Friday, May 01, 2009

Interactive technology keeps classes 'relevant'

Eunice Morton walked around her desk, grabbing an electronic writing tablet and quickly jabbing it with a stylus.

As the Pine Tree High School science teacher moved her hand, a presentation projected onto her classroom wall came to life. Text appeared, changed color, became underlined and then vanished. Yellow smiley faces appeared next to bullet points, and slides slid across the screen.

"I don't know how to teach without my InterWrite Pad," Morton joked, leaning against a student's desk.

The pad allows her to control the computer presentation as she walks around her classroom. Morton said the technology frees her from standing behind a desk at the front of the classroom, allowing her to interact more with her students. The students also can use the pad to answer online quiz questions and do other activities.

The electronic tablet is one example of how classroom technology has grown by leaps and bounds from even just a few years ago — and many teachers and technology directors believe the changes have improved the teaching field.

Morton said the projected presentations force her to develop focused and concise lessons. The technology helps keep students interested and alert in a course that is heavy on content and traditionally includes a lot of lecturing, she said.

"There's no wasted time in my classroom," Morton said.

Staying relevant

Mike Stanfield, Hallsville Independent School District's director of technology, said the use of technology provides a connection with students who have become accustomed to the everyday use of computers. He said many schools and classrooms continue to follow the 18th-century model of teaching — lining students in rows and lecturing them — even though a more interactive model can be effective with modern students.

"The classroom needs to stay relevant," Stanfield said. "The classroom today needs to at least reflect the state-of-the-art."

He said the district's studies of the effectiveness of some technology in education — specifically iPods and the iPod touch — indicated the multimedia approach improved students' knowledge retention.

Funding obstacles

Despite the apparent benefits, not all school districts can incorporate the same tools for their teachers. While larger districts have the resources to fund technology purchases, smaller schools can face challenges to equip their teachers and students with the latest tools.

Big Sandy Independent School District residents will vote in May on a $6.75 million bond election.

Superintendent Scott Beene said a significant portion of the bond will pay for the construction of computer labs at the district's elementary and secondary schools. Although the district has at least one computer in every room, not all of its students have access to the Internet. He said the district's different campuses share a computer lab.

"That's one of the areas that we are weaker in," Beene said.

Beene said the district is not hurting for technology. He said he believes the district is comparable with other districts of the same size.

The Pine Tree Independent School District has more equipment available in general, but not all campuses have the same access to it. Most classrooms have video projectors, which project an image of whatever is underneath their lens onto a screen, but not every campus has laptop carts and wireless internet, said Jeff Hahne, the district's director of technology.

Online learning

Much of what the Pine Tree district does technologically is actually online. Hahne said the district has created its own version of YouTube, called "ptTube," for teachers and students to use in class or to share videos with the community. Each teacher also has a Web site, and some teachers have begun using district-provided blogs. Teachers also have access to thousands of educational videos through an online subscription service.

"So much of what we do now is Web-based," Hahne said.

Hahne said a few years ago it was a big deal for every classroom to have Internet access, but most teachers now expect Internet access as standard for most school districts. The technology expectations of students also have changed.

"Kids used to be excited about computer classes," Hahne said. "That was their computer fix. Now, kids actually lose some aspects (of technology) at school."

Stanfield said reaching students' expectations in classrooms is the next step for many districts. He predicted incorporating text messages in classrooms could have a great impact on students.

"If we can mimic their culture, we won't have that as a barrier to teaching," Stanfield said.

* * *

Some technology used in local classrooms

Document camera: Overhead projector displays images of objects placed beneath camera lens

Personal response systems: Wireless remotes used to involve students in computer-generated and projected lessons

Laptop carts: Provide wireless laptops to students in classrooms

iPods/iPod touch: Used to display educational content and to create multimedia content

Interactive white boards: Display boards allow teachers and students to interact with projected objects

Source: Area school districts

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Cloud and the power cut

Monday evening was eventful to say the least; there I was happily watching a movie when the lights start to flicker, ‘oh’ I thought to myself ‘a small power surge’.

The latter was true, the former distinctly not.

I’ve got an energy monitor that displays your current (badum tish) energy consumption, my normal evening power draw is circa 200-300 watts, when the surge hit it spiked to well over 1.4kw, it continued to spike in this manner for over 20 minutes. Even though all my electronic equipment is on surge protectors, I still ran to the circuit breaker to kill the power and then proceeded outside to see how it was affecting the rest of the street. The power surge eventually changed to an all out power cut and with that Honiton road was cast back to the literal dark ages. So grabbing some candles, I wondered round the house checking things out to make sure nothing was on fire, I then I smelled oh so familiar smell of burnt electrical wires and equipment. However with no power I couldn’t check to see if anything was broken, so I went to bed.

On waking the next morning I hustled downstairs and flipped the circuit breaker back on and nothing happened, no lights, nothing.

There was no power, I was cut off.

Now alongside the usual inconveniences of no kettle, hot water or being unable to cook food, I had no internet.

Big deal right? Wrong

Humans are creatures of habit as am I, before walking to work my routine is this Shower, get dressed and then Whilst making and eating breakfast (via laptop or iPod touch):

* Review twitter feeds and respond
* Read/write personal and work email s
* Check news, games and other websites
* Download podcasts & other content for the day
* View e-learning blogs for new content
* Check up on current Chess games

So by the time I walk to work I’m:

* Fully informed of current happenings in the world (useful for generating student polls),
* Have a reasonable idea of what awaits me at my desk (ensures I can hit the ground running)
* Have responded to any mission critical emails (Quality of service is important)
* Already musing about blog posts based on websites I visited that morning

In short I am a more effective employee with the internet at my disposal; I can respond to things quickly, ensuring that if something has gone wrong, by the time I arrive at work, I already know about it and can get on with sorting out.

But not on Tuesday morning (I don’t have an iPhone as of yet, so I had no external internet connection).

I then realised that my entire online life is based in the Cloud: Google apps, Gmail, Flkr, Twitter, Facebook etc. Nothing resides on my local machine, all the data and content is stored on some data centre and processed on a web server. My machine, be it laptop, pc or iPod only presents that data to me, nothing more. Of course I have some applications installed on my netbook but it is no where near the amount it used to be. If you think about it, you can pretty much do everything you would traditionally use a locally installed application online.

Word processing, Calendars, Spreadsheets are well served by Google apps, photo editing by Flkr, you don’t even have to have a printer in your house as you can use an online printing service that delivers direct to your door.

The only application you need to facilitate this is a web browser, nothing more.

Cloud computing is the future (although one could argue that it’s actually a return to the Mainframe and Dumb terminal relationship from the 1980’s), the device is becoming almost an irrelevance, merely a point of access that enables you to connect to your application and services held on the internet.

The cloud is the future; it’s the next logical step in the evolution of both the PC and the internet, but my experience on Tuesday morning leads me to think it can never replace traditional application access methods until internet access is universal.

Monday, April 27, 2009

mLearning-World Welcomes our Newest Author- Thomas Curtis

(From Thomas)

Hello, I'm Thomas Curtis and this is a little about me and a mini blog post combined.

I'm an e-learning developer at South East Essex College a FE/HE institution located in Essex, United Kingdom

I've worked at a range of Colleges and Academies, all of which pursue e-learning & ICT as a medium to enhance and support the learner experience. My education was interesting to say the least, I barely graduated from School as I had become disaffected with the learning experience, the traditional teaching methods used at that time and struggled with both the learning difficulties of Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

It was not until I went to College (ironically it is the same institution that I work for now) that reignited both my passion for learning and computing in general. Through hard work & the support of lecturers I managed to secure both a recognised computing qualification, acceptance on a university degree and without sounding too melodramatic forge a new path for myself. I also feel having studied at the same College where I initially studied gives me a unique perspective, enabling me to see both sides of the coin so to speak.

As e-learning & the Internet itself was just getting started as a learning medium when I studied at the College (99-01), teachers and students were just getting used to the Internet as a resource let alone a method to evolve learning. It was as a result of my personal experiences as a student that I decided that once I had completed my Degree that I would try and return to the education sector to 'give something back' for lack of a better cliche, as I had personally benefited from the range of e-learning tools which enabled me to attain a level of education I had initially dismissed as an irrelevance, if not an impossibility.

From the abacus to the mobile phone, technology has always been used with varying degrees of success, at College & University I was introduced to the benefits of word processing, mind mapping, spell check, font and colour manipulation to improve readability and a whole host of other resources and techniques. The tools on offer to today's learner far, far exceed anything I could have dreamed of, case in point; teachers can communicate with Students in an instant, show multiple videos on a interactive whiteboard without having to wheel in a 28 inch CRT, via mobile technology we are providing students with the ability to send/receive course content from anywhere that can connect to the Internet, be that the gym, on holiday or even in bed (now that's personalised learning)!

Enough about history, I should talk about the present, what I do and where I hope to go from here.

In my role as an e-learning professional I develop applications & solutions to support teaching and learning (based primarily on Microsoft and related technologies), this can range from simple web forms, event management systems to project managing multimedia recording solutions and full upgrade to lecture theaters. I also Blog about ICT and Twitter with other e-learning colleagues, both inside and out of College about e-learning, what it is and how it can benefit students and teachers.

The future..

I hope to continue blogging and establishing contacts with e-learning providers across the world, one thing that hinders e-learning is standardisation. From playschool, to Junior, to high school to university we all have differing systems, schemas, teaching methods and datasources. We do not teach in English Junior school and then switch to French from College onwards, so why do we do the same when it comes to e-learning? Moodle, BlackBoard, Bespoke software, some training, no training.

E-learning is supposed to make things easier for the learner, so why do we change the game at each step? It is this that I hope to change, perhaps open source is the key, perhaps not either way I'm looking forward to finding out.

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