Friday, May 16, 2014

Final Reflection

When the class first started, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Technology is such a broad area of study that I couldn’t possibly have determined what we’d be studying before the class started. In the end it turned out to be a great set of resources.

Beyond the many and varied resources we discussed in class, I was also very grateful for the insights of my classmates. When we discussed a given technology or tool, I always appreciated the chance for everyone to share their own unique opinions and observations. While I didn’t necessarily agree with everybody on every topic, I still found that being exposed to so many opinions made me think more deeply about the subject of discussion, allowing me to view the matter from many different perspectives.

A few of the resources we discussed stood out especially as valuable assets. Google Drive, with which I was familiar before the class started, is an incredibly useful tool. Its capacity to allow for collaboration and its functionality as a Microsoft Office-like suite of applications that use cloud computing to allow multiple people to access the same documents makes it a powerful tool for collaborating on projects and presentations, as well as a host of other creations.

Another tool I plan to make extensive use of is Padlet. This is somewhat similar to Google Drive, in that they are both cloud-based collaborative platforms, but where Drive is largely oriented toward the creation of presentable final products, Padlet stands out as an excellent site for brainstorming and organizing ideas collaboratively. It creates a “wall” that can be shared with collaborators, allowing people to post links, embed videos and other multimedia elements, and create text in a setting that lets them organize ideas quickly and easily.

Of course, it’s important to continue growing as an educator even after this class. To that end, I think that I will do my best to keep seeking out both new resources and many different opinions on those resources, so I can constantly be aware of new technologies that may aid my practice as an educator.

Video Reflection

This week’s video project assignment was a really enlightening experience for me. Initially, I was dreading this assignment, because unlike many of the group-based assignments we’ve undertaken in class, this one was very much dependent upon my group finding some way to line up all of our schedules to get together and get to work. While this did turn out to be something of an obstacle, I found that this assignment also had considerable benefits for us.

First, I was struck by the very different skill set required for making a video. Compared to writing an essay, shooting a video requires much more of a visual sensibility on the part of the cameraman and a physical engagement by the actors. This makes video presentations a valuable tool for students who may be less inclined toward writing as a method of expressing their knowledge and may find a more visual or kinesthetic approach more effective.

As we kept shooting, I also very much enjoyed the extra sense of camaraderie that this project caused. Where past collaborative efforts had consisted largely of each group member working in isolation on separate parts of a greater whole, this project really necessitated all of us coming together to pool ideas, which was a much more collaborative experience.

In a classroom setting, one thing in particular stood out about this video project: it has a built-in control for distribution of labor. Where many group projects run the risk of one student doing the lion’s share of the work and the others coasting, in this case you have a video record of how much each student is contributing. With the additional requirement that each student do their own editing and provide their own finished product, the equitable division of labor is further ensured.

Of course, this is not to say that video projects are without flaws. First, while our group had easy access to a video camera, that may not necessarily be true for every group of students. While smart devices are becoming ever more common, there are still many people without them, which can present a bit of a technological barrier to access. Furthermore, while the performance and sharing aspects of the video can make them very effective, for particularly camera-shy students this may be asking too much. Lastly, having been in classes myself with video projects, there is still one problem shared with other presentations: often students will largely ignore other groups’ projects, either out of boredom or to focus more on their own work. All that being said, videos are still an incredible asset, and the advent of technologies like iMovie make this an ever more accessible tool to bring into the classroom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Printing Press and Stellarium

This week, two applications caught my eye. The first, Printing Press, is a program that allows students to generate newspapers, flyers, or brochures. The second, Stellarium, is a powerful recreation of the night sky. Each of these is a potentially powerful tool to use in the classroom.

Printing Press is interesting because of its use as a piece of set dressing. In my own memories of history classes, my favorite assignments were those that allowed me to be creative. The first potential creative application that comes to my mind is using this program as a part of an assignment for students to create newspaper articles, brochures, or flyers relating to important events from history (for example, an article on the sinking of the Lusitania or a flyer advertising the Seneca Falls Convention). In this way, students can begin one of the most involved processes in the study of history, and a useful skill in many fields: being able to imagine themselves in another person (or time period)'s shoes. Using this in conjunction with a multimedia site such as Padlet, students would be empowered to present information in a much more visually compelling manner than they would have been able to otherwise.

Stellarium, meanwhile, fills a very different niche. Where Printing Press lets students present their information with more flair, Stellarium changes the way they initially interact with new knowledge. In a science classroom, this tool is invaluable for presenting the wonders of something students will never see during the school day: the night sky. Presenting the sky in its entirety in this fashion allows students a much greater chance to explore and discover some of the wonders of the cosmos themselves, preserving the sense of wonder that comes with such discoveries. In a history class, this is a great tool for discussing great thinkers such as Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler. By taking students through the universe bit by bit, it is possible to very effectively discuss the various historical theories of the order of the cosmos, and how those perceptions shaped the course of human history.

Monday, March 17, 2014


This week in class, we looked at Voicethread, a site that lets users post video and audio recordings in the place of traditional text posts. While this may seem at first to be a sort of niche idea, the technology can have great impact, especially in my chosen field, history and social science. The ability to layer audio over videos and images (which can be manipulated live during the recording) makes this a valuable tool for presenting information learned in social science. Whether it's narrating  and manipulating supply and demand curves in economics, tracking the process of a bill becoming law in government, or reviewing the complex web of alliances that led to World War I in history, Voicethread is a great tool to produce content of this sort that can be reviewed outside of class time.

One idea that immediately comes to mind is to have students prepare presentations on different events during a given decade. Each group has one event or person to cover, and they have to create a voicethread presentation. Using padlet or another site to collect links to all of the various presentations, student homework could then be to watch other groups' voicethread presentations, possibly responding with recordings of their own, to study for an upcoming test. The specifically multimedia aspect of voicethread, incorporating video recording, audio, and interacting with images, sets it up as a great tool to be used to engage learners of a variety of styles. As time goes on, there's no telling intricate and detailed voicethread presentations could become over time as students become more comfortable with the technology.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Padlet (, a site that lets you create a virtual wall onto which all manner of text, pictures, videos, and the like can be posted, is an incredible tool. My first impression of it was somewhat ambivalent, seeing it as a tool that, while useful, isn't anything new. It just seems to be a minimalist or streamlined combination of a few of the different tools we've seen before. As I used it to take notes on this week's articles, however, I really came to appreciate its effectiveness and utility. Creating new text boxes is as simple as double-clicking, and everything on the page can be dragged and dropped easily. 

In a classroom environment, I think this tool can be incredibly powerful. It's a powerful multimedia notepad that requires next to no training to use, but that can be used even more well by those with training (it includes embed codes and a self-generated QR code). The addition of moderation, allowing the wall's creator to verify everything that's posted, goes a long way toward countering the inevitable problems of internet communication- anonymity leading to bad behavior. A moderator can easily keep the discussion and information being presented on a padlet wall on topic. For small student groups, a wall could be used to organize a project or even to present one by (for example) setting it up as a timeline. It doesn't have a lot of the flashy transitions and effects of powerpoint and prezi, but that's not a bad thing. That simply means it will be easy to avoid the inevitably poor transition and effect choices students have and will always make in those programs. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

From Chalkboards to Tablets II

Reading the second part of the "From Chalkboards to Tablets" series of articles, I was struck by some of the statistics it mentioned. First and foremost, I was very surprised to see that urban, rural, and suburban parents had almost zero difference in their division of attitudes toward increased use of mobile device technology in classrooms. Beyond that, I was surprised to see that a clear majority are inclined in favor of a significant increase in use of technology, given that the older generation historically tends to be resistant to these sorts of sweeping institutional changes. In particular, given that in class we discussed the difficulty in re-contextualizing a device that, for many parents, is associated primarily with distraction and slacking off, I was not expecting this notion to be so broadly well-received.

This resonates with the message of the first article: that there is a tremendous groundswell of support for increased use of modern devices in the classroom. Students and their parents are both really pulling for an increased use of modern technology in the classroom, and many teachers are fired up about the prospect as well. Why, then, are there so often holdups and issues with rolling out a more advanced approach to education?

Differences in how to reach the end goal of a more technological classroom might be a major source of this apparent hesitation. Even in our own class discussions, there have been a variety of well thought out, potentially workable ideas proposed that often end up at cross-purposes. In a situation like this, with such a wide variety of approaches possible to reach a fairly vague goal, different people will find different approaches that work.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

QR Codes

QR Codes present an interesting tool for use in the classroom, but I fear it is ultimately a limited application (at least in the present). While they're certainly useful for imparting basic information, there's a considerable limit to their versatility. First, each student has to have a smart device able to read QR codes; while many schools are beginning to deploy iPads to students, there is still a ways to go before every student has a chance to take advantage of these devices.

More notably, QR codes seem to be made for convenience, but I don't know that they save that much time compared to other less demanding alternatives. Certainly, QR codes could be posted at points around the school to provide information instantaneously, but just how much of an improvement is that over having a link or (to go really old school) simply posting a sign? While it's true that QR codes can link to a persistent page updated regularly with new information, a URL serves the same purpose, and in addition to being accessible to smart devices with a QR code reading app, they can be accessed by any student with access to the internet. They would still have to type in a url (albeit a shortened one), but that's not a very significant difference in time taken, especially given the less-than-superlative abilities of many smart devices' cameras and the constantly increasing comfort and typing speed of students. Furthermore, a link could be stored in a browser's memory, so it could be as simple a matter as typing the first few characters and selecting the suggested URL for regularly used pages (a school lunch menu, daily classroom information, etc). While QR codes certainly work for their intended purpose, in my opinion they sacrifice universal utility in favor of a distinctive gimmick.

That's not to say, of course, that a classroom where students are equipped with smart devices couldn't put this to effective use. Especially in lower-grade settings, where students are more likely to be taken with an effective gimmick and eager to use it, they can be a quick way to get students more engaged with the proceedings. However, given the relatively short shelf-life of novelty among children this appeal should be weighed against the difficulties inherent to the use of QR codes.