The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Year: 2009 (page 2 of 7)

Student created videos using free Windows tools

So today I tried an experiment out.  I wanted to see if I could use Windows tools, freely available, already installed on our school’s computers, and produce reasonable student videos.  I succeeded, and I’d like to share my success here.  The process is pretty simple, and not too time-consuming, and best of all, student friendly.

For those of you who like the quick and dirty, the basic steps are:

  1. Create individual frames in Microsoft Word (or any text editor).
  2. Take a screen-shot of each of these frames.  Generally this is done by pressing the ‘Prt Scr’ or ‘Print Screen’ button on your keyboard.
  3. Paste the individual screen-shots into Microsoft Paint, one at a time and save each as their own file.  You want all of the images to have the same width and height (400 by 300 is good or 800 by 600).
  4. Open up Windows Movie Maker and import all of the image frames created in steps 1 to 3.
  5. Drag the images and order them into the movie time-line below the collection of images.
  6. Add special effects, like video transitions, subtitles, narration, whatever.
  7. Save the project (so you can edit it later) AND save it as a movie as well. 
  8. Upload to your favourite video sharing site (Youtube, Vimeo, Pixorial) and share it with whomever you want.

Here’s an example video done by a student in a single 85 minute period (they actually had about 70 minutes to work on it because of pre-activity instructions).

Unscientific survey about paper use

If you are a teacher, I’m looking for some data on paper use in schools.  Just looking for the answer to a couple of quick questions.

1. Approximately how much paper (in your teaching) do you use in a day?
2. How many teachers are at your school?

Please respond here:

http://is.gd/4XCAQ

Using filters in Gmail to automatically move “****** is now following you on Twitter!” messages out of your inbox

Here’s the basic idea.  You have a bunch of messages every day from Twitter telling you that someone new is following you on Twitter.  They clutter up your Gmail inbox, but you don’t want to delete all of them because they are a record of your followers, and maybe you want to follow some of them back.

The solution is to use the Gmail filters to send the messages directly to their own folder, so they don’t clutter your inbox.  Here’s how you do that.

First you open up one of your messages from Twitter where someone has followed you, even if this messages is in your deleted message folder.  You need to know what the return email address for these types of messages, and it appears that this message varies depending on WHO Twitter is sending their follow information.  You may notice that the format of the emails is twitter-follow-davidwees=gmail.com@postmaster.twitter.com.  Whew, thats a long email address!  Anyway, select the email address, excluding the < and > like I have done and get ready to paste it soon.

Second you click on ‘Create a filter’.  You can create the label for your Twitter messages first if you like but I’ve chosen to start directly into the filter.  The link for creating a filter is probably right next to your ‘Search the Web’ button, but could be somewhere else.  I’m using a neat space theme for my Gmail theme, so maybe this looks a bit different than in your gmail box.

Once you have clicked on this button another dialog will come up.  It will be helpful at this stage to know a piece of information, specifically the email address I told you to copy earlier.  Now you fill in the information requested as follows.

You may notice that I have pasted the email address from step 1 into the from box and into the ‘Has the words’ box I’ve inputted ‘is now following you on Twitter!’.  These two things combined should ensure that none of your other email ends up in the wrong location.  Now you click on ‘Next Step’.  You can check that the search works by clicking on ‘Test Search’ but trust me, this should work (unless Twitter changes their email address for your follows or the message that you receive when someone follows you).

You should up with another box appearing.  You want to check some of the boxes.  First, since the objective here is to avoid cluttering up our inbox, we select ‘Skip the inbox’.  I’ve left ‘Mark as read’ unchecked since I want to know when people follow me, but that’s up to your personal preference.  Someone like Alyssa Milano with over a million and a half followers would probably want to check this box.    I’ve also checked the ‘Apply the label box’ and am about to choose a new label.  Clearly, if you have already created a Twitter label, you can choose that here, otherwise you can create that right now.   You will probably want to also apply this filter immediately by checking the box next to ‘Also apply filter to 140 conversations below.’

You then click on ‘Create Filter’ and you should be done.  All of your messages from Twitter about new Twitter followers should nicely slide over into your custom label, and any new messages should automatically jump into this folder.  You can then check this folder periodically to see if there are any new followers you should follow back.  You get the convenience of knowing who is following you, without the inconvenience of having to manually delete or categorize these messages.

 

Creating a WiiMote interactive white board at my school for under $50.

So someone sent me a link to the video below and I decided to act upon it.  I thought I would link my resources I find for this project here, and keep you all up to date on how it is working.

The immediate attraction for this project was the idea of being able to create an interactive white board for what looks like close to $50.  Our school currently has three Smartboards at the Upper school and three Smartboards at the lower school and three times that many classrooms at each building.  This means that only 1 out 3 lessons is taught using a Smartboard at best, and teachers tend not to use the Smartboards.  Part of the problem here is the Smartboard technology is not immediately obvious how to use, and part of it is because of training, but access to a Smartboard is a big problem for most teachers.

First I had to do some research into the controllers themselves which are necessary, which are basically a Nintendo WiiMote and a Bluetooth receiver on your laptop.  According to Amazon the WiiMote costs about $35 and the Bluetooth receiver costs about $4.   You might also want a cheap tripod to mount the Wiimote onto, that should cost another $15 or so and is useful but optional (my tripod cost me 9 dollars) since in the video below you can see Johnny mounts the Wiimote directly on top of the LCD projector.  You also need an LED pen, which you can apparently build for about 5 dollars or purchase online.  Total cost so far is 44 dollars or if you are lucky and find a cheap tripod (like I did), 53 dollars.

As for turning the Wiimote into an interactive white board, Johnny Lee (the inventor of this process) has instructions up on his website.  He has also created a community forum where you can post questions, and if it is like most online communities I know, get answers to your questions.

Johnny Lee has also presented at TED, so you know there are some very smart people who love (and have tested) his idea.  What I really love is the demonstration of the VR system he has designed using pretty much the same hardware with some different software.

Here’s a good video showing a pressure sensitive pen, which will make writing much easier.  The brand name of the pen casing is called Tide-to-go pressure tip pen.  Yes, as in Tide the laundry detergent company.

Turning Math word problems into Math video problems

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.

Thought question #2

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

Synthesis reflection – Summer of 2009

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.

Moodle proposal

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

Flight path for the summer of 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.

Communication tools

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