My #ITEC13 Reflection

After two days of waking early and making the trek to Des Moines from Waterloo, I find myself on #ITEC13 +1 having trouble sleeping in to my normal 6am and instead thinking about everything I learned over the last two days…at 4am mind you… So, rather than have an isolated reflection while futilely trying to go back to sleep, I might as well get up and share my thoughts, my ideas with anyone who may be interested, which brings me to my first major takeaway: As educators, we find ourselves constantly taking resources and ideas from the internet, but when was the last time we contributed?

Jeff Utecht was the keynote on day two and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few years now. So having the chance to hear him speak in person was amazing. There were a number of things that he brought up, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the need for educators to contribute to the larger community. How are we giving back to others who we don’t directly interact with? Certainly we give back in our classroom, schools, and local communities, but what about the larger community? How are we contributing to the advancement of the profession? More and more I find myself thinking about non-positional leadership and how we are advocating, leading, and working with others to advance meaningful change. Hearing Jeff talk about sharing with the larger community only served to reinforce this concept that each of us are leaders and do have opportunities to lead within our profession and beyond the classroom. For me, I’ve seemed to fallen off the larger community radar a little over the last year. Things get busy, I have small children and I have a pretty full schedule. Yet, given all of that, I still feel this nagging feeling that I’m not contributing enough. I’m not posting enough about what I’m doing or enough about some of the ridiculous ideas that I have that I want to start putting legs on. This wasn’t a major theme Jeff had, but it was an important theme, and has given me pause for reflection, as I hope it will do for each of you.

Sticking with Jeff a little longer, there were two other things that really stuck out for me. The first was the idea of a moonshot idea. As Jeff described it, a moonshot idea is an idea that seeks to change something that appears almost impossible. However, we strive to make that moonshot idea happen because we are bothered by it. We want it to happen and refuse to let it pass us by. The name moonshot comes from when JFK said we would put a man on the moon. No one knew how to do it, but we were going to do it anyway. There was a drive, a passion for making it happen. For me, moonshot ideas are what keep me going, keep me asking questions, and make me challenge those around me. Things bother me. Some more than others, but being bothered is what has kept me feeling like I can make change happen. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me is ineffective use of technologies in the classroom that is then highlighted as increasing achievement, learning, (insert term here) when in fact nothing has really changed. Scott McLeod had a session on this called Gratuitous Use of Technology (or something to that effect). While I missed the session, that really sums up what bothers me. It may be a far cry in comparison to putting a man on the moon, but nevertheless, it still matters, it’s still important, and it really bothers me.

The other thing that really stood out from Jeff’s keynote was the video of the young man doing a Rube Goldberg, at what appeared to be his house. This child, I think he was in fourth grade, but can’t really remember, creates this impressive Rube Goldberg machine and he makes a prediction about how many times his machine is going to succeed and how many times it will fail. I think it was a two to 14 ratio. As the video continues, it starts showing the trials. The first three are a bust and then on the fourth a success. What happens next is the best thing. This kid literally flips out. He is so excited that it worked on the fourth time when he predicted that if would fail “umpteen” times. I immediately thought, when was the last time we were this excited and willing to fail “umpteen” times? The mantra seems to be if we can’t do it it right the first time, we better not even try. I’d say this was a common theme I ran into throughout the conference. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what we do next is what matters. What’s worse is that we appear to be sending this signal to our students via standardized tests with all the focus on getting the right scores and the high stakes nature of the tests. Nothing in life, at least in my life, is as high stakes as those tests are for students and schools. They aren’t realistic and the emphasis we place on them as a nation, state, and local community truly bothers me. This certainly is a moonshot idea and it’s almost embarrassing that it is.

Other highlights from my conference experience:

  • Teaching students how to search is truly critical. We don’t live in a world where we can organize everything into nice little units. Our knowledge is too large, complex, and changes way to fast to keep up. Being able to sift is going to be much more important that sorting. I actually started this with my son last night. We started searching for orange juice and he loved it! (Henry’s four BTW)
  • Our knowledge has a half life of 18 months. This is interesting for me since the work I did for my doctorate in my first couple semesters is going to be outdated by the time I write my dissertation. Let’s not even go to textbooks…
  • Some key things when it comes to searching on Google: find the ads, the more links to a website means Google thinks it’s an authority, use the search tools to refine results, site: and filetype: are very useful for getting the resources you want, reading level is also helpful, and it is possible to search for dated materials, such as newspapers from the Korean War era (type Korean War, limit results to 1950-1955, and click on the news link in Google).
  • It’s easy to make info grams. Some resources: infogr.am, easel.ly, and piktochart.
  • Never underestimate the power of Twitter. The majority of my resources, including those from the previous bullet, came from Twitter. One person was at ITEC, but the other was in Oklahoma. Not to mention all the things I would have missed that were captured by others via the back channel #ITEC13
  • Speaking of Twitter, it still has a spam issue. I hadn’t really noticed it for a long time, but during the conference it was certainly present in the hashtag. But I did learn that you can filter your results. For me I used #ITEC13 -hidelink (Hidelink was what was spamming everyone). Thanks to @jamiefath for that one!
  • Kids are important and are missed when they are gone. But do we let them know that? My guess is not enough.
  • We are social creatures, yet school is typically the place where we can’t interact either with those literally sitting next to us or those in the larger community. If we want students to be engaged, let’s give them something to be engaged in.
  • There are a number of apps in iOS 7 that use location and notification services that really don’t need to. All that does is suck my battery life down and shares more than I really want. Check it out in settings and take back control!
  • There were three 8th graders at the conference (perhaps more, but I only saw three). It seems like more and more young people are showing up at conferences and I love it. Young people have a voice and they should let it be heard. As I was working on this post I saw Ian Coon tweet out something that appears to be a student bill of rights (I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but something generally like that) about what they want from their school and their educational experience. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to later today when I get to work. I don’t know if K12 students have to pay for ITEC, but they shouldn’t. These are the people we need to invite in, because above all, their voice counts, yet they are the most underrepresented group in education. We should be inviting them in so we can learn from them.
  • I met a number of people I follow on Twitter. Always a fun experience. I also had the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in a few years, even since high school.
  • Looking for more? Check out #ITEC13 and http://www.jeffutecht.com/itec

Finally, perhaps the best part of the conference were the conversations I had with my colleagues on the way to and from the conference. We were able to talk about more things in the two hour drive there and back than any number of meetings would have accomplished. This is on top of the interactions we had during the conference. For me, I was able to get a ton of feedback on my dissertation topic and some new directions to keep my work moving forward.

So all in all, I had a great conference experience. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay for all the afternoon sessions. Time is a scarce resource, but even with my mostly limited ITEC experience, I still feel I’ve been rejuvenated and am ready to keep on being bothered.

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One way to gauge student learning more frequently

I just posted about how doing a pretest/posttest assessment isn’t going to help students enrolled in a course now. So I thought I’d share one educational technology solution that nearly anyone can use in their courses. I’m going to make this post in the context of a large scale course with students number close to 300, but it is just as applicable in a smaller setting.

A simple solution for checking for understanding is having a quick out the door survey for students to complete about whatever about the lesson. How I would set this up would be to have a survey in Google Forms or Survey Monkey or even Poll Everywhere if you wanted, that was very short. I’d have two likert-type scale questions with the usual strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, etc. Here are my questions:

  1. I understand the topic of today’s lesson.
  2. I still have questions about the topic of today’s lesson.

Then I’d have one open-ended questions:

  1. Please list any questions you have about the topic of today’s lesson.

The KISS principle really comes into play here. Keep is quick, easy and to the point. There’s no need to have in depth surveys or other assessments for students to take if you are trying to make minor adjustments to your teaching so you are more effective and the students learn more.

Will this take time? Yes, it will take some time, but not that much and you really shouldn’t devote that much time to this unless there’s problem. The good thing about using these technologies is that there’s a built-in analytic tool that makes analyzing that much data really easy.

Does this mean I shouldn’t do a pretest/posttest? No, still do that. It’s data and it can help you improve over time. Just don’t base all your decisions on those data points. That’d be like making major decisions on student standardized test scores…oh, right…can’t win ’em all…

My QR Code Checkout System

QR Code Checkout System

With all the camcorders we are sending out with our UNI students it is going to be important to keep track of who has the equipment and when it comes and goes.  I ended up not having time to do this for the first round of TQP field experiences that took place a few weeks ago, but now that everything made it back I decided I better come up with some kind of solution before we add 6 more courses next semester and 12 more faculty next year.

So what I decided to do was to use a QR Code connected to a Google Form, which serves as my chechout/in system for all our equipment.  So what essentially happens is a TQP team member will scan the QR Code on the camcorder (see picture) and then will load the website.  On the website the form asks for the the student’s name, the type of device they are checking out, the number associated with the device, and then there is a checklist of equipment that is going out with the student.

The workflow is as follows:

  1. the code is scanned,
  2. form filled out noting all the equipment that is going out with the student,
  3. student takes equipment to field experience,
  4. student brings equipment back to TQP office after field experience,
  5. code is scanned again,
  6. equipment is checked to make sure everything is there and if there are any damages, and
  7. then the form is submitted to finalize the checkin.

I required the form to require a login from users via the UNI Google Apps system and then I collect the username/email of the person filling out the form.  This should help prevent anyone from filling out the form but not turning in the equipment.  When the form is completed a confirmation email is sent out to the person completing the form which can then be emailed to the student as a form of receipt.

Anyway, that is my QR Code checkout system. You can create a system just like this too.  Just create a Google Form with the required information and then create a QR Code for the URL.  Print the QR Code on a label (I used the permanent Avery 6570) and affix to your device/item.  Then download any QR Code (I am using Qrafter) reader for your device (iOS, Android, Blackberry) and start scanning.

Google Forms Tip: Don’t View Form if Open in Main Web Browser Window

I’m a big Google fan and I have been extremely happy with Google Docs since I first started using them a few years ago.  However, the last couple of days have led me to question my faith in Google Docs, but after some minor frustration (not really, I was actually quite p!$$#*) I have come to terms with the limitations of Google Forms. So here’s what happened.

I have been creating a couple forms to use by pre-service teachers in one of their field experiences.  Like I have done dozens of times before, I created a new form and began building the different fields, pages, and sections, saving throughout.  Then, once I complete the form, I clicked on the link at the bottom of the page that takes you to the live form.  Everything looked great and the only change I needed to make was the addition of a theme to pretty things up a bit.  I unwittingly then clicked the back button and applied a theme, not noticing that all the content in my form was now gone.  EVERYTHING!!!  The title of the form, the fields, sections, and pages were all gone.  I tried to restore a previous version, but that only made changes to the spreadsheet and not the actual form.

This happened on Friday at the end of the day and I thought, “Oh maybe there is just some kind of bug that isn’t letting me see the form right now.  I’ll check back sometime this weekend!”  Well, I checked back and my form was still broken, so I proceded to create a new form from scratch.  I went through all the steps and created the form, previewed it and then remembered I needed to add that theme.  So…I hit the back button and guess what happened?  I lost the form again!  So you can about imagine my reaction at this point.

I did some troubleshooting and thought about the steps I went through to kill my form and this is what I found: When I created the new form it opened in a new tab within the same browser window; when I clicked on the link at the bottom of the window where I created the form, the live form opened up within the same window, in addition to a new tab; when I hit the back button, I lost the contents of the form.  So lesson to my story is as follows: when creating a form, do NOT preview the form until you have closed edit form window the initial time.  By previewing the form, you are opening yourself up to the potential to losing the content of the form if you unwittingly click the back button in your browser.  I can’t explain why this is the case, but I was burned twice by the steps I just described.  So unless you have a considerable amount of time to waste, make sure to close the initial edit form window before viewing the live form.

I’m guilty of it too…

I was asked today by a colleague on Twitter for some resources for IWBs and as I was thumbing through my blog for different posts that could help him out, I came across this one: https://dmourlam.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/worksheets-in-google-docs-a-dilemma/.  This is a post that I brought over last year from my old blogging platform and is one of the first blogs I wrote after going to Google Apps.

Now if you read my blog regularly and know me, I can’t stand having technology just added to current teaching practices.  But, alas, I must admit.  I’m guilty of it too.  In this blog post I explain to teachers in my school how to create worksheeets using Google Docs.  Oh the horror!  How could I do something like that!!

Well the truth is that we learn everyday and we make mistakes.  Failure is part of the learning process and what we do after we fail is what matters.  So yes, I made a mistake and just added technology onto what we were already doing.  Do I know better now, some two years from when I penned the post?  Of course and that’s why I’m going to move promptly to that post and add a comment explaining an alternative to doing worksheets in Google Docs.  One that gets at the real power of the technology.

Monitoring your online presence: My experience

At the start of the school year I decided to begin monitoring my online presence.  I felt it was important to know when information about me was posted for public view on the Internet, since I was beginning to expand how much I interacted online.  So I created a Google Alert for my name and was pretty unimpressed with what appeared.  Most of the updates were tweets and new blog posts, that is until yesterday.  Yesterday I saw an update that was inappropriate and beyond my control.  I was surprised to see my name plastered on a Web page with inappropriate words, but in the end, I’m glad I was notified about it.  Knowing is half the battle and now if anyone ever stumbles across this Web page and approaches me about it, I’m prepared to address the issue with them.  Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t engage in something so vulgar and inappropriate and will hopefully dismiss it as spam.  But this is the nature of the Internet and the world we live in, which is why it’s important to educate everyone, young and old, about how to manage their online presence.  What are others saying about me and how will this effect me?  Not sure some people think about this when they post to social networks, but as we move to a more connected and social society, this will prove to be a literacy everyone needs to know.

Interested in setting up a Google Alert? Check this site out.  Just enter your name (or other search term) and fill out how often you want to be updated, the method for receiving updates, and the type of results you want. Then click “Create Alert.”  That’s all there is to it.

Do you monitor your online presence?  If so, explain your experiences to keep the conversation going.

23 More Google Apps

It seems like it has been a while since I have posted an update, but with the holiday, I’m not surprised.  One thing I found while on vacation was that Google has made 23 more apps available for Google Apps users.  This has been a long time coming and I’m excited that schools finally have the opportunity to begin using more of these tools in their classrooms.  Here are a couple of the apps that are new that I’m excited about:

Blogger: For those who don’t know, blogger is a Google’s blogging platform and is quite simple for teachers and students to begin blogging and sharing their ideas with the rest of the world.  I know many teachers that have been frustrated in the past with the lack of access to this app.  However, now teachers can begin having their students complete blogging activities in their courses and help students develop a reflective voice that is necessary for life long learning.

Reader: Central to my PLN is my Google Reader page.  I follow a number of blogs from educational techology, to politics, to design, to weird and wacky news.  I have found that through the use of Google Reader that I have become more informed with what is happening in my field as well as staying abreast of what’s happening in the rest of the world.  Living in a rural state it is easy to become isolated with the lack of different ideas coming at you everyday.  Through the use of Google Reader I have been able to have my beliefs challenged, which has made me a better educator and person.

Picasa Web Albums: Picasa has become one of the ways I share pictures with family, friends, and co-workers, not to mention it is the place that I use to upload images to use on Web sites as slideshows.  This may be a simple app, but it does open the doors for increased multimedia applications in the classroom, whether it be through an annotated slideshow that tells a story or simply a way to share pictures of a class field trip.

Having access to additional google apps has made teaching more flexible.  Teachers now have more resources in their arsenal that are now easier to use since students don’t need to have an additional email account to access certain apps.  Not to mention the fact that IT admins now have greater control over these sites, so if a student violates an AUP, they can now restrict access to the apps, as well as follow other compliance policies.  This is a very exciting time and I can’t wait to see how teachers in all areas integrate some of these apps into their instruction.