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Archive for the tag “classroom”

Classroom app followup

Big Nerd Ranch’s eClicker App

I’ve still been looking to find a good classroom app.

Today I found a short video demonstrating eClicker from BigNerdRanch that made me think that this might be a decent app for my classroom. I’m not asking for much – just a simple way to poll a class in real time to see how they are following the material we are covering. I just talked to the staff to see how I can get this app onto our machines. Once we do that, then I just have to deal with the limited bandwidth that we have here in the school….

Here’s the link to the website:

http://www.eclicker.com

here’s a link to the video:

Classroom app for iPad

II’ve been looking for an app to use in the classroom to get feedback from my students (something in the same vein as the clicker devices). I expect that there is at least one good one out there, but there also seems to be a number of inferior apps. I was wondering if anyone of you out there use something of this kind. And if you do, what is your assessment of the app you are using? has it been a valuable addition? A distraction?

I appreciate any help that may be provided.

 

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Kahn Academy and the Flipped Classroom

From the article on Kahn Academy’s new iPad app:

For the growing number of schools that are adopting iPads, the most impactful potential for the app is for Khan Academy’s “flipped classroom,” in which lectures are watched at home by students, and then assignments are completed collaboratively in class, where a teacher is present. “The teacher is free to do a lot more of the human interaction,” says Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of Khan Academy.

The idea of a flipped classroom is an excellent use of new technology. This enables the lecture part of the course to be delivered at a time that is convenient for the student and retains ALL of the in-class time for questions or other interactive engagements that actually use the professor’s time for the greatest return. The assumption is that most lecturing is one-way communication. If this is true, then there is no need for it to happen in the classroom at all. Lectures should just be taped and distributed. Students watch the lectures when they want to and then come in to class prepared to ask questions.

In my mind, this could work out extraordinarily well IF everyone buys into the idea and students actively engage. I’ve had classes where students engage a lot and I can imagine this working seamlessly. But I’ve also taught classes where I stood in front of the room and couldn’t pull anything from my students if my life depended on it.

Nevertheless, this technique is new, exciting, offers something new with technology that couldn’t be done without it and may actually usher in a new way to make education work.

I’m eager to look into Kahn academy’s material and see if there’s anything I can learn there and if there is anything that I can potentially use in my own classroom.

A quick post that’s slightly off topic

I worry about writing anything on this topic because my goal is not to have some sort of focus for a creationist ‘debate’, but I recently saw an article about the construction of an Ark in the Netherlands. (http://xenophilius.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/modern-day-noah-opens-doors-of-ark-creation/) I don’t know what to make of this article – or more to the point, of the subject that the article addresses. There’s nothing I find objectionable about someone building whatever it is that they want to with their money. But I can’t overlook the statement that the “the Dutch creationist and millionaire building contractor Johan Huibers”. What can’t I overlook? “Creationist”

There it is, I’ve done it. I opened the door. What’s so objectionable about being a creationist? Well, it’s not the man himself that I care about. What I do care about is that the purpose of this thing is to serve as some sort of creationist ‘museum’. We already have one of those in the States. It’s located in Kentucky (where else?), but you can check it out right here: http://creationmuseum.org.

 

I’m not sure how I should phrase this in order to communicate my point best, but I find it to be a severe obstacle to education that these institutions are out there. I have no problem with the religious story of creation (any of them), but there is a problem with the relationship that Churches have with the rest of the world. That is, in order to be tolerant of all religions and to respect the distinction between religion and science, nothing can be said about any claim that has the word ‘religious’ tacked to it.  

I think most scientists are OK with the fact that religious questions are outside of the purview of science (most – not all). Whenever there is a discussion about something that cannot be tested scientifically, I’m happy to say, “well, science can’t address that question.” and let it go. 

But fundamentalist religions don’t respect that division any more than scientists like Richard Dawkins (Whom I respect greatly even when he is attacking religion – I just don’t think it’s a good idea). I’m talking about creationists that want to make claims about the real world that are testable, but they either don’t want to test these claims or don’t respect the power of a persuasive argument against their position. 

Scientists dislike this for several reasons. First, creationists approach the question with the answer in hand and don’t  give credence to any non-supporting evidence. Second, scientists think it’s not playing by the rules if you don’t give up a flawed argument (it’s the hardest thing to learn as a science student: you are not your argument. If your argument is wrong, let it go) Lastly, science isn’t going to admit “it’s in the bible” as evidence – and I think this offends fundamentalists.

Why don’t scientists accept biblical truth? Well, because there’s no reason to. Even if everything in the bible happened exactly as it was originally told, the fact that the bible was cobbled together from a handful of oral histories after floating around for a number of years makes that pretty hard to accept as evidence. A court won’t accept hearsay even if it’s only a couple of weeks old. The game ‘telephone’ has as its entire premise that people can’t repeat what they’ve heard just a second before.

OK, I’m ranting here – and it’s exactly what I didn’t want to do, but I teach biology and I have had students come to my class with ideas supported by creationists and creation museums before and it’s very difficult to navigate / remedy.

And one last thing – on a personal note: Just as the mathematicians and astronomers of the 17th century were in awe of the motion of the planets and how wonderfully sensible God’s creation appeared to them, there really are a lot of scientists who marvel at the beauty of God’s creation in setting life in motion to follow the elegant rules of evolution over time.

 

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Assessment and Technology

Assessment has emerged as a touchstone in education. Although assessment of the student has always been a central part of education, it has also become a critical measuring stick for whole institutions. With the passing of “No Child Left Behind,” educational assessment changed from determining whether a student had learned enough to merit a passing grade into determining whether whole institutions should live or die.

 

It is valuable to ask what some good reasons for assessment are…

  1. Pace – Assessing whether a class is following a lesson or more time is needed.
  2. Methodology -Determining which teaching methods are more or less effective
  3. Teacher Centered – Assisting educators in refining their art
  4. Student Centered – Ensuring that students take an appropriate level of comprehension from a lesson

 

The first two points concern how teachers manage the classroom in order to ensure that students learn. The third point is really the sum of the first two and helps the educator determine what material should be presented and how it should be done. Further, it is intended to evaluate the skill of the teacher. Finally, the last point is the most important of all, given everything that came before, have students learned the material?

 

It is the second last points that I want to consider here. How do we know what students have learned and what methods get us the best results?

 

“If I could just meet you in the hallway and talk to you once in a while that would be enough for me to know whether you’ve learned all you can here or not. If it were up to me, that would be it. There’s no reason we really need to do the dissertation…”

                                                            -A loose quotation from an academic advisor

 

Knowing what to assess and how to assess it is critical to determining whether a lesson or whole course is working for students. When working one-on-one with advanced students a good assessment can be as easy as the quotation above suggests. The advisor’s point was that objectivity is an illusion and in graduate education, the first three purposes of assessment are often not in question. However, when working with a larger class of introductory students, more quantifiable assessments become valuable.

 

Simply asking a class whether they understand as you go along a lecture or other classroom activity is no help. Teachers know that the answer to this question is, more often than not, a murmur of agreement – only to find that only a small fraction of the class can demonstrate their comprehension (personal anecdote).

 

Why is this? Do students think they understand when they don’t? Do they expect that they can figure it out later? Do they just not care? Perhaps they get the ‘gist’ of a lesson, but just can’t deliver on the details.

 

Pop quizzes are one way to make assessments in these situations. But this method has some drawbacks. First, it requires a substantial break in the class to administer. Second, even if a quiz can be administered without loss of time or the disrupting class, it is difficult to assess the results and move forward appropriately without taking more time out to grade.

 

Technology in assessment

 

Clickers have provided a high tech answer to this problem. Without allowing students to shape their answer by their peers in a call of hands, clickers (or similar feedback) provide a way for educators to poll a classroom and get real-time, honest feedback on specific questions in a way that does not seriously jeopardize the flow of a class.

 

Another way to use technology in support of a lesson and its assessment is to use games that are played within or outside of the classroom. With the advent of new devices, this is becoming increasingly possible. Further, because information can be shared between devices over WiFi, it is now possible to have collaborative games in which measurements can be taken not only of final outcomes, but also of the collaborative steps taken to attain these outcomes.

 

Collaborative peer learning has been shown to be a successful approach to teaching 1, one would expect to see a direct correlation between instances of shared information and final assessment scores. To my knowledge, such ‘real-time’ collaboration assessments have not been made. This could be one avenue to improving student outcomes that could change the way content is delivered.

 

I am still relatively new to teaching having only been at it for a couple years, but I am very interested in improving my techniques. In a recent conversation with a program officer for the NIH, he indicated that making assessments of new classroom materials was vital to obtaining grant money for developing those materials. I am now very interested in learning how to measure this and determining what questions I should be asking in evaluating new technology in the classroom.

 

What assessment tools have you found to guide how your classroom functions?

Other than a strict measure of whether students can reproduce material they have been exposed to, what other questions are valuable in assessing a lesson plan/ strategy / technology?

References

1.         Johnson, D. & Johnson, R. Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. (Interaction Book Company: Edina, MN, 1991).

Why Video Games Can Achieve Educational Objectives

Video games have several key features that make them attractive as a means to meet educational objectives. Primarily, games are intended to be enjoyable pursuits and video games have achieved this to amazing success leading to $65B of gross revenues in 20115, a figure surpassing that of the motion picture industry which grossed $10.2B that same year.6 In addition to their appeal, video game design has evolved to incorporate a number of features demonstrated to be successful as pedagogy.

One advantage of using games in the academic space is that they commonly employ a self-paced model of ‘concurrent chaining’ in which tasks are first presented in their simplest forms, but gain complexity following each player success. This approach has been shown to be successful compared to other methods of teaching by continuously involving the player in trial and error testing and thus providing more interaction and engagement with the teaching device compared to lecturer-based education alone. 1,2

A second feature of video games is that they specifically engage players by the use of storytelling – an art as old as human culture itself. Story is central to the way that people grasp the events of their lives and as such, it is vital that education be delivered in this form in order for it to make sense and be memorable. 3

However, engagement is only valuable inasmuch as it affords greater academic gains or improves attitudes towards a subject or learning in general. In an assessment of students enrolled in an undergraduate Physics course, learning outcomes were greatly improved by any implementation of interactive learning. 4

The challenge is to provide software that is 1) interesting enough to students for them to actively engage with and explore and 2) of high enough quality that this engagement is not achieved at the expense of the educational purpose. Few games achieve both of these goals simultaneously. Presently, much of the educational software market is awash in flashcard / random quiz question generators that provide test preparation without any attempt at engaging the student. Likewise, entertainment games give short shrift to scientific principles of any kind, instead inventing new rules for nature that serve only the interests of the game without providing any educational content.

 

Together, these features describe a successful means of improving education and, possibly more important, the enjoyment of education. At long last, having ‘computers in the classroom’ may provide a real, measurable benefit aside from assuring parents that technology is being used and that we assume this must lead to some improvement… we hope.

 

 

 

 

 

1.     Graesser, A. C. & Person, N. K. Question Asking During Tutoring. American Educational Research Journal 31, 104–137 (1994).

2.     Peck, A. C. & Detweiler, M. C. Training Concurrent Multistep Procedular Tasks. Human Factors 42, 379–389 (2000).

3.     Zabel, M. K. Storytelling, myths and folk tales. Preventing School Failure 32, 28–41 (1991).

4.     Hake, R. R. Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64 (1994).

 

5.      Reuters- http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/06/06/us-videogames-factbox-idUKTRE75552I20110606

6.      Boxofficemojo – http://boxofficemojo.com/studio/?view=company&view2=yearly&yr=2011&p=.htm

 

 

Welcome

Thank you for coming to this blog. Here I will examine how technology is/ isn’t or should / shouldn’t be used in the classroom. I expect to discuss the general idea of ‘computers in the classroom’, iPads and iPods, smartboards, clickers and even powerpoint presentations.

What devices and software have you used in the classroom? How was it received? Do you think it made a difference in the way you taught or the way the material was received?

Share your experiences and I’ll do my best to distill the best practices from our collected anecdotes as well as recent observations from the literature into a readable format that points towards improvements that we, as teachers, can make right now.

If you are a student, your input is valuable too! Perhaps even more valuable. What experiences have you had where technology did or didn’t help you to understand a lesson.

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