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Thanks to all those who participated in the Blended Learning workshop.  Below, you’ll find links to the resources we used in the workshop.  There are also resources for several topics we didn’t have time to explore.  If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, don’t hesitate to let me know, by email or by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page.


Pre-Reading Assignment: Two contrasting views of blended learning.

Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship Trust publishes this website to promote blended learning, including the Rocketship School model.  Watch the video at the top of the page.

Dan Meyer discusses the evolution of the Rocketship model.  Skip the video if you don’t have time — the article speaks for itself.

Blended Learning Basics

This article on Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, sponsored by the Innosight Institute, gives clear definitions of some of the possibilities of what blended learning could mean.

Assessing Blended Learning Techniques

If we change our teaching in the hopes of improving something, how do we check if it worked?  This video about the effectiveness of science videos proposes a few ideas.

Resources on Blogging for Teachers

See the list at left, under “I’m Reading About,” for a list of topics including educational technology, literacy, teaching science and technology, and teaching problem-solving.

Resources on Document Scanning

I’ve written a number of posts about using a phone, tablet, or camera to capture quizzes or assignments, share in-class work on the projector, etc.  See especially The Scanner In My Pocket.

Resources on Flipped Teaching

Does a flipped classroom work better with before-class videos or before-class readings?  What are the pros and cons?  Student Preparation For Class and Khan Academy Is An Indictment of Education should get you started, and lead to lots more resources.

Resources on Mind-Mapping

Maria Andersen uses Mindomo to archive links, store videos, and keep notes about games for learning in every topic from music to astronomy to economics.  I use it for annotating and archiving collections of resources that wouldn’t fit on my computer. Finally, I have an easy way to tag my bookmarks, do parameterized searches, and access them from any online device.

Resources for Reading Comprehension

Here’s the exercise I demonstrated during the workshop, demonstrating the difference between “skimming for the main idea” and “finding the questions.”  I included a handout I use with my students, which you can download and modify.  Helping students notice where they get confused

Some ideas about using reading instead of videos in “flipped”-style teaching.  Includes examples of the kind of thinking students were doing while reading.

Examples of “reading comprehension constructors” I’ve used in class, asking students to give examples, draw diagrams, ask questions, and the ever-popular “vocabulary bingo”.

You can read about these techniques and more in Cris Tovani’s book Do I Really Have To Teach Reading Comprehension.

Resources for Screencasting

Free software for making screencasts includes Jing (download to your PC) and Screencast-o-matic (cloud-based, no download — works well in classrooms).  Here are some screencasts I created — one to introduce a new topic, one to walk through the solution to a math problem.  Neither of those approaches were very successful — students didn’t absorb or understand the information.  On the other hand, screencasts explaining procedures in software have been a big time-saver.

Resources for SmartBoards

Eric has created some how-to videos for getting the most out of your SmartBoards.  If you’re on the NSCC network, you can access them at S:\KI Staff\Sullivan, Eric.

Resources for Making Educational Videos

Dan Meyer makes beautiful videos and gives them away.  He also shares some secrets: use a tripod.  No, seriously — that’s one of the biggest differences between great and awful.  The other is this: use the video to show phenomena, not explanations.  Get the students hungry, then let them ask for the instructions and info.  Here’s an example where he takes a weak textbook problem and shows you how to make it shine.  He writes about math but I suspect this is widely applicable.

I’m presenting a workshop on using Prezi tomorrow.  The agenda includes

  • What is Prezi, and what are its pros and cons?
  • Best practices, including how and when to zoom, pan, or rotate
  • Evaluating a topic’s structure to determine whether it’s best suited to Prezi, PowerPoint, a text document, or another medium
  • Individual experimentation with Prezi
  • Tips and tricks for efficient use

Some of the resources I’ll use are linked here.  I’ll update the list after the workshop with additional resources, as determined by the conversation and interests of participants.

Workshop Examples

Prezi Tutorials

Information Design in General

  • PRISM scandal cheekily reinterpreted as a visual design problem, including before-and-after slide redesign
  • Dan Meyer explains “Kicking Out the Cliche” in classroom presentations.  “Very little that’s worth saying can be disintegrated into staccato bullet points. If I ever found myself tending towards bullet points in any presentation, I’d start massaging them into an essay-style handout.”  Wash it down with this description of how to create great handouts.
  • Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, by Garr Reynolds, shows techniques that non-professionals can use to dramatically increase the impact of presentation visuals.  Advocates creating handouts instead of putting text on slides.
  • Garr Reynolds (of Presentation Zen fame) explains how to eliminate anything that is not essential to visually communicating your point.
  • David McCandless’s TED talk on The Beauty of Data Visualization shows dramatic examples of how the visual aspects of information design can change our relationship to information

Information Design in Prezi

Since I’m known to experiment compulsively with Web 2.0 and ed-tech tools, I’ve been asked to present a workshop for the campus PD week on blended learning.  This is an interesting tension for me for a few reasons.

Return on Investment Often Too Low

On one hand, I try to give a fair shake to any promising tool or technique.  On the other hand, most of the software, Web 2.0, or gadgets I’ve tried didn’t make it into my ongoing practice.  Reasons include

Bigger Gains from Assessment, Critical Thinking, and Quality Feedback

Although screencasting, “flipped classroom” experiments, and peer instruction have been helpful to me, they have not caused the massive gains in effectiveness that I got from skills-based grading, self and peer assessment, incorporating critical thinking throughout my curriculum, or shifting to inquiry-based modelling.  But, I wasn’t asked to present on those topics; I was asked to help people think about blended learning.  Planning for the workshop has been an interesting exercise in clarifying my thinking.

Blended Learning Is…

People seem to mean different things when they say “blended learning.” Some possible meanings:

Face-to-face meetings, in a group where everyone’s doing the same thing, during school hours, in classrooms, blended with

  • Learning at your own pace
  • Learning in another location
  • Learning at other times
  • Learning that does not have to be done in a specific order
  • Using a computer to learn (maybe online, maybe not)
  • Using an internet-based technology to learn
  • Learning that is customized for the student’s level
  • Learning whose pace, location, time, or order is controlled by the student

It’s hard to have a short conversation about this, because there are several independent variables.  Here are the ones I can name:

  • increasing the level of computerization
  • automating the process of providing students with work at their demonstrated level of achievement
  • increasing the data collected about student skills (naturally, computerized assessments offer different data than teacher observation…)
  • increasing the level of student control, but only in some areas (format and speed, not content)

Are We Doomed to Talk Past Each Other?

The thing I’m finding hardest to articulate is the need to disaggregate these variables.  Some advocates seem to assume that computers are the best (or only) way of adapting to student achievement, collecting data, or empowering students.  The conversation also runs afoul of the assumption that more computerization is good, because young people like computers.

Here’s my attempt at an outline for a conversation that can at least put these questions on the table.  I will provide a list of resources for participants to take away — so far, I’m thinking of including some resources on visual design (probably from dy/dan, as well as The Non-Designer’s Design Book and maybe Presentation Zen), as well as some of the posts linked above.  I’ll probably include at least one piece debunking the assumptions about “digital natives”.  Other suggestions?  If you were just starting to think about blended learning, what would you want to know more about?

The workshop is on Thursday — all feedback welcome.

Before the Workshop

  1. Watch this video about blended learning
  2. Read this blog post assessing the effectiveness of blended learning
  3. Use a feedback sheet to write a summary and keep track of questions that arise, and bring a copy with you to the workshop
  4. Use a GoogleDoc to vote on techniques you would like to know more about


  • Brainstorm in groups: What blended learning techniques have you used, if any?  What questions do you have so far?
  • Gather questions on front board

What is Blended Learning?

  • Explain common definitions
  • Ask group for other definitions
  • Explain common reasons for trying it
  • Ask group for other reasons why someone might try it
  • Each participant identifies advantages/goals they are most interested in working toward, and enters them into a worksheet
  • Discuss in small groups and modify/add to list if desired.

Examples of Blended Learning Techniques

Each presenter discusses the techniques they have used.

Participants take a moment at the end of each technique to evaluate whether it would contribute to their identified goals

How Can We Assess the Effectiveness of Blended Learning?


Each presenter discusses the results they noticed

Your Plans

  • Invite participants to think of something in their teaching that they would like to improve, and consider if any of the tools we’ve discussed can help.
  • Participants explain their plans in small groups, and keep track of questions that come up.
  • Questions added to the class list


Return to any questions that haven’t been answered.


  • Each presenter passes on any recommendations they have for teachers starting to explore blended learning.  Mine:
  • Learn about visual design
  • Practice learning new software — it’s a skill and you can get better
  • Learn to program — it helps you look at computer programs with a more critical eye
  • Check out the resources included with the day’s worksheet
  • Stick around and experiment with these tools if you would like

Quiz review has become a lot more useful now that

  • We review the questions immediately after writing the quiz
  • The students have their own completed papers in their hands
  • The papers have no grade or comments on them

I like that this allows students to assess their own work without having their judgement short-circuited by my evaluation.  Sometimes we do this just for practice, and that’s the end of it.  But if I’m going to update their skills list to say that they can do something independently, I need to have a record of their quiz from before the class review.  In the January semester, I got that by having all students complete two copies of their quizzes: one for them to assess right away, and one for me to evaluate later.  As you can imagine, this is tedious for the students.  When I wrote about this process in detail, I concluded that I needed a scanner that I could carry with me (I don’t have my own classroom).

I looked at lots of “ultraportable” scanners, and they were all too big to carry around, as well as ridiculously expensive.  Only one had on-board storage.  A few were autonomous, but most needed to be plugged into a computer, which would have to be booted, logged into, then wait for the drivers to download, etc.  I was imagining every student running their quiz through a scanner that would automatically email me the file, or store it somehow.  Then I stumbled across the most portable scanner there is: a smartphone.

There are a number of “document scanning” apps available, and they all do basically the same thing: take a picture of a document, try to figure out where the edges of the page are, then process it to correct parallax and improve contrast.  The result is probably a PDF, looking remarkably as though it had come from a scanner. Some of them will even do character recognition, so you end up with an editable Word document (for typed text only, of course).

In the May semester, I rolled it out.  I had grandiose ideas about electronic grading, so I bought a tablet computer (the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″). At the end of the quiz, I walked around and took pictures of everyone’s paper, then tucked the tablet in my bag. We reviewed the quiz, the students wrote feedback to themselves.  Later, I reviewed the electronic files, marked them, and emailed them all to myself (or I could have uploaded them to Dropbox or Evernote or synced them to GoogelDocs).  The process worked fine.  Of course, the question isn’t, did it work.

The question is: Did it work better than paper?

It has its pros and cons.  Con: it is slower for me (I can collect 20 pieces of paper faster than I can take 20 pictures).  Pro: it is faster for the students.  They no longer have to copy out their entire paper a second time (wasting minutes that they could be using to check their work).

The context in which this makes sense is if you need a record of student work, you need to return the work to the student immediately (otherwise you could just walk to the photocopier), and you don’t want the students recopying their work.  In our case, problems are often so long that recopying them would mean cutting the assessed skills by half.  I’ve gotten around this by asking students to recopy only their final answers; obviously, this is not ideal.  I love the way this allows me to capture the whole story — what they’ve crossed out, doodles and mnemonics and scratch calculations, etc.

Final result: I’m sold.  I love having searchable electronic archives of each student’s work.  It allows me to cut down on paper without requiring a tablet computer for every student.  It’s a great record of progress.  I can email them back a file with my comments.  It works for flip charts and white boards too.  It saves trees.  Students can borrow it and do their own scanning (John Burk talks more about possible advantages here).

Once I was convinced I wanted to go this way, I had to choose hardware and software.  The document scanning apps I tried were Droid Scan, CamScanner, and Document Scanner.  I settled on CamScanner because it had the highest proportion of correct edge detections (it pretty much never failed to automatically recognize my page), and that is the slowest, fussiest part of the process if you have to do it by hand.  For hardware, I tried the Samsung Galaxy, the Acer Iconia, and the iPad 2.  The Galaxy and Iconia were pretty similar (I prefer the Galaxy for its small size and thorough integration of speech recognition).  The iPad was not suitable — its <1MPixel camera made documents illegible (see below).


The image quality has been degraded somewhat in these examples, possibly in the cutting and pasting and converting from PDF to an image format, but at least you can see the relative quality.  On screen, the Galaxy and the Iconia were quite legible — right down to the decimal point in 1.08A, although the Iconia was a bit washed out.

Overall, I’m happy with this and I’m looking forward to using it in September.  Next question: can a tablet computer be used as a document camera?  Stay tuned.

A really interesting series of comments is happening over on Shawn Cornally’s blog Think Thank Thunk about teachers and students communicating through Facebook.

The central question seems to be:

Can my Facebook account model an appropriate way for my students to live in the online world?

At the same time, some of the themes that emerged seemed to imply (probably inadvertently) that

  • either a community trusts its teachers completely or distrusts them completely
  • either I friend students on Facebook or I can’t be a good model of online living
  • either I friend them on Facebook or I am a Luddite who shuns the entire online world (or, worse, I am hypocritically pretending to be one)
  • either I have a rapport with my students, or I don’t.  There might be different levels of rapport, but there aren’t any different kinds.
  • they make better decisions when I’m around; this is a good reason to friend students on Facebook
  • my online life and in-person life are inextricably linked; this is a good reason to friend students on Facebook
  • Facebook is strictly for socializing
  • nothing about Facebook is inherently social
  • including social media in the curriculum is inherently detrimental
  • including social media in the curriculum is not in any way detrimental

I hope this doesn’t come across as inflammatory to any of the comment authors. I can relate to most of these sentiments, including the contradictory ones. And I realize that people post simple statements in short blog comments that can’t be expected to tell the whole story.  At the same time, I think it’s worth digging into how we talk about social media in education, and whether our conclusions follow from our premises.

My point is that “online” isn’t a single place that we can make generalizations about, and we need to develop a much more robust language to discuss it.  Picking a path through the shifting ground of an emerging technology requires us to discern the subtle differences in the terrain.  I think this is in the spirit of Shawn’s opening paragraph where he writes that “searching for information has never been difficult for them but discernment is.”  Let’s be honest: it’s difficult for all of us.

This is going to get long, so I’m going to write first about some things that I think are red herrings.

Non-issue #1: The word “friend” is a smokescreen

Yes, but that’s not the problem.  Following someone’s feed on Facebook doesn’t have to be strictly social; it could be about business or philanthropy or whatever (see especially Facebook’s effect on the 2008 American primaries, or the recent Egyptian revolution).  Let’s stop calling them “friends” and start calling them “contacts.”  It doesn’t help us answer the central question.

Non-issue #2: Facebook ≠Online

Let’s be careful about talking as though Facebook is the only online space that matters, or is representative of the entire online world.  It confuses our debate.

Have you noticed that the strong feelings that come up around Facebook don’t seem to come up when we’re collaboratively editing a Wikipedia page, making a GoogleDoc, or even commenting on each others’ blogs? Not only is Facebook only one of the online interaction possibilities, it’s one that has a uniquely problematic model (Part 2 — coming soon).  Focusing on the content of Facebook’s status updates while ignoring its underlying structure is like solving a math problem without noticing that it’s about a nine-pound orange.  As with pseudocontext, this generalization can lead our thinking toward “bizarre unrealities” such as “Facebook is only about socializing” or “Facebook has nothing to do with socializing.”  My way of staying conscious of exactly which part of the online landscape I’m talking about is to spell Facebook and other tradenames with a capital letter — it reminds me that it is a registered mark owned by a corporation, not a generic label for an idea about society (that would be “social media”).  Use mine if it helps or make up your own reminder.

Non-issue #3: The problem is not the perception of inappropriateness or the threat of lawsuits

As educators, we not only have to do right; we also have to be seen to do right.  But that’s no truer online than it is offline.  This is a problem; but it is not the problem.

Non-issue #4: The problem is not just people’s preconceptions about social media, or inexperience, or lack or imagination, or technophobia

There are people who are uninformed about or afraid of social media, and there are those who just can’t imagine its usefulness in the classroom.  Obviously, no technology matches everyone’s teaching style.  Also, it’s easy to develop a knee-jerk reaction to nay-sayers, since explaining the difference between  Facebook and Twitter for the 92nd time can feel as exasperating as explaining that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are not the same as Aerosmith.  Not. At. All. Mom.  😉  These are not good reasons to assume there are no legitimate critiques.

Non-issue #5: Online communication is not inherently richer than offline

Online communication can be deep or shallow.  So can offline.  Even the process of integrating the online and offline parts of our lives is not inherently an enrichment.  This reminds me of debates about interactive whiteboards.  As with EIWBs, it’s worth asking “does the pedagogy demand it?”  And then being very careful with our answer.

Non-issue #6: Do I need to know about their breakups?

This is a perfectly legitimate question, but I don’t think it helps us figure out the answer to the central question.  Some questions I propose instead:

  • Do my students need me to know about their breakups?
  • Would my students benefit from a private space to discuss their breakups where they are not monitored by authority figures?
  • Do my students even notice that their breakup updates are going to their teachers?
  • How does this affect the kind of rapport we have, and how does that rapport affect their education?

Conclusion, Part 1

We owe it to ourselves and our students to critique communication technology.  That critique must be respectful, informed, and nuanced.  “Technology X is good/bad” or “they just don’t realize its potential” or “just trust me” are not going to cut it.  And we’d better learn to do it fast, because our students need to know how to critique it too.

My students are starting to appreciate classes where small groups share their problem-solving with the class.  Each small group gets a different problem, based on which homework question they had trouble with.  They like getting a problem geared exactly to them, and working with others who want to talk about the same questions.  They also like that, even if they spent all class working on question 3, they get to see what the question-5 group came up with.  But I hate how long it takes to copy notes to the front board.  So I decided to try using small whiteboards during class, inspired by this post from Action-Reaction.  Each small group got a problem to solve, a 2′ x 3′ board and a pack of markers.  (Now that I’m using screencasts, I have time in class for this stuff.)  At the end of class, each group picked up their board and explained their process.  No time wasted while they decipher their tiny notes.

Some benefits that I hadn’t anticipated:

  • They wrote bigger.  It helped the small group work together because they didn’t have to read out of each others’ notebooks.  It also helped me take stock more quickly — I could see who was making progress even from across the room.
  • They drew.  Some students resent redrawing schematics.  I don’t know why.  But there’s something pleasing about the tactile experience of whiteboards, I think. (Or maybe the commenter who wrote that they “don’t get enough coloring time” was right).

Big deal, you might be thinking.  You can do that with flip chart paper.  And it’s true.  There’s a small advantage to whiteboards:

  • They experimented more.  Lots of ideas got written down, and I think it’s because it’s so easy to erase.  (I wish they felt confident enough to leave their mistakes, crossed out, as a reference for later.  But they don’t.)

I don’t bring the boards to class every day (they’re heavy).  But I’ve done it a couple of times in the last 2 weeks and the whiteboards have been helpful, unobtrusive, and have not cost me any time.  I like that.  They don’t have to be booted up, or warmed up, or assembled.  I’ve never had to troubleshoot my whiteboards.  I did have to explain marker policy though.  A commenter on the A-R post above explains that people who leave the caps off are marker murderers.  I demonstrated by pulling the cap off of a marker and screaming like a deranged muppet.  No markers were harmed in the making of this pedagogical experiment.

Last Thursday during shop, some students asked if they could borrow one.  One student had brought a notebook-sized whiteboard of his own.  Next thing I knew, huddles of students obscured the whiteboards.  They were planning their next experiments.  Oddly, there are two big whiteboards at the front of the shop.  They could have used those, but I think those seem like they belong to the teacher (note to self: do something about this.)  The little ones can be adopted, claimed. (Also stood on the bench-top right next to your circuit for reference,without worrying that someone else will write over it).

When I asked them why they liked them, the advantages that they saw were totally different from mine.  Top-rated: they like how easy it is to reorganize long calculations.  “It’s way better than working on paper.  On paper you end up with calculations all over the place and you can’t see where things are.  It’s easier to keep it organized, and if you need to move things, it’s easy to erase.”  Go figure.
That night, as I was cleaning up, one of the whiteboards was AWOL.  I found it tucked neatly under a bench, covered in calculations and measurements for an experiment in progress.  I left it there.  But I took a picture first.Whiteboard on the lam

PS: it is apparently impossible to get plain shower-board in Canada.  Please don’t send me those tantalizing links to the American Home Depot site; they won’t sell it across the border.  Not one of the 10 hardware stores and contractors’ supply places around here has plain shower-board — only the printed stuff, with faux-tile squares and flowers. doesn’t ship to Canada.  Whiteboard paint has received mixed reviews and is expensive.  I eventually broke down and bought whiteboards from Staples.  ($30 each… ).  Problem is, the aluminum frames are heavier than the whiteboards themselves and cause the surface to buckle.  I should have liberated them from the frames.  Then I stumbled on the mother-lode:  old 4′ x 8′ boards taken from classroom walls, waiting, forlorn, in the maintenance room.  They’re mine, all mine… is this what they mean by “gateway drug“?

The first-year students made this photo-collage of themselves at the end of last semester.  What’s cool about this isn’t the stuff they’re doing in the photos (well, that was great, but.)  What moved me about this was that they took the photos themselves.  That may not seem earth-shattering to anyone who’s seen 20-somethings share inappropriate photos with hundreds of acquaintances.  But it’s important here because, at the start of the semester, many of these students were so cool that they could frost up a whiteboard from the back row of desks.

Always Formative wrote that “the thing that’s always appealed to me about [using a portfolio to collect examples of your work] is having students self-select what he or she perceives as quality. Developing the [skill] of self-evaluation is probably the most important thing I want a student to get.”  But that requires students to dare to be proud.  At the beginning of the year, they wouldn’t have been caught dead admitting that school was interesting or fun, much less documenting in video that they felt strongly about their craftsmanship.  Can you imagine a student posting photos of their homework to Facebook?

D-shell connector soldered by student

D-shell connector soldered by a student

Fifteen weeks later, they take turns holding the camera while someone mugs with some small thing that they made with their own hands.  If you’re concerned that services like Animoto make the wrong things easy, I mostly agree with you.  Except that in this case, digital storytelling was not the difficult skill that the students were trying to master.  Cracking out of their protective shell of indifference was orders of magnitude more painful and challenging.  They watched themselves in this video over and over.  I watched them as they watched it.  They were seeing themselves as skilled, in a way that wasn’t real until they saw it from the outside.  All of us were proud.