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collaboration : Are We There Yet?

Several Days After The World Changed

December 15, 2008 · Posted in iPhone, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

In my last post I addressed the sense of empowerment that I felt from using my iPhone 3G. My enthusiasm has not waned in the slightest. Quite to the contrary–I find it more useful every day. Given that experience, it was inevitable that I should begin thinking about the possibilities of using an iPhone in K-12 education.

The promise for a device like the iPhone in K12 education is limitless. It’s not at all difficult to imagine the way it would transform field trips, project-based lessons, and collaboration. The problem, however, is obvious–you need to sign an expensive cell phone contract in order to use one. Unless a teacher or a well-heeled student with unlimited minutes is feeling generous, the likelihood that an iPhone will appear in a classroom is remote.

However, Apple makes another device with much the same appeal as the iPhone–the iPod Touch. As a wi-fi device, it can function on school or public networks, saving documents for later perusal and running much of the same software that runs on the iPhone. It can load and view and, to a limited but growing extent, edit Office documents. It’s capable of loading and viewing very high resolution documents from the Library of Congress and other reliable educational sources. You can add dictionaries, translators, conversion programs, and other useful utilities. You can download and view movies, podcasts and electronic books on a variety of educational topics. With the addition of an inexpensive microphone, it’s a voice recorder. Add a VOiP program such TruPhone and you can make free phone calls over the wireless network to anywhere in the world. (Sister school, anyone?) As is, it makes an intriguing and engaging teaching and learning tool. It’s missing just two elements that would make it a viable replacment for laptop computers in many cases–a camera and GPS capabilities.

An iPod Touch with GPS would be able to make full use of incredible tools such as Google Earth and Google Maps on a school network. It would allow accurate geotagging of pictures (taken with the hoped-for camera), data gathered on a field trip or information from a sister school. The camera would give students an opportunity to gather data for posters, web pages, slide shows, and other place-based projects and transmit them over a wi-fi network to anywhere in the world. The possibilities are endless.

Either way you look at it–a GPS/camera enabled iPod Touch or a phone-disabled iPhone–this is a device that would have as much of an impact on K-12 education as the original Apple desktop computer did back in 1978. I hope someone is listening out there…

Why Blog with Post-Secondary Students?

September 5, 2008 · Posted in Blogging · 1 Comment 

I have been requiring my post-secondary education students to blog for the past four semesters. At first, I wanted to experiment with the medium–to see if it improved writing and communication between students and between faculty and students, to see if it could be an effective way to turn in and reflect on assignments, and to see if it led to improved awareness of and facility with other social networking tools. It didn’t take more than a semester to see that active blogging by students did all of the above and more, to the extent that now I can’t imagine not using student and faculty blogs as a main focus of my instructional process. Part of the proof? Most of the students from four semesters ago are still blogging and are in active contact with me and each other. They talk about their classroom experiences, their job searches, their personal lives, cultural issues in their area, and much more. My first task every morning is to check Google Reader (my RSS application of choice) to see if there are any new blog entries from my students. It’s something I look forward to.

From a personal and professional standpoint, there have been some unexpected benefits of blogging. I enjoy the cathartic aspects of organizing my thoughts on various topics and logging them for other educators or for my own future reference. I think I’ve become a better writer. I can collect research on topics that concern me or my students and archive those using tags and categories that make finding them later a simple process. This is exceptionally helpful when a student asks me a question like “Is there any evidence that using a computer improves writing skills?” More often than not, I can point that student to my blog for an answer and a link to the original research. My blog has become, in effect, the text for my class. I no longer require textbooks in my classes. I consciously collect and publish topics that are relevant to my instruction, and that collection is subject to review and comment by the academic community at large. It’s a very liberating experience.

Most of the faculty I work with do not use blogs as a part of their instructional design. There are many reasons for this, all legitimate and understandable on some levels. It takes time (particularly when you initially implement it), it requires learning something new, there are potential privacy concerns, etc. For some, the lack of awareness of the social networking context in general is a deterrent. Others simply may not see how blogging fits into their subject area or how it could have any value for their students.

In my efforts to raise awareness of these issues among faculty, I am on constant lookout for pedagogically sound rationales for venturing into blogging. That’s why I was delighted to run across Anne Davis’ “Rationale for Educational Blogging” from EduBlog Insights. Ms. Davis presents a clear, well-conceived set of reasons to consider blogging. I could reiterate them here, but I’d recommend visiting her blog and reading them there. The comments are also worth your time–and, they serve as a shining example of the power of communicating your ideas in a public arena.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. In fact, that’s the point…

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