Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is Blogging Important or Not?

Cliff Barnes (Class E) left this comment on Carlo Freda's post Blog Assignments: 7 February
I do not think blogging is that important honestly. It may be useful at times, but when you are teaching in a classroom why should the students have to get on your blog to learn. You should focus more on interaction with the students, not expect them to just read your blog.

In college, and in K-12, you do not just learn in a classroom. In college we expect students to spend 9 hours per week working on the class, including time in class. The University of South Alabama is experimenting with fewer hours in class, partly to save money but also to meet a demand from students for more flexible schedules and to make use of technologies that can open new opportunities for teaching and learning. As a result, "the interaction with students" in a classroom will be reduced. But even if that were not the case, there is often almost zero true interaction with students in a class. This is not always the case, but the videos you have watched including A Vision of Students Today demonstrate that the "sage on the stage" is still alive and well in American higher education.

I, however, believe that blogging is an extremely important tool for teaching and learning. Here are a few reasons:
1. Blogs provide a means for an audience for a student's work.
2. Blogs encourage writing. Even in a world where writing is disdained by students I can get students to write and pay attention to their writing. This is in part because they have an audience beyond me. They are, as Anthony Capp said, "leaving their intellectual trail."
3. Blogs provide a vehicle for "writing with multimedia." Students now listen and watch instead of reading and writing. My goal is to get them to contribute to the creation of new media products. Blogs provide an excellent method for distributing those kinds of media and for combing text with the new media.
4. In EDM310 we now do not focus on teaching some specific lesson in class. Instead we have labs where students can ask for assistance on any part of the course. When this occurs students do get direct interaction with the teacher. But the responsibility for learning is squarely on the shoulders of the learner. You learn by doing, not by listening.
5. I attempted to make my best case for blogs and commenting on blogs by telling of two important and exciting events that happened in EDM310 in the Fall 2009 semester because of blogs and commenting on blogs. I call this post Kaia and Room 10 - Why Blogs and Commenting on Blogs Are So Important. The essence of that argument is that the evidence I have is that blogs and commenting on blogs are the most powerful tools available to a teacher to bring people from all over the world together in a common conversation. I believe that common conversation among the peoples of the world is our highest calling. You may not agree. But that is where I stand.
6. Ultimately, however, you can make your own decisions as to what is important. Steven Anderson's post Why Do I Have to Learn This? concludes with this statement: "Why do we have to learn this? Not because we have to, but because we want to..." And if you do not want to learn what blogs, blogging and commenting on blogs can teach you, then that is your decision. A teacher can only provide an opportunity to learn. We cannot force anyone to learn. And we make choices about what we think students should learn. Many time students disagree with our choices and even challenge us to clearly state the reasons for our selections of what we think students should learn and do as Cliff has done here. And those challenges, when they come, are most appropriate. But I can ask, and I do, for Cliff to make his best case as to why he has concluded that he does not "think blogging is that important..."

Go for it Cliff. Make your case. We can have an interesting debate!

Monday, February 8, 2010

It Depends Upon Whom You Are Around

I have asked my students to think about two questions all semester: Should all teachers be technologically literate - or be willing to learn? What do we mean by technological illiteracy?

Dina Tillman, in her post on January 24, 2010, suggested that technological literacy "depends on who you are around."

That got me to thinking and I agree that the context does matter. I think I am technologically literate, and probably most of my colleagues and quite a few of my students would agree. But if I were visiting Pt. England School in Auckland, N.Z. or Noel Elementary School in Noel, Missouri I would not be ranked as highly in technological literacy as I am in the College of Education at the University of South Alabama.

So what? Well, here's the important point that I took from Dina's post. Who will be around my students when they have their own classroom? Here are some possibilities:

First Graders:

Third Graders:
Click to play when the page appears.
Room 10, Pt. England School

Sixth Graders:
Room 18, Pt. England School

Seventh Graders:
Seventh Grade Ning, Noel Missouri

High School:
This is one of many films on the Cinema Owls YouTube Channel. Check out the others after you watch this one:
Cinema Owls, Kelowna Secondary School, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

So if these will be the students of my students, what do we mean by technological literacy if it is determined by whom "you are around"?

Are Our Students Our Customers?

Customer Service Survey
Ninety percent of EDM310 students have purchased a textbook which was never used in class. Eighty-nine percent say this has happened at least once at the University of South Alabama. Forty-two percent report that this has happened three or more times at the University of South Alabama.

The cost to students? Fifty-two percent said the total costs to them for buying unnecessary textbooks was over $ 300 and almost half of those (25% of all students) reckoned that the total cost was $500 or more. Eighty-two percent of the students consider this a serious, very serious, or extremely serious problem.

Students (72%) also complained that they were often not able to return books or to resell them. Eighty-three percent were told the book would no longer be used and 76% were denied a buy back because the book had been replaced by "a new edition". Eighty-three percent of the students consider this a serious, very serious, or extremely serious problem.

I asked our bookstore about their return policy. Students have 2 weeks after classes start to return unopened books. They must have a receipt and the plastic wrapping on books must not have been removed. For books purchased in the next three weeks, the student has 2 days to return an unopened book. Returns are not accepted under any other conditions.

For approximately three weeks after finals the bookstore will buyback books for "up to 50% of their face value" as long as the book will be used the next semester and an order has been placed by the professor for that same edition of the book. If the book is damaged or if a "book comes with a computer diskette" (even if the diskette is returned) or if it is a "workbook with pages missing" or if it is an "old edition" it will not be bought back. The book store limits their used purchases to the number they estimate they will sell. Eighty-six percent of EDM310 students this semester consider the inability to return or sell textbooks a serious, very serious, or extremely serious problem.

Students tell me they prefer to use free information from the internet where that is possible such as in EDM310; e-books, either rented or much less expensive versions than the books they are currently forced to buy; or reasonably priced text books that can be returned or resold like other goods they purchase.

So maybe students aren't customers after all. If they were, these attitudes, policies and practices of the bookstore and the faculty would have changed long ago.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The iPad: So Easy to Use Even a Technologically Illiterate Teacher Can Use It

My friends and fellow Twitters, Bill Chamberlain and Russ Georend, were Tweeting fast and furiously about the iPad the day after its unveiling a week ago. Informed only with a few details and no experience, we nevertheless offered our pronouncements about the iPad and its future use in our hands and by our schools and students. I suggested that we should have a debate and offer it as a podcast, but then I got busy and did not follow up with my suggestion. Russ and Bill did, however, each posting on his blog. Russ went first with Please don’t buy your students iPads and, of course became the target for Bill and me. With a podcast, there would have been more debate, and we might have changed each others minds, or at least changed sides from time to time just to enliven the debate. But stuck with print (well, electronic print), our debate is much more serial in nature. Bill went second with Why iPads Are a Good Choice for Students and I get to take dead aim at both of them in The iPad: So Easy to Use Even a Technologically Illiterate Teacher Can Use It which follows below. After we all have the iPad in our hands I will try and arrange a real debate and record it for posterity as a podcast. Until then, you are stuck reading these three commentaries.

Here is the Strange commentary:

It's rather early, I think, to make pronouncements and comparisons when I haven't seen an iPad, much less held one in my hand or used it. But here are a few Strange thoughts on the subject.

1. Several commentators, including Scott Bourne, Andy Ihnatko and Steven Frank suggest that the iPad is a new instrument, not a phone, not a computer, but a new device that could revolutionize the way we consume, and perhaps produce, information. If this is true, and I am convinced enough by the arguments put forth to consider it quite likely to be correct, then comparisons are out at the moment and may be completely inappropriate after the iPad has seen the light of day among the people. And I am speaking of the masses here, not the geeks. If it is a new device then it is certainly for the masses, not the geeks!

2. Whether or not it is a new instrument of information, it will certainly have a place in our pantheon of teaching and learning tools. Anything that will move us from our unfortunate addiction to “sage on the stage” and “burp back” education will be a welcome addition to our tool set.

3. There are already debates about whether the iPad will be “useful”, “appropriate” or “good” for students to have. How absurd. Anything that connects our students to the cloud of information known as the Internet is useful, appropriate and good for our students.

4. The most important impact may be on teachers. The vast majority of teachers currently practicing their profession are not geeks, not even “technologically literate” in the sense that I would use that term. All of the pundits that have written about the iPad, after even a brief time with it, make two points: it is lightning fast in what it does and it is drop dead easy to use. This is fantastic news. The easier it is to use, the more likely current teachers who are not "technologically literate" are to use it and to connect to the information cloud. If that is correct, then maybe we can see teachers move from a memorize and "burp-back" approach to hands on, project based, problem solving teaching. So the most important impact could on teachers rather than its impact on students.

5. Russ Goerend complains that the iPad is not a full fledged computer. It is missing a multi tasking operating system, will not display Flash “videos”, and does not have a camera for video input. Again, reports are that people who know what a “multi tasking operating system” is will say, when they use the iPad, that it is barely noticeable that it is not actually multi-tasking because of the speed of the device (Andy Ihnatko). All of trusted experts on web 2.0 celebrate the fact that Apple has drawn a line in the sand about Flash and has said html 5 or nothing. On the iPhone and iPod Touch there is no Flash and the millions who use them and have bought them do not care. Only Adobe cares. Flash is power hungry, open to exploitation by hackers, and an inappropriate tool for the next generation of the net. Now the camera part. I wish it had a camera. But that is just a desire on my part with no direct knowledge of the instrument itself. I think it inappropriate of me to make a judgement about the device, even if it does not meet my idealized specs, until I have seen it and tried it in the real world.

7. I consider Russ Goerend my friend, but to start a debate between iPads and tablet computers (if you had money to buy a lot) seems ludicrous to me! Where are schools spending money these days? Not on tools which can be put into the hands of students, but on smartboards and the like. That is the real argument we should have. I would be overjoyed with the ability to put any tool in the hands of a user, iPad or tablet. If I had the choice I might make a uniform choice, I might leave it up to the student, or I might make different choices for different age groups and different curricula. What a wonderful day that would be to actually put real tools in the hands of learners!