Thursday, November 20, 2014

Plickers: The Free Clicker App (with almost no tech)

Collecting formative info from your students is something that I am a big fan of. One way to do that is to use a clicker system. For those who don't know, those are electronic devices that allow students to answer a multiple choice question (some brands allow for some limited open response) by entering their choice via an electronic remote. There are several brands (Smart Response, eInstruction etc) but these systems often are expensive and require a lot of software set up. Another alternative is to get an app that students use on their own device to answer with (Poll Everywhere, Socrative etc). These apps are often free and have a lot of the same features as the electronic ones but it requires students to have a device of some kind (either provided by you or their own).

Plickers negates almost all of those problems. I first heard about Plickers from a blog I follow called I Speak Math. That was a few weeks ago. Last week I was at the STAO conference and @Ryan_PSmith used them in a session and I was hooked. Plickers in a nutshell gives each student a unique marker card. To poll your class, ask a multiple choice question and the students hold up their card in response. You then scan the room using the app on your phone (this is the only technology needed) and the app registers what your students chose. The image on the card is a square and depending on how they orientate their card, students can choose any of the four options.

So I quickly made a set of these and tried them out today (thanks to Mark Esping for letting me take over his class for 15 min). The Plicker website has several options for you to choose from for the cards. They come in 40 or 63 card sets in various sizes (if you had a big room you might need a larger sized card). So I chose the set of 40 with the large font (I have just now found out why the font size is important. You want it big enough for students to see but not so big that another student can see others). I also created a backside for each card so that a student would just have to look at the back of their card to know which way to orientate it (thanks to Mark Esping for helping with this). You can download that file here (docx, pdf) and then print it on the back side of the Plicker cards (note that it is matched to the large font set of 40 - the letters are random too). This backside is not necessary though.

Some issues with my first try:
  • Note that in my first set (see image) I made the back side font big so it would be easy for students to see their letter not thinking that it would also be easy for the person behind to see the letter too. So the file I have uploaded above has much smaller fonts. 
  • I also made the mistake of laminating the cards. That was bad because of the glare from the lights on each card. 
  • I made mine smaller so that I could carry them around from class to class in the different schools I go to but if the student holds onto the card in such a way to cover part of the marker, then it won't read. So if I were you I would just cut each sheet in half so the cards are big when you separate each card.
Once you decide to use these you have to create an account on the Plicker site (yes, yes, another account) and create your class. As you are using the Plickers, if you have the website up you can get live results as students answer. You have to create each question but if you already have a set of MC questions that you use, you can just create dummy place holder questions (ie you don't have to even put anything in the spot for the answer choices). When you are actually using the Plickers you can click on the Live View link to see the data come in in real time. And note that if you scan the class and then rescan it and the student changes their orientation then it will change in your data.

So give Plickers a shot and let us know if you did and how it went in the comments. The app is available for both iOS and Android.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Any Pen Pal Fans Out There?

Mystery Calls Classroom Activity:  

Connect with another classroom and try and guess where they are??  Could be local, could be anywhere! 

http://www.infinitethinking.org/

Looking for a way to engage students, learn about the world, and practice the 4 C's? Try Mystery Calls, where two classrooms meet via Skype or Hangout and try to guess where each other is located. Learn about how every student can get involved in this episode.





If there is interest and you are looking for some support on this activity feel free to contact Doug Sadler.  We could even setup out own Community for LOCAL Mystery Calls to get started.  The sky is the limit WECDSB.

Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.

For more great ideas visit:

http://www.infinitethinking.org/


Monday, October 27, 2014

CANDIDATE FOR SUCCESS

This panoramic image showcases individual masks created by the Grade 8s at OLPH
For her first placement, University of Windsor Teacher Candidate Felicia DeMarco taught Grade 8 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Elementary School. Her associate was Ross Sisco, who uses MyTools2Go* and the Provincial Learning Management System (LMS) extensively with his class. At the school, Ross and his students have regular access to Chromebooks and a computer lab. Felicia was added as a teacher in the LMS and was issued a MyTools2Go account. She quickly embraced this access by posting class announcements, adding content, and creating electronic dropboxes. Felicia even assessed student work on line using the Rubric tool in the LMS. Felicia encouraged and modelled the use of MyTools2Go with the students, using Google Forms to create a formative assessment and using an extension to automatically grade the assignment.

The learning environment in Mr. Sisco's classroom is a wonderful blend of face-to-face learning and seemingly unlimited access to current information and multimedia. The teachers, both Felicia and Ross, along with an Educational Assistant, are co-learners in the digital learning space provided with MyTools2Go and the LMS.  Felicia gained some valuable experience in her first placement, but most importantly, the Grade 8s at OLPH had a wonderful opportunity to refine their skills as 21st Century Learners. 

* MyTools2Go is the WECDSB's version of Google Apps for Education

This panoramic image showcases individual masks created by the Grade 8s at OLPH

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Let Your Phone do Your Math Homework

So I have waited for the dust to settle on this one a bit before I make a formal comment but the current buzz is about this new math app called Photomath. Take a look

Yup, this app will look at your math problem, interpret it, solve it, then show you the steps. The concept is pretty impressive. In practice though it still needs work. It doesn't work on all types of problems (I tried trig and solving a quadratic but neither worked) and you have to be able to isolate the problem you want to solve in the window but for the most part it does ok once it recognizes the problem you want the answer for.
That being said, I tried it out with these four problems. You can see in the video below that some work great and others not so well. Usually though, if the answer is wrong, that means it has misinterpreted the question (ie the character recognition did not properly see the question). And character recognition is tough and doubly tough when it is dealing with math formatting. So I can cut them some slack there. That being said, I do have an issue when the question is interpreted correctly and then the math to solve it is done wrong. That is what happens with the last question. Now granted it is a complex question but with the right algorithm, a computer should be able to solve this without a problem. But watch what the app does in this case:

So the app is not quite ready for prime time yet but apparently since it's release a couple of weeks ago has amassed over 2 million downloads. So clearly there is perceived a need here but there are a couple of things to mention.
  1. if indeed this thing gets cleaned up and works then that means that math teachers will really have to rethink what it means to give homework. I am not saying that they should stop giving it or kids shouldn't practice but clearly if you give a kid a bunch of fraction problems to do at home and all they do is use the app then that could be problematic. 
  2. it is actually possible for kids to learn by seeing the patterns of many solutions done in front of them. So theoretically a student could use the app to "teach" the solution process and then move out on their own only using the app for checking. 
Now there has been a lot of discussion on the implications on the net and I think for the most part there is a large faction of teachers that are good with this since it now makes the math we give to students have to be more challenging and interesting (not that we need the app for that). There was a good discussion on Dan Meyer's blog that brought out a lot of ideas. Dan even tweeted out some of my screenshots and these even got featured in a NY Daily News article that he was interviewed for.
The general gist here is that the sky is not falling. Technology will continue to change the way we do things in class. And there are even many ways that this app can actually be used by teachers right now. For example, have students check if the app gets the correct answer. But consider this "shots fired" over the bow of those teachers who think that giving worksheet after worksheet is a great way to for kids to learn math and that just showing example after example of sample solutions is a great way to teach it. For those teachers, clearly they could be replaced by an app. That's not good. It should be a wake up call that we have to be giving something more value added than that in the classroom or we will be replaced by an app.

Now of course the real controversy is that the app was ripped off from the Big Bang Theory :-)
UPDATE (Nov. 13, 2014) - There has been an update to the app and it seems that the math is better. I ran it through the same problem that it stumbled upon above and it was able to solve it (and the mathematical form was better). So I hope they keep up and continue to refine it. You can see at the right that on the step that it stumbled prior (see above video), it now does fine (and then eventually, 7 steps later, gets the correct answer of -45)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Google will soon offer UNLIMITED Space on Google Drive

Google is living up to it's slogan "Keep everything"  TheVerge.com reports that soon GAFE users will have unlimited file space in Google Drive and allow storage of files up to 5TB in size.  The WECDSB offers all staff and students a GAFE account in the form of MyTools2Go.

We will let you know when it happens.  Special thanks to Dr. Brode for submitting this information to us!

Remind - Stay Connected with Parents with Ease

Remind - Stay Connected with Parents and Students with Ease

Remind (formerly Remind 101) is not new but is taking American Teachers by storm!  Remind has become the number one choice by teachers in the US to communicate with parents.


Teachers can send messages such as homework and test prep reminders, notes of encouragement or congratulations, photographs depicting an activity that the class engaged in that day, quick surveys about a recent school activity or assignment, and weather or venue updates. Remind even has an easy to use app for both iOS and Android.

Setup is very easy and available in TEXT and EMAIL formats.  ONE WAY COMMUNICATION.  Remind also falls in line with the Canadian Legislation on Anti-Spam as REMIND works on a Opt In model which requires Students and Parents to choose to accept the messages AND gives them a vehicle to STOP the messages.

Below is an example of a handout generated for you that could go home with your students.  I received one these on the 1st day of school and as you might have guessed I loved it. Way to go Mr. Hooper.  You can opt in using a Number through texting, the QR code, and email.

Texting is the New Email:

Texts are what people read.  Spam and access have caused Email to become less efficient.

6 Billion Phones VS 3.6 Billion Email Accounts

http://www.textmarketer.co.uk/blog/2013/09/sms-marketing-ideas/mobile-vs-email-statistics-infographic/

This infographic displaying U.K. texting habits says it all:

  • Texts are read emails .... not so much
  • Most Parents will have a cell within arms reach.

http://www.textmarketer.co.uk/blog/2013/09/sms-marketing-ideas/mobile-vs-email-statistics-infographic/


Teachers:
  • updates on homework
  • class / school events
  • reminders - Picture Day
Coaches:
  • Practice Times
  • Game changes such as time and location
  • reminders about uniforms or other items needed
  • Uniform collection
  • Tournaments
Administrators:
  • efficient way to communicate with staff if they were interested
  • parent communication of school calendar and major dates
  • reminders of PD days / Picture Day / Fund Raisers

Remind is free to teachers.  Remind has a very easy to use interface and will allow for different class setups and groups.

Try it out!  If you are using REMIND we would love to hear from you.  Please comment on our blog.


WEC's Tool Shed is waiting for you!

The wheel has been invented!  The Proof is HERE:



The WECDSB is thriving on MyTools2Go! More and more innovative ideas to engage learners, streamline processes, and facilitate student collaboration are happening all over the board. These ideas are being generated by Teachers, EA's, and Support Staff!  WEC's Tool Shed is a PUBLIC Google+ Community you are welcome to Join or just take a look at.  Feel free to POST questions, comments or even better YOUR ideas or use of technology.  This is for any use of technology and not exclusive to Google or MyTools2Go.

How can I get involved?

Login to your MyTools2Go account and then access WEC'S TOOL SHED (Click Link) . You can then JOIN the community from there.

Hope to see you there soon!


Education Technology Self Directed PD Opportunity!


 edcampswo will host  planned “workshops” as well as our edcampSWO style participant driven learning sessions.  edcampswo will continue to provide this event FREE to all participants. 

Top 10 reasons to attend (by Aaron Akune):

1. You are a student, parent, educator or someone who is passionate about education.

2. Hierarchies do not exist at an Edcamp. Regardless of his or her perspective, each participant’s ideas and contributions are equally respected.

3. You are interested in learning about and sharing innovative ideas and practices in education.

4. You’d like to ask a question, share your learning or initiate discussion about a particular topic related to education.

5. You enjoy professional learning and want to broaden/deepen your perspectives about education.

6. You propose, vote for and attend session topics that you are most interested in.

7. You enjoy talking with others who are passionate about education, most of whom you don’t regularly interact with or may have never met before.

8. You enjoy connecting with other participants through the use of social media.

9. You enjoy participating in pro-d experiences. There are no stand and deliver lecture presentations.

10. Edcamps strive to be free for all participants.

Since 2012 edecampswo has brought together hundreds of people from multiple school boards in southern Ontario. Participants range from students to educators to administrators to parents. All are welcome.

This information as been clipped from the edcampswo website. 

 http://brianaspinall.wix.com/edcampswo

Sunday, June 1, 2014

STUDENTS BECOME TEACHERS AT NOTRE DAME ELEMENTARY

On Monday, May 5th, during Catholic Education Week, the students of Notre Dame Catholic Elementary School got to be the teachers for the day... well, for an hour anyway!
Superintendent of Education Emelda Byrne used MyTools2Go created a Google Slideshow about visiting New York City, with the assistance of Grade 3 students Ben and Alessia. Her 'student teachers' helped her add some images about places to visit, like the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. Using a Chromebook, Mrs. Byrne even added a YouTube video about shopping in the Big Apple.
Parents and Guardians were invited to sign up for STUDENT LED WORKSHOPS where they became the students and participated in the learning process. Mrs. J. Ouellette, Principal of Notre Dame,  created a Google Form for Parents/Guardians to SIGN UP FOR WORKSHOPS.

1. PRIMARY LITERACY STATIONS with Mrs. Ginnasio's Class. Our Grade One students will teach you how to Make Connections, Visualize, Find the Main Idea of a Story, Make Predictions, and Find the Beginning, Middle, and End of a story.
2. PRIMARY LITERACY with Mrs. Evon's Grade 3 Class as they teach you how to do Shared Reading and Read Aloud.
3. JUNIOR LITERACY with Mrs. Stamatiadis's Grade 5 Class as they teach you how to do Guided Reading, Word Work, Read to Someone, and Work on Writing.
4. K PALS with Ms. McKeeve and students from Mrs. DeMarco's class. Our JK/SK students will be your partner and teach you how to do PALS.
5. Gr. 1 PALS with Mrs. Mele-Kaschalk, Ms. Nadalin and her students. Our Grade 1 students will be your partner and teach you how to do PALS.
6. BITSTRIPS on the Computers with Mrs. Ciaramitaro, Mrs. Meyer and her students. Our Grade 2 students will teach you how to do 
Bitstrips on the computer.
7. PRESENTATIONS ON THE CHROMEBOOKS with Mrs. Andreozzi-Chorney's class. Our Grade 3 students will teach you how to make Presentations through "Mytools2go".
8. FORMS ON THE CHROMEBOOKS with Mrs. DeMarco, Mr. Tumak and his class.
Our Grade 4 students will teach you how to make
 Questionnaires and Forms through "MyTools2Go".
9. EXPLAIN EVERYTHING ON THE IPADS with Mr. Fanick, Mrs. Palamides and their classes. Our Grade 7 students will teach you how to use the
Explain Everything App on the iPads.
10. DRAMA with Mrs. Bonofiglio’s class. Grade 1/2 students will teach you how to do drama. Come prepared to move around and have fun.

Please take a look at some of the activities...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

WECDSB Integrated Technology Summit

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board is inviting proposals for presenters at our second annual INTEGRATED TECHNOLOGY SUMMIT.

Staff are invited to submit a proposal to present by no later than Monday, June 16th. Based on feedback from our original survey, we are looking for presenters in the following areas*:
* these are suggestions - staff are certainly invited to submit a proposal about
technology that does not fall into these categories
  • Getting to Know MyTools2Go  BEGINNER
  • MyTools2Go  ADVANCED
    • DOCUMENTS
    • PRESENTATIONS
    • FORMS
    • DRAWINGS
    • SITES
  • Google Drive BEGINNER
  • Managing your Classroom with MyTools2Go ADVANCED
  • Planning, Assessment, and Learning with MyTools2Go  ALL LEVELS
  • Getting to know the Provincial Learning Management System  BEGINNER
  • Getting to know the Provincial Learning Management System ADVANCED
  • iPads in the Classroom BEGINNER
  • iPads in the Classroom ADVANCED
  • APPS Showcase
  • Planning, Assessment, and Learning with Technology  ALL LEVELS
For more information, please contact:
Joe Sisco  - joesisco@mytools2go.ca

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Read&Write for Google


http://www.texthelp.com/media/184336/read_write_for_google_in_cloud_flyer.pdf


We are pleased to announce that every MyTools2Go user has be given Trial access to the Premium Features of Read&Write for Google from Texthelp.


Read&Write is a Chrome Extension which helps make Google Apps for Education more accessible to those with reading and writing difficulties, learning disabilities such as Dyslexia, or English Language Learners.

 See Read&Write in action.
 


Monday, May 5, 2014

Google DRIVE on the iPad gets an Upgrade!



It's about time!


Google is revamping your experience on the iPad!  It is about time as Google Drive is seriously lacking compared to Drive on other devices.  The app is actually moving to operate less like it does on a computer or Android device and more iOS like. 


Google Drive is being split into 3 different apps.  I would guess the Drive app will cease to exist once the changes are complete.  Google Docs and Google Sheets is available now and I suggest you upgrade right away.  Google Slides will be coming soon.  This will be particularly nice since you currently do not have editing ability on Google Drive.  You can only view Google Slides. Click on the links below to download from the Apps Store!




Google Sheets will allow for offline editing, sharing with others, sheet creation and more.



Google Docs is similar to Google Sheets as it too will allow for offline editing, sharing with others, document creation and more.




Both apps have added functionality and are a significant improvement over the Drive App.  These apps can be accessed using your own personal Gmail account or even better your MyTools2Go Account.


Friday, March 28, 2014

EdCampSWO

If you haven't heard of what an EdCamp is let me give you the 411. The EdCamp Unconference is becoming a happening all across North America. What is an unconference you ask? The general gyst is its a conference where the participants are also the presenters. That is, you come to the conference and if you feel like it you can put a topic you would like to discuss or present on up on the board and viola. pretty soon the board is filled with sessions with all kinds of topics ready to be attended.

Why do I bring this up, you might ask? Because its time for EdCampSWO. That is, an EdCamp here in South West Ontario. I think the first one that we had in our area was at the University of Windsor in October of 2012 (I think, I could be wrong) and the next one is April 12, 2014. Yep that's in two weeks.

This EdCamp is at Tilbury District High School and it goes from 8:30am to 4:00pm. With a special guest speaker, Doug Peterson, after lunch.

People are already talking about it and you should too. So if you are the kind of person that likes to share, then this conference is for you. If you are the kind of person that likes to be part of the leading edge of education then this conference is for you. Heck, if you are an educator then this conference is for you.

Check out the EdCampSWO website here. And register for the conference here.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who Needs Augmented Reality?

I have written about augmented reality (AR) before when I talked about the Layar app almost 2 years ago. I like Layar. Even though it is a glorified QR code, what you can do with Layar is take an everyday object and make it "clickable". That is pretty cool.

But I don't know if I would consider Layar real augmented reality. In real AR, when you look at an object through a device (iPad/iPhone camera, Google Glass etc) then it actually changes. So for example here is a neat app called Elements 4D that gives you templates of 6 different cubes each with 6 elements on them and when you create those cubes and view them through the app, you see directly the effects of AR. Take a look below.

So that is a pretty good app that really shows some possibilities with AR. A the very least in a "Wow" factor for students. That app was created by a company called Daqri and they have other AR apps like Anatomy 4D. Can you guess what that is about? In both the Elements 4D app and the Anatomy 4D app, you will need to download an image of a template to use in the app. The cubes for Elements can be generated from within the app and the body template is here for Anatomy.

Another chemistry based app is called Chemistry 101. This is made by a company called Zientia (when you go to their site you will note that it is entirely in Spanish. You can click on the English button if you don't want the challenge of reading in that language). Right now the Chemistry app is all they have but it is still pretty good (and they have more on the way). Take a look at the video below to see a brief view of how that app works.


Now these apps are pretty cool but my question is: "Are they needed?". That is, do they provide something that otherwise couldn't be done without the AR. I think in the case of the Elements 4D app, the answer might be yes. The fact that you can hold those cubes in your hand and rotate them to see different views of those elements is something that you may not be able to do in a real class (unless of course you actually had some real samples - which is not out of the realm of possibility)

With the Chemistry 101 app, I am not so sure the AR actually adds to the use of the app. I think most of the stuff that can be done in the app could be done with out the AR focus and still be effective. Don't get me wrong, I really love the testing feature in the app and think that is one of its great strengths. However, as I was using the app, it physically got tiring to continue to hold the iPad above the printouts to see the AR and quickly found that the AR was a novelty and not necessary for the actual function of the app. Maybe I am missing something but that's the way I saw it.

What's the lesson here? "you get what you pay for?" or "AR apps are cool". Maybe "not all AR apps are created equal". Either way, you have some interesting and different ways to introduce topics to students. So why do things the traditional way when instead you can do things the tra-digital way? See what I did there?

Are you using any of these AR apps in your classroom? Do you have some suggestions for good AR apps? If so, please tell us about it in the comment section.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Stop Using the ONTARIO EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE BANK


The Ontario Educational Resource Bank, OERB, provides Ontario students and teachers with thousands of resources from K-12, including entire course units, lessons, and interactive learning objects. The OERB has been integrated with the Provincial Learning Management System, or LMS. So, teachers and students may access these resources without having to login. Further, with this integration, e-Learning Ontario provides teachers with the links and embed codes that will bring students directly to any activity. This allows teachers to customize the way they use these resources to better meet their programming needs.

Learn more using the USING CONTENT FROM THE OERB GUIDE.

So, do not ever stop using the OERB, start using it with the LMS and direct your students to all of these great resources in a seamless, engaging way!

Friday, February 14, 2014

IWB in Your Pocket


  • Are you in need of an interactive white board (IWB) but don't have the $3000 to shell out to get one? 
  • Have you already got a data projector in your class and are looking for ways to enhance what you can do with it? 
  • Do you have a couple hundred dollars in your pocket and want to replace it with something else you can fit in your pocket? 
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions then I have the tech for you: A portable device that you can carry around in your bag that turns any surface into an IWB.

I found out about this product last December when I was at the RCAC conference and sat in on Chris Knight's breakout session on Increasing Student Interactivity. Now although I suspect Chris would say that IWBs aren't actually as good as people think when talking about promoting student interactivity (and I might agree), he did mention that a nice option to have IWB technology in your classrooms for a fraction of the cost was a new product created by IPEVO simply called an Interactive White Board System (though the mention of this was merely an aside in his session).

Now I have written about IPEVO before (I really like their portable document camera) so it doesn't come as a surprise to me that they have continued to put out inexpensive but reasonably well performing products. This IWB is no exception.

Keep in mind that certainly a $3000 Smartboard works better but for the money, this works great. I have tried it on a regular wall (ie painted surface) and directly onto a regular whiteboard and I prefer the whiteboard. Somehow the slight texture of the paint felt when moving the pen along the wall is off putting to me. But it works just fine and I was surprised at how precise the calibration is. It comes with its own software (see menu to the right) that allows you to annotate anything on screen with different pens and take screen shots of your work. It can also be fully integrated with the IPEVO P2V document camera.

Setting up the system is pretty easy. Once you have the projector set up and plugged into your computer, just place the IR receiver so it is facing the screen and then follow the two step calibration procedure. For an idea of what that might entail, watch the brief video below.

If you are interested in purchasing this product, in the US you can do so directly from IPEVO here. In Canada (to avoid high shipping and any duties or brokerage fees) you can get it from Merconnet here. Either way you should be around $200 with shipping and taxes.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How Readable is Your Text?

I was sifting through my many YouTube channel subscriptions and came across this video:

Now to be fair the video is about how we blindly just click "Accept" when we come upon those Terms & Conditions pages when signing up for things online and is a bit on the dry side. So I am not sure whether you want to spend the 10 minutes to watch it. One of the topics was about how complex the wording is in these documents and how that is a deterrent, right away, for most people to read them. So at about the 3 minute mark they talk a Google Chrome Plugin they developed called Literatin that would take the text of any web page (or any text you copy and paste into it) and give it a general rating that goes from Green Eggs & Ham (at the low end) and Frankenstein (at the high end).
Using the plugin is pretty easy. Once you install it on Chrome, you will see an icon appear on your toolbar. When on a web page, just click on the icon and it will read the text on the page and give a report. So for example, this blog page of text comes back equivalent to Harry Potter with an adult Literacy level of about 2. 

If you want to use text from a PDF or Word document, just copy it and past it into the plugin. So for example I took a reading passage from the 2013 OSSLT and it came back equivalent to Moby Dick with an adult reading level of 2 or above. Or I went back to the 2013 Grade 6 EQAO test and took a passage from it and it came back equivalent to Harry Potter with an adult reading level of 1. Finally I looked at the 2013 Grade 3 EQAO test and took a passage from it and it came back equivalent to Oh the Places You'll Go with an adult reading level of 1. 

Now I am not a literacy expert but I still think that this seems like a useful tool. If you found this tool useful (or not) it would be nice to hear from you in the comments. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why Should I Use a Learning Management System?


In my conversations lately with people in the teaching world (teachers, consultants, e-Learning Contacts, etc.), I am hearing the word 'container' used very often. The context is that teachers are embracing technology in all subject areas and are now using video, audio, presentations, images, etc., as part of all that they do.  The number of ‘presentations’ alone, being created by students, has skyrocketed recently because of access to online presentation tools and the ease of incorporating multimedia from the internet. Teachers need a 'container' to hold all of this stuff.



Pragmatically speaking, a learning management system (LMS) is needed to simply manage all of the digital content that is a large part of the learning in today’s classrooms. From a pedagogical perspective, the access to multimedia must be leveraged to promote critical thinking surrounding the abundant content available at our fingertips. Ideally, an LMS needs to provide the platform for teachers to make class announcements and post course content, as well as the ability to receive, assess, and provide descriptive feedback about student work. Also, a truly robust LMS would give teachers the ability to display exemplary student work, differentiate instruction and assessment, and inspire meaningful communication and collaboration, while seamlessly incorporating multimedia. All of this needs to be in a safe, secure, private environment that is available across all digital devices.

An LMS may be as simple as a classroom blog, online calendar, or a website. These tools are mainly used for pushing out content, but fall short in terms of two-way communication. Further, blogs, calendars, and websites are generally ‘public on the web’, so they may not address the unique needs of an individual classroom. Many teachers have embraced Google Apps for Education and are using the sharing capabilities to create their own learning management system. There are two major reasons I suggest not using Google Apps for Education as an LMS. First, teachers themselves need to do the back end work every semester or school year, with each of their classes, in terms of creating shared folders and creating contacts. Second, the sheer volume of files that will accumulate rapidly may become unmanageable and monitoring individual files will be very tedious, at best. There are numerous free learning management systems available to educators, and most offer key features that support curriculum delivery and assessment opportunities. Further, most of these virtual learning environments have developed a welcoming, engaging infrastructure for meaningful communication, collaboration, and social networking. One of the most inviting features of an LMS, from a pedagogical lens, is the use of release conditions to differentiate instruction and assessment. Teachers may release certain items to individuals, or groups of students, and establish different timelines for assessment items.

In summary, as students and teachers integrate increasingly more digital content into their learning, the need grows for learning environments that leverage the power of multimedia and seemingly unlimited access to knowledge. This environment must meet the unique needs of all key stakeholders in education. Teachers can use an LMS to supplement and enhance the learning in their face-to-face classroom environments. Students may access engaging course content anywhere, anytime. This just-in-time learning model empowers students to take charge of their own learning,  equipping them with tools for meaningful communication and collaboration, ultimately improving student achievement. Finally, the safety, security, and privacy inherent in a learning management system is essential to increase confidence in publicy-funded education, both in parents and school Board Administrators.