PD. The introduction of ICT tools need better than that. I’m talking about continuous, regular, “hands on” collaboration. One of my favorite bloggers, Henrietta Miller, introduced me to the idea of Techie Brekkies.

The stark reality in schools is that staff meetings are almost fully booked before the year begins. In competition with Literacy, Numeracy, Inquiry, Administrative matters, and all the other stuff that just has to happen, ICT would be lucky to get a couple of meetings a year. So you have to be smart and creative. Techie Brekkies are a way of getting teachers together informally to learn, share, collaborate in small doses on a single topic voluntarily. (more detailed info here courtesy of Henrietta). We started late last year. We had some good ones. We had some bad ones. This year I hope to be more organized and offer a more structured program in collaboration with what teachers want. we have to get the timing right as well so more will commit. But I see it as vital.

Finally, the real experts – the kids!
Teachers want the best for their students. There’s no doubt about that. If, and to be honest it’s still a big if, the iPads could make a big difference to their learning, teachers will want them in their rooms. So what better way to get teachers on board than to get their class to convince them.

20120128-104308.jpgDon’t let the teachers hang onto the iPads too long. Get them in the hands of those we are supposed to be buying them for. As I mentioned in my “no web 2.0 = iPad fail” post, web 2.0 tools exploded in Grade 6 last year because the kids were already using them at home and introduced them to classes through their presentations. Children find this whole technology thing a lot more natural than most of us adults. While we are muddling around trying to work out whether to pinch, swipe or double tap, they have probably already half finished their animation or movie on the iPad. left alone, children experiment instead of panic. They try instead of give up. So give the iPads to them. Either way it will work out. If they love them and embrace them, then teacher will want them in their room. On the other hand, if we discover they are not as excited about them as we thought they would be, then we will quickly find out we don’t need to blow $30000 on equipment we don’t need.

As an aside, I hope to work with our school’s newly elected student ICT leadership team along with our ICT Leader to develop capacity in using ICT in all classrooms. If it gets off the ground ( and we haven’t had the discussion yet as a school so it may not), I can see this as an opportunity for these students to be a great support in testing iPad apps out and sharing with the school. We may even get them to start a blog like me to help out the school community. Just a thought but you have to dream.

It’s all fantastic for school leaders and individuals alike to have great ideas. However, without the teachers being on board with the idea, it never works. So, if you’re planning on implementing some kind of iPad program in the future, consider these issues carefully.

To be honest, I’ve only lived through a fraction of what I have discussed here. The majority of it is hope and theory. I’d love to hear from other schools who have actually gone “whole hog” with iPads or just started smaller programs as well. How did you do it? Am I making sense or well off the mark? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

Web 2.0 = iPad fail?

One of the biggest moves we made in the 5/6 level last year was the integration of “Web 2.0” tools into our teaching and learning practices. Many of the tools entered the classroom psyche through tech savvy students bringing in presentations made at home that wowed adult and child alike. Other tools were introduced by teachers after discovering them on the Net themselves or through my recommendations on our Edmodo page.

Once the students were introduced to them, the ‘digital natives’ took them on board and before we had a chance to ‘check the site policies’, we had projects presented through Glogster, Xtranormal, Prezi, YouTube as well as iMovies from the “Mac Kids”. And the quality and depth of their work was outstanding and engaging! So the last thing we want to do is take these tools away ( although once the dust settled and I had the chance to check the site policies, some of these tools were supposed to be out of bounds for our “Under 13s”. This is something we will have to deal with this year with some deft policy/user agreement and parent permission note writing!)

Which once again brings us to Part 2 of “Do we NEED iPads?” titled “Web 2.0=iPad Fail?”.

Probably the single biggest criticism of the iPad since its birth has been its inability to work with Adobe’s Flash technology. So many interactive websites use it for their animation, video and content creation tools. While a new standard known as HTML5 is slowly being embraced on many major sites like YouTube and many big news websites so iOS users don’t miss out, in the Education Website world which we live in, Flash dominates. Javascript is also an issue.

The problem is that so many sites that the children started using last year for their projects and presentations DON’T work on the iPad. Glogster? Useless. Prezi? No go ( the iPad has a Prezi viewer app but students need to create them first ). Xtranormal? Nope. On top of that, popular sites like NLMV for Math Manipulatives and Jenny Eather’s Maths Dictionary for Kids are also non-functional on an iPad because of Flash and Javascript incompatibilities. Lots of sites the students find with Google for research or online Maths and Literacy games end up having a ton of Flash based animations that bring up blank pages and expressions when visited on iOS devices.Even sites that just offer file uploading options don’t work with the iOS file system.  It might be OK for Steve Jobs RIP and my fellow Apple disciples  to tell us “Flash Sucks” and they hardly notice it missing in their world but in the educational world, it is quite pervasive.

That being the case then, is the iPad too crippled a device to invest in when so much of what is on the WWW for education is out of reach? Short answer – No. Long Answer – No with a bit of Yes and Maybe thrown in the mix.

What the iPad lacks in Web 2.0 access it easily makes up in alternatives through its Apps. To begin with, some Web 2.0 tools have now released their on iPad apps so that they can be used anyway. VoiceThread is a good example of this; Popplet and Coveritlive are others. Any unqualified to speak, anti-iPad blogger who is still pushing the “iPad is for media consumption, not creation” line is completely unaware of the huge array of apps that children can use for content creation. Apple’s own iWork apps ( Pages, Numbers, Keynote) as well as iMovie and Garageband are great, easy to use tools that produce fantastic results for students. There are now ebook creating apps like Book Creator, Demi Books Composer,and Creative Book Builder and other creative options like StoryPatch that make great books for others to explore. Creative visual story/animation/comic apps abound that give children great scope in presenting their learning. Try out some of the following:

ToonTastic  SockPuppets  iStopMotion ( yes its on the iPad)  iMotion HD  Animation Desk
PhotoPuppets  Comic Life  Strip Designer  ScrapPad

Then there are the photo editing apps like Snapseed, Iris and Pixlromatic that are so easy to use and produce great results and Screencasting apps like ShowMe and Explain Everything that can be use to demonstrate their learning in so many ways. Not to mention all the Maths and Literacy apps that easily match the stuff on the Flash Web.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Web apps like Glogster, Prezi and Xtranormal. So do the students. I want them to use them. Eventually, many of them will convert from Flash to HTML5. Rumour has it that Glogster is close to doing so. Others will follow. We hope.
From what I hear from others on PLNs I’m part of, a lot of these sites are blocked by a lot of schools anyway. That’s a shame but helps my argument. At our school, iPads or not, they still can still use the web tools with the access to laptops and desktops they have anyway. So we can have the best of both worlds. My point is though that the iPad can offer plenty without the Flash dependent world of Online Ed sites. My argument in my last post was that the iPad had to be a different experience to warrant the cost anyway.With the app model instead of Web 2.0, they are.  So does No Web 2.0 = iPad fail? I don’t think so. But what do you think? Is no Flash a no iPad for you?
Next up: my biggest challenge. Can we share iPads?

We already have laptops. Do we need iPads too?

When the 210 members of 5/6 Learning community moved into our $3 million gift from the BER government program last year, we walked into a facility with a dedicated computer lab with 30 desktop computers, a “Learning Street” and classrooms with another 30 odd desktops, 3 laptop trolleys totally 45 laptops, 11 iWBs and free access to a range of flip cameras, digital cameras and microphone recorders. During the year, all the teachers received personal laptops and an iPod Touch as well, which students were also able to access. That’s a heck of a lot of tech compared to previous years.

The question was then asked – what about iPads? Despite the fact my personal iPad was forever by my side in all learning and teaching settings, I still found myself asking – We already have laptops. How is the iPad going to be a better experience? Do we need yet another ICT device to add to our collection of gadgets? So let’s then look at the argument for more laptops rather than iPads.

During the year, the laptops became indispensable aids for learning for our 5/6 students. The open spaces of our new building allowed the freedom for children to find a quiet place for independent research or content creation while also being able to easily bring their work on the laptop to any available teacher or other student for feedback or support. At other times, small groups would gather around a laptop and collaborate on projects, brainstorm ideas, edit each other’s work and present their work quickly with each other. The students had easy access to web 2.0 sites for content creation and were able to independently integrate AV recordings with their work. The students were free to use any technology that was available and many were at a level of expertise beyond the teachers in the level.

So the freedom, portability and sharing argument in support of the iPad is covered by laptops here then? They were already getting their work done effectively? Access to already available digital AV recording devices made creative work a snap? (access to software and web 2.0 tools will be covered in a separate post) If we are going to spend up big again, surely we should continue along the laptop path. It’s worked so far so “Why get iPads?”

“The court would now like to present its case in defense of the iPad”

For me, one of the biggest advantages the iPad has over the laptop model is ease of use and accessibility. The touch interface and app system makes it so easy to access learning tools. On a typical laptop set up at school , you have to open the lid, turn it on, wait for it to load, log in to your account, click on the Internet shortcut or scroll through levels of start menu items, type in the website address or click on the bookmark to get access to Google Maps for example. On the iPad , you click on the home button, hit Maps and you’re there. Want a dictionary? Same. Calculator. Tap-tap-on! Need to find a bible reference (work in Catholic school)? Ditto – just hit the bible app icon and you’re in. 20120120-000248.jpg The time saved using iOS ( or even, dare I say it, Android ) can really add up in a busy day at school. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the instant access to the specific task oriented app is a winner and a time saver. Even the instant “touch what you need” interface as opposed to scroll and click system of standard computers makes a difference. Also, returning to work later on in the day is as simple as returning to the app, not logging in again, finding the program and looking for your file on a laptop.

Another no contest is the access to AV tools on the iPad. Sure, laptops have built in microphones and cameras but using them is way more cumbersome. The laptop camera is really only for face to face video conferencing and recording tools that are preinstalled on most laptops are unsatisfactory. Of course, we have the cameras and microphones at school to do the job but by the time, you connect to the laptop, Windows goes thorough its ‘Wizard’ magic and you wait for a GB or two of video, photos and audio to copy over to the computer and then find it in the software you use, anyone on an iPad has finished their project before you have started. In today’s visual learning environment, this is a huge advantage.

Viewing media or work on an iPad is also superior to the laptop experience. The full screen set up on an iPad coupled with the touch interface of flick and change makes viewing photos, websites, texts and documents much easier than the scrolling method of standard computers. The multitouch resizing and panning enables focusing on specific parts with great ease. In terms of sharing and collaborating, the physical size and design of the iPad wins over the limitations of the vertical one sided viewing experience of the laptop. Laid down flat, anyone in a group can see the screen and passing it around is so much easier than a heavier, flip top laptop. Inputting anything on a laptop means complete control over mouse and trackpad/mouse. On the iPad, any touch will do. These might seem like little things but especially for little children, it makes a difference to their learning experience.

Laptops have never been great for reading. Yes, clearly we do read text on them constantly, but I have to say, since I’ve had my iPad, I barely use my MacBook or iMac for any reading or research. Let’s face it, we like to hold what we read. we want to focus just on the text, not all the other distractions on a laptop. Reading on an iPad or any other tablet for that matter is just like holding a book – with added advantages. As a learning experience I love being able to access a text on the iPad with an app like iBooks or Kindle for ebooks or Goodreader for documents and be able to annotate, highlight, look up definitions all with simple touch.
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Some would argue that without the ability to have two apps open at the same time side by side it’s harder to take notes from the Internet. That’s true but there are now apps for that anyway. I suppose it is personal preference for some but for me, the research/reading experience on an iPad kills the laptop again.

Final point for me to make is the one issue that Apple products rarely if ever win – affordability. As a long suffering Mac man in Australian schools, I have always lost out with the number crunchers in the PC v Mac debate on sheer dollar numbers. However, the 32 GB iPad cost the same as the laptops we have at school at present. The bigger deal for me though is the price of apps. Putting aside the plethora of excellent free apps as a basis for the argument, I’ve always been amazed at the amount of money spent on software licensing for multiple users on school computers. Mac or PC, the prohibitive costs of software puts so many potentially great programs out of reach of the students and teachers. So much money and effort is put into turning what is essentially Adult Work software (AKA Microsoft Office) into useful children’s software that there is very little left for other software. Without web 2.0, we would probably have about 6 useful pieces of software on our laptops. That’s all we can afford other than crippled demos.

Apps on the other hand are ridiculously cheap. Even if we have to purchase an app per iPad every time we download, it’s not even close to the cost of licenses on computers. Yes it’s extra money buying new software instead of installing already owned software on new laptops but eventually upgrading comes at a cost anyway. IPad app upgrades are free. So many more options are accessible for such small cost on iPads (and yes other tablets too but I’m arguing on behalf of Apple’s tool here) that it can greatly impact on learning opportunities. 50 different 99¢ or $2-3 apps x 100 iPads would still be cheaper than a Microsoft Office or iWork upgrade. In my opinion, in a battle between laptops and iPads on price alone, Apple finally wins a cost war.

So that’s my first post on “do we NEED iPads?” I think I’ve convinced myself that the iPad can be a different and better learning experience to add on to our already impressive ICT inventory. If its a choice between new laptops or iPads, I’m going with the iPad.

But what do you think? Have I been too negative towards laptops? Is my iPad bias showing too strongly? Please leave a comment to add to the debate. I am very interested in other opinions based on different experiences. This is only the first round. I’ve still got the other six points from my original introductory post to raise. Some of them are harder to argue. Hope to hear from you.