Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Final Semester Begins!

The last semester of my Instructional Technology Master's Degree at UNI has begun! My professor for the class titled "Coordinating Technology in an Educational Setting" asked us to come up with a different type of introduction for this first week. We were asked to stretch ourselves, think outside the box, and really consider what we are going to after we have our degree. In his words, we are supposed to "tell us about who you will be."

I took a stab at using a new tool, ThingLink, and also spent some time reflecting back in order to think about moving forward. I hope you enjoy my image below!

Monday, April 8, 2013

UDL & There’s an App for That!

Recently in my instructional technology program we have been studying Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  At its very core UDL is a set of principals for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  Furthermore, it provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone.  This is not the single, one-size-fits-all approach that we have seen all too often in K-16 education.  Instead, it is a flexible approach that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs, because every student brings a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning every day.  As educators we need to have a better framework to make this work within our classrooms.  With that idea in mind CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization, put together a more expansive, three tier approach to UDL.  It looks like this:

1.) Educators need to present information and content in different ways.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Representation.
2.) Educators need to differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Action and Expression.
3.) Educators need to stimulate interest and motivation for learning.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Engagement.

For more information about UDL check out the CAST website.  They also have a great introductory video for those that have not heard of UDL before.  

Our assignment this week was to take a look at ten apps that can help a specific situation implement a more UDL enhanced learning environment.  I took a close look at a fictional, but very realistic situation where a group of early elementary teachers come to their technology integrationist with a desire to more effectively implement UDL in their classrooms.  All their students have iPads, but the teachers are unsure what specific apps might help them in this situation.  I took on this challenge and put together a great list of eleven apps, targeting each one of the three UDL guidelines, that includes links, descriptions, and additional references for each one.  These apps fit really well with the UDL assignment, but ultimately if you are looking at a few great apps in an elementary (or even secondary) setting these may fit the bill.

Click the icon above for the full document!

I encourage you to take a look at my list and see what you think and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

At the end of the day I am still not ultimately set on UDL as being a “guiding core of the educational system of the future.”  I believe that with its age, its over 20 years old, combined with the lack of real progress and change it has exhibited over time may lead to its downfall.  There are too many misconceptions around UDL and what it means and how it actually even looks in our classrooms.  The idea is great, but the implementation on a day to day basis seems a bit difficult and hard to complete.  Even UDL advocates have had a hard time actually proving that UDL has huge benefits in education on a large scale.  CAST has been able to prove that UDL works well in single classrooms, but even they have had a hard time replicating and scaling this across multiple grade levels and school settings.  In the end I firmly believe in the ideas and the core of UDL as it sits in the learning guidelines, but in its current state there are too many questions that prohibit me from wanting to use UDL on a regular basis.  This is only my experience with UDL over the past two weeks and if yours is different – or even similar – I encourage you to let me know your thoughts below.   

Thanks for reading!  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Intersections of TPACK

This week in graduate school we have been looking at the idea of TPACK by Mishra and Koehler.  This idea of the three circles (Technological Knowledge-TK, Pedagogical Knowledge-PK, and Content Knowledge-CK) is a relatively new one in the education world.  Gone is the shock of the SAMR Model, which to some element I still believe applies to schools and situations where there is no framework for discussing and talking about technology education.  Before really understanding and being able to have tough discussions about technology integration, staff need to be able to antiquate where exactly their technology integration skills currently fall on the spectrum of the SAMR model.  This discussion, like the one that Maggie Hos-McGrane had with her team, is the prerequisite for truly understanding and applying the TPACK model into our classrooms, corporations, and educational arenas.

The bottom line is that the TPACK model is much more complex than the SAMR model.  TPACK, at its heart, is all about the connection of the TK, PK, and CK.  It is in the middle of these three concentric circles that we find the best opportunity for teaching and learning to occur.  The uniting of these forces can create a learning experience where the content knowledge is presented through technology using a pedagogy that best fits the subject matter.  Or if that definition doesn't make sense, it is really the overlap of these three areas where a 21st century classroom is most powerful.  Lisa Nielsen has some fantastic resources on her blog about using the TPACK as a framework for professional development, integration of technology, and pre-service lesson plan evaluation.  Lisa's work is worth a few minutes to see how she is successfully using the TPACK to continue on this discussion of technology integration.  Another great look at how SAMR and TPACK connect to one another can be seen on Jenny Luca's wiki.  She provides a wealth of videos and links to better understand both models and how they relate to one another.

At the end of the day, the TPACK model is a great way to discuss technology integration.  I think it has some fantastic applications in the K-12 educational environment.  However, I believe it is even more important to consider this model in the corporate setting.  As an educational trainer I need to consider the specific content knowledge of what I am teaching.  First, do I know the content inside and out?  If I am teaching about a new piece of software, it needs to make sense to me and I have to know it really well.  Second, can I teach?  I might be the absolute smartest person when it comes to the content, but if I don't know anything about teaching I will fall flat on my face.  Having a background in teaching, classroom management, lesson design, and other characteristics of pedagogical knowledge is immensely important to my job.  Third, do I know the technology?  Having a background in technology is important, but even more important is the ability to actually use it productively when training others.  Do I know which buttons to push, where to navigate to, and more so what to do when something goes wrong?  I have to know these elements in order to be effective in this area.  Each of these areas are wonderful if all I wanted to be was someone with great knowledge of a piece of software, a great teacher, or a total technology geek – not all three.  However, educators and corporate trainers need to be all three of these at once.  That is a difficult and tall task for any educator, much less for someone that works at software company.  The world continues to change as new items come out, methods occur, and older ideas that used to work no longer do.  I have to do my job as a corporate trainer at the intersection of these three circles in the TPACK.  If I do, then I succeed.  People learn the product because of my teaching, knowledge of the technology, and effective use of the technology.  If I am too much about the technology or lack the knowledge of the product then I will not be successful.  I like how Mishra and Koehler discussed this idea in their recent publication: "This would not be possible without a deep, complex, fluid, and flexible knowledge of the technology, the content to be covered, and an appropriate pedagogy."  This intersection is something that I strive for each and every time I step in front of a captive audience to teach our software.  I need to equally hit the technology, content, and pedagogy in order to be successful.

When I step back and consider this intersection it does, at times, seem daunting.  Balancing these three areas is a difficult task.  At times I think we all dip into having too much technology and not enough content or vice versa.  However, I really believe that if teachers took some time and framed their teaching using the TPACK model it might become more successful.  It begins with reading the works of others like Mark Fijor as he discusses TPACK in terms of really limiting and narrowing down the tools that educators use in their classrooms.  It is by this smaller number we can really begin to allow staff to go deep and truly learn them inside and out, which in turn allows them to be successful in this circle of the model.  Simplifying the technology offerings is also an idea patterned by Dr. Jenny Lane as she discussed app choices and starting with the content and app rubric that matches the TPACK model.
Citation: Mishra & Koelher
Finally, like the cartoon above, our teachers can really be effective integrators of technology, but they need to begin with the content and instruction and then add in the technology component.  It is through the use of the TPACK model that corporate trainers like myself and K-12 educators can really begin to re-think, retransform, and re-imagine instruction to become more effective in today's world.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Google Forms Updated

Google Forms has long been the middle child of Google Documents (now called Drive).  It has been under appreciated, long forgotten, but still a vital member of the Google Apps family.  That is until this week when it got what Google is calling "rebuilt" and "a faster, cleaner, and more collaborative experience."  More information on the release from Google.

Well, I have to say that Google has made significant strides in this new version to satisfy those of us that have used Forms for years.  I have long written about Forms on this blog, but these updates are exciting.  The layout is a lot more user friendly, it auto saves like the rest of the Drive documents, responses can be directed to a totally different spreadsheet , and URLs actively link to websites.  But don't just take my words here on the page as truth, let me show you:

Google Forms is very much updated, but it still leaves a few items to be desired.  For instance, where is the functionality to add in images?  There are scripts out there that assist us in doing it, but isn't it about time Google?  Also, math formulas?  These should be part of a WYSIWYG editor and not limited to text as it currently is.  What about the option to randomize questions?  Add a timer?  Some of these features are still very much needed.

At The FAIR School we have been consistently using Google Forms to collect teacher evaluations, enrollment information, quizzes, and more for years.  Also, don't forget the fact that you can now create a form from a current Google Spreadsheet.  For more information, check out this video from Google.  These updates only make Forms more of a player in the survey universe.  Try out the new version today and let me know your thoughts below.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Good People Still Exist In This World

Just over a week ago we had one of our high school students get off of a public transit rail car to meet up with her friends.  Somehow in the mix up of getting on another train and deciding where to go she happened to leave her backpack, which of course had all of her school stuff inside of it – including her new school issued laptop. She realized this error right after she left the station and even tried repeatedly to get in touch with our metro transit officials in an attempt to get the backpack and her laptop back.  In fact, she even did the right thing and came and talked to me first thing in the morning about the situation.  We went right ahead and began to leverage our JAMF software suite in the legal ways that we could to try and locate the computer.  However, like most lost or stolen computers I began to believe, like the other ones we have had lost of stolen over the years, that it was just gone.  Someone picked it up, wiped it, threw it out, pawned it, or did whatever people do with a laptop they find at a train station.  

However, this is where the story takes a little bit of a different turn.  Someone actually called the school a few days ago and their message got transferred to one of our English teachers who then told the student about the message.  After it was all sorted out and I got the phone number of this random person claiming to have our student’s laptop.  This afternoon I gave the number a call.  What was I expecting?  Some sort of ransom note?  Maybe a plan to meet up at some shady location and exchange money?  Instead, what I received was a pleasant conversation to meet up at the exact location where the laptop was stolen and recover the laptop.  So I cautiously agreed to meet up with the individual, who to all accounts sounded like an OK person on the phone, at the train station.  I even took along a colleague as well.  After calling each other we eventually met up on the train platform.  A young woman and her father walked towards me and handed the student’s missing book bag and computer over.  There were no strings attached, no questions, no anything – just gratitude and words of thanks on my side.

After exchanging addresses for a thank you card and package to be sent soon, I asked the family why they picked up the backpack.  The young girl answered that she got off the train and noticed the backpack sitting there on the train station deck.  It was obviously out of place so she picked it up and began to search through it looking for any identification or markings that related to the owner.  Then she found the student’s laptop and after looking at the student name tag in the case she knew that it belonged to one of our students.  The family looked up the address for the school, stopped by after hours when no one was there to open the door, and then called eventually the next day.  The rest is history.  However, when I asked her why she didn’t keep the bag, her response was: “I am sure the student wants it back.  Those things are expensive.  She probably has a lot of work to do.”    

Teenagers are humans.  We all make mistakes and slip up one time or another.  We can’t forget where we parked, download a virus onto our computers, lock our keys in the car, and sometimes we even leave a laptop at a train station.  The amazing part is that there are still are good people out there in the world that will turn in a missing laptop.  We all too often forget about these people, but our faith is restored when we are on the receiving end of a situation where someone helps us out.  Today I was reminded of this fact.  I hope that you remember that good people, like Katie and her dad, are still out there!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Icons in Google Apps & Conditional Formatting

The joy of using Google Apps for Education is that very often updates occur – like weekly.

However, every once in a while I login and notice that something is different and a little off.  Such was the case this week when I noticed that the icons for the Google Documents changed as well as a few of their colors.  In addition to that specific change, there are a few other helpful features Google has added in recently to Documents in particular.  Check out the video below for more information:

For more information on Docs, Sheets, and Slides (Google's new Drive names for Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentation) check out this link to their support page.

In addition, some features of Google Apps for Education are worth repeating.  For instance, in Google Spreadsheets the use of conditional formatting is, I believe, an underutilized tool.  It can filter out responses and color code them with ease.  The only thing the user has to do is set-up the formatting.  Check out the video below on how to do that:

As you can hopefully see there are a number of uses for conditional formatting.  We recently used this at school to track which students had turned in important emergency record paperwork.  The ones that had turned it in received an "x" and their cell background turned green and those that had not turned in their paperwork the cells were blank and the background turned red.  It was very easy for instructors and office staff to quickly scan through the list and pull out those missing information.  The same can be used in a classroom.  With conditional formatting set up staff can quickly look and see how much re-teaching needs to occur or how many students actually understood the concept after watching a video.  A quick visual is always a good idea.

Google Apps for Education continues to amaze me with the power of their suite of apps.  Hopefully these videos have been helpful.  There will be more to come in the future!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bitsboard: An App That Transforms Education

Having been a part of the iPad/iPod/iOS education world for the past few years I have seen a number of good apps and tons of bad apps as well.  Unfortunately, the bad apps, or non-educational ones, seem to heavily outweigh the perfect for education apps.  However, whenever I present to a group of teachers or other educators the most common question is “What are some of your favorite apps?”  Now I completely realize that apps are only one thing that you can do on an iPad, but every once in a while a good app comes along and you just have to share it.  This is the case today with the creation and release of Bitsboard by Grasshopper Apps.  If you are not familiar with Grasshopper Apps, then I suggest you check out their website here.  They are widely known throughout the educational community for having amazing, beautiful, and free apps that are completely customizable.  That’s right - educators of any kind can tweak, change, and add whatever they want to their own app.  At FAIR School Downtown we would add in our own images, lists, and audio.  This has been a huge game changer in our classrooms - especially with spelling words.  Teachers would create their list(s) for the week all ahead of time with images, pictures, and audio over the top and then I would sync the one master iPad with the lists to all the other ones.  Sometimes it would work and at other times the lists would corrupt halfway through the quarter.  It was a great idea, but never reached its full potential.

Now the game has changed, finally.  For almost a year now I have been in close contact with Mila over at Grasshopper Apps.  They have been working on an app that allows teachers to create their own flashcards and then share them to their students through a catalog.  No syncing required.  It has been incredible to see an idea that many users wanted transform into a fully developed app.  That’s right, this morning they released the newest, and in my opinion best so far, app called Bitsboard.  

Bitsboard is only about 10% done according to their introduction email, but is is absolutely a game changer in terms of educational apps.  At this time the app has access to over 100,000 flashcards that include pictures and audio, allows you to create new flashcards (see the process below), backup the custom flashcards online, sync and share content across devices, and provides access to lessons from other teachers as well.  Now at this time I totally understand that this is only a app that has customizable flash cards with images or audio, but this is a start.  I personally do not know of another app out there that allows you to create unique, customized content with images and audio, share it with the cloud, have your students download it, and then practice totally without syncing the devices.  

Here is how it works:

1.) Download the Bitsboard app on the App Store.
Did I mention that this app it totally free!  That’s right, I get nothing for posting about it and there is no cost to you for trying it out.  Can’t get much better than that!

2.) Open the app and land in the “Home Screen” of Bitboard
This is where the pre-downloaded lists are at or where the lists are that you downloaded from the Catalog.

3.) Notice the “Catalog” icon in the upper left corner.  This is where Grasshopper Apps already has pre-created boards that have content in them.  They have also added in some of their more popular apps with the content already added in (Telling Time, First Words, Three Letter Words) at the top.  If you find a list you want to download, click the universal cloud with the arrow down icon and it shows up on your iPad in seconds.

4.) What about actually creating your own lists?  Easy.  Navigate back to the “Home Screen” for the app by clicking the “Home” icon.  Then click the “Gear” in the upper right corner.  We are all familiar with what this icon means, but this time it brings up a few option in the contents.  Click on “Your Boards” and then the “+” in the upper right corner and then “Create a new board.”

5.) Enter a title at the top where it says “Enter board name here”

6.) Click the plus icon to add a new flash card.  The new flash card comes up and then you can type in the word you want here.  Most words will then also automatically pull in a photo of what you typed as well.  If not then you can choose an image.  In addition, the app may also drop in audio of the word as well, but if not then click the red record button and put in your own audio.  Want to listen to it?  Then click the green plus icon on the other side.  As soon as you are done with one flash card, then click behind on the right and it saves automatically.  Click the “plus” icon and a new blank flashcard comes up here.  

7.) Sharing the set of flash cards (called boards in this app) is almost as easy as well.  Click the “Share” icon in the upper right corner of the app and provided you are logged into Facebook as well the board automatically appears in the Catalog.  The Facebook integration kind of bugged me at first, but then I read some more about this app and the folks at Grasshopper Apps are already working on the ability to create new user accounts without Facebook and they claim that this is coming “very soon.”  Then a few seconds after uploaded the board, I checked in the Catalog and searched for the title of my board.  It was there waiting for me and the students in first grade, or anyone with an iPad and this app, can download and use it.  Absolutely amazing!  

A few things to be aware of about this app from Grasshopper Apps.  First, they are currently in the process of integrating a bunch of their other apps into this one so that it becomes a “one stop shop.”  Coming soon is integration with Photo Touch, Little Reader, Little Speller, and Memory Cards.  They are also claiming to add in a bunch of other pieces to this app so that it is more than a flashcards app.  What that looks like we will see soon.  Also, this is only an iPad app at the moment.  They are actively creating an iPhone version as well.  For more information check out the full posting about this app in the App Store linked here.

Maybe I am only the one that is totally excited about this app, but the possibilities for me boggle my mind.  Teachers can now be at home, create a spelling list, review list, etc. and then have the students download it when they arrive on their iPads at school.  In addition, teachers in the same building or district at the same grade level can all be using the same lists so students learn the same content regardless of the teacher.  Foreign language, special education, and high school biology terms have all been transformed now.  Create a list, share it with your students, and then have them review on their own time and not during precious class time.  This app can also transform the learning and review process at home.  If families own an iPad (or iPhone in the future) they can download this free app and then look for the teacher’s lists for that week.  Then the student can practice and review their school work at home.  No missing paper, lost list, etc. Furthermore, students can create their own lists.  If they consistently have trouble with a few words they can create their own “challenge list” and then add the ones they get wrong each week and consistently practice them when they have a chance.  The possibilities appear endless. 

With the understanding that this app is still under development, there are a few things I would tweak.  My largest suggestion at this point, outside of adding in the non-Facebook requirement to post lists, would be the integration of testing and reporting the progress on lists.  Alligator Apps has an awesome app titled “A+ Speller” that allows students to practice their words and then the progress is emailed back to the instructor.  I would love to see some integration on this front so that instructors can track student progress and how they are doing on specific words.  This would be a welcome addition to the app, but I have to say at this point I am very impressed with the ease of use, functionality, and ability to easily share and download content.  Well done Grasshopper Apps!  

I would encourage everyone out there to download and try out this app.  It’s free so its not like you are out a dollar or two.  Who knows, you might just figure out a way to integrate this into your classroom/school/district.

P.S. I was not paid or encouraged to write this post about Bitboard.  I am so excited about the potential this app has to transform education that I had to share.  Thanks for reading!