Posted on January 3, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
When I was twelve years old, my family purchased its first computer, a TRS-80. My father was sort of a computer guy and first learned to program using punch cards on a mainframe at a local university. He wanted his sons to learn to program as well and presented us with the TRS-80 for Christmas. My brothers and I learned to program in BASIC and we stored these very simple programs on cassettes after hours and hours of “coding.” We would anxiously run the program, hopeful that no error messages would disrupt the process.
I share these nerdy holiday memories to demonstrate how far we’ve come as a society. Thirty years ago, the TRS-80 was a relative novelty. Now, almost every teenager walks around with a device that is far more powerful than that computer. The Pew Internet Research Center reports that 75% of teenagers (ages 12-17) own cell phones. While educators often complain about these devices being huge distractions in classrooms, I think we miss the power that these devices hold. Although I doubt anyone is learning to program in BASIC on their cell phone, mobile devices can be tremendous tools, especially in classroom settings. Sites like PollEverywhere allow educators to easily create free cell phone polls to engage their students and assess their understanding. The downside of Polleverywhere, however, is that it only allows one-way communication. While its great that students can respond to a poll with a text message, the site isn’t really designed to promote teacher-student or student-student interaction.
That’s where Celly comes in. While Celly allows for student polling, it also offers so much more. With Celly, an educator can create a “cell” to promote communication and interaction across a group of students. The cell can be tailored in a variety of ways, allowing teachers to customize how they interact with their students. A teacher can create a cell to send out text announcements to students or create a cell that allows students to interact with one another. For those of you who may be concerned about privacy, Celly blocks the phone numbers from text messages so you don’t need to be worried about being texted by students in the middle of the night.
The important thing to remember is that cell phones can be powerful communication devices when used properly. While we don’t want to promote texting while driving or personal texting during class time, we can’t forget that cell phones are mini-computers with tremendous computing power. Celly can help us expand how we communicate and interact with our students and, best of all, it’s free! For help getting started, check out this Celly guide and this short tutorial.
Filed under: Communication, Student engagement | Tagged: free cell phone, internet research center | 2 Comments »
Posted on December 13, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
As class sizes continue to grow, educators are exploring new ways to connect with students and engage them in classroom discussions. For instance, “clickers” are becoming more popular as assessment tools in classrooms. Clickers function like game show response systems and can provide real time data on what students understand and what they are struggling with. When used effectively, clickers can be great tools to interact with a large class of students. One of my reservations about clickers, however, is that the system is fundamentally built upon the educator asking questions (usually of the multiple choice variety) and students responding. While this type of classroom discourse can be beneficial for students, I feel we need to create more opportunities to dialogue with students in large classes, allowing to students to ask their questions and contribute to the discussion.
One technology-based solution is called a “backchannel.” A backchannel is the practice of having an online conversation alongside a face-to-face presentation. Backchannels are hardly new but the tools are becoming easier to use and more mobile. For instance, I’ve attended a handful of presentations recently that used TodaysMeet to allow attendees to discuss concepts and to ask questions during the presentation. TodaysMeet is easy to set up and works with smartphones, laptops and iPads. Simply name your backchannel room, select how long you want the room to be active and you’re ready to go. Once the link is shared with students, they can begin contributing to the backchannel during a classroom lesson after they’ve created a backchannel alias.
While the backchannel is a viable solution for creating discussions in large classes, I want to caution educators who may want to jump into the backchanneling world. Many students are not used to this type of communication and may struggle at first with how to use the tool effectively. Although it may be easy to technically participate in a backchannel, using the space for real productive dialogue may take some time to develop. Educators may want to outline some basic ground rules beforehand to help guide students to use the backchannel appropriately. Once these ground rules are set, however, students may respond positively to the backchannel platform and may find having an “alias” liberating. The backchannel may free them to ask questions they may be less comfortable asking in the face-to-face environment, especially when they’re sitting a big classroom with a large group of students.
Filed under: Communication | Leave a Comment »
Posted on October 31, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
As a blogger, I get ideas for posts from a variety of different sources. Sometimes, I get ideas from reading other blogs or checking out different technology sites. Other times, I’ll get an idea from a colleague who mentions a website or an app they’ve been using. This week, I need to credit one of my students who asked about using Stixy for a classroom project. I honestly hadn’t heard of the site prior to her question and looked into it. After checking the site out, I realize now that I had been missing out on a tremendous resource. Thanks Marybeth!
Stixy is an online tool for building collaboration across groups of individuals. The site works like an online bulletin board, where users can post photos, documents, notes and todo lists. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. Just drag and drop objects onto the stixyboard and position the objects where you’d like. Stixyboards are shareable, too. One person can start a stixyboard and share it with colleagues who can build on it. The site is free and currently in Beta, meaning they’re still testing the site out to work out the bugs.
Used educationally, Stixy would be a great site for to students to use to help manage a group project. The students could create a stixyboard to manage the different tasks in the project timeline, assign roles to group members and share files. Rather than have files and communication streams littered across a multitude of emails, Stixy could house all of that information in a graphical format that is accessible to all of the group members simultaneously. Besides supporting collaborative groups, the site would also be a great portfolio tool. Students could design a stixyboard to highlight the different projects they had created.
For help getting started with Stixy, be sure to check out this tutorial:
Filed under: Collaboration, Communication | 1 Comment »
Posted on August 30, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we integrate technology into our classrooms. I attended a presentation recently where the speaker talked about the SAMR Model. The model, introduced by Ruben Puentedura, demonstrates different ways that educators bring technology into their classroom. The model presents a hierarchy of integration phases that educators typically employ. For instance, educators can integrate technology as a substitution to something they typically have done. Maybe they replace their traditional chalkboard lectures with Powerpoint slides. In this situation, the technology acts as a direct substitute to the traditional method with little functional improvement. In other phases of the SAMR Model, Puentedura explains that educators integrate technology as an augmentation to previous practice. Here the technology acts as a direct substitute but with functional improvement. Maybe students are using word processing tools to complete projects. In the higher phases of the model, educators completely transform their classroom so new means of collaboration and communication are leveraged. For example, educators can integrate technology as a modification to their classroom practice, completely redesigning an activity so that students are now interacting in new ways. An example would be allowing students to collaborate through Google Docs on projects. Here, students are able to work together to edit and build on each other’s work.
In Puentedura’s highest phase of integration, educators integrate technology as a complete redefinition of classroom activity. Students collaborate with experts, author new content and publish their work to the world. In this process, the student’s role evolves from being a consumer of information and content to being a producer. Maybe students are blogging about their research or sharing their findings in a wiki. In a redefined classroom, the student isn’t just a passive receiver of information but an active participant in a worldwide forum.
As I’ve been mulling over the SAMR model, I think the hierarchy has some flaws. I don’t think the phases are as discrete as Puentedura proposes and I think the hierarchy lends itself to labeling some integration as better than others. I also believe that the representations of the model focus too much on tasks and tools and too little on the most important component of what we do: student learning. While the model has some issues, I thought it would be a great conversation starter and possibly provoke some thought.
For those of you starting school this week, have a great start to your school year.
Filed under: Collaboration, Communication | 3 Comments »