The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Year: 2009 (page 3 of 7)

Assessment tools

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.


Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2005). “Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Accessed online 11 March 2009

Using a wiki

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.

Digital Story

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 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 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.

Social software comparison

Facebook My Space
Location of terms
Who “owns” materials posted by members? Members own material but give right to use it forever for no fee. Members own material but give right to use it forever for no fee.
For what purposes can these materials be used? Any purposes. Any purposes.
Would using each site be appropriate with your students? No, for a couple of reasons. First, the students will end up having to create profiles on this website, something which their parents may have forbidden. Second, it is too difficult to keep our group content private, since the license agreement of the content lets them use it for whatever they want. No, for a couple of reasons. First, the students will end up having to create profiles on this website, something which their parents may have forbidden. Second, it is too difficult to keep our group content private, since the license agreement of the content lets them use it for whatever they want.
In your opinion, how well are the privacy interests of members represented? Facebook has an exxcellent privacy policy, which they detail at: The most important part of this policy is that profiles can be set to private. My Space has a seriously improved privacy policy available at:
They have the same conditions as Facebook and private profiles, but are famous for the number of times they have been hacked and user information compromised.
Bebo Twitter
Who “owns” materials posted by members? Members own material but give right to use it forever for no fee. Members own material but give right to use it forever for no fee. Also, the terms and conditions describe a procedure with which to make a claim for copyright infringement.
For what purposes can these materials be used? Any purposes. Not listed.
Would using each site be appropriate with your students? No, for a couple of reasons. First, the students will end up having to create profiles on this website, something which their parents may have forbidden. Second, it is too difficult to keep our group content private, since the license agreement of the Bebo content lets them use it for whatever they want. Yes, because Twitter is fine with anonymous accounts, they do not require one to fill in your name. A friend of mine has used it successfully with younger students, where he signed up all of the students for accounts using pseudonyms like “risstudent1” and had control over the accounts.
In your opinion, how well are the privacy interests of members represented? Excellent privacy agreement available at Key points are the ability to set any part of your profile private, and can end membership at any time. Twitter has a well spelled out privacy policy, available at
It seems very comprehensive and also allows for users to set their updates and profile as private.

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.

Blogging in Education

I’ve been blogging off and on for a few years now at Actually I have 3 blogs right now that I maintain infrequently right now, my MET program has me too busy to focus on my own blogs. I don’t really find the process difficult, the hardest part is coming up with material to talk about, and then taking the time to write it down.

I have a personal blog, which was intended to be for family members to read, and has mostly been replaced by a photo gallery website. It seems my family members want to see the pictures more than they want to read me discuss the pictures. Hrmmph!

The blog I have put the most amount of effort into is my programming blog. I’ve probably got about 100 posts on this blog, all related to various programming projects I’ve undertaken over the past 4 years. It’s also my most widely read blog, with maybe 20-30 people reading an entry each day. I actually started this blog as a way of both drumming up some business for myself (people who search for solutions to problems might see my examples, etc… I’ve probably gotten 10-12 jobs through my blog so far, all part-time). I also wanted a way to keep track of what I’ve done because to be honest, I forget! It’s a lot of different stuff.

I started an educational blog about the same time I started looking for work for this coming year. I found a job, and I’ve been pretty busy, so this blog is on hold until September. Once I start work again, I’ll probably try and update it fairly regularly, because I want a record of what I’ve tried with my students.

When I was looking at the top 100 educational blogs, the first surprise was that one of those blogs is an acquaintance of mine I met online. It was pretty neat to see his name in the “spotlights” so to speak, and so I took another look at his blog. Pretty cool tech blog, although more focused on technology rather than education.

Blogging is a pretty cool thing to do in education because it takes all of us as educators out of our classrooms and lets us show off what we do. So often educators get so little credit for being good at their jobs, having a place to showcase one’s talents can be very rewarding. As well, other educators become better as we begin to develop institutional memories about our profession. This can only lead to good things.

How has multimedia enhanced my learning?

The best example of multimedia I watched recently from which I really learned a lot was a movie I watched about a relatively new farming practice called "Biodynamic farming".

The video was relatively simple, done documentary style, but without seeing the actual practices they were discussing first hand through the video, I would not have understood what biodynamic farming was. This practice takes place largely in rural India, a place I am not likely to visit soon given it’s vast distance from me, so the video really brought me closer to the action.

What I learned about biodynamic farming is that it is a mix of typical organic farming with a sense of mysticism. Basically you have to prepare this special mixture of manure for composting, and the whole procedure is done in a very stylistic way. The purpose of this addition of religion to farming is actually make the practice, which is quite different from what Indian farmers have been doing under the so-called "Green revolution" more palatable for them. Superstition and religion are much more the part of the daily lives of the rural Indian people than they are for us, and combining some of their superstition with the farming practices has really turned them onto this way of farming, not to mention the results it produces.

Much of rural Indian farming has been destroyed by the Green revolution for many reasons, as I discovered from the video. First, the bacteria in the soil begin to die over the years as the chemicals used for fertilizing the plants become toxic to them. The soil begins to become more easily eroded, and uses much more water for irrigation. After 30 or 40 years, much of the farmable soil in India has been nearly destroyed. Biodynamic farming basically forces the farmers to spend much more attention on ensuring that the soil quality is high using more natural means. Within a couple of years, the soil can be restored, and food production goes way up.

I really like watching documentaries like this. They bring me to all corners of the world, in much the same way as books do (with one’s imagination). The visuals of the real world farming in this video were mixed with some charts describing the changes that were occurring, and the mix of the two types of media helped solidify my understanding of the situation. In fact my wife and I are planning on using some of the principles (minus the mysticism) in our own garden, once we have one.

Reflection on creating some modules for an LMS

For our ETEC course we are supposed to start working on a course built in our choice of LMS, between Moodle or WebCT. I haven’t discussed the reasons why I chose Moodle, but it was pretty simple: it’s what my school uses and it’s free. I figured I would be able to transfer over some of the work I did in Moodle, and bring it with me to my new school. For this reason I decided to work on a course I might actually use, IB Mathematical Studies, one of the courses I will be teaching next year.

We weren’t supposed to create a complete course as part of this exercise, presumably because of how time-consuming this is. Estimates of time spent per hour of course content ranged up as high as 40 hours of development time. Since the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) requires at least 150 hours of instructional time for a course, this would mean a full course would take me up to 150 x 40 = 6000 hours of development time. I couldn’t really justify putting that much effort in for a single course (nor could I find that many hours in the day!). I chose therefore to do the beginning introductory unit, and a sample unit on trigonometry.

I decided to evaluation my progress using Moodle with the SECTIONS framework.


As I was the student for this exercise, I found Moodle to be relatively easy to use, and it was an appropriate tool for what I was trying to do. I wouldn’t recommend a high school student (or an unmotived undergrad) try using Moodle, but the students in our class it worked.

Ease of use and reliability:

Moodle was easy to use, and I think that my course will reflect that. It was easy to set up a straight forward plan of action, separating each topic by units. Moodle makes it easy to organize your content. There were a few issues where I felt the interface could be cleaned up a little bit, especially on the JavaScript side of things. Rearranging resources within a unit is less than satisfactory, there are certainly much better widgets for doing this.


It cost me nothing but my time, and not too much of that. I spent about 20 to 25 hours or so total working on my course. Part of the advantage I had here was that many of my diagrams and icons I had already created, so I didn’t need to “recreate the wheel” so to speak. I could imagine that this could have been quite a bit different if I was just starting out teaching, or if I wanted to have more interactivity in my course. I had a thought for a Flash widget that allows students to try and determine which method would be most efficient for solving a triangle for example, but decided this would take too much of my time.

Teaching and learning:

I think that having this exercise as a largely self-directed exercise is a really good approach. I find myself learning new technologies best by diving into them, and occasionally searching for help online. There are numerous resources for using Moodle, and with the help of my classmates (I read a lot of discussions about Moodle, and they definitely helped!) I was able to accomplish all of the necessary tasks.


Moodle is reasonably interactive, in the sense that I take actions and it responds. In terms of providing interactivity for my students, my hope is that my course will allow them to respond to each other (using the forum posts), self-direct themselves through some of my content, and use the interactive applet I included. At some stage I could have a whole collection of applets, and since Moodle does not appear to filter the HTML I enter into its form, I can embed all sorts of fun Flash/Java tools within it’s environment.

Organizational issues:

Well in order to use my course, and therefore Moodle, clearly I will need a server to host it. A relatively basic server would be acceptable, given Moodle’s relatively low memory requirements.


Moodle is not a very new technology. I remember playing around with it in 2005 and enjoying the experience somewhat, but not being hooked. Had I realized the power it had to save my lessons, etc… I might have saved myself a lot of work now. At my new school I happen to know that the students are pretty used to Moodle, since many of the teachers appear to use it extensively. The novelty factor is probably going to be lost on the students, but perhaps I regain some of that with the additional tools I want to use.


The UBC Moodle server was extremely fast and responsive, which was excellent. I hope the server I move this course to will be as responsive.


Cavanaugh, J. (2005), Teaching Online – A Time Comparison, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume VIII, Number I, retrieved from on July 26th

Lazarus, B.D., (2003), Teaching Courses Online: How Much Time Does It Take?, JALN Volume 7, Issue 3, retrieved from on July 26th

Rumble, G., (2001), The Costs and Costing of Networked Learning, JALN Volume 5, Issue 2, retrieved from on July 26th

Bates, A.W., Poole, G., (2003). Effective teaching with technology in higher education, cited from course-work for ETEC 565


So today I checked my LMS for accessibility and found the following observations.

First, running the mark-up through the W3C web markup filter I found a few errors. It seems Moodle is using an XHTML 1.0 strict doctype (which is an identifier for what type of HTML a browser should expect to be parsing) and a WYSIWYG editor which is not compatible with this doctype. This type of error is common, almost none of the popular web editors are compatible. Fortunately the types of errors which are produced should still be accessible to users, as the basic structure of the web page is solid, it just includes a few elements and attributes which shouldn’t be there with that doctype. Most web browsers can manage with this type of error present.

Unfortunately there appears to be a closing tag error for one of the divs at the end of the document. Moodle uses a theme, and we insert our information into boxes in the theme and one of these boxes is apparently not closed. This poses a much more serious problem for accessibility as almost all browsers struggle to try and decipher what the web designer wants when a tag is not closed. I cannot do anything about this error without a lot more control over my Moodle site, except possibly point it out to the Moodle developers.

All of the images I have uploaded to the site have the alt attributed filled in. For the equations I was careful to use the equation written in simplified TeX format as the alt tag so that a user with a visual impairment could still read the equations. Some of the diagrams alt attributes are less useful, but in general the diagram is explained in text before the image appears.

There are other ways in which my site could use improving in terms of web accessibility. For example, I use a video my students created for a project in class. The video uses captions which are formatted as part of the video itself, rather than as a separate text overlay. This means that people who have both a visual and an audio impairment will not be able to use this video. Wherever possible audio and video files should have captions which are accessible to screen-readers (Paciello, M.G., 2000).

My LMS site also includes an interactive Java applet. While this is not crucial to the understanding of the material, it is helpful. Unfortunately this applet does not use any hot-keys, and so requires a visual only interface. A user with a visual impairment could not use this applet.

Another issue which is becoming more prevalent is the mobile web market. While users who are using a mobile phone may not have a disability, more and more websites today need to be accessible for mobile browsers. Fortunately you can use a separate style-sheet for a mobile phone, but it is unlikely that this has been implemented for my LMS. A mobile browser could be used by a person who is in a remote location, so in some sense providing this separate mobile CSS stylesheet could be justified under making the LMS more accessible to users in remote locations. Similarly for these users it is important to keep file sizes as small as possible, given the costs associated with mobile browsing, as my friends with smart phones can attest.

One advantage that the Moodle LMS offers to users using a screen reader is the lack of a lot of complicated JavaScript. Although many newer screen reader technologies allow for the use of JavaScript, it can still be quite distracting and difficult for a person with a visual impairment to focus on the content. Moodle uses links for every action, which a screen-reader can tab through, the only JavaScript is on the WYSIWYG editor interface which is not necessary. The only action a person using a screen-reader might have difficulty doing would be uploading an image, as this appears to be tied into the WYSIWYG interface.

In general this LMS site is accessible, and I was pleased with the results of the survey of the site for accessibility.


Paciello, M.G., (2000). Web Accessibility for People With Disabilities. Accessed from on July 29t

Resizing and cropping photos using Picasa

One of our activities was to practice resizing and cropping photos using the free and open source photo editor, Picasa. Although I have done many photo edits before, Picasa was by far the easiest to learn how to use, and the fastest to achieve results. Within 5 minutes of having installed Picasa, I had both my crop and my resize done.

Practicing resizing

Practicing cropping

Both of these photos are from the same original, which is too large to show here.

What surprised me about this activity was how easy Picasa was to use. I had downloaded it in the past as a way for my wife to easily share photos with her brother, and I liked how it automatically organized my photos into folders, arranged chronologically by when the photo was created. This was very handy. I expected to have to watch both the training videos, but the cropping was exactly as I expected it to be, and easy to find the function.

The resizing was a bit trickier, Picasa wants you to resize and export an image, not sure why this is. It seems to me that resizing an image permanently is a straight forward function, and should be included as part of their mini-toolkit. Definitely something I think that needs to be reworked.

I’ve used GIMP photo editing in the past, and it seems much more powerful but lacks two important features for the typical user. It does not in any way attempt to organize your photos, which is a powerful feature Windows really does poorly. Picasa is also very easy to use in a way GIMP just isn’t.

Creating audio with Audacity

I’ve used Audacity many times before, so this was a relatively straight forward activity. Actually, I have even given a presentation where I showed a group of teachers how to use Audacity as part of a workshop on "Using Open Source Software in Education". Very nifty program, definitely a prime example of the power of open source.

So I decided I needed to do more than the basic "create a sample" and decided to edit the audio slightly. What prompted me to do this was the fact that after I recorded my voice, although my voice sounded crystal clear, there was a tiny bit of noise in the background. Unfortunately I couldn’t move the microphone I’m using any closer to my mouth (it’s attached a headset) so I was stuck with the noise in the recording.

Here’s what it sounded like before the noise removal.

Here’s what it sounded like after noise removal.

The second recording has no noticeable background noise, but the process has added a bit of a metallic feel to my voice in a couple of places. Either the way I did the noise removal was not correct, or the filter itself needs a bit of work.

In any case, Audacity really makes professional level audio editing and recording available to unprofessional audio editors like myself, and I found this activity to be a refresher in its use.