Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Sony Reader: The Future is Here Now

Which sounds better?
  • Curling up with a nice cup of hot chocolate and a good book on a cold night, lazily turning the pages until sleep overtakes you.
  • Sitting down to study economics, using an e-book reader loaded with an electronic version of your text.

I'll take the former, but I do see possibilities for the latter.

The pictured eight-ounce Sony Reader is a reality. You can buy it now. It's about the size of an average book. The difference is that lots of e-books can be crammed into its memory and accessed for convenient viewing (assuming the battery doesn't give out!).

Those who saw it at the big gadget fest in Las Vegas recently marveled at the readability of the device and seemed to agree with Sony's claim. There are no electronic jitters, no backlit screen (you need light to see the Sony Reader, just like any book) and therefore, such is the claim, none of the tired eyes and headaches common to staring at PC screens and other devices.

E-ink is a cool bit of micro-technology -- microscopic white and black ink capsules suspended in a thin layer of clear fluid beneath the surface of the device's screen, which is in effect a blank page until electrically charged. A negative (black) or positive (white) electric charge brings the proper capsules to the surface of the "paper" to print the page you are reading. When you have finished that page, you press a button and "turn" to the next. It's kind of like "Etch-A-Sketch goes to MIT."

With clever professors and students coming up with innovative uses for iPods in the classroom, the Sony Reader just could be the next big wave of technology to wash over higher education.

Sony claims the Reader, which is to go on sale at a price somewhere between $299 and $399, will hold about 80 average sized books in its digi-brain, but hundreds more can be added to your hand-held library through an optional "MemoryStick" or a memory card.

Sony promises "access to thousands of titles" through the CONNECT Store on-line. "You'll find all the latest bestsellers as well as a deep catalog of books in every category… with free first chapters available, plus author bios and reviews," claims the promo material.

As the linked article points out, books on paper can be annotated, which is a significant advantage when textbooks are being purposefully read. The Sony Reader seems to lack interactivity, which is so important in learning. But, the "cool" factor just might influence more than a few students (and faculty) to give the Sony Reader a try.


Monday, November 14, 2005

The $100 Laptop Revisted

It's good to see that the $100 laptop for educational use by kids is moving closer to reality. (See my post dated September 29, 2005.) Here are a few things we know at present about this project:
  • The machine will come with an open source operating system. That leaves out Microsoft and Apple, both of whom have shown interest in the project. Maybe a way will be found to bring their immense resources to bear.
  • Software will include a word processor, web browser, email, and a programming system.
  • How the $100 laptop will be used in the classroom to improve teaching and learning is still unclear.
  • Computing power will be supplied by AMD rather than Intel.
  • Critics of the project worry that $100 will not be sufficient to provide the computer with sufficient functionality.

So, what we know is that the project is going foward, but that lots of issues remain to be settled. I would think that the $100 laptop, when combined with Google's efforts to digitize a slew of books would mean that each kid in every third world country would have access to a library of resources not enjoyed by kids in even the wealthiest school district a few years ago. That's a no brainer. The hard part is going to be developing meaningful assignments that make use of the computer's power. That means a rethinking of pedagogy. Until the pedagogy issues are settled, I opine that the $100 laptop is a project with unproven promise.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Laptops in the Classroom--Blessing or Curse?

The Vision (with a capital V): A wi-fi campus. A laptop in the hands of every student. A learning environment without walls. Every student instantly able to bring to bear computing power to enhance learning.

The reality: Something different. True, those laptops are proliferating in classrooms like dollars in Bill Gates' bank account. But, it's how they're being used that is bringing dismay to faculty.

My story: Last week I referred to the San Antonio Spurs to illustrate a point in my 300 student economics class. As soon as the Spurs were mentioned, a student in the third row instantly swiveled his laptop around to show me a picture of one of the Spurs players in action. "Aha," said I. "So this is what you're doing all class period." It turns out that he's not the only one.

Dennis Adams, professor at the University of Houston, gives his take on the distractive power of the laptop in the classroom:

You can be in the front of the classroom and your hair could catch on fire and they'll never see it because their eyes are glued to the 14-inch screen at the end of their nose.

The backlash: Block wi-fi access in classrooms.

The negative side effect: Neighboring offices' access to the network is accidently blocked.

The backlash, part II: Ban or limit the use of laptops by students in the classroom.

The problem: Students respond with unkind comments about the instructor on student surveys.

My perspective: There have always been distractions that pull student attention away from the topic at hand. In the old days, little Johnny would dip Susie's pigtail in the inkwell, setting off a howl from Susie. Then there were the entertaining spitball fights in the back of the room. More recently, the ringing of cell phones has not exactly been music to the ears of students and professors.

Laptops are another in a long line of distractions.

My suggestion: Confront the issue of classroom laptop use with students early, such as on the syllabus. A laptop might be a good tool to use to take notes in class or to use in applying computing power to classroom assignments. The problem is when it's used for extraneous purposes.

That's nothing new. When I was in the seventh grade I got called by a teacher for doodling. Misuse of a pencil was the crime. It just proves that instructors have always had a difficult time getting learners to pay attention.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

QuickTake: Beware the Cyberbully!

There's always something new to worry about when it comes to technology. Whether it's a hard drive crashing or a new computer virus, the information superhighway has its fair share of potholes.

Here's a new pothole to consider:

We are all familiar with school bullies,” said Parry Aftab, a lawyer who specialises in internet privacy. “Cyberbullying is the online equivalent. It is any kind of harassment, insult or humiliation that uses internet-related technology.

Here's an example:

At a Boston school recently, several students were disciplined for creating a lewd website about a teenage girl’s supposed sexual activities. The site included her name, photograph and phone number. In New York a 14-year-old girl who foolishly sent her boyfriend a camera phone picture of herself topless was mortified when he posted it on a website used by everyone at their school.

My university has a policy describing appropriate use of computer technology. I haven't looked at it recently, but I think it addresses cyberbullying, at least indirectly. The question is whether the cyberbully lurking inside some people knows about the policy, and the punishment that comes from violating it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

$100 Laptops for Education

Mockup of the New $100 Laptop Posted by Picasa

There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip as Shakespeare put it. The plans to produce 100 million of these fine machines may never come to fruition. If they do, I want one! Plans call for the first batch to go to children in less-developed countries, so I might have to wait awhile.

The $100 laptop is the brainchild or Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Labs. He came up with the idea after visiting a Camodian village. As befits a product designed to work where electricity might not be available, the machines will have a hand crank to supply power when other energy sources are not available.

Here are additional features:

The laptops will be encased in rubber to make them more durable, and their AC adaptors will also act as carrying straps.

The Linux-based machines are expected to have a 500MHz processor, with flash memory instead of a hard drive which has more delicate moving parts.

They will have four USB ports, and will be able to connect to the net through wi-fi - wireless net technology - and will be able to share data easily.

It will also have a dual-mode display so that it can still be used in varying light conditions outside. It will be a colour display, but users will be able to switch easily to monochrome mode so that it can be viewed in bright sunlight, at four times normal resolution.

Bravo and good luck to Mr. Negroponte and his team. If he succeeds, education here in the U.S. and around the world will be revolutionized. E-books, which are much cheaper than printed books, will lower the cost of education and increase literacy in countries where literacy rates are low.

The first prototype of the $100 laptop is scheduled to be shown this November. With Google and other big names in technology backing the project, if a $100 laptop is economically and technologically feasible, we can look forward to truly ubiquitous computing.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Big Bang: Putting Technological Change into Perspective

I can honestly say I was there. For the commercialization of the Internet, that is. You see, I go back to the days before color, before point and click, before graphics. Back to the days when the Internet meant text only. And to read that text required typing exotic commands before hitting the "Enter" key.

That's the past.

For a glimpse at the future, look at South Korea. Nearly 80 per cent of South Korean homes have broadband connections - and South Korean broadband is truly broad. Most connections are at 2 megabits per second (2Mbps) or higher (a typical residential broadband connection in Australia is 512kbps). The South Korean Government expects that 70 per cent of internet connections will exceed 20Mbps by the end of 2006 and that most will be at 100Mbps by the end of the decade.

At these speeds, and with this level of penetration, the internet pervades South Korean society to an extent unknown in the rest of the world. But with success come problems. In South Korea, cyber crime is out of control, and a quarter of all teenagers are classed as internet addicts, many with behavioural problems.

Over the next generation we will see the interconnection of all devices at bandwidths incomprehensible today. We will see the marriage of carbon and silicon, the merging of computers and organic life. Fancy a terabyte of data at the base of your brain?

How humankind adapts to these changes will determine the fate of our species. The past 10 years are not even a dress rehearsal. A good rule of thumb is - if you can imagine it, it will happen. The only question is: when?

Fine. The brave new world of technology will mean new products and new choices. Applying that technology to teaching and learning will mean new challenges. Change, change, change.

But somehow I'm comforted by the thought that some things won't change. Thinking will still be hard work, for faculty and for students, even with that terabyte of data at the base of our brains that the author of the article refers to. The need for grading will still exist, assuming employers still want to identify excellence in the student body. That will mean tests and test anxiety.

The other anxiety though, is associated with the need to keep up. We know that change induces stress and the futurists tell us that change will accelerate, which will mean even more stress. Adapting to change. Yep, that's the key. Hey, Who Moved My Cheese?

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Looking over Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy

Instructors who teach using technology owe it to themselves to take a look at Kairos, a refeered online journal that describes itself thusly:

In Kairos, we publish "webtexts," which are texts authored specifically for publication on the World Wide Web. These webtexts include scholarly examinations of large-scale issues related to special topics, individual and collaborative reviews of books and media, news and announcements of interest, interactive exchanges about previous Kairos publications, and extended interviews with leading scholars.

While Kairos focuses on the intersection of technology and writing, the insights its webtexts provide into the minds of hearts of teachers will be of interest to bloggers of all stripes, not just teachers of writing. Give it a look-see.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Amazing New Software Turns Any Computer into A TV Station

It's been tough keeping up with the blogs this summer because of a heavy summer teaching assignment. However, I had to get the word out on Alluvium, the amazing new software that turns any Internet-connected computer into a TV station.

Alluvium was developed by a team of students at the University of Texas at Austin. It allows anyone with any type of Internet connection, even the slow dial-up kind, to stream video to multiple computers anywhere in the world. The developers of Alluvium see all sorts of practical uses by ordinary Americans. Say you were to record your kids' softball game with your camcorder. Go ahead and stream it their grandparents' computers and the computers of all the other kids' parents. It's just like showing the game on TV. Anyone who wants to "tune in" to watch the game can do so.

Think for a minute about the applications to teaching and learning. Students could broadcast the trial run of an oral presentation to their instructor and others to get feedback before the actual presentation in class. Instructors could broadcast a review session prior to an exam. For that matter, a student with a camcorder could record classes and then broadcast them from his or her home computer. Once the word gets out about Alluvium, I'm sure others will come up with new and better ideas than the ones I've just identified.

In the course of a little over a year, Podcasting has caught on big in the world of higher ed (and among the general public). Will Alluvium be the next iPod? I'll let the rest of the story, reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, speak for itself:

In fact, Mr. Lopez [Joseph T. Lopez, one of the project's leaders]sees the program as a tool for independent artists to disseminate their work without turning to the entertainment industry for help. "The distribution system for music and movies is broken right now, and it's going to take the RIAA and the MPAA two or three years to figure it out," says Mr. Lopez, referring to the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. "I think our model could help change the way films are distributed."

Mr. Lopez and Mr. Wiley [Brandon Wiley, another team leader] will present their vision of a personal Internet-TV station in July, when their ACTLab TV station makes its debut on the Web. The station will have plenty of content to offer. It will broadcast more than a thousand videos, including experimental films and documentaries, created by students for the university's ACTLab, an art- and technology-based program for which both Mr. Lopez and Mr. Wiley serve as teaching assistants.

To keep their station running 24 hours a day, Mr. Lopez and Mr. Wiley are already accepting submissions from outside sources -- including, Mr. Lopez says, "animation, puppet shows, and some really unique content."

But before the station goes live (on the project's Web site), Mr. Lopez and Mr. Wiley say they still have plenty of work to do. Along with a staff of four, they have been pulling nearly sleepless nights archiving video footage and testing their software.

No one is getting paid for the work, and neither Mr. Lopez nor Mr. Wiley views the project as a business venture. But the project's shoestring budget is part of the point, according to Mr. Lopez. "We're just sitting here with machines that we had lying around, and we threw this together," he says. "Our whole idea was that it doesn't take $20,000 worth of electronics to run a TV station online."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Save My Whiteboard: Software to Save Class Notes

Professor Rob Frohne and family Posted by Hello

People are always trying to save something. It could be the environment, a homeless dog, or just a dollar. Professor Rob Frohne of Walla Walla College tries to save his students, or at least their learning, and thus their grades, using software he created.

The picture of Professor Frohne, his family, and the beauty of Washington state was taken from his web site. When Dr. Frohne isn't enjoying inspiring mountain views, he puts his creative mind to work. Case in point: Save My Whiteboard. This free software was created by Professor Frohne to work in conjunction with a digital camera. It's purpose is to save and publish on the web the notes that he writes on the whiteboard during his classes. I'm sure that his students appreciate the effort to make learning just a little bit easier and more convenient.

For the rest of us, Professor Frohne has generously provided a free download of Save My Whiteboard. Check out the link provided in the title of this post for more details, including pictures of some of his class notes posted to the web using Save My Whiteboard. Maybe you'll want to create an historical record of your whiteboard notes, too.

Instructional Technology Through the Eyes of an IT Staffer

(The link is probably password protected, and available only to Chronicle subscribers.)
This week's Chronicle of Higher Education is chock full of articles on instructional technology and its implications for teaching and learning. "Why Many Faculty Members Aren't Excited About Technology" hits some obvious points, two of which bear restatement in a my own perhaps too blunt style:
  • Teaching, research, and service. They're what faculty are paid to do. I can teach without technology, but I can't get a raise without research. Guess what I'm going to do first. If there's time left over to utilize technology in teaching, them maybe I'll do it. Until then, don't bother me. Solution: Universities should honor their pioneers who teach with technology by providing them with some of the same rewards provided to those who focus on research.
  • "Talk to me in a language I can understand." That's what I'd like to say to some of the techies I've dealt with. Most IT staff are not teachers and so don't have the skills to teach me what I need to know in ways that don't make me feel stupid and inferior. Solution: Get another faculty member to teach me how to teach with technology.

OK, so what have I said? Well, for one thing, let's push the research out to the faculty that demonstrates that students learn more when classes are technologically enhanced. Almost every faculty member I know is concerned that students learn, and the more they learn the better. Second, when faculty commit to teaching with technology, universities must provide ways to free up some time for them to master the technology. Think temporary course load reductions.

Oh, and how about some enthusiasm and old-fashioned salemanship on the part of the people leading the technology charge. I can see the headline in a sales letter now, "The Hidden Secrets to Teaching Success Finally Revealed. Increase Your Teaching Evaluations 50%. Double Your Money-Back Guarantee! Act NOW!"


Monday, June 13, 2005

QuickTake: Students--Staying Ahead of the Curve

I had to write a quick followup to my previous post when I noticed that the University Business piece linked in that post and this one includes a take on student responses to technology in the classroom. Bart Collins, director of Digital Content for Teaching and Learning Technologies at Purdue, is featured:

Students, in Collins' experience, already get it. "In some ways," he says, "they're already past it." Desktops with webcams are already old hat. Student lifestyles are different from what they were a generation ago. They discount the idea that a person needs to be physically present in order to experience fully what is happening at another location. Flexibility is more important to them; how and when they communicate is up in the air. "I walk around lecturing, watching kids send instant messages while I'm talking," says Collins. "It may annoy me, but I have to acknowledge that a classroom is a place to have other relationships, too."

Flexibility! That's one characteristic of distance learning that appeals to faculty, too.

QuickTake: Collaboration Tools for Online Learning

The always reliable University Business has nice piece in the June issue on collaboration tools that facilitate distance learning. I especially like the recognition that technology doesn't obviate the need for effective course design. Efforts by Capitol College and Purdue University in utilizing products from Centra and Macromedia are featured. From what I keep reading, the schools that are lagging in this area are doing themselves a real disservice. It's amazing to me that Purdue employs about a thousand IT professionals to make distance learning work!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

To Moodle or Not to Moodle, That is the Question

As a mere faculty member, I'm not privy to the size of the annual fee that my university pays for its chosen course management system, which is WebCT. I've heard rumors that its about $40,000 a year for the Campus Edition, but that the fee for the new, improved version, WebCT Vista, is many times that number. In any case, there are cheaper alternatives. And by cheaper, I mean FREE!

Moodle is free course managment software. Here's what the introduction page on the Moodle web site says:

Moodle is a software package for producing internet-based courses and web sites. It's an ongoing development project designed to support a
social constructionist framework of education.

Moodle is provided freely as
Open Source software (under the GNU Public License). Basically this means Moodle is copyrighted, but that you have additional freedoms. You are allowed to copy, use and modify Moodle provided that you agree to: provide the source to others; not modify or remove the original license and copyrights, and apply this same license to any derivative work. Read the license for full details and please contact the copyright holder directly if you have any questions.

Moodle will run on any computer that can run
PHP, and can support many types of database (particularly MySQL).

The open source movement, in which useful educational software is written and then offered to users free of charge, is a surprising offshoot of the development of the Internet. And not a bad one. Schools that might not be able to easily afford the cost of commercial products such as WebCT and Blackboard can put their faculty to teaching with technology.

RSS Set to Revolutionize Communications?

There's a lesson for teaching and learning in the explosive growth of RSS: Really Simple Syndication. From eSchool News online:

Simply put, RSS allows you to follow information from multiple online sources, such as news web sites or "blogs" (web logs), without having to surf all over the web to find it.

Using an RSS reader, you can set up a nearly unlimited number of channels, or feeds, from various online sources that offer the technology. Whenever one of these sources is updated, the new information is pushed to your computer automatically in the form of a web link that appears in your RSS reader. By clicking on the link, you can access the entire original post or article.

Blogs ... have quickly caught on in the education field, giving scholars an opportunity to share their ideas in a dedicated, spam-free stream of information.

RSS is a natural fit for educators, who were frequent users of listservs.

"I really like the convenience of not having to go to a specific site" to find information, said Craig Nansen, the technology coordinator for Minot, N.D., Public Schools. "With RSS, I'm getting information I want when I want it, and I don't have to wade through any other junk. I had found that listservs were too cumbersome, and you didn't have easy access to archives."

I'm getting ready to use an RSS reader myself, so I found this story particularly interesting. By the way, the data show that about 5 percent of Internet users have an RSS reader, so don't feel left behind if you're not using one.

QuickTake: Wanna Take an Online Survey?

Follow the link in the post and you'll find 23 active surveys in which you will be able to participate. The Web Experiment List is housed at the University of Zurich.

QuickTake: Your Mind Online

It turns out that many people are quite willing to take surveys online.

Traditional pencil-and-paper surveys and other psychological research of days past depended in large part on the altruism of undergraduate students like her - they were the guinea pigs, if you like.

But posting the surveys online gives researchers a reach far beyond campus - to people of all ages, backgrounds, experiences and cultures.

"Most people who do this are not students or academics," says John Krantz, a psychology professor at Hanover College, Indiana, who runs a website of links to surveys called Psychological Research on the Net ( "They are just surfing the web, they come around, they are curious about something so they are willing to participate," he says.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Teaching Practices When Laptops are Required

This post is the third in a row utilizing links to papers in Learning Technology. This journal deserves a tip of the hat from me. It's published in Great Britain and covers a wide range of topics, including some of the more interesting papers I've seen on teaching with technology. The rather unwieldy title of the paper I'm posting about is Laptop use in teaching practice: Current research in the QuinnSchool of Business, UniversityCollegeDublin.

It's common in the U.S. for business schools and even entire universities to have a ubiquitous computing initiative in place. Some schools are changing their initiative to require Tablet PCs. Whatever the case, what are students and faculty to do with the machine once it's use is universal?

The paper brings up the significance of communities of practice:

Palincsar et al (1998: 17) suggest that learning is social in nature, reminding us that “sharing our (teaching) experiences in terms of (the) principles and practices” is important if we are to broadly understand the best use of laptops in teaching activities. Palincsar et al take “sharing further,” by creating an academic community of practitioners, in order to see how community based learning supports development amongst academics.

The paper continues:

The following summary points were abstracted from a series of exploratory interviews and focus groups with staff members from 4 courses over the academic year 2003/2004. Results from research presented key themes (obtained from data analysis and transcripts) in which is was identified that:
1. of the four courses studied, one course implemented a customised and content related “laptop policy” which was used to mediate interaction and use of laptops in class between lecturers and students engaged in learning.
2. all four courses had different implementation plans for the use of, and inclusion of, laptops in class and for assignments. In conversation all staff members mentioned the use of office tools extensively in assignments.
3. the use of small group teaching classrooms were conducive to a more intimate and “interactive learning environment.” Teaching staff also supported this trend and felt there was more interaction and communication in small group settings.
4. lecturers learned “through experience” when to use and when not to use laptops in class for teaching activities, reflecting instruction to use laptops at “appropriate” points in the curricula and learning process.

More research is needed on how teaching practices change once a ubiquitous computing initiative is implemented. For now, until we can prove it, we can only hope that learning is enhanced by these initiatives, which are costly for students.

The Tablet PC--The Future of Teaching and Learning?

I've been meaning to get around to writing a long post about the potential of the Tablet PC to facilitate teaching and learning. That long post will have to wait, but now's a good time to bring up the subject.

In September of 2004 I organized a demonstration showing how one faculty member uses the Tablet PC in his teaching. More than 40 faculty attended. After witnessing the capabilities of the Tablet PC and its pedagogical possibilities, at least 35 of the 40 left breathlessly anticipating that Socrates Tech would undertake a ubiquitous computing initiative requiring Tablet PCs. When faculty see how a Tablet PC can be used in class, it usually bowls them over.

For example, with a Tablet PC I can walk into class and start writing my lecture notes on the surface of a Tablet PC, instead of on paper, a transparency, or on the board. I can easily draw graphs, which is impossible to quickly do using a mouse and a standard laptop or desktop PC. After class, I can go to my office and upload the file containing my class notes from the Tablet PC to WebCT.

The author of the linked paper has it figured out:

The suggested approach provides a method to quickly create live digital lecture presentation material that does not require an instructor to significantly alter his existing mode of teaching. The digital content produced during the lecture can easily be used to create a course website with minimal required skills.

The laptops are becoming very common these days and the cost of a Tablet PC is slightly higher than a regular laptop. A combination of networked Tablet PC with a wireless projection system would eliminate the need to purchase expensive electronic blackboard system. The suggested combination could also be used in a portable mode to convert any regular classroom into an electronic classroom.

The lecture notes created using this process lack the instructor’s voice due to the missing capability of the program to include the digital audio files. There is a need to improve the suggested process to provide a richer multimedia experience.


E-CaD: A New Curriculum Model at the University of Phoenix

E-CaD (Enhanced Curriculum & Delivery Model) represents a change in the distance education practices of the University of Phoenix, implemented to allow for larger classes. E-CaD has the following key features:

Student Academic Expectations

  • students actively participate with substantive remarks in online discussions 4/7 days a week (previously 5/7 days)
  • final week of class has optional student participation in online discussions (previously students participated all weeks of course)
  • weekly summaries are optional ( previously these were required)

Faculty Academic Expectations

  • provide detailed syllabus (change only in specific E-CaD details)
  • share two weekly online discussion questions (previously 3-6 questions)
  • freedom to assign weekly online discussion questions to learning teams (previously dialog questions created only for individual students)
  • share weekly lectures can be optional if course has weekly overview of material in rEsource
  • respond to student comments 5/7 days in online discussions (no change)
  • share weekly grade reports with students (no change) (E-CaD, 2004)

Since the University of Phoenix is considered a leader in best practices in online education, these changes in expectations will be taken into account by course designers across the academic universe.


QuickTake: Technology and Cross-Cultural Learning

From a research proposal: Multiple Perspectives: The Role of Technology in Cross-Cultural Learning in Undergraduate Courses at Kent State University,Theresa Minick, Kent State University and Vilma Seeberg, Kent State University:

Under what conditions does synchronous and asynchronous Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), e.g., chats and threaded discussions, and/or video conferencing promote, a. learning in various cultural settings, or cross cultural learning, and cross cultural awareness (integration state)? b. student problem solving, inquiry, discovery, creative and critical thinking? c. integration of CMC and video conferencing into the conceptualization of professional practice on the part of undergraduate Spanish students and instruction on the part of pre-service teachers?

QuickTake: Does Wi-Fi Facilitate Student Learning?

From: Final Report for Wireless Internet Grant, Funded by Research Center for Educational Technology, Kent State University,June 2004:

The research found that wireless Internet can promote student-centered learning by providing a choice of location, better learning environment, flexibility of time, easy involvement in group projects, and improved communication with instructors and other learners. New teaching strategies and models need to be developed to take full advantage of wireless technology.

QuickTake: Do Students Learn Better with Technology?

Although the linked paper by Gay Fawcett is 5 years old and applies to younger students, the question is still relevant. Do students learn better with technology? I think the answer is yes, and in future posts I'll direct you to research on the question.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Embedded Assessment for Improved Teaching and Learning

Assessment involves feedback. Just-in-time feedback can be used to tweak course design and thus improve course delivery. This is true whether a course is delivered online or F2F.

Embedded assessment refers to the process of continuous assessment designed to improve teaching throughout the term. Traditionally, courses have been assessed once a semester, such as through the IDEA survey or one of its competitors. Embedded assessment calls for continuous assessment.

The problem with traditional assessment relates to its timeliness. By the time instructors receive the results, it's too late to make changes to improve teaching. With embedded assessment, the feedback can be utilized to make continuous improvement.

Technology offers a method to embed assessment. The survey feature of WebCT is the one I am familiar with. By conducting weekly surveys of student opinion, with questions similar to those on the IDEA survey, instructors can tweak their course design on the fly rather than next semester. That's a good thing!

Moore's Law--Revolutionizing Teaching with Technology

At first glance the linked article would appear to be about the advances built into games that are in or near release by Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. A closer look reveals that the development of more powerful processors, reflecting Moore's Law, is revolutionizing product offerings. There must be implications for teaching, but since these are not discussed in the article, I'll speculate a bit.

Instead of ever more powerful general purpose PCs, the application of computing power is leading to the creation of specialized devices. One of these is the "mobile media station," which combines the telephone, camera, and music player in one unit. Another is the entertainment device, such as games. Finally, we have the standard PC.

It's not far fetched to add a fourth category, which I'll call the "learning tech unit." Combining media and educational functions, specialized learning tech units could easily be created which would displace today's separate clickers (keypad technology such as Classroom Performance System (CPS)), iPods, and laptops. The core of such a unit would almost certainly be a tablet PC, but a super tablet enhanced with communications abilities.

As football coach George Allen used to say, "The future is now." Or at least in education, right around the corner.

Monday, May 23, 2005

QuickTake: The Launch of Trump University

Donald Trump has found the time between running his real estate empire, making TV appearances, and getting married, to start his own university. Given that nonprofit state universities have been slow on the uptake and failed to fill the needs of learners, it's not surprising that yet another for-profit university has made its way onto the educational scene.

Trump University utilizes a myriad of technologies and pedagogies in delivering courses. Mr. Trump has attracted some well-respected educators to the endeavor to ensure quality. We here at Socrates Tech welcome Mr. Trump to higher education and wish him and his students well.

QuickTake: 47 Tips for Bloggers

I found these 47 tips for bloggers through a link in Instapundit's FAQ. These will be useful for my student bloggers to read next fall, before they start their blogs. If you're new to the blogosphere, check them out.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Ten Ways Online Learning Can Help on the Job

Fast Company has performed a public service in posting its list of ten ways that online learning increases on-the-job effectiveness. Here's the list:

1. It helps you think globally.
2. It enhances your critical thinking.
3. It strengthens your electronic business communication.
4. It promotes active participation.
5. It builds your time management skills.
6. It fosters flexibility.
7. It highlights a virtual team environment.
8. It sharpens your tech savviness.
9. It allows you to stay abreast of industry advancements.
10. It accelerates your advancement.

It's hard to believe that some universities haven't found a place for online learning in their strategic plans. If you click on the link and read the specifics behind each of the items on the list, I think you'll come away a believer in distance learning.

Friday, May 20, 2005

SPlaT--The Self-Plagiarism Detection Tool

Splat! It's the sound a bug makes when a car collides with it at 70 miles an hour. It's also the name of software designed to fight self-plagiarism. I have the feeling that some unethical faculty self-plagiarizers are going to feel just like the proverbial bug on the windshield when SPlaT comes into widespread use.

Previous posts on the Socrates Tech blog have given you plenty of insight into the use of technology to fight student plagiarism. SPlaT is designed to help journal editors (and possibly colleagues) identify faculty members who recycle their papers over and over again. It's called self-plagiarism and it's as serious an ethical problem as any other form of plagiarism, including student plagiarism. Self-plagiarized papers crowd out other deserving papers from scarce journal space, thus harming other faculty who do not self-plagiarize.

SPlaT is a free download from the link in the post. Once a few self-plagiarizers are outed, self-plagiarism should become less common. That's technology in action, making academic life a little better for faculty of character.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

QuickTake: Next Internet Explorer Will Have Tabs . . .

. . . and hopefully better security. Computers here at Socrates Tech are equipped with IE6 rather than Firefox, which already facilitates Internet searching by providing tabs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Student Blogs for More Learning?

Blogging is an application of technology that would not have been easy to forsee. After all, who would have predicted that 9 million blogs would exist today, with a new one being created every seven seconds. Millions of Americans sit at their computers daily yakking away at the keyboard about their hobbies, boyfriends, girlfriends, and misery. Yak, yak, yak. Blog, blog, blog. It's cathartic, I suppose. Educational blogging is an even more improbable concept.

Student blogs, like faculty blogs, are new to the blogosphere. As such, their efficacy in promoting learning is untested. There are a few English faculty who have students create blogs in order to improve their writing skills. As far as I am aware, I will be the first economics instructor in the world to require students to blog as a way to increase their learning of economics.

That's right! My plans are to require student economics blogs in my honors macro principles class this fall. Will blogging improve their writing skills, their research skills, their facility with technology? I hope so, because monitoring and commenting on as many as 35 student blogs is going to be some work. That midnight oil is going to be burning a lot this fall.

I'll need to develop a rubric so that students will know how their blogs are going to be graded. I'll also have to teach them how to create a blog plus a little HTML. I'll show my students what I consider to be an exemplary student blog. You can see it too. Just click on the title of the post and visit Cantillon's Paradise.

Friday, May 13, 2005

QuickTake: Computer Software to Grade Papers

Dr. Ed Brent is a professor of sociology at the University of Missouri, Columbia with too many papers to grade. The onerous task of grading all those student papers in his large classes led him to develop a computerized essay grading program--human eyes not needed and each paper graded in seconds. Listen to Professor Brent discuss his creation in a National Public Radio audio file.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Individualized Interactive Instruction--3Is for Better Learning

Professor William Kaiser and Students Posted by Hello

Good professors listen to students. That's one of the hallmarks of excellence in teaching. Imagine a class where students are allowed to ask questions anonymously. No more fear of asking a "stupid" question because no one in class will know who asked it.

Individualized Interactive Instruction (3I) is software created by UCLA electrical engineering Professor William Kaiser. Here's the best part. It's free! With 3I installed on student and professor laptops equipped with wi-fi, students can solve problems and ask questions, while the professor monitors students' keystrokes as they work on problems. The UCLA Daily Bruin reports,

This allows the instructor to pinpoint areas of deficiency for students, and offers an anonymous forum for students when they are stumped, which Kaiser and his students say enhances the learning environment.

In recognition of his achievements in creating and using 3I, Professor Kaiser was presented with the 2005 Brian P. Copenhaver award for faculty who promote innovation in teaching with technology. Kaiser comments, "I've always felt as a professor that I haven't been able to act with a lot feedback," Kaiser said. "For example, I might interpret a quiet group as bored, but it could be because I am going too fast in the lecture."

Future improvements in the technology that Professor Kaiser is considering include a laptop version and even a version that would work with text messaging on cell phones.

Here at Socrates Tech we haven't looked into adopting 3I yet. If we decide to move in that direction, we'll contact the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing for more information. The center, housed at UCLA, aims to improve the quality of eduction in the United States by studying how students learn and educational testing methods. Greg Chung, a senior research associate at the center, comments, "The technology is simple and it makes sense. I think it will help support large classes where instruction is really lecture-based."

Kaiser claims that 3I could easily be implemented in many disciplines. "It's not only the benefits for the students but there is a benefit for the instructor as far as reshaping the quality of the instruction. Students might find that their professor is becoming more effective."

As for the competition, Kaiser created 3I to go head-to-head against the Educational Testing Services' costly Discourse. In contrast, 3I is free, open source software, customizable by adopters. Bravo, Professor Kaiser.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Gaming for Grades--Plug in the PlayStation Now!

From the Wired Campus blog comes the link to this story about the use of games in higher education to develop business skills. Let Chip Luman, Human Resources Vice President at Charles Schwab give you his take:

The people who play games are into technology, can handle more information, can synthesize more complex data, solve operational design problems, lead change and bring organizations through change.

Here at Socrates Tech our faculty were already aware of Mr. Luman's insights. In fact, his thoughts mirror those of our founder Socrates, "I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think." Mr. Luman is saying that those sexist, violent, and sometimes racist video games that he's referring to in the quote enhance the thinking abilities of gamers. What turned him on to these insights? He read and reflected on Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade. This book received a five-star rating from reviewers on What's the Beck and Wade bottom line?

Gamers are better risk-takers, show particular confidence in their abilities, place a high value on relationships and employee input and think in terms of "winning'' when pursuing objectives.

I don't play games myself, but maybe I'll start. If playing games can make me smarter, then why not? I should add that for years I've advised my students that a good leisure-time activity that develops the ability to think is poker. I haven't done any research to prove my contention that poker makes you smarter, but poker involves math, reasoning, risk-taking, self-confidence--in short, many of the skills that are of value in the business world.

The interest in the relationship between gaming and business success is just starting to prompt academic research into this fascinating subject. As those of us with the coveted Ph.d. after our names know, things are not always as straightforward as they appear to be. It could well be the case that smart people self select to play games. Thus, it wouldn't be the gaming that made for smarter people, but the other way around.

Gamers' families must have a nice disposable income. A couple of hundred bucks for a PlayStation plus the cost of the games wouldn't be a good use of money for many families. More family income provides those gamers with additional advantages in life that non-gamers don't possess. Better schools, clothes, diet, and medical care are examples.

Then, too, my understanding is that the great majority of gamers are male. If you buy in to Beck and Wade's gaming theory, then where does that leave women and female students, few of whom play games. I guess it leaves them to be sex objects, the way they're portrayed in so many games-- skimpily clad, extra large bosoms heaving, and at the mercy of powerful, ruthless males. Now that I think about it, I think I see why females avoid games. Gaming does seem like macho territory, doesn't it?

My female students do just as well in my courses as the male students. Maybe better. That tells me that gaming isn't the only game in town when it comes to success in the classroom.


Parscore--Technology for Easier, More Accurate Grading

I used to spend a lot of time grading, but no more. The good people at Scantron developed a product that saves me a lot of time and provides more accurate grading for students. The product is Parscore. Because this post is going to sound like a commercial, I should mention that I'm not a stockholder in the company.

Here's how Parscore works. The Parscore grading service on my campus creates an electronic gradebook for me. After my students take their exams on the Parscore forms that they purchase at the university bookstore, I walk the forms over to the Parscore office where the Parscore staff grade them and record the results in my gradebook. It's all accomplished with a Scanmark scanner, a computer, and a sharp PC specialist who knows the Parscore software. The grades are provided to me in printed form and in a spreadsheet. It takes the Parscore office about 15 to 30 minutes to grade 300 exams, with zero errors in grading and in recording the grades. In the old days, it would always take me about two days to process 300 exams and then key in the students' names and grades into an Excel spreadsheet. I made a lot of mistakes, too. Parscore is a huge improvement for students and faculty. Like me, the faculty on my campus love the service. As a Jewish mother would say, "What's not to love?"

I was responsible for bringing the Parscore technology to our campus back in 1997 or so. When I took over direction of our Teaching and Learning Center in 2000 I was pleased to be able to oversee the growth of the use of Parscore by our faculty. By the time I left the director's chair in 2004, the center was grading over 200,000 exams a year. It was all done quickly and efficiently, saving thousands of hours of valuable faculty time every year. Parscore is a technology that pays for itself. I once wrote an economic analysis of our Parscore service that showed the value of faculty time saved was over $200,000 a year. Of course, since faculty are paid salaries, not hourly wages, the $200,000 in savings does not appear on the university's bottom line.

It's no wonder that when a faculty member from Algeria visited our center several years ago, his head was turned by the Parscore technology. He wasn't aware than anything like Parscore even existed. His mission in the U.S. was to visit faculty development centers and bring back to Algeria a model for the creation of a center on his campus. Judging from his enthusiasm for Parscore, it wouldn't surprise me if, indirectly at least, I was partially responsible for the sale of the ONLY Parscore system in Algeria that year!