Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

# Month: October 2009(page 1 of 3)

Last year I tried an experiment after being exposed to research about the Jasper project.  The basic idea of this project is, turn difficult word problems into authentic video problems which include potential extensions.  The experiment was this, have my students create the video word problems, and start creating a library of these problems to use with my future classes.

The experience of creating the problem has some minor mathematics in it, after all the students need to formulate a difficult problem, verify that they are able to shoot the problem on video and then show a working solution to the problem (on paper or handed in separately in digital form).  These skills are quite difficult, and are higher order skills in Bloom’s taxonomy.

Here’s an example of one of these word problems on the right.

It’s important to note here that there are some very difficult mathematical concepts embedded in this video.  Students will need to be able to understand rate problems, solve for the distance of the falling object using kinematics, and use trigonometry to determine the distance that needs to be traveled, and then go back to rate problems to answer the question.

The whole process from start to finish took about 2 weeks (or 8 classes).  One class to brainstorm the idea, one class to decide on the script and come up with the text version of the problem, and a few classes to solve the problem and do some in-class video editing.  Yes, this is a lot of time, but in terms of building student self-esteem, working on very important collaboration and planning skills, it is worth it.

There’s no way that is actually enough time to produce such a high quality (for a student group) video, so I know for sure that lots of time was spent on this video outside of class, probably many hours of time.

So this process also inspires the students and gets them excited about your material.  They will work much harder when they are excited about coming to class.

The video editing process itself was fairly straight forward.  Most groups shot the clips with standard digital cameras, and then recorded the audio tracks after their video was done on their computers using Audacity.  One group used iMovie for their editing and production, and the other 3 groups used Windows Movie Maker which was totally sufficient for their needs.  If you want a no-install option, you can look at using Pixorial.com which I’ve tested out myself and works fairly well.  It only really lacks two important features, the ability to edit the audio track separate from the video, and the ability to modify the video itself (instead of just moving it around), such as slow-motion, etc…

Check out these other two videos.  Maybe use them with your class and try and solve the problems.  As far as I remember, all of them have solutions, although some will require students to estimate distances.

Would Vygotsky agree that young children are essentially egocentric?

I think Vygotsky would disagree with Piaget when the latter suggests that young children are essentially egocentric. First, Vygotsky’s work was often opposed to Piaget (Miller, 2002, p370), so it was clear that Vygotsky had a negative opinion of Piaget’s work.

More importantly, in Vygotsky’s theory “…the mind is inherently social…” (Miller, 2002, p373). He would suggest that egocentrism implies inward thinking only, and that the cultural and social aspects of cognition which he observed would run counter to this intuition. When observing cognition, according to Vygotsky, it is essentially impossible to distinguish between internal motivation and external social influences.

An example of this is in the interplay between a mother and a child on page 374 of Miller’s work. The mother is directing the child through a difficult cognitive task, and it is clear from the exchange that the young child’s cognition is strongly influenced by his mother’s attention. In fact, the task would be impossible for the child without his mother’s support.

Vygotsky would disagree with the statement because of his belief in how the development of cognition can be observed (Miller, 2002, p378). A child’s current state is not examined by looking at one moment, but instead by observing the child’s change through an activity. In this case “process is more important than activity” (Miller, 2002, p378). These changing states can only be measured in the context of the activity, utilizing social tools.

Finally, Egocentrism presumes that a child is looking at a process from only his or her own point of view (Piaget, 1948). Vygotsky might suggest instead that the child is observing everything from the presumed perspective of his or her parent’s point of view. Apparent egocentrism, as in the example of Piaget’s famous three mountain’s experiment, is the result of a lack of appropriate language to adequately describe the situation out of the context of their parent’s guidance.

References:

Miller, P. H. (2002). Theories of Developmental Psychology, 4th Ed. (pp. 367-396; Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Approach). New York: Worth.

Piaget, J., Inhelder, B. (1948/1956) The child’s conception of space. London: Routledge and Paul Kegan

First thing I did when I started this assignment was to reread my flight path. I discovered very quickly that it had somehow been deleted, so I had to remember what I had written and rewrite it. I think I remembered most of what I had written, so it was nice to have my goals fresh on my mind.

In terms of success meeting my goals, I would say that I definitely got the experience using an LMS that I wanted. I took two courses this summer and for both we used the Moodle LMS, so this gave me many hours of self-directed training with the support of two communities of motivated practitioners. I’ve already decided that I want to use this LMS with my students next year, and happily my new school has it installed on their servers. The plan is to export what I started in this course, and use it with my class next year.

My other goals were met with varying degrees of success. I did get exposed to some other uses of multimedia that I was not already familiar so that was nice. I also read a lot of literature that suggested best practices for using different online resources. I also had a painful reminder of how to best format images for the web (in terms of a bad grade for not doing it!).

The toolkit is a neat idea. I would have liked to have had a bit more freedom on how it was arranged, but in terms of organizing a complicated resource for a large number of students, I can really see why such rigidity is important. My two course instructors for ETEC 531 and ETEC 565 use very different approaches in terms of flexibility of course requirements, and this has helped me reflect on my own teaching practices. Perhaps a bit more rigidity in my own course requirements would help me save time grading, which I could then apply towards preparing better lessons.

I was not as diligent in using the Toolkit as I should have been. There were a couple of items that to me seemed a little less useful. For example, I have been building professional websites in my spare time for the past 4 years, and so creating a simple website using a WYSIWYG editor seemed less useful to me. Reflecting on the accessibility of said website was an excellent idea, and the gigantic list of things that make a website suck was super useful. There were a couple of eLearning Toolkit pages which were a little bit less organized than I would have liked. I actually left a comment in the discussion page of one of them, with some questions that may turn into suggestions for improvement. However, such a self-directed exercise I think is a very important part of this course, and I would recommend that even my colleagues who are not currently enrolled in a degree program like the MET (but are interested in Ed Tech) perform their own such survey.

Let’s take a look at my own e-Portfolio and assess it using the SECTIONS criteria. I’m only going to focus on the criteria which I feel like I have something useful to say.

Students:

As my classmates and I are the students reading this blog, have I done a good enough job of writing my material for that audience? I feel like I have. Rather than re-iterate points they have brought up (which I have read through my feeds of their ETEC 565 blogs), I have tried to bring up new points, and to write from my perspective.

Organizational Issues:

This blog is well organized. I’ve tried to use useful tags and categories to make it easy to find posts, which are generally organized by either what classroom Module they refer to, or that they are in the Toolkit. As well, as per the instructions for creating this blog, the most important items have their own page. This means they have a direct link in the top header portion of the blog.

Novelty:

Using blogs for education is nothing new, but have entire classes of grad students create their own space for storing their writing is a good idea. Basically this way we can all share our experiences with each other, and we are encouraged to put our best work forward.

Speed:

One immediate advantage of this platform is the speed at which we were up and running. I seem to recall that pretty much everyone in the class had a blog within the first week, which is impressive considering that a few of us had never blogged before. The instructions for getting started were slightly more rigid than some of us expected, but having recognized the reasons (earlier in this entry) for having such a formal structure in place for our blogs, it was pretty straight forward getting them set up.

Next year, I am going to be working at a new school where there is every indication I will end up being one of the leaders in the use of technology. I’m planning on focusing on helping other teachers get up to speed with some of the existing technologies as well as refining my own use of technology. The school has their own Moodle server, and I plan to use this more extensively than I have in the past, perhaps over the next two years building online versions of my existing courses.

One of my goals has been, and will continue to be, to become a provider of professional development opportunities. I’ve really enjoyed my chances over the past 4 years to provide training to my colleagues on how to use technology, whether it is for their own personal improvement, or in their classrooms. This is an area where I can see lots of room for improvement, and I can only do that with practice!

The next two semesters I am finishing off my core requirements for the MET program. I have ETEC 511, 512 in the fall, and ETEC 510 in the spring. Next summer I hope to complete the MET degree with the graduate project, ETEC 590. Once I have this degree done, I’ll probably take a break from the classroom for a few years, and try to put to practice what I have been learning.

David Wees

Stratford Hall

Abstract

The British Columbia government recently strongly encouraged that all school districts must provide distributed learning for all interested students in their district. Although the private schools in BC have managed to thus far avoid this requirement, it is conceivably that all schools will eventually be held to this standard. Stratford Hall currently uses a distributed learning platform, but it is meant as an additional tool for a face to face classroom. I propose that we extend this platform to allow for students to take entire courses online if they so choose.

Moodle Proposal

As part of our desire to be an excellent school we have been providing the forefront of what is considered an excellent education. This is best done using sound educational practices and proven pedagogical techniques to best instruct our children. There are a few best practices which we should endeavor to use at our school, one of which is to provide a framework for students who have missed school to be able to catch up on work they have missed in a useful way (Govindasamy, T., 2002). Second, as many school districts in British Columbia have been accepting the initiative by the provincial government to produce distributed learning courses (BCME 2006), this is a new area in which to compete with the public schools.

Description:

Our current structure for our online learning is using the Moodle platform on an ad hoc basis. Some teachers utilize the system, others do not. No one uses the system to its fullest potential, and certainly no one at our school has an entire online course available for our students. We need to rectify this situation in order to continue to compete with the public schools in BC.

Evaluation:

When evaluating which direction to go with our distributed learning, we need to look at the following criterion: cost, time required, usability, and accessibility which are some of the criteria we have discussed as part of my Master’s degree program.

Moodle will be the cheapest platform for us to use in terms of licensing cost. As Moodle is open source we do not need to pay any licensing fee to use Moodle. Any proprietary LMS we might choose will come with an associated yearly license fee.

In terms of time required to work on this project, continuing to use Moodle is the best value as well. Since teachers are already familiar with using Moodle, there will be very little additional training time necessary in order to extend our capabilities. Learning a new learning management system (LMS) would only extend the amount of time this project would take.

Moodle has been shown to have some problems with usability, at least for first time users. There is a bit of a steeper learning curve than with some other LMS which will have to factor into our decision. Although most of our current teachers are trained in the use of Moodle, any new hires will have to undergo training upon arrival at our school. Of course any new LMS we choose would require all of our current teachers to be retrained.

A major factor in choosing to keep our Moodle platform however is accessibility. A major competitor to Moodle, the WebCT LMS, is not usable without JavaScript enabled, which screen readers for the visually impaired do not enable. Moodle has been designed with accessibility for the visually impaired in mind. Extending current British Columbia educational policy regarding accessibility to distributed learning, it is clear that this will be a requirement of our project.

What this project will require more than anything else is time from the teachers to place their course work online. Creation of an online course is quite time-consuming and we should expect that it will take the better part of a year, using teachers working part-time on this project, to complete one course for each teacher. We already have the server resources already allocated to our Moodle platform. We have also invested a fair amount of time training teachers on how to use Moodle, so there will be very little additional training time required.

Objectives:

In the past few years a number of prominent educational institutes have been putting up their courses on the web. This list includes MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and even our local university, the University of British Columbia (Cox, J. 2007),. Universities across North America are rapidly adding distributed learning packages to their services offered in order to compete in a rapidly expanding market. It seems that the number of online secondary programs is rapidly growing (Chen, G. 2003). It must become our objective to be part of this phenomena.

Conclusion:

If we do not join the other public schools in creating this initiative, then we will be lagging behind in our competition, even with the public schools. Our global economy is currently in crisis, the parents of our students are looking to save money wherever they can. One we can ensure that they continue to pay tuition to us and keep their students in our school is by providing more services than the public schools. Although parents value the overall quality of school, they are attracted to unique programs, hence the value of our current Taiko drumming and rock-climbing programs. A distributed learning platform would make us a very attractive deal indeed!

References

Bates & Poole. (2003). “A Framework for Selecting and Using Technology.” In Effective Teaching with Technology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

British Columbia Ministry of Education (BCME) policy, (2006), retrieved from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/policy/policies/spneed_distance_ed.htm on June 7th, 2009

Govindasamy, T. (2002), Successful implementation of e-Learning: Pedagogical considerations, Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science on June 7th, 2009

Cox, J. (2007), MIT digitizes its courses, throws them online, and asks ‘What now?”, Retrieved from http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/112907-mit-digitizes-courses.html on June 7th, 2009.

Chen, G. (2003). What is an online high school? Retrieved from http://www.publicschoolreview.com/articles/8 on June 7th, 2009

Assignment:

Write a weblog entry that describes your proposed flight path during ETEC 565. Tell us a bit about yourself, your experience, and your goals for this course (or, perhaps, the MET). Explain what you want to learn about Learning Management Systems (LMS), synchronous communication, assessment, social software, and multimedia. Give your best estimate (guestimate?) about what resources you would need to master these technologies as a novice professional. Be sure to cite relevant literature to support your decision.

As I recall, my plan for this course was to focus on learning the LMS Moodle, and to learn more of the theory behind why we use various technologies in education. These two goals to me seemed a lot for a summer course, and I felt that trying to do too much would be over-ambitious.

My experience with the use of technology in education goes back to when I started working in NYC. I built a website for a project we were working on as a class using Geocities free websites. The website itself wasn’t great, and the project worked well without it, so I abandoned technology at that stage for another two years. I did lots of stuff with it myself, but my learning with it lagged, and I didn’t use it in education at all.

When I started working in London, I had a friend who mentioned he was learning how to build websites. He showed me a couple of examples, and they were so much better than I had worked with, I felt compelled to try it myself. Within a few months I had taught myself the basics of HTML/XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript. About a year later I had added PHP and MYSQL to my repertoire. As part of the learning exercise, I began to create online activities for my students, mostly using HTML + JavaScript.

My goals with the MET program in general are to solidify the learning I’ve done already in terms of technology use with students, and to find ways/best practices for things I can use technology in education. The fact I’ll end up with a credential as well is just bonus.

I want to learn how to effectively use an LMS. I’m not interested in just substituting content I would normally write down on a blackboard into an eLearning context. There are some best practices that should be implemented when using an LMS (Bersin, J., 2004) , and I felt that this course would help me find them. Since I will still be teaching a face to face course, I want to find ways to use my LMS most efficiently as a course companion to my regular course. One way that Tom Wulf (2004) suggests that one way to use an LMS is an archive of the class discussion, which I would like to explore as well.

Synchronous communication is something I’ve "experimented with" quite a bit, using various tools to keep in touch with my family over the years. I am a bit interested in learning how to safely use these in education, but given that I have a F2F course with my students already, these tools will probably be less useful to learn more about.

Online assessment is interesting to me. I would love to find a way to efficiently create secure online assessments for my students. It might be a bit of a time-saver at the end of the day to do my quizzes online. As long I don’t use the quizzes for more than verifying the understanding of my students, I should be okay to use them with my class.

Multimedia is less interesting to me, mostly because of my content area. I’ve found that when it is used (ineffectively) with mathematics, it can hurt the understanding of the students. It is so easy to create bad math videos or uninteresting math videos that I have hesitated to use them with my students. However I learned about the use of video word problems with students as a way to improve their understanding of the problem solving process. I am interested in learning more about this process, and wonder what other possibilities I have been missing.

In terms of resources needed to master these goals, I think the best resource I have will be the community of learners. We will be able to bounce ideas off each other, and share ways of using resources that I will not individually be able to come up with. As well, just the process of reflection required to complete this course is going to force me to practice skills that I don’t normally have a chance to use in my day to day teaching. This I think will be the most important aspect of this course.

References:

Bersin, J., (2004)., The Blended Learning Book: Best Practices, Proven Methodogies, and Lessons Learned, Retrieved from http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=chhoH9BlORgC&oi=fnd&pg=PR13&dq=lms+best+practices&ots=TvyqvsMYJg&sig=n6hBVZiMotj2-zYQj1HfayGLnyI on July 28th

Wulf, T., (2004)., Using learning management systems to teach paperless courses: best practices for creating accreditation review record archives, retrieved from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1040231.1040233 on July 28th.

Our assignment this week was to choose two communication tools, either synchronous or asynchronous in nature, and use them with our LMS. The tools we choose can either be an internal part of whichever LMS framework we have chosen, or some external tool.

My online course within Moodle is intended to support a face to face course called IB Mathematical Studies I will be running next year at my new school. This course is supported by an external curriculum and a standard final exam worth 80% of the final grade of the students. Students will responsible for learning the same material as other students from all over the world and so internal accountability will be very important.

The first tool I chose is an ongoing discussion forum within the LMS. I will likely end up teaching a split class, where some students are taking IB Mathematical Studies, and other students are taking IB Mathematics SL. Unfortunately these two courses are very different and so often some students will be working on an assignment while I am teaching a lesson to another group of students. In order to provide both groups of students with ample time to ask questions, my thought is that I should provide an ongoing place for the students to bring up their questions, which either they can answer for each other, or that I can answer.

The organization of the forums is by topic. According to Anderson (2008), “[t]he first task for the e-learning teacher is to develop a sense of trust and safety within the electronic community.” For this reason I have started the course with an icebreaker week in the forum discussions. This allows students to iron out any difficulties logging into the forum and learning how to post to the forum discussions. It also provides an opportunity for all students to complete an activity with which they will be successful.

This tool will allow students both the opportunity to ask questions they might not have time to ask during class, and the chance to review the answers to these questions at their own pace. As we have organized the forum discussions by topic, it will also provide a way for students to keep track of the material we have covered in the course for any review before in-class exams. These benefits are not something many IB Mathematical Students experience, given they are often the weaker students in the school. Many of them lack the organizational skills to keep a notebook in an organized enough fashion to be useful for review.

I’ve tested the forum feature and it seems to work as advertised. It allows for discussions to be threaded, which makes it much easier to keep track of what has been discussed, and what order participants have responded to questions. The formatting of the responses is done using the FCKEditor JavaScript “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editor. In my experience as a web developer, this particular WYSIWYG has excellent cross browser and operating system support, being one of the few WYSIWYG editors which support Safari.

One major limitation with the forums is the difficulty students will experience posting mathematical equations and symbols online. Although there are plugins for Moodle which allow mathematical equations to be added to the pages (I’ve written one of these myself), they are all fairly difficult to use for the end user, usually requiring an arcane formatting language called Tex to be learned by the students. I have had success teaching a limited subset of Tex to high school students, but it can be difficult for many of the students, especially the weaker students.

I have learned a variety of techniques for creating online equations, but have noted that the difficulty of adding the questions is inversely proportional to the number of steps required to add the equations into the forum discussions. The easiest way for students to add equations is to use Microsoft Equation editor, something most students learn quickly, and then convert each equation to an image (usually by taking a screen shot, cropping it in an image editor, saving the file) and then uploading it and inserting it in the correct location to their post. The most difficult method is for the students to learn Tex and type their equations directly into the WYSIWYG editor but this is a single step process.

There are a couple of problems with this forum system. One is that it is very teacher directed, in the sense the format and content of the forums is decided by me. Although students are free to post any questions they want, they must post topic specific questions in an appropriate location. This limits their freedom and hence their motivation to use the forums.

Another method of communication I will continue to use with my course is an associated class blog. I have actually used this with my teaching for 4 years now with my classes, and have found it to be very successful. I have not yet set up a blog for my new school, but my old classroom blogs, using the Movable Type and WordPress platforms respectively, are located at http://www.southbank.net/blogs/staff/davidw/ and https://davidwees.com/davidw.

Given my experience with using a blog with my students, I have found it to be an effective form of communication, both for broadcasting information to my students, and for providing a place for students to communicate with each other, and with me online. Over the years I have been refining the use of a blog with my class and can see some more improvements for the future.

First, each student has an account on the blog, and the ability to post new blog entries, comments, and create tags for their entries freely. This allows students to post about anything they want, with the proviso that it must have something to do with our course. How I have been providing some structure for the blog is by having students post daily summaries of the lessons from class, and requiring students to read each others’ summaries using a relevant comment to prove the reading of the summary.

This has been included in the participation grade of each student in the class, which I have found an effective way to motivate even the weaker students to participate in the blog. Students are graded using a rubric, which rewards both the completion of an entry and the quality of the posts, hence students feel both rewarded just for doing an entry, and for putting their best effort into the entry.

The purpose of the blog has been to provide a way to make announcements to students, upload resources for them to download, and allow for communication between students. The summaries that have been posted have been very useful for students during review, as is evident by both my course evaluation forms, and the online web statistics provided by the blog.

There are a couple of limitations of the blog. The first is that again, just like the forums for Moodle, students will have difficulty posting mathematical equations. The solutions I have used to make this possible are the same as what works for the Moodle forums.

The second limitation is that the blog does not allow for students to group entries together in their own categorization system. I am building an improvement over the WordPress CMS in the Drupal CMS, where students will be able to bookmark useful entries for later, build an online portfolio of their best work, make some of their work private, and categorize content anyway they want. All of the other features of the WordPress blog would continue to be available, but this should allow students to have their freedom to construct their own online learning space.

Both of these systems are asynchronous, but in the world of high school education, this is probably a good thing for more than one reason. First, high school students are busy, typically being involved in many different activities so finding a time for synchronous communication with all students would be too difficult. Second, the asynchronous nature of this communication means students have time to think about and format their questions and responses since mathematics is such a difficult subject matter to format for the web.

References:

Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an Online Learning Context. In: Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. Accessed online 14 June 2009 http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/14_Anderson_2008_Anderson-DeliveryQualitySupport.pdf

So today I finished my first Moodle quiz. I found it relatively easy, although a little bit time-consuming, especially as my area of expertise is mathematics. Every equation needed to be carefully created as an image and uploaded.

There were a couple of aspects to the quiz creation which I really liked. The first was the feedback box underneath some of the answers boxes for the various answer types. Choosing answers for the multiple choice which were incorrect meant I had to think about the various ways students could make mistakes, then choose appropriate feedback based on what they did.

The second thing I liked was the fact that when students finish the quiz, they can be given immediate feedback about how well they did. Very handy. Students get to know which questions they got right, and which ones they got wrong, and some suggestions below the ones they got wrong on what they could improve. Relevant feedback, as Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2005) point out is very important in the learning process.

One serious problem though is that for the types of questions which encourage higher order thought, as per Bloom’s taxonomy, you cannot give feedback to the students. Only the lower order skills appear to be directly testable.

The other difficulty is that with short answer, matching, and multiple choice questions it is difficult to see what types of mistakes the students are making. You can infer from their incorrect solutions what they must be thinking for a short answer or possibly a matching question, but the multiple choice questions leave a lot to be desired in terms of teacher feedback. Part of the point of assessment I’ve found is to inform the teacher where the students need more assistance.

Construction of questions was relatively straight forward, and the ability to re-use questions and to clone questions is pretty cool. I found this process easy to do, I didn’t need very much help. I did notice that adding images to Matching style questions was a bit difficult, and required an understanding of HTML. This is a usability problem, one that could easily be addressed by attaching a WYSIWYG editor to the textbook for the question in the matching style problems.

All in all I was pretty impressed, and I think the additional time spent creating the tests could be worth the time saved not having to grade them manually. This could be very useful for certain topics where there are very few ways students can solve the problems.

References

Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2005). “Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Accessed online 11 March 2009 http://www.open.ac.uk/fast/pdfs/Gibbs%20and%20Simpson%202004-05.pdf

I’ve used a wiki many times in the past, but either I was editing pages by myself, or with my students. Never have I used a wiki with a group of people who all have some expertise in the topic we are editing. The exercise we completed as a class was an interesting experience for me because of the opportunity to see a wide variety of people writing.

Besides the content being better, another thing that was different was how well the page was organized. Most of the time, when students create a page, they don’t include a sensible table of contents, etc… They need to be trained. Working with people who have used wiki’s a lot before helped a lot in this area.

Often when people have little experience with a wiki, they feel uncomfortable editing each other’s work. Without a willingness to jump in and change someone else’s words, the wiki either stagnates or bloats. Wikipedia doesn’t suffer from this problem largely because most of the edits are anonymous, and from people we don’t know. Somehow we are more willing to change some unknown person’s work than one of our peers. Students, with some training, will sometimes change each other’s work. Usually they will leave a comment suggesting a chance rather than making the change themselves.

Although I’ve used a wiki in the past, I found this a useful exercise. I think the act of reflecting on acts we have done (even many times) really helps understand the theory behind what we do.

Why did you choose this particular tools? How did the tool impact the manner in which you told your story (perhaps in a way that is different had you just used text or related the story using your voice)? How might you use such tools in your own teaching to produce materials for students? How might students be given access to the same authoring tools? What kind of impact would you expect to see in your students in terms of motivation, creativity, or any other characteristics?

Our job was to play around with some of the Web 2.0 tools now available for creating online/offline presentations. There has been tremendous competition in this area, especially if this list of tools we were given by our professor is any indication. Choosing one of these tools would be time-consuming, however in this case I had Twitter to help me. Turns out that on Twitter lots of people I’m following are raving about Prezi, a relatively new tool which looks to me like a replacement for PowerPoint.

I actually did this assignment wrong at first. I used Photostory 3, a program Microsoft puts out which is surprisingly decent and easy to use. After uploading my video to Youtube, I went back and reread the assignment, and discovered I was supposed to use one of the tools listed on the Wiki page above. Oops. Guess I should be less surprised when my students mess up an assignment.

Fortunately Prezi is pretty easy to use, and I had already collected all the photos I wanted to use. Within an hour I had most of the presentation up and going. One problem I had though was embedding audio with my presentation. I really think music or a voice over included in an online presentation is key, otherwise the presentation might be a bit boring. So I did some digging around and found out Prezi allows you to embed SWF files (usually created with the Adobe Flash authoring program) into presentations. I just created a simple SWF with the audio I wanted embedded (a very famous Thai song… hope I don’t get Prezi banned in Thailand!) and set to play as soon as the SWF is downloaded. Making the SWF super small (1px by 1px) makes it seem as if the audio is part of the presentation, rather than a separate download.

I found that when using Prezi, adding each image takes a bit of time. Aligning the text with the image, especially when the image was rotated AND the frame to hold the text and image was rotated was difficult. I had to fiddle with it quite a bit to get everything to look right. This meant I didn’t really want to add more frames than was absolutely necessary to tell my story, and my Prezi presentation ended up being quite a bit shorter than my Photostory presentation.

Telling a story this way is interesting, partially because there’s no opportunity to clarify anything you’ve written. I found myself editing the text quite a bit to make sure that none of it was controversial (I’m going to be sending this to family) or could be "taken the wrong way" out of context. Without the ability to see the audience this presentation is for, I lose a lot of the very useful two-way communication that occurs when you tell a story. For example, I have no idea if anyone else will even like this presentation!

I think I’ll use Prezi next year with my students. I usually have students create a review of what we have done in class, generally as a PowerPoint presentation. Creating the presentation in digital form definitely increases the amount of time it takes to do the review portion of the assignment, but makes the giving of the presentation decidedly easier. One advantage, an important one I think, of Prezi over PowerPoint is the fact it can be used from anywhere, is easy to move between computers, and can be easily shared/embedded online. As well, none of the students needs to pay for using Prezi, which means I can reasonably expect all of my students to have the required software (they need a web browser).

I’m going to be teaching science and mathematics next year. In mathematics, a typical word problem is like a story. One way I could help students improve their ability to solve word problems is to view the problem like a story. In fact, I’ve had students create their own word problems (and video problems!) and I think that if we story-boarded the word problems, using a presentation tool like Prezi, then they might have a better understanding of the steps involved in solving the problem. Students have a variety of different learning styles, and this might help some of the students understand word problems who normally have difficulty.

In science there are lots of stories, especially in Biology. I could imagine telling the story of the life cycle of a tadpole/frog for example using one of these presentation tools. Seeing the life-cycle visually would definitely help students see the changes that occur in the frog as it matures. Telling the story themselves would help them remember it, and understand a fundamental principle of biology, the cycle of life.

Prezi is cool. It does all these neat turns and twists, etc… when transitioning between slides. This is pretty hard to do with PowerPoint and way cooler looking than the typical twists, etc… Prezi is also much easier to use than PowerPoint. After only two presentations, I think I’m pretty competent with it. Spending time during class learning how to use software isn’t my cup of tea, I’d rather the tool students are using is so straight forward you can teach it in 10 minutes. Any longer than that and you have to do loads of reteaching.

Students will like using it because it’s easy and free. It allows them to be creative while not burdening them with cumbersome multi-step "formulas" for getting simple things done.

The drawback I see for students is the audio portion. I hope the people at Prezi.com get that figured out soon. Adding an audio file to your presentation has got to be easier than what I went through. I mean I found it easy, but I’ve devoted a lot of time to learning Flash, time better spent doing something else I think from a student’s perspective.

You can view it at http://prezi.com/129140/view/. Wait a bit for the music to start, the images to download and then click on the right arrow at the bottom to navigate through the slides.

What did you discover?

As I expected, most of these social networking sites have terms of service which are designed to protect themselves and their younger clientele. A high school aged student who knew something about being careful online would be safe using any of these services, simply because they are designed at their heart to allow their users to choose what information they show. However students with less acumen may choose a poor setting for the privacy of their account, and end up giving near strangers too much information.

What surprised you?

I was a bit surprised to find that all of the language for the first three sites (Facebook, My Space, and Bebo) was exactly the same when it came to user generated content. The words “non-exclusive, fully-paid, royalty-free, sublicensable” were used by all three of the first sites. It seemed to me that they were all using some boiler-plate legal text. Maybe they all used the same law firm?

How would this inform your own participation in these social network sites?

I would be a little bit more likely to use these sites, but I have used at least the first two somewhat extensively and see little educational value in them. Too easy for students to wander off in the wrong direction. The only use I could see would be to subscribe all my students who were using Facebook (for example) to a group and then send them information via group emails. Pretty sure it would be more useful to set up my own system, and suspect the parents of my students would prefer that as well.

What are the implications for education?

The terms of service for these websites seem favourable for use in education, but I would be hesitant to do so. The only big reason I can see for using these particular websites is that they are frequently trafficked by our students. An reasonable analogy is that using a social networking website to connect with your students is like standing on a street corner preaching lessons to your students as they walk by or sit on their front steps. I just don’t think this is necessary, and really students deserve a break from school once in a while. I teach in the International Baccalaureate, and these students are so busy, they hardly get two moments to breathe, let alone have their personal online space invaded by school.

In terms of privacy, these websites do well, at least according to their privacy agreements. Most of these sites are aware that many of their customers are teenagers and that many countries have enacted laws to protect youngsters online. These websites need to comply with these laws, and so must have safe-guards in place. However, many of these safe-guards appear to be off by default, and this requires teenagers to be savvy users to turn them on so I think many teenagers are not properly protected. Hence, we should seriously consider whether or not is appropriate for schools to be advertising the use of these social networking sites.