Thursday, November 18, 2010

Glee, Generation Y and Tweets

Hi Followers,

Sorry for the long delay between postings but I was finishing up my Masters and I now have a 6 month old at home, so as I'm sure you can imagine, I've been quite busy. However, last night's Glee inspired me to get back into my blogging and hopefully post on a more regular basis!

What was so special about Glee last night? The episode, entitled "The Substitute", touched on a hot educational topic. How do we engage "Gen-Y" students who learn differently than generations before them? In a scene (around 28:10) between Mr. Schuster and the substitute, the latter questions Will about his teaching methods telling him that he needs to make learning more "fun" to engage his students. She tells Will that "we can't expects kids to sit up and pay attention. These kids feel special. They have a voice and if we don't listen to it, they tune us out." The characters elaborates by saying that these kids care about themselves, "if they get bored, they change their Facebook status, they're entitled to have all these emotions.. they're entitled for the world to care about them, that's what this generation is about." While I might not agree with this sentiment across the board, it is certainly true that this generation expects instantanous interaction and some say they care more about making a difference in the world than in making money. They often feel entitled and need to be engaged in authentic hands-on learning. To make her point, the substitute asks Will what he does when a kid does something really great in class, to which he replies "I praise them". She, on the other hand, tells Will, "I Tweet them about it, right there and then, and for those 30 seconds I know that that kid has a connection with me." This was an AH-HA moment for me. Yet another example of using Web 2.0 tools to engage generation Y students. But, Will's character did make a good point when he said that the job of a great teacher is to enlighten students about multiple points of view. I think that is definitely true but I don't think it's too the exclusion of reaching kids in new ways, ways that capture their limited attention span. 

The only flaw in this example is that most schools don't allow cell phones or other smart devices in the classroom, so how will the students know they've been tweeted. Maybe they will see it later, maybe not. Neverless the concept - reaching students in new technological ways - still rings true.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

National Standards - It's About Time!

Hot off the press: Almost every State has signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The goal: National Standards for ELA and Math that are "fewer, clearer, higher", supported by evidence and benchmarked against international standards. And, they will be rigorous:

"The standards will include high-level cognitive demands by asking students to demonstrate deep conceptual understanding through the application of content knowledge and skills to new situations. High-level cognitive demand includes reasoning, justification, synthesis, analysis, and problem-solving."

Finally. This is what we have been waiting for. Of course, I'd like to see it for Science and Social Studies as well. I'd also like to see the standards incorporate more use of technology as a tool for achieving these goals. But, I provided this as my feedback, and you can too! As long as you do it today.... Check out the standards and comment at Core Standards.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Call to Action: 21st Century Learning

This video is a bit dated (at least 2 years old) but the message is still relevant.

I just learned that there is an updated video (version 4.0 actually!) and I was going to just replace the old one with the new one. However, I think it's worthwhile to view both and see just how much has changed in only 2 years!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Saving YouTube Videos: When Embed Just Doesn't Work

Here's a quick tip for the day. KeepVid allows you to download streamed videos so that you can view them offline. This is especially helpful if you want to show YouTube videos in a school setting when YouTube is blocked. However, remember your digital etiquette and cite the source! Give credit where credit is due...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Writing Collaboratively: Wiki's or Google Docs?

There has been much discussion lately about the use of collaborative tools in education, especially to solve problems and create joint artifacts. In the "old" days, you might just use email to share comments or send a document back and forth. Today, there are much better options. Google Docs lets multiple users work simultaneously on a document and Wikis let multiple users update the same workspace.

I am currently in the process of writing a book with some colleagues who reside in different states and we have used both Google docs and Wiki's as part of our process. As features do vary by Wiki platform, I'll be discussing Wikispaces unless otherwise noted. There are several advantages and disadvantages to each which I will outline here:

1. Font Styles & Colors
Google Docs has a much easier interface and friendly formatting than Wikispaces. For example, in Wikispaces, changing the color of the font for a bulleted list and its heading only changes the list items. The heading remains its original color. Wikispaces also generates a popup window to make these formatting changes whereas Google Docs works the same way as Microsoft Word (inline).

2. Organization
Wikispaces wins for organization. It is very easy to set up sub-pages and link them on the sidebar. It's also easy to create links to the sub-pages from higher level pages. Because Wiki's allow you to view and edit the the underlying code, it is much like HTML. Linking to pages and anchors is a fairly common task. Google Docs uses something called bookmarking to create tags within the document, but all of your editing is still in one long document which can get unwieldy - Fast! If you want to have "sub-pages" you have to create separate Docs and open each one-at-a-time. It's not easy to move among pages at a whim. For this reason, we quickly decided to use Google Docs to maintain our main outline (to become our Table of Contents) and use Wikispaces for the actual editing of sections and chapters.

Both Google Docs and Wikispaces have their pros and cons. Google Docs is by far the easiest tool to use to make inline comments about a given piece of text. Two different methods are offered.
  • Comments - These are placed right next to the text in a shaded box with an automatic date/time stamp.
  • Footnotes - These are placed in a right-hand sidebar that resembles a comic strip bubble. When you click on the bubble, a pound symbol next to the word or phrase is highlighted.
Both of these mechanisms are useful for providing feedback or editing suggestions, or notes about something needed to be added later. Wikispaces offers no easy way to add inline comments about specific textual items on a page. We have taken to using red or bold text in [brackets] to indicate notes to each other. However, Wikispaces offers a different feature called Discussion. In the case of Wikispaces, this is a discussion board that lets users make overall comments about a specific page and tracks the comments in threads. Other Wiki platforms like Wikipedia and Wikibooks offer Discussion in the form of blank page with running commentary. PBWiki doesn't seem to offer a place for discussion.

Since comments are a major component of collaborative spaces, it will be important for you to evaluate which of these features works best for you, taking into account the other factors mentioned in this blog.

4. Notifications
Another important component for collaboration is notification of changes. Google Docs offers a way to send a message to collaborators (under the Share drop-down) where you can tell your fellow collaborators of changes you made. Other than this forced method, it doesn't seem to send notifications automatically. Wikipages is somewhat opposite. While there is no way to send a message to collaborators, each member can request notifications of either a given page or the entire Wiki site. Notifications can be sent either in email form or via an RSS feed to your favorite reader. Ideally, I'd like to see both options offered: push and pull notifications with both tools. PBWiki has this option - the creator decides if updates made by members automatically sends a notification by email (push) and the creator also decides if members can access the RSS feed (pull).

5. Changes
Regardless of the notification method, both tools let you view recent changes that have been made. Google Docs calls it revision history which is really what it is. The nice part is that you can revert back to previous versions, but discovering the changes in the most recent version is difficult. The first few words of the changes are listed but formatting changes simply say "no text added". The only real way to see the changes is to select revisions to compare and search through the long document for highlighted text by color (a different color is assigned to each user). Wikispaces works similarly in that you have to choose two versions to compare but instead of highlighting changes by user, it highlights changes by "inserted text" and "deleted text" which I find easier to manage. Another nice feature is that it lets the user add a comment about the changes made which show up in the history list.

5. Other Features
There are an assortment of other features that each tool offers but these are not standard across the board so I'll just list a few here.
  • Google Docs - Import/Export with MS Word (allows you to interchange with .doc format) & Publish to Web (converts document to HTML and makes it public).
  • Wikispaces - Wiki Statistics & Space Usage (tells you about the traffic and usage of the Space). The biggest selling point for me with Wikispaces is that they offer a free Plus plan if the site is being used for education.
  • PBWiki - Folders (lets you create folders containing sub-pages rather than having to manage the organization of sub-pages yourself) & Tags (another way to organize the page).

Hopefully this will help you decide which tool to use depending on the goals of the collaborative project.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Google Gadget "Motion Chart" as a Mindtool

In my most recent class: Computers, Problem Solving and Cooperative Learning we are studying about how Mindtools can be used in the classroom to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills. These technology tools provide the opportunity for students to analyze, organize, inquiry and hypothesize in ways that are difficult to do without such tools. Mindtools include such technologies as concept maps, spreadsheets, expert systems, databases, presentation software, and modeling/simulations.

In the case of spreadsheets, gathering data and representing the information visually in the form of graphs and charts allows students to see new relationships among the data that they might not originally detect from the raw numbers. It ideally will also prompt them to ask questions about patterns and trends that become visible.


Google Docs spreadsheet was used to create this representation showing Immigration Trends in the U.S. since 1850. The Google Gadget Motion Chart culls data from several columns including "entity" and "time" to present an entirely new view of the data. Very cool! I think students will definitely appreciate and embrace this tool as a way to enhance their own learning.

View the full set of data and change axes and variables for different results.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Technology of Michael Jackson

No matter what you call him - "The King of Pop", "Wacko Jacko", or even "MJ", Michael Jackson transcended music of his day. He was groundbreaking, always pushing the boundaries of both music and music videos. While this may be a little off-topic, I felt the need to highlight some of the ways that Michael Jackson utilized technology in ways that made him iconic.
  • The first and most obvious thing that comes to mind is "Black and White" with its impressive never done before video morphing technology. It was so ahead of its time that many music video networks cut off the last four controversial minutes of the video. Not to mention the theme that typifies all that Michael Jackson represented.
  • Billie Jean and Moonwalking. While not technical in the traditional sense, the moon walking first revealed to the world in Billie Jean made seemingly walking forward while actually walking background a natural occurrence. It was also the first video by a black artist to appear on MTV shattering racial divides that existed at the time.
  • You can't talk about Michael Jackson and Technology and not talk about Thriller. The first music video that was more like a featurette, his choreography, costumes, music and the transformation of himself into a werewolf and a zombie was trendsetting.
  • In Beat It, Michael Jackson used real gang members (80 in fact!), not actors, to portray the story.
  • Scream was his attempt to speak out against the media backlash and criticism Michael had been receiving. It was not only the first video response, but a classic example of digital citizenship at work.
  • Another music video featurette, Remember the Time set in ancient Egypt, was recognized for groundbreaking visual effects and appearances.
  • Even Rock with You, an early video, used visual effects in ways that hadn't been done before.
  • The stunning images in Heal the World and We Are the World, inspired and produced by Michael Jackson, reveal his passion for tackling big challenges and helping others. He was perhaps the first to realize the power of music and video for sending a message to the world.
These are just a few examples from the huge legacy that is Michael Jackson. Today, with Web 2.0 technologies, students can create amazing audiovisual effects and send powerful messages through multimedia. Michael Jackson was one of the first to do it - with less flexible tools (and obviously more money) - and we will always remember him as a legend of music and storytelling. Michael, you will be missed.

Thanks to the Examiner for some of the facts in this post.