Friday, May 27, 2011

Google Docs

                As I sit thinking about education, online courses, and location, I wonder about the “make up” of online classes. Who is enrolled? Where are the learners located?  How old are they? What cultural values do they have? What languages do they speak?  How will the instructor facilitate learning with an online course consisting of diverse students from all over the world? What kind of “work” can students do collaboratively? What are the parameters for collaborative work? So many questions enter my mind. However, I do not have time to write a novel (at least not yet).  Therefore, I will focus on one problem and hopefully provide some insight in how to solve the problem. Perhaps, once you are done reading, it will make you reflect and think about how you would solve this problem. Would you offer other solutions different from mine? If so, please comment and let me know what you would do and how it would effectively address the problem. I look forward to hearing your solutions…

For many adult learners like you, online courses are a necessity if you want to continue in your educational studies or stay up-to-date in your field of practice.  As part of your studies, collaborative group projects are part of the required tasks and grade. However, with your peers possibly being from all areas of the world, you might wonder how a group could collaborate and complete a group project states or countries apart? What are the implications of collaborating online with partners from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and/or experiences when the face-to-face aspect isn't feasible?

Educational Technology to Address Issue:

          One way you can address this collaboration problem is to use Google Docs with your partners that are scattered worldwide. Have you ever heard of Google Docs?  What do you know about it? Google Docs is an e-tool that will help you collaborate, construct/create, discuss, comment, and provide feedback on new material for your group project without having to leave home. The only necessities you would need would be to have a gmail account, which is free to setup, and a device with internet access and a keypad. To learn more, click HERE.
 Learning Theories that support GoogleDocs as a valid e-tool for collaborative projects:

         You may or may not realize that Google Docs can be validated and supported by several learning theories. Reflective practice, andragogy, and constructivism are learning theories in which Google Docs can defend. In terms of reflective practice, Google Docs allows you to continuously edit, contemplate, and review your work and others within the group. Saved versions of the group’s work allows you and other group members to retrace your steps in the collaborative process. This can lead to reflection and analysis of the work. The chat box provides an opportunity for you and others within the group to ask questions and to ask for explanations/clarifications as to why a member did or wrote something a certain way.  From there, this leads to personal reflection, analysis and critical thinking of your work, others’ work, and what could have been differently to achieve different outcomes for your group project.
In a different light, your culturally diverse group might lead to more "formal" discussions. Statements and responses will have to be interpreted and reflected upon due to the lack of facial expressions providing visual clues as to how to “read” the meaning. In addition, language or cultural barriers will promote reflection on the collaborative process-what you think went well, what didn't, and what to improve.
        Through the lens of Andragogy, Google Docs allows you to bring your life experiences to the collaborative work space. The collaborative project will reflect your life experiences in your contribution to the project.  The end product will each have everyone’s personal spin on it that will make the project unique. Personal connections, emotions, motivation, and your backgrounds will play a large role in the semantics and creation of the collaborative project. High movitation and personal connections can leads to increased work and understanding. Emotions displayed by you or others can be a positive or negative influence in discussions and the final project. Cultural differences will also play a role in how one uses google docs’ features. (Will you be formal/informal in your collaborative approach? Will certain tasks/options be unfamiliar due to your cultural background?)

           “Learn by doing” is put into practice, which is a part of constructivism/social constructivism. As more users spend time in Google docs, the more familiar and elaborate the functions, use, and end product will be. Watching and seeing other group members use different tasks and elements within Google docs (in real time) will help the individual learn new ways to use this e-tool and make the project more effective and successful. You can also learn more about the content of the project through your interactions with others within the group. Going beyond the project itself, interactions on Google Docs with the others in the group will influence your learning in one form or another.

Cultural, Social, and Personal Values that Will Impact Google Docs and Its Use
                   Going beyond what Google Docs is and how it is useful to solving the learning problem, the users-you and your collaborative team/project members, are an important aspect to keep in mind. You and your peers can bring things to this collaborative platform that can be beneficial or harmful in the creative process.
                  While Google Docs is a valid and useful e-tool to solving your problem, there are benefits and drawbacks that are unique to each collaborative group. (Keep in mind that some of these benefits may also be a drawback depending on the individuals in your collaborative group.) One benefit of Google Docs is that it provides a platform for you to interact, share, and discuss with your (culturally-diverse) peers.  Questions, responses, comments, praise, and constructive criticism can be thought through, allowing for analysis and reflection, before posting. Cultural differences are important to keep in mind. The text chatting option allows time for you to “think before you speak.” Another benefit is that through the text chatting, work space, and comment options, your knowledge that you have gained through life experiences springs into the collaboration process. Your expertise in a certain area can shine through the text you create. In addition, you don’t have to be “tech savvy” in order to collaborate and use Google Docs. This can be motivating and freeing to those who aren’t familiar with Google Docs.  Motivation can also be a benefit due to the fact that your peers’ work is shown in real-time. To see work being completed and discussions flow through the text chats, can be visually moving and motivating for you. Last, emotion can play a big role in how you interact, collaborate, and create. Emotions can be beneficial as it can drive you to do your best and can help with being sincere, up-front, and honest with your peers.
                  In the same respect, emotions can also be a drawback and prevent motivation or cooperation, depending on the content and the person. It is also easy to forget that your peers are culturally different than you and may take things personally, or in a different context than what you actually mean.  This may lead to problems within your collaborative group. Language may be another barrier or drawback.  How are you to interact online with a peer that isn’t fluent in your native language? This can lead to confusion, a breakdown in understanding, and prevent the creative process from being effective. Another drawback could be that one or several within the group could have technical difficulties, which in turn, can lead to problems with collaborating, creating and/or finishing the project.  All of these benefits and drawbacks don’t necessarily have to do with Google Docs, but they are valid points to bring up as it may lead to positive or negative perceptions of Google Docs.
What Can Make Google Docs Better? 
                    For the ultimate collaborative experience within Google Docs, there are few things that could be added to its structure and design. Adding a feature for microphones and video would be great for the times when everyone is working synchronously. This could take place on the side, where the chat box is located. Hearing a group member’s voice and seeing his/her face while he/she talks will help you interpret what that person is trying to get across. This setup is more realistic and resembles face-to-face conversations. The guesswork of trying to interpret what your group members are saying will be much less complicated with voice intonation/inflections being heard and facial expressions being seen. Ideally, a language text interpreter within Google Docs could make the collaborative process even easier so that members within a group would not have to worry about typing their thoughts in an unfamiliar language- Google Docs would translate it for you. Default settings could be established to ascertain what language is preferred. Obviously, this would not work with the video or voice suggestion intact.
          Overall, Google Docs can help solve collaborative projects when members of your group are scattered geographically across the globe. Members of your group can meet on this online collaborative tool to construct unique projects, presentations, forms, drawings, and spreadsheets. In addition to creating new projects, the text chatting options, user-friendliness of the tool, and real-time visuals make this an excellent tool to work with your peers and fostering an effective platform for discussions. There are pros and cons with using Google Docs that may lie within the social constructs of the collaborative group and not with Google Docs itself. Additions to Google Docs could make this collaborative tool even better if microphones, cameras, and language interpreters would be established. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Internet Safety

After reading a classmate's blog about how her child's teacher passed out a pamphlet on a parental guide to internet safety,(Net Cetera), it has got me thinking about the subject and how I can help my students use the internet safely at school and at home.  (Not only did my classmate mention Net Cetera, I also found in my reading, that Vicki Davis (coolcatteacher) posted a link about teen internet safety.) 

I have always encouraged my students to discuss what they do on the internet. We talk about different websites, and through the smartboard, I share with them some sites I think they will like and be educational.  We discuss internet safety and the dos and do nots.  Even though my students are 6 and 7, I know that internet safety is important and they need to start hearing and following the rules now. Hopefully, by the time they are a little older, they will not be swayed into bad habits or be put in danger.

Today, I was at Borders, and found myself browsing through their collection of Berenstein Bears books (my childhood favorite series books).   As I was perusing, I found a newer title:  The Berenstein Bears' Computer Trouble.  It even included internet safety rules and a story about how computers can be "addicting."  It sends the message that even though computers are helpful, they shouldn't run your life. Spending time with family, friends, and being outside is important for your health and relationships. 

It is refreshing to know that there are now story books that can help young children learn about computers, internet safety, and about keeping a healthy balance of computers and free time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Twitter Here I Come...

This past Tuesday, I was told by my EPSY 556 instructor that I should definitely try out Twitter.  I have been procrastinating and holding out on Twitter for a couple years now. My fear was that I would just not care what people "tweeted".  I didn't want to waste my time on reading about where people were at, what they were doing, eating, etcetera, etcetera.  After listening to my classmates and instructor discuss about the information they receive from Twitter concerning education, technology, and the benefits to students, I have decided to give Twitter a chance. Before Tuesday, I had heard of several benefits for high school educators and Twitter, but I have never put much thought into how I could use Twitter to an early elementary teacher. 

Today I signed up, found 10 accounts to follow, and voile, done! My goal for using Twitter is to find useful and prevalent information from the people/groups/businesses I follow to help me as an educator. My plan is actively use Twitter for a month. Once my month is up, I will then re-evaluate to see if using Twitter has been worthwhile for me. These are the accounts I am following:

As I was searching, I found Deadliest Catch's Mike Fourtner and Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe. I love watching these two shows, but I resisted following them. I can easily see myself getting caught into celebrity tweets. Ugh!  PLEASE let me know if you follow or know of any other Twitter accounts that I may find useful, in regards to elementary education and technology. Help the newbie!!! I truly would like to find good resources that will make spending my time worthwhile and useful.  Thanks for your help.  :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Little Bird Tales

As a first grade teacher, I try to have my students read and write as much as possible. I just wrapped up a big writing unit on fiction stories. Each student was asked to pick a picture from a variety of choices. From the picture of their choosing, we worked on identifying story elements, the importance of each element, and from there built a fiction story. This process took weeks to complete. Yesterday, 1B "published" their stories and shared them with the whole class.  To know that 6 and 7 year olds created lengthy stories that had "meat", "substance," and depth was a big success in my book. However, the technology portion was missing from this unit and that bothered me. (Now and in the future, most students are and will be creating new content on the web. This is something I feel students in my first grade class should get  familiar and comfortable with.)

In EPSY 556, someone mentioned "Little Bird Tales."(  I hadn't heard of it before and it made me curious to find out more.  I must confess that I did a little happy dance to find out that my students would definitely be motivated and excited to try out this story building website.  I have all of the technology available at school and/or home to help make creating new content on the web a reality in my classroom!  This is something that I believe my students can comprehend and just dig in with once I have shown them how to use the "mechanics" of the website through my Smartboard.  I am very excited to get started using this website in my classroom.  Most of all, I would love any suggestions, tips, and advice if you have used this website before to help or guide me in this new "story building" journey.  

I will post more as I try this out in the next weeks to let you know how it goes.  :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Milestone #3- Prezi Presentation

For milestone #3, I chose to do a Prezi presentation on making inferences. I plan to use this lesson in my first grade class.(FYI- The brainpop video can only be used if you have a subscription. I have one but am not at liberty to share log-in info.If you want to see the video, you will have to sign up for a free subcription.) In first grade, my students learn about good reading comprehension strategies. Readers need to be active thinkers and use good comprehension strategies to understand what they are reading. As readers, one comprehension strategy we use and might not realize we use, is inferring. We use our background knowledge AND clues to help us figure out what something is, means, or what is happening in a text, picture, or song.  I feel that inferring will still be a good strategy for every reader to learn as we become more dependent on technology.

Prezi offers its users an unique opportunity to share their knowledge on a subject in an interesting way.  The creator of a Prezi does not have to be present in order for someone else to view, edit, and/or glean information from it.  It is a presentation tool that allows the creator to use a variety of multimedia to effectively present their information.  The nice thing about Prezi is that it doesn't use slides.  The user is provided a blank canvas to work on. Text is entered. Pictures and/or videos are added.  Frames and themes are put in place.  Finally, a path to follow through the presentation is laid out.  Users of the Prezi can follow the path provided, but can also see the full map (the "big picture"), as well.  

When it comes to learning spaces, Prezi can be a valuable tool.  It can help students learn new material without having to have someone face-to-face to "teach" it.  Prezi can also be used as a collaboration tool for students.  A group of students can collectively work on a presentation from various settings without having to ever be in the same place at the same time. The learning space with Prezi could be global!

As for other resources, such as DimDim, Jing, and Slide Rocket, these, too, can transform learning spaces.  Slide Rocket and Prezi are online presentation tools. These resources enable anyone, especially educators, to share information without having to be "present". The audience receives the information at their time of choosing, therefore, allowing learning to take place at all hours of the day and anywhere there is an internet connection.  DimDim allows the learning space to take place wherever 2 or more individual are at.  It is a video-conferencing tool that allows people to meet, interact, discuss, and collaborate.  The learning space using dimdim is now international. Users conferencing could be from different countries or continents. Jing, a screen capture tool, can help students who are learning and/or collaborating online. It can help students show others how to use or navigate new sites or help with troubleshooting and problem-solving (on or offline.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Milestone #2

For milestone #2, I chose Glogster as my web 2.0 tool.  As a teacher, I have noticed that most students love to "show off" what they know and have learned.  As I was exploring what Web 2.0 tool to use, I thought, "What better way to have students show off their knowledge than to use Glogster- an interactive multimedia poster?" Glogster is my "tool of choice" to show others what students might use for future classroom projects.

For my sample project, I created a multimedia shape poster. One of the many math units that I teach for first grade is shapes.  Students are required to recognize and name shapes, along with, knowing each shape's characteristics/attributes.  I thought a hands-on, student-centered project would be the best way for students to learn about shapes.  Students would have to take pictures of shapes found in their environment, upload them to glogster, and use them in their glog.  They would also be required to make a video using a webcam or their digital camera to reflect on the project or identify shapes they find in their environment. In addition to pictures and videos, students would also be required to describe/define each shape in their own words.  Students can also link other websites pertaining to shapes that they found on the web, too.  Glogster allows students to create a unique, multimedia poster that not only shares information they have learned, but also a bit of their personality. 

This project puts learning on the students. They are required to seek out and apply their learning. This type of project can benefit students because 1-they are in charge of the content. 2-They can create a unique piece of information using a variety of tools that enhances their technological learning and math skills.  I would assess this project by looking at the content they provide- did the student include all the shapes? Did the student provide ample examples of each shape through video or pictures?  Did the student identify the "key" elements that define each shape?  Another aspect of the assessment would be to check and see if the student was capable of uploading digi pics/ videos, create links, and have a quality aesthetic look to their glog and not just "thrown" together.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ESPY 556 - Week 1

Some exciting things to note from 2010-Jan. 2011- I am now over halfway through the CTER program! The master's degree is getting closer to reality! Woohoo! I am still teaching at Unity East in Philo, IL. However, I have moved from teaching second grade to first grade. The switch to first grade has been fun and challenging. The stress of figuring out the curriculum and "what the heck I am doing" is the not-so-fun part. I look forward to next year when I will feel more comfortable with the grade level as a whole.

It has been a year of many “firsts” for me- new grade level, teaching with autistic students, a new smartboard, and a much bigger class size. This year I have 25 students! (This seems like a lot to me, but I am sure there are others that think this is a perfectly normal class size. Usually our class sizes are 18-19 students/classroom.) I have a good class of 6 and 7 year olds. The most enjoyable thing about first grade is that most of my students are independent, amazingly sweet, and still innocent!

I have to mention that this past month I received a Smartboard for my classroom! There are only 3 in my building and I was lucky enough to get one! (I believe that being in CTER helped make this happen. Some of you are probably thinking that Smartboards have been around quite a while, but my district is a little slow on staying “up-to-date” with technology.) Within a week, I have seen many positive changes in my classroom. First of all, the class is more engaged in the lessons and eager to participate. I can see it in their eyes and their input in discussions that they are getting much more out of the lessons I have been teaching. Second, it is requiring me to get create challenging lessons using a variety of multimedia with the Smartboard everyday!

Alright, this is enough about me and my woes and excitements. Now, to reflect on the readings from week 1 of EPSY 556…
Being a first grade teacher, I use a lot of hands-on experiences and manipulatives to teach the curriculum. However, most of my students use computers, internet, video games, DSIs, and ipods at home. I am amazed at how much they know about using these kinds of technologies when I ask them about it during class. When using my Smartboard, I oftentimes explain shortcuts or other neat things that I think they should or would like to know. More often than not, at least 5 or 6 of my students say they already knew that! When I am not using my Smartboard or in the computer lab with the students, the lack of motivation and focus from my students is disheartening. I know their little bodies can’t sit still for long amounts of time, but at the same time, I know the lack of “visual stimulation” is a factor in their inattentiveness, too.

With my students being so young, I am enthralled at how much their minds absorb! They are fully capable of doing so much more than what I have available for them. Conceivably, the lack of resources and/or visual stimulation that they are so quickly becoming accustomed to at home is holding them back at school. It is frustrating knowing that my school lacks the resources and technology that is prevalent in many students’ home lives. Not to mention the fact that many things students use at home are not permissible in school, even if they are quality tools for learning.

With all this being said, I can see many things changing in education by 2025. With society using web 2.0 tools, I can see handwriting going out the window completely. Everything will be electronic. Students will collaborate, create, discuss, and produce works of learning through these electronic devices. Students around the world will be connected and work together. This will be commonplace. Virtual realities, e-trips, simulations, maybe even teleporting to different places around the globe for on-site learning, will all be a part of one’s learning experience.

The curriculum and how it is taught will need to have a major overhaul, as well. With new vocabulary, e-tools, electronic gadgets, inventions, etc. being added to society daily, the curriculum standards, scope and sequence, along with assessments, will need to be addressed frequently. If this doesn’t happen, then how are students across the nation expected to be ready for society’s ever-changing demands? Will there be a wiki in which all of society's members (or education members) contribute to the goals and standards for our students? More so, will this be an effective way for society and education to work together on realistic standards for students? I would like to think so.

Now, let's consider the infrastructure of our schools today. Many schools are not built or wired to handle the amount of technology that other corporations and organizations already have at their fingertips. However, even if every school was equipped with state-of the-art technology, it would be outdated in a blink of an eye. The problem I see education/schools facing is this: how do they stay updated on the technology/tools that are out there and being used by the masses without going into extreme debt? Will we even need school buildings in 2025?

In 2025, it is very likely that I will not have a classroom. School buildings went by the wayside when they couldn’t compete with technology standards and constant upgrades. Students will attend class through their computers at home. We will have virtual classrooms in which we all interact and collaborate with avatars. Video, internet, search engines, web cams, and so much more, will be at our fingertips without ever leaving home. If we did have to meet face to face, then we would not be limited to a classroom, but free to meet where learning would be best suited.

Instead of teaching a class of 25 students in 2025, teachers are now more of a guide or facilitator of learning. In a way, they are a guidance counselor, offering help and advice when students need it. Teachers will monitor students’ interactions, their work, and oversee group collaborations and projects, but students will ultimately be in charge of their learning. All students will work at his/her own pace. Classmates could be of different ages, but intellectually equal. The confines of a classroom are no longer an issue, either. There is no limit to where students can go or what students are able to do or create.

My hope is that one day; every teacher will have the accessibility, capability, and knowledge to use the technological tools that are prevalent in society and businesses. Also, to use these tools to teach students how to be successful - no matter what their dream may be. My fear is that education will still be years behind society norms. However, I do know that it only takes one to bring about change. In this tech era, it doesn't take long for people to step into the bandwagon.