Monday, October 27, 2008
Communication Tools
We started the lab this week with online student evaluations. Then, I opened the floor for any questions that the students may have had about Monday's lecture. There were no questions. As I passed back the lecture worksheets, I asked them to name some tools that they use to communicate. Instant messaging, Facebook, text messaging, cell phones, and e-mail were mentioned. I asked if any used Twitter and was surprised that none of the students had heard of it. So, I demonstrated how I can send a "tweet," which is a micro-blog of sorts, from my cell phone. I explained that the message is then transmitted to others' cell phones who are following me. It also updates my Facebook status and can be seen on my Myspace page. I showed them some of the accounts of people I am following, including educational technologist David Warlick, and explained that Twitter can be for personal uses, such as updating family and friends, as well as professional uses, such as posting ideas and resources relating to teaching or technology integration.

I then led them through two activities in which they experienced two communication tools - Oncourse's forums and Google Groups. For each tool, I allowed time for the students to participate in the discussion then showed them some additional features. I then facilitated a discussion about positives and negatives of each, ways that teachers might use these tools, and challenges for teachers and students in using communication tools.

The session wrapped up with the students working on their third artifact proposal. I encouraged them to use the feedback I had provided on their first proposal in crafting the third. I added a bullet point on the artifact proposal form for where they could state what they plan to create for their portfolio. I'm hoping that this will remind them to be more explicit about what will come out of the proposal.

Though I like the idea of collaboration spanning all of the lab sections through the Google Groups workout, it would have been better if our section was able to have their own group to facilitate more participation. By being one of the last sections for this week, I felt that the students didn't have as much of a part in putting together the top 10 website lists. Though they did provide comments about sites already posted and added some of their own, the pages for the most part already had plenty of sites posted from previous sections.

They seemed to be tuned in to the discussion about teacher challenges with using communication tools. There are many things we could have done in this lab relating to communication tools. I think that it would be helpful when teaching this lesson again for the students to take on the role of teacher in the communication tool workout, such as facilitating discussion, setting up discussions, crafting questions or scenarios that lend to good discussions, etc.

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posted by SG @ 8:40 PM   0 comments
Friday, October 17, 2008
Content Exploration

Figuring that this would be a pretty typical lab session, I decided to set up the video camcorder to record about the first half hour of class as a mid-semester observation in order to further reflect on my teaching. I may post my reflections next week after watching the footage.

I began class by distributing index cards and asking the students to think like teachers and write down what they consider makes a content exploration resource "good" to use in their classrooms. While they were working on writing down their thoughts, I handed back their lecture worksheets. We then discussed then some of the key concepts from the lecture including - What are concept exploration tools?, What are some examples?, and What are the different types?. They then shared the tools they had chosen for the scenario presented in class and why they selected those tools from the ones available.

I transitioned the discussion to characteristics of good content exploration resources. I asked several students to share their ideas. One mentioned how easy it would be use to the tool. Another talked about the benefits of repetition within a drill and practice or educational game. And another spoke of how good resources they have previously used incorporated guidance into the interface.

I then presented six areas of consideration -
  • Content (accurate, educationally appropriate, free of errors, meets learning goals and objectives, valid, free of stereotypes and racial bias)
  • Ease of use (directions are clear and easy to follow, program is fun, easy to start and exit, can resume where left off, free of bugs)
  • Documentation and support (teacher guides, technical support, help features, tutorials)
  • Ability levels (can be set, level automatically advances, covers a variety of ability/skill levels)
  • Assessment (built-in assessment and reporting features, appropriate assessment, documents student progress)
  • Technical quality (animations and graphics are appropriate and meaningful, audio is used well, feedback and prompts are appropriate, allows branching)
While these areas are essentially what would be considered when evaluating software, I think that such considerations are applicable also to web-based content exploration tools. I then led the students to find and bookmark in their Delicious accounts, web-based content exploration resources pertaining to their content areas of interest. I provided my own Delicious account as a resource and also showed them how to search within Delicious to find related sites bookmarks by other users. I circulated the room while they worked and talked with several of the students individually about the particular site they were exploring. For instance, one student and I talked about how a math game Math Lines, which is similar to Bubble Blasters, was fun at first, but it got old quickly. We also noticed that success did not necessarily rely on a student's ability to solve addition problems, as accuracy of the blaster was also required. We also noted the advertisements located at the top of the site, something that teachers may not want in an educationally appropriate resource. I asked the students to use the tag content_exploration as one of their tags when bookmarking the sites to make it easy for me to filter through their bookmarks to see what they found. I saw many new sites as I was circulating that I want to be sure and save into my own Delicious account for future use.

I then provided some specific feedback about what I had seen needed to be clarified in the artifact proposals. I gave the students the opportunity to revise their first proposal using this feedback and then write their second proposal. The rest of the class period was spent doing this. I circulated and answered questions back-to-back for about an hour. In reflection, I would say that the students are not quite grabbing a hold of the GRADE framework as well as how it might generate artifacts for their portfolios. I think particularly that the Availability step is fuzzy to them, as they are not convinced of the usefulness of listed resources that they know they wouldn't use. It is like their thought process automatically skips to the Decide step when they find a resource that they think will work for the case. They then do not focus much on other resources, as they have already chosen one in their solution. I can understand their perspective, but I encouraged them to continuing exploring other resources to demonstrate that they are aware of the variety of tools available.

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posted by SG @ 12:42 PM   0 comments
Saturday, October 11, 2008
GRADE-ing Productivity
I felt it was important to review the test with the students, so we began class doing that. I wanted to make sure that they understood the items that they had missed as I think that the concepts covered in the first unit are foundational to those presented in the rest of the course. We then segued into a discussion of what productivity tools are, how they can be used in education, and possible challenges teachers may experience in using them. I asked them to identify examples of productivity tool use in their content areas of interest and was pleased that many participated in offering their ideas. I tried to use some wait time instead of jumping in and giving some answers, which was somewhat difficult for me, especially in judging how long to wait without going into an uncomfortable stretch of silence. I'll keep working on it in future discussions, because I do want to give all students the chance to participate in discussions, including those who may need a little bit of thinking time before answering.

I did not think that we would have enough time in class to do a newsletter, so I combined the using a productivity tool segment with the segment on applying the GRADE process to Case #2. Only one student had ever used OpenOffice before, so I had the class create documents in OpenOffice Writer to record their responses. We read the case and then visited Indiana's Academic Standards website to find applicable standards. After determining the subject (High School Social Studies) and broad content area (United States Government), I gave the students a few minutes to look over the standards and benchmarks to find one that might apply. In sharing our findings, we saw that there were many that corresponded to this unit and even discussed that standards from other content areas might go with it as well. We then identified the overall learning goals from the case and wrote one objective. The students have struggled with being able to write specific criteria in their objectives, so I dwelled on this part of the objective we were writing to generate several possibilities for assessment criteria. We then noted the requirements listed in the case.

I then had them divide into groups of two or three and complete the A, D, and E steps of GRADE. We then came back together as a whole class and shared documents. It was neat to see what they had come up with and visit some of the sites that could enhance the unit, make teaching the concepts more effective, or improve the students' or teacher's efficiency in some way. I thought it was interesting that though there were six groups, no groups decided on the same resource.

We then went over the writing of an artifact proposal, which I explained would be similar to the activity we had just done except they would be generating an artifact related to their decided tool or resource. The students will be completing their first proposal for homework, and we will review it next week.

I then spent some time that afternoon grading some of the workouts. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed viewing their digital stories about why they had decided to pursue teaching. Some of them were so touching in that they mentioned and provided photographs or past teachers who had inspired them. This is an activity that would definitely like to do again in future semesters.

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posted by SG @ 10:33 AM   0 comments
Friday, October 3, 2008
Making the GRADE
Though I very much wanted to allot time to share digital stories the students created during last week’s class, I felt that there was not enough class time available with giving the first unit test this week. After answering a few last minute questions, I distributed the exam and gave the students forty minutes to complete it. While some students finished in about a half hour, most of the students utilized all of the forty minutes.

I then felt it necessary to clarify how to write the criteria portion of instructional objectives, as I had noticed many students did not quite have the hang of it as evidenced in the objectives they wrote on their lecture worksheets. I provided some examples of criteria and suggested ways that their objectives could be improved. I assured them that their struggle with this concept was not unusual, as I have observed many of the students in previous semesters struggling with this also.

We then focused on the first workout for this week, applying the GRADE process to a lesson plan in their area of interest. As I selected a lesson plan from the DiscoverySchool lesson plan library for demonstration, I noticed another opportunity to discuss writing good objectives. I asked the students to look at the objectives on the sample lesson and identify the components that were missing. They found that the objectives did not include criteria or conditions. I also pointed out that the verbs used in the objectives, like “learn,” made it difficult to be able to determine when the students have met the objectives.

I got the students started in Google Docs, showing them out to create a new document, change the document title, add text, and share it. They then deconstructed their chosen lesson plans using the GRADE process and posted their notes on the documents. I think this workout really helped the students better understand the process. Many of the students were confused about the difference between the resources identified in the Requirement section and those that should be in the Availability section. I told them to put the materials identified in their lesson plans in the resources area. I then encouraged them to brainstorm about other tools and materials that could be used to teach the concepts in their lessons. These additional tools and materials, many of which included Internet-based resources, would then go in the Availability section. That seemed to make sense to the students.

I had posted specific feedback on their professional development plan drafts, and the students used the last few minutes of class to review my comments and work on revising their plans.
I think the exam format worked well, and I think it was helpful to the students to go through each step of the GRADE process with a lesson plan in order to better understand how to use it to make decisions about the appropriateness of selected resources. There is one student who was absent due to illness, and so I will have to work to arrange for her to make up the exam next week, if she is better by then. I am thinking that I might try to have her take it when I am working in the lab next Thursday afternoon.

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posted by SG @ 9:29 PM   0 comments
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Location: Houston, TX, United States
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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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MUVEs, Web 2.0, assistive technologies, digital video

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