Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Typing - Are you game?
Occasionally on the EDTECH Listserv, there will be requests for typing Web site recommendations. I have compiled a list of these sites in my del.icio.us favorites. Most of the sites offer tutorials, games, and tests for free, paid for by advertising. So, if you can look past the ads, these sites offer fun ways for typists of all ages to improve their keyboarding skills.

A new favorite of mine is Typing Shark. The premise of the game is simple - you, the diver, must destroy the sharks and piranhas by typing the characters and words on their sides before they carry you away for lunch. Some sharks sport backward and changing characters, making them more difficult to destroy. The online version of the game has several difficulty settings and a limited number of levels. A full version of the game is available for purchase.

With the availability of speech-to-text software and increasing popularity of voice-over applications, I reconsider the importance of teaching keyboarding skills and cannot project assuredly that typing skills will be essential in the future. However, right now being able to type well is very beneficial for most students and professionals in creating reports, entering information into databases, collaborating online through wikis and chat, communicating with others through e-mail and discussion groups, etc.

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posted by SG @ 10:42 AM   1 comments
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Tag, you're it.
A few months ago, I created a del.icio.us account and starting weeding through bookmarks and favorites stored in my Web browsers and transferring those of value to the online social bookmarking site. The advantages of doing this are that through the Internet I can save, access, and share Web site bookmarks from virtually anywhere.

Another advantage is the use of tagging to organize the saved sites. Tags are keywords that describe the Web site. When I bookmark sites, del.icio.us provides a list of tags that I have used in the past and also suggests tags that other social bookmarkers have used. For instance, when I bookmarked BibMe, a Web site that creates bibliographies, I tagged it "Web2.0," "APA," "citations," "reference," "bibliography," "tools," "research," and "writing."

The list of tags can be viewed in a tag cloud. Looking at my tag cloud, I can see which tags I use more often, because the more Web sites associated with a tag, the larger the font and darker the font color. Using the tag cloud, I am working to improve my tagging system. One fault of tagging is that synonyms and variatants of words are recognized as different tags. For instance, "tool" and "tools" are separate tags; if I view Web sites tagged with "tool," those tagged with "tools" will not be included (unless they are tagged with both keywords). I will most likely decide to use one tag or the other, instead of continue to use both.

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posted by SG @ 2:00 PM   0 comments
Monday, June 18, 2007
Online Teaching Reflections
I just finished teaching a five week summer online educational technology course. As mentioned in the previous post, it was my first experience with teaching online. There were some significant benefits to the online format - flexibility of time and space, accessibility to materials, and increased student responsibility. I also liked being able to archive class interactions through e-mail, chat, and discussion boards; because of this, I felt that I was able to give more specific feedback on course content, assignments, and other class activities.

Some students struggled at the beginning of the course with adjusting to the online format; most of these students worked out these adjustments and were successful in the course. Some students hit the ground running, completing many assignments and tests ahead of the course schedule; a few of these students lost steam towards the end of the course and finished poorly. While I have seen similar trends in the face-to-face environment, I think that overall some students will find the online format more suitable to their style of learning than others.

In reflection of this teaching online experience, I think one of the most important elements that made it a positive one is communication. All communication between myself and students and among the students was text-based. Knowing this, I attempted to make all my communications with the students clear and redundant. I posted weekly pop-up announcements, e-mailed copies of these announcements to the students, and mentioned them in the weekly chat sessions. I used bulleted and numbered lists in announcements and assignments. Even though assignment due dates were posted on the syllabus and in the assignment information areas, I reminded students of these due dates in the announcements as well. In the chat sessions, I wrote informally and used a different text color to distinguish my comments from the others. I tried to define terms in my writing that may have been unfamiliar to the students. I created graphic headers for each week's announcement, so that students could quickly recognize when a new announcement had been posted.

The students who were successful often asked questions during the chat sessions or through e-mail to clarify assignment requirements, lesson content, and test questions. Because I could not sense confusion through non-verbal signals, as I would in the face-to-face environment, it was up to the students to ask questions when they were confused or unclear about course matters. When one student would ask a question during a chat session, oftentimes other students would comment that they were wondering the same thing.

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posted by SG @ 11:00 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
What to do with emerging technologies...
In reading "Another Life: Virtual Worlds as Tools for Learning," the writers posed the following rhetorical question to the educational community concerning the use of MUVEs like Second Life in education:

"What can this technology do that will enhance the learner's experience that my current learning technology portfolio cannot?"

Some of the answers the authors came up with include a new sense of self, the death of distance, the ability to practice, increased collaboration, and enhanced experience. I think this question can be aptly applied to other emerging instructional technology areas, such as Web 2.0 and online learning, as well. What do these newer technologies offer that enhance teaching and learning?

This summer, I taught an online undergraduate educational technology course for the first time. Throughout the semester, I found myself asking a variation of the above question, "How can I best utilize the online platform to teach this course?" While the objectives of the course stayed the same as in previous semesters of teaching it face-to-face, I modified my teaching methods and learning activities to better accomplish these objectives in the online environment.

One activity that went very well involved the use of teams. The course is run on the IntraLearn course management system which has a Teams feature that places students in cooperative groups and provides them with group chat rooms and discussion boards. I assigned the task of completing a WebQuest about WebQuests. Because the students collaborated online, I was able to view the chat session archives and discussion boards to observe how the teams accomplished the assignment. I think that the online format was more time efficient as students from several states and varying schedules came together synchronously and asynchronously to work together.

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posted by SG @ 3:29 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Second, but not Last
Even though I have been a member of the Second Life community for about a year, I have not been active "in-world" much during that time. Over the past year, several well-known educational technologists have set up shop in Second Life, legitimizing the emerging technology in the minds of many. Some of the early adopters include ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), AECT (Association for Educational Communications and Technology), Kathy Schrock, David Warlick, and Will Richardson.

I logged into Second Life yesterday to explore the space a bit more and possibly visit some of these early adopters. The last place I had been in SL was the Best Practices Conference room, which took place a few weeks ago. Since the conference was over and the venue closed, I was informed that my avatar would be moved to another area close by. I think I was moved to a "mature" area of Second Life - the other people in that area kept pushing my avatar around (I think "bumping" is the SL term for that) and chatting in another language. Transportation is a breeze in a virtual world, though, so I typed in EduIsland II in the search feature and teleported out of there as quickly as I could.

In EduIsland II, I felt more comfortable experimenting with my appearance. I learned how to change the color and style of my hair and adjust my body shape to be a more realistic representation of my physical appearance. I also learned how to shorten my jeans to capri length (more appropriateThe first place that I visited after a little body sculpting was AECT's SL headquarters. Although the place was vacant during my visit, I took a look around at some of the initiatives advertised in the center and figured out how to reach out a touch for a free t-shirt.

The next place that visited was ISTE's SL headquarters. Based in Oregon, I figured that it was probably a bit early on the West coast for anyone else to be around during my visit. I was able to get two free virtual t-shirts at this stop as well as some information about Second Life geared toward educators. There is much more that I could have seen at this location and plan to visit many more times in future in-world journeys. I may not be the first to explore educational applications of Second Life, but I doubt that I will be the last.

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posted by SG @ 4:00 PM   0 comments
Monday, June 11, 2007
In the Studio
A few years ago, I began writing a series of newsletter articles for the teachers at Theodore Roosevelt School showcasing technology tools used in different career fields as well as the technology skills workers with varying educational backgrounds are expected to know. It was interesting to interview individuals from varied occupations including nursing, engineering, and manufacturing and learn about the many real life applications of technology. Since then, my students have carried on the series by interviewing friends and family members in food service, sales, education, ministry, secretarial, legal, distribution, and medical careers about how they use technology to carry out daily work-related tasks. Knowing the computer skills necessary for jobs in clothing manufacturing, for example, aids teachers in planning technology-infused lessons that adequately prepare students for the work-force.

Thus, when I was invited to come along for a studio recording session this past weekend, I jumped at the chance to learn about what technology tools are employed in the music production business. What I saw was fascinating! The primary software I observed used to capture, edit, and mix the tracks was Logic Pro, an Apple product. The producer's role throughout the session fluctuated among conductor, arranger, musician, lyricist, and programmer. He primarily worked in front of a powerful Mac Pro, developing a grid to which he aligned the vocal and instrumental parts. Strings, drums, bass, and other instruments could be created digitally within the program to become a part of the finished product or to merely serve as placeholders for live performances to be added in later. Though not used during this session, the producer also utilizes Pro Tools, a professional hardware/software solution for non-linear audio production.

Even though it is not fully complete, the rough draft at the session's end is incredible! The sound quality could not have been achieved without the use of technology.

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posted by SG @ 2:50 PM   0 comments
Friday, June 8, 2007
Elementary+Games
As I continue transferring my saved browser bookmarks to del.icio.us, I have come across some great Web sites that I had forgotten about. A few of them offer some excellent Flash or Shockwave educational games geared toward elementary students. As with many educational Web sites these days, there is a free version that is supported by ads and an ad-free "premium" version that contains additional content. One of the Web sites is iKnowthat.com, where the activities can be accessed by grade level as well as subject area. In the Arts area, I found the Music Maker activity (a somewhat elementary version of GarageBand) that allows students to create two instrument melodies. Under Thinking Games, students become engineers and create their own working "widgets".

Here's a picture of a simple widget that I made -

The widget activities can become quite challenging as additional pieces are introduced into the widget tool box.

Another great site with elementary games is UpToTen. The games on this site focus on lower elementary skills including matching, distinguishing differences, and coordination. This site is in English and French, so foreign language study students could also use this resource.

The games on iKnowthat, UpToTen, and other educational Web sites can be played independently or as a group through the use of an interactive whiteboard, such as a SMART Board, which would involve tactile and kinesthetic modalities in the learning process.

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posted by SG @ 10:48 AM   0 comments
Thursday, June 7, 2007
MUVEs are on the move!
In the field of instructional technology, it seems that many people have their "pet projects," something in which they pour much of their research, creative energies, and enthusiasm. WebQuests; digital storytelling; blogging, wikis, and other Web 2.0 technologies; digital video; online learning; and podcasting are examples. An avenue that holds much promise and numerous opportunities for research and innovation are MUVEs, the Second Life (SL) community being at the forefront.


I watched Kathy Schrock (Kathy Dryburgh in SL) via SLCN (the Second Life Cable Network) present at the Best Practices in Education Conference that was held in Second Life a few weeks ago. (Here's a link to her presentation.) She spoke through chat; but in this archived version of her presentation, a commentator gave the play-by-play voice over narration. She presented some of the best places for teaching and learning she had visited while in Second Life, including NOAA, the Second Life Library, the Solar Eclipse Planetarium, and the Second Life Medical Library. She also discussed some of the educational organizations and meeting places that have been built to promote Second Life in education including SL headquarters for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Terra Incognita, the Elven Institute, the New Media Consortium (NMC), and the Center for Avatar Teaching, Educating, and Researching (CATER). All of the Second Life URLs (or SLURLs) for these and the rest of the places presented in her talk are available on her Web site. (You'll need to have joined Second Life to view these places.)

There is much being done in regards to exploring this three dimensional space for educational applications, and there are many opportunities for more research in the use of MUVEs, Second Life specifically, in education. As I think about what to make my focus of study, I am considering looking more deeply into this area and possibly its assistive properties or the possibilities it holds for individuals with exceptionalities. I also like the idea of holding virtual classes, professional development workshops, and conferences in such an environment.

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posted by SG @ 10:53 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Hello World!

In the same vein as "publish or perish," I have heard recently the saying of "blog or perish." Thus, I have begun the practice of blogging to record my thoughts on educational technology and provide links to quality Web sites and articles that I find interesting and worthwhile. In this age of "infoclutter," I am attempting to develop practical instructional applications of developing technologies and provide educators with tools to implementing instructional technologies effectively.

Recently, I have been looking at Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, social networking, social bookmarking, blogging, and RSS. I made the jump to del.icio.us for all of my Web bookmarks, began using an RSS aggregator to keep up with several Web sites and blogs including David Warlick's Two Cents Worth, created a MySpace account...and now I join the blogging world.

I am also interested in MUVEs (Multi User Virtual Environments) and their educational potential, so I joined the SecondLife community. Once I get some new clothes for my avatar (wearing the generic SecondLife clothing is so newbie), I'll feel confident enough to go out and explore the islands.

In the mean time, hello fellow bloggers and readers. I look forward to the blogging journey ahead!

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posted by SG @ 1:01 PM   0 comments
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I am attempting to develop practical instructional applications of developing technologies and provide educators with tools to implementing instructional technologies effectively.
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