Friday, April 29, 2005

Laptops in the Lecture Theatre - By InsaneCats

Here's an amazing reflection from Insane Cat on network and collaborative learning. A live network and multiple streams of communication going on at the same time as the traditional lesson...! A new challenge to all those trad teachers out there, and a brilliant addition to the blended learning trend.

Thanks to Adam Bramwell for sending this on.

I've had my laptop (aka: my first born) for exactly one year now. And I've gotta say: I have no idea how I lived without it. Not only because the OS is constantly making my drool and everything mac is just so purdy! and all that stuff, but also for "having a laptop" academic reasons.

In my classes where a handful of people always have a laptop open, there's a subculture of wired (well, I guess "wireless") students who are busy engaging in their own academic experience. The laptop-enabled students all grin simultaneously as they glance down at their screens. One raises his hand and brings up a point from a webpage he has on his monitor. This goes far beyond just taking class notes in Notepad and saving them to one's Desktop.

If you're standing in the front of a classroom, you're likely to notice that the Mac users are all doing the one-mind borgish thing. They all grin, then they all type, then they all listen. Chances are very high that they're all using SubEthaEdit to collaboratively take notes. One student types in the main content of what is being said. Another follows behind and corrects spelling mistakes while a third adds a few extra points. Perhaps another is ahead of the rest, creating structure for the rest of the document -- preparing HTML lists and section headings. Collaborative note taking doesn't just happen in the classroom. It's become a new fad for everything from conferences to meeting minutes to collaborative email composition and more.

One of the coolest uses of SubEthaEdit in the classroom that I've seen though is by a prof. While lecturing, SubEthaEdit was running in the background on the same document that the students were collaboratively taking notes in. Once the class was over, the prof was able to go over the students' notes to see what they got out of the class. What concepts did they interpret as being important? What concepts did they miss entirely? If several students collaboratively didn't understand a concept, chances are high that the whole class missed it. It's a brilliant and easy way to get a bit more feedback between students and lecturers.

Thus far, these collaborative notes haven't entered the sponsored course webspace in any courses that I've taken so far. But I can imagine taking a course where a notes wiki is available and the course notes can be published so that those without laptops can continue to engage in the collaboration by annotating the notes or adding other bits of information. Nothing for credit. Everything just because it makes everyone's life easier.

Aside from collaborative note taking, laptops in classes seem to spend a lot of time hanging around Google. The prof says, "Those of you familiar with Kruskal's algorithm will recognize a similarity in Prim's algorithm, which we'll be discussing today." And from my seat I can see two independent people Googling for Kruskal's algorithm. One lands on wikipedia and begins scanning through the definition. The other saves the search result to some bookmarks folder on his browser. I find that I exhibit a similar behaviour now when watching movies. I make mental notes of things that I want to Google later. "Is that true? Wow, I wanna learn more 'bout that." It's only natural that the desire to go into more detail extends to the classroom.

I know several profs who worry about laptops in the classroom; specifically about how distracting they can be to the students who are using them. Some students will spend the whole class reading their e-mail or chatting about random shit on IM. Rochelle's blog entry Distracted or Bored to Distraction? addresses this beautifully. Students will always find ways to deal with boredom in the classroom. If they have laptops, they'll check e-mail. If they don't, they'll throw paper airplanes at each other (coughSeancough), pass notes, read a book, etc. It doesn't require a laptop to be distracted or distracting.

Of course, until such a day where every student has a laptop the way every student carries a pencil, there are limits as to what kind of cool stuff can be done. But those who do have wireless access in the classroom can still benefit those who don't. For example, by asking questions enlightened by the wealth of googleable information. Or by posting collaborative course notes to a course wiki. Or (and I think this one is especially cool) lecture podcasting. Students are already recording lectures on little tape recorders. How much cooler would it be if they podcasted it for the rest of the class? C'mon, that'd rock. Though some lectures will always require a whiteboard to understand what's going on, the prof who just stands by his podium will be just as understandable via podcast. Especially if you already attended the class. Or have the slides available for download from home.

As I procrastinate from studying by writing up a few paragraphs about laptop and internet use in the classroom, I've gotta say: studying for exams would be a hell of a lot cooler if I had a course notes wiki to read through, lecture podcasts to listen to, and a set of course bookmarks to supplement everything else. It'd just totally rock. And, at least I feel, teach the students something useful in the process.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

UWS Child Studies - Thinking About Network Learning

I'm just throwing up some links for a presentation/discussion with UWS Early Childhood Studies people. We're going to be exploring the idea of online journals, ePortfolios, process diaries, and personal websites (otherwise known as weblogs) and its appropriateness in the courses offered in Early Childhood Studies at UWS.
A lot of this presentation will rely on a discussion with the staff who attend, as I have no idea what knowledge of ICTs they have, or what directions they have already headed in in their efforts to develop an eLearning presence for their courses.

I guess a good place to start discussion on weblogs might be with this short video promo on weblogging in a school in the USA

Hopefully this video will stimulate interest in weblogging, and motivate people to learn more about their uses, pros and cons.

This little article "Electronic Portfolios and Dimensions of Learning" By Frederick Conway captures quite a few things about weblogging using terminology such as 'portfolios' that most educators should be familiar with regardless of their ICT capabilities.

So anyway, here's a few links to universities and the like that are starting to offer weblogs to their staff and students:

University of South Florida
University of Warwick
University of Calgary

And here is an article referencing a weblog that publishes research on neurological aspects of learning that outlines how weblogs are good for your health!

So, there is heaps and heaps of stuff out there on the use of weblogs in education. But the best way to learn more about it is to try it out! By far the easiest way to try out blogging is to start with Blogger. Blogger is the easiest and arguably the best free web based webloging service available at the moment. As you might have noticed, this weblog is a blogger site.

Once you are up and running with blogging, it might be worth now learning about RSS (Rich Site Summary). RSS is an automatically generated summary of the contents of your weblog. Where it is useful is in tracking and keeping up to date with more than one weblog - say, all your students. To use RSS you need a reader, and I recommend the Bloglines. Here is my bloglines reader account where you can see where I get all my info from.

So you might have started thinking about the huge potential this technology might have on teaching and learning.

Next, I'd like to introduce the Creative Commons. CC is a way in which people who like to share can do so legally and securely. Licensing content with a CC license is probably the best way to enable the sharability and reusability of learning resources. Imagine when all educational organisations and content producers start participating in the Creative Commons. Watch this movies

And if you are skeptical of a world where sharing is common and productive, then you need to look at the WikiPedia - a free and collaborative online encyclopedia (arguably the best encyclopedia there is!). The Internet Archive - an amazing contribution to the bank of human knowledge and culture. And the newly formed Our Media - a place where those who share can easily and freely store and share their content.

So, I only had 30 minutes in the end to prepare this presentation. I hope to get a chance to juice it up some more, but if I don't then I suggest you spend some time looking through my bloglines account, and my weblinks, there is tones of information there on a daily basis. And yes, I read it all everyday (almost) access to all this information has really improved my work... Really.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Does Blogger Block Access to Those Without Sight?

From the Blog Herald is an article pointing to criticism of Google for using technology that effectively stops people who are blind from starting up a Blogger account...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Reality Check - Iterating Towards Openness

When I was at school, we did a concert for the parents. We sang Pink Floyd's "Just Another Brick in the Wall". Since then it has always struck me how educationalists are all willing to acknowledge many of the truths uttered in lyrics such as those, but fail to recognise what the bricks actually are.

David's blog, Iterating Towards Openness has recently posted a very reflective piece called Freire, The Matrix, and Scalability - inspired by a presentation he attended at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Montreal talking about Paulo Freire (pictured - great things come from Brazil) the Matrix and new forms of opression in education...

...The paper’s author connected Freire’s ideas of oppression and the transparency of systems of control to the Matrix, and then went on to analogize the work we educators are called to do with unplugging people from the Matrix. He proceeded to quote lyric after lyric from hip hop songs to show how some artists are taking on this role, revealing and exposing forms of institutionalized oppression from which many black youth know no alternative. He derived an interesting taxonomy of oppressive forms from the lyrics of these songs as well, including police, prison, drugs, and school....

Anyway, David goes on to attack the notion of scalability - and puts accross a point that I found very thought provoking, causing me a bit of a reality check...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Adobe Macromedia Join Forces!!

Big news. Big implications for rich media developements. Big potential for improved access for students with disabilities. Big promise for interoperability accross platforms for rich media. Big big big!

Monday, April 18, 2005

RSS Alerts go mobile

Santa Cruz Tech and PubSub have announced the launch of FeedBeep, an Internet-driven service providing real-time RSS alerts to Short Message Service (SMS) enabled phones and mobile devices.

Here we go! Picture it. A class of students, all with their own blogs and moblogs, you the teacher with yours, and the class has a collective newsreader account that will SMS a weekly digest to everyone on who has posted what...

Chance to get some fancy video jobs done

MyTVonline will pick three winners from all entries and produce, shoot, edit, and score 13 weekly shows, up to 10-minutes long, for each of the three winners. Round-trip transportation, lodging, and meals will also be provided to each winner. The contest is open to U.S. and international contestants, age 18 and up.

Current contest deadline is June 15, 2005. For more information visit mytvonline