Rockstars of the Digital Classroom!

Another one of those things that would have been unimaginable only a decade ago – an  international micro-conference!  Wendy Gorton of Wikispaces fame collected together teachers using digital tools in the classroom and created a virtual meeting place where they could all share their processes and practices.

Garth Holman is a teacher deep into how #edtech pushes pedagogy in Ohio.  Jessica Sullivan is living in eternal summer in Caracas, Venezuela where she is leveraging social media and digital tools to produce students who are actually digitally fluent!  Our kids should be so lucky.

That it is possible to put something together like this with little more than an internet connection and a few laptops is astonishing.  Wikis themselves are a web-specific evolution in information sharing, a crowd sourced medium for self publication.  The social power of wikis are still reverberating around the world.  Garth talked about how his students create learning content and then set it free online, my own students do something similar using wikis.  As a way of creating shared notes and interconnecting information, wikis leverage digital learning spaces in a way that many other digital tools that act like paper analogues do not.  If you’re using Google-docs to replace handouts you’re not getting what the new medium is capable of.  Many teachers use digital tools as a replacement for paper, but that doesn’t use the fluidity of digital information to best effect.

Besides exploring the limits of digital information sharing and delivery you’ve also got to consider the best digital tool for the job.  If you’re only using a single digital tool you’re probably finding it difficult.  When trying to use Google-docs to create shared notes you’ve probably run into the chaos that ensues.  Wikispaces lets you create working groups and lock out areas of a wiki so only the production team in that subject can edit.  As each student builds their own interlinked page in the wikispace, they are able to produce collaborative, supported material without stepping on each other.  Diversifying your digital learning toolbox is vital.  If you’re not picking the best tool for the job you’re going to run into organizational problems.

I’m doing a presentation at the upcoming elearning Ontario symposium on creating a sufficiently complex digital learning ecosystem.  The idea that a single system (D2L) or a single platform (GAFE) can give you a sufficiently diverse digital learning environment isn’t just simplistic, it’s also a bit monopolistic.  As a digitally fluent teacher you should be able to reach out online and find the digital tools that suit your learner’s needs best.

In addition to regularly using Wikispaces, I’m also a big fan of Prezi and blogging (platform irrelevant).  If you’re looking to leverage digital tools in learning, offering a broad ecosystem of digital tools is the first step towards a student centred, diversified learning environment.  All of the teachers above talk about how they are using Twitter in addition to a variety of other digital tools to make that happen.

Dancing In The Clouds

This guy really seems to know what he’s talking about:


Working The Cloud With Mobile Edtech

I got a couple of android tablets for the department… $99 each at Factory Direct!  You could pick up a class set of twenty-four of these for about $2500, or about the cost of a single Macbook Pro… crazy.
What could you do with them?  Well, my grade 9 intro to computers class are doing a review of information technology.  We’re using to build shared notes for review.  What’s so good about shared notes?  You can’t trust them, so instead of reading something and blindly accepting it, students are reading it critically because their peer might have done it wrong; a much better review process.
wikispace live assessment/engagement tool
If you get a wikispace up and running check out the assessment button in the top right corner – it shows you a live feed of student activity on the wiki.  I threw this on the projector and it turned into a race to see who could get the most material down (the engagement graph updates every ten seconds or so, so it’s almost live).
I set up the tablets with their own gmail and then linked a dropboxaccount to it.  As students take pictures and make video using the tablet it is automatically shared to the dropbox account, so they can pull the media out of the cloud and include it in their wiki-pages easily.  Automating this process is fairly easy, and means that only seconds after taking a photo with the tablet, students are able to easily access it online for use.
Every android tablet I get now can be signed in to that single gmail address and then auto-linked to a shared dropbox account.  Any media generated from the tablets is immediately available online.
The rules for the wiki were specific:  all notes had to be in your own words.  Students got acknowledged for:
  • media: using original photos and video to explain their focus
  • media: using the snip tool in Windows 7 to snip screen shots of various parts of our etext
  • content: explaining their focus in their own words
  • links: to other material online that support understanding of their focus (all links had to include an explanation of the site and why it was useful.
The benefits are many.  Students get to use a new device and recognize its uses in a learning context – this often led to more effective use of their own devices.  A number of them have since set up their own dropbox backups on their own devices.  Because media is easy to create and access students are able to focus on the material at hand instead of worrying about their spelling and grammar in a google doc.
Being open Android tablets, the apps available are many, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what they could do.  Next semester in introduction to coding I’m thinking we’ll use them to run the flash games we design and build.
TEJ wikispace: students learning about information technology through an etext shared on UGcloud.
Notes are created in wikispaces and dropbox is used to quickly and automatically share student-made media.
All told this set up uses three cloud services (ugcloud, wikispaces and dropbox) and some open, accessible and shockingly cheap mobile tablets to offer students a media rich way to tackle note taking.  If we can set up a fluid, information sharing environment like this now, imagine where we’ll be in five years.