Monday, October 31, 2011

Ditching Textbooks for Digital

The idea of completely replacing textbooks in an entire school is radical and shocking, but that was exactly what the Vail School District in Arizona did, and the results are very promising. The district started by focusing curriculum on standards, and collected and organized resources based upon meeting those standards dynamically. Instead of, for example, following the strict learn, review, test outline of textbooks, the materials were arranged in a logical fashion to best encourage learning.

The idea of having an English class that uses free online resources to teach reading, writing, and critical thinking makes sense to me. Why would I let a book dictate the flow of my classroom just because I cannot change the text to better suit my students’ needs? Instead, I want to pick and choose what goes into my daily lessons and I want the ability to adapt the lessons based on reflection and feedback. Digital resources meet that need perfectly.

Digital resources are dynamic. In an English class for example, I can choose to have students write papers or have discussions about a video, an audio clip, or even a website that I found online. Textbooks are not capable of providing this level of customization or interaction.

Using digital resources in place of textbooks also cuts costs significantly. According to the article, the Vail school district was able to cut the costs of teaching a single student from $53 to $9. This is hugely significant and that money could be better spend of reintroducing programs such as sports and the arts, the second being tied inextricably to English classes.

Carney, K. (2011). Think Outside the Book. Learning and Leading with Technology. ITSE. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Web 2.0 Tools and ITSE Standards

The first tool is a website called Engrade. Engrade is an online grade book that has a number of benefits for both the teacher and the students. The first and most obvious benefit is accessibility from anywhere for both teachers and students. There is more to Engrade than just grades, however. It also offers a homework calender that students and parents can access so they are always aware of due dates and assignments, it is a place for online discussions between students, it is totally free, teachers and administer online quizzes, and it is free of advertisements.

I could go on and on about Engrade's benefits, but I'll just leave it there and explain how it meets the NETS-T standard three, "Model Digital-Age Work and Learning." By promoting the online access of grades, course materials, and class discussion, teachers model working and learning in a digital environment. Teachers will show students the benefit of using digital tools to streamline and expand class activities. Additionally, communicating with parents through digital channels will, "communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital-age media and formats."

The second tool is called Animoto, a web based slideshow maker whose products can be sent to friends and family through email. It is very similar to programs like Apple's iMovie, albeit less powerful. However, this simplifying of the process in creating slide shows could actually be of benefit in the classroom, and the fact it is a web based tool means that students and schools do not need to invest thousands of dollars in Apple's hardware.

Students learning to use Animoto would fulfill the first NETS-S standard, Creativity and Innovation, by teaching  them to use digital tools to express themselves. The actual requirement states that students should be able to, "create original works as a means of personal or group expression," and creating captivating and personal multimedia presentations to share with others certainly fulfills that requirement.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Disabled Bodies, Able Minds Response

I find the range and new abilities of technology assisted learning to be incredibly heartening. Not only does the technology allow students to communicate and facilitate learning, which I knew, but also is allowing students to fully participate in extracurricular activities like playing an instrument in the school band.  It is unlocking new avenues for disabled students that not only allow them to be at school, but fully experience school, that signals that assistive technology is finally maturing into something truly amazing.

Diane Curtis, the author, says that the high costs of assistive technology for students should be considered irrelevant compared to the huge benefits they provide disabled students, and I would agree with her opinion. The students they are referring to possess minds which are just as capable as physically normal students, and to deny them an equitable education goes against the principles of public schooling. I found the article to be very enlightening!

Here is the Original Article, by Diane Curtis

Digital Storytelling

The process of making a digital story seems to cover a number of desirable classroom outcomes such as the entire writing process, searching for materials online, using digital tools such as media creation programs, and encourages a community in the classroom through sharing the final products. After reading the article, "Capturing Stories, Capturing Lives: An Introduction to Digital Storytelling" by David Jakes, I hope to introduce my students to digital stories as part of my English classroom. 

I'm very excited to see a practical and useful digital project that meshes perfectly with the learning requirements for an English class. The writing portion, which requires the full writing process, and the trimming process that reduces a large story to a shorter script, will be very effective in teaching students how to write concisely-- a skill very desirable at the university and professional level. 

Jakes, D. (2006, December 29). Capturing Stories,Capturing Lives. An Introduction to Digital 
Storytelling. In Jakesonline! Digital Storytelling. Retrieved October 11, 2011, from

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Web 3.0, Semantic Data, and the Connection to Education

Web 3.0, what the author is calling the semantic web, consists of intelligently marked information which computers and search engines can parse by themselves. Now that's a bit technical. What it means is that if you want to put your phone number on a website in the semantic web, you could tag it with <phone>yourphonenumber</phone>, for example. Doing this way, computers know that the data values inside the tag are specifically phone numbers.

The ramifications for education are immense once the standards for the semantic web is set. For example, search engines become infinitely more useful for students. Instead of a search engine simply matching the data values for the letters in a word ( famous person Martin Luther King Jr. is just a string of text to a computer), Google will know specifically that students are searching a famous person by the name of MLK Jr. So Web 3.0 becomes a much more accurate and useful source of information. It becomes concept matching, rather than letter matching.

Jason Ohler also warns of the possibility of exclusion when the standards committees agree upon the details for the newest iteration of HTML. For example, if the standards committee is from western culture (which it most definitely will be) the language will be optimized for western alphabetic characters. Eastern characters may fall by the wayside for the standard english alphabet, and web 3.0 may not be nearly as "smart" for speakers of different languages. While he is most correct in his concern, I feel that the committees are more aware now than ever of the phenomenon of "othering."  While they may ultimately fall short of true equity when standardizing web 3.0, I am confident that it will be the most inclusive set of standards yet.

As a future teacher I look forward to utilizing web 3.0 tools and teaching my students to do the same. Finding information and collaboration will become much easier with web 3.0. Introducing students to a wealth of "smart" information will be a wonderful tool in future classrooms, and will streamline time spent searching. I can't wait.

Ohler, J. (2010). The power and peril of web 3.0. Learning and Leading with Technology. ITSE. Retrieved from

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Personalization in Navigating the Digital Rapids

The article Navigate the Digital Rapids by V. Davis and Lindsay speaks of the difficulties and successes of teaching digital citizenship to children in our schools. Specifically, the article speaks of the benefits of personalized digital tools and how it can benefit classroom learning. 

I loved the idea of personalization in the classroom, as it is the counter-point to the idea of "splitting the difference." Recently during some of my classroom observations a teacher spoke to me about how teaching requires finding a middle road from the students and teaching at that level. While the concept is practical, it seems such a shame that teachers feel it must be done. I think that the personalization that digital tools offers allows the classroom environment to break past the average of the skills, abilities, and interests of students in any specific classroom. The article gives an example of a student who created an off-topic discussion about fate, and it gathered over 50 replies. The ability to personalize the lessons, including guided-navigation of non-related tangents, is a benefit of digital tools and illustrates that splitting the difference is not necessary. Splitting the difference involves taking a diverse student body, a rainbow of colors, and shooting for a lesson that is gray in color. It a way it saddened me to hear a teacher recommend teaching like that.

Here is a quote from the article that stuck me, "When should we begin educating students? As soon as they start using digital tools for communication, collaboration, and creation through connections online or offline. A kindergartener can use Skype in the classroom and learn about virtual communications. A 6-year-old can create a VoiceThread project and collaborate globally using images and sound. A 9-year-old can create a digital portfolio and invite peers globally to respond via the discussion tab. Digital citizenship awareness can begin as soon as tiny fingers tap the keys."

 I love this quote because of the imagery it invokes for me. The digital environment, if tamed and smoothed by skilled instructors can be a gold mine of learning for students. I hope that the classroom described in the article is going to be the classroom of the future. Maybe, someday, the online course will evolve specific benefits that make them superior to in-class meeting. Certain industries will actually desire students that were brought up by digital education.

Article in APA Format:
Davis, V., & Lindsay, J. (2010, March/April). Navigate the Digital Rapids. Learning & Leading with Technology, 37(6), 12-15. Retrieved September 16, 2011 from

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Project Tomorrow 2010, Digitally-Rich Learning Experiences, and Future Teachers

Firstly, I will link the article I am blogging about: here

Secondly, I will speak on the article, here:

I am mostly concerned about the third main point on "Digitally-rich learning experiences," where students, " see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content, and resources as a key to driving learning productivity, not just about engaging students in learning." When I began reading this section of the article, I expected information about what digital tools we can use in the classroom to increase productivity. However, instead I read about the current perspectives on which tools belong in the classroom from district administrators, principals, teachers, and aspiring teachers (me!).
The main point of my "Essential Element" was that the perspectives in all four groups were leaning more and more towards acceptance of digital tools in the classroom.

However, there are also significant problems that arise from the drive to include the digital world in learning. One problem the section details is the disconnect between tools that are currently being used in classes and what future students are being taught to use in the classroom. But fixing the problem isn't as simple as changing the curriculum in schools of education. Perhaps it would be better to train future teachers in the tools that will be used when they finally get their own classrooms, and not what is currently used. For example, aspiring teachers are being taught to use podcasts and video in their classrooms (39%) while only 24% of current teachers report using podcasts or video in their classrooms. So the question is this: is it better to divert the focus of aspiring teachers from using podcasts and video to tools that current teachers find useful (such as teaching aides or software) or to stay the course with the prediction that digital video will be a bigger part of future classrooms?

I was particularly pleased that this section focused largely on contrasting the current classroom with the future classroom, and how aspiring teachers are being prepared, as well as what aspiring teachers desire in their digital classrooms. On page 14, current teachers list their preferred source of classroom content comes from other teachers. In other words, teachers will make charts, videos, and readings for their classrooms and will then share these aids with other teachers. At first this seems an archaic system. Teachers take overhead transparencies and copy them for a colleague. They make photocopies full of artifacts and faded writing and hand them out to students, whose attention is divided between completing the assignment and deciphering the words. But there is value in the art of sharing and collaboration, and the internet has proven itself time and time again as environment that is all about sharing. I imagine that the future classroom will take shared content above and beyond what currently happens through photocopies and word of mouth. I imagine separate classrooms around the country interacting through the same digital teacher-created assignments. I imagine that the digital classroom can streamline and improve tried-and-true methods that current teachers practice, and will more actively engage students in lessons that have been tailored to them.