Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fun Stop-Motion Video

A stop-motion video by Russell Wyner that's really well-done and fun.  Four years old but still great to watch. My head spins when I think of all the work that went into this:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Annotating and Grading Student Papers Electronically

Because I hurt my knee and couldn't drive to class for a week, for the first time ever I asked my students to submit their research paper drafts electronically.  I've avoided this until now for a couple of reasons.  I read at lightning speed, and I can cover more ground with a hard copy of a paper.  Before I start grading I go through a norming process for that class, reading through a number of papers rapidly until I get a feel for the general range, then I sort them into piles:  likely A's, Average, and Major Problems.  I like to mark up the papers with pen or pencil, making circles, arrows, and comments in the margin.  For longer comments (like lack of thesis, structure or organization issues) I have a Word document of comment boilerplate that I adapt to each student, then print and return with the annotated paper.

But this year, I have a choice.  I've asked them to submit the papers through Turnitin.  My college doesn't subscribe to the GradeMark commenting function of Turnitin, but I can download or print the papers, so now I have to decide:  Print and proceed as usual, or try annotating the papers electronically.
If I print, OK, it's a pain and it costs me some money, but I own a laser printer, so it's not THAT big a deal.  There is the filename issue - since 90% have named their files "research paper," I have to make sure I rename as I download so I don't overwrite.   But then I have to shlep the papers to class.  Students have to wait for my comments until we meet again, and I'm trying to travel light since I'm still on crutches. 

If I download and annotate using Word's comments function, I won't be able to norm the same rapidfire way I usually do.  Maybe I don't need to do this anymore - I've been grading research papers for a long, long time now.  And I know from my freelance editing jobs, it always takes longer to edit and comment with the Word comments function.  Many freelancers actually charge a bit more to provide comments in Word, for this very reason.

For help in this weighty decision, I consulted my oracle - that is, I googled, "Should I comment on my student papers using Word's comment function, or on hard copy?"  And lo and behold, it came up with a third option:  Grading papers on the iPad, as described in a fantastically useful post in Offprints, a blog by Caleb McDaniel of Rice University's History department. In it he describes how he converts all of his students' papers into .pdf files, dumps them onto his iPad, and then uses an app called iAnnotate which allows him to circle, mark up, and insert comments into little boxes, after which he e-mails them back to the students.  Make sure to read the comments, which also describe how to append a rubric to the student papers automatically.  McDaniel says apart from convenience, one important benefit of using the iPad is that it helps him refrain from overdoing it - he believes in minimal marking, which holds that too many comments on student papers - especially for "surface errors" like misspelling and improper punctuation -  actually hurt the learning process.

The iPad solution seems to me the most tempting, not only because I could mark up to my heart's content, and wouldn't have to schlep papers, but especially because it gives me an excuse buy an iPad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

DIY #1: Change the World

There used to be a bookstore in Philadelphia called the How To Do It Bookstore, and it was one of my favorite places in the whole world. Shelves and shelves of everything a do-it-yourselfer could dream of: knitting, cooking, fixing the car, mountain climbing, brewing beer, remodeling the house, painting faux finishes on furniture (I bought that one), you name it. Not so much of a need for it anymore, I suppose, now that we have the web and personal video and editing is accessible to anyone with a cellphone camera and a data connection. (Although I think books do have their place, especially if you're out in a freezing henhouse trying to help that egg-bound chicken - not the place for the laptop, really.)

We're working on instructional videos now in my Visual Design and Communication course. I love this project, because I'm a big fan of DIY. So for inspiration I'm posting this video by Montreal animator JC Little with simple instructions on how to change the world.

It's got everything I like - clear sound and clean design, and best of all clear instructions. We should all be able to change the world right after viewing this. Let's get started!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Visuals Can Change Everything

Reading the obituary of Apple founder Steve Jobs brought me back to the late 70s, when personal computers had blinking green or amber screens that consisted entirely of text, and commands were given in code.

In 1979 Jobs visited the Xerox research center in Palo Alto, "where he saw the Alto, an experimental personal computer system...that used a mouse pointing device [and] was one of the first computers to employ a graphical video display, which presented the user with a view of documents and programs, adopting the metaphor of an office desktop."
"'It was one of those sort of apocalyptic moments,' Mr. Jobs said of his visit...'I remember within 10 minutes of seeing the graphical user interface stuff, just knowing that every computer would work this way someday.  It was so obvious once you saw it.  It didn't require tremendous intellect.  It was so clear.'"

Jobs went on in 1981 to begin developing the Macintosh, which was released in January 1984 and introduced during the Super Bowl with a now-famous commercial "that linked I.B.M., by then the dominant PC maker, with Orwell's Big Brother."  The Mac, of course, was distinguished by the first commercial use of a graphical interface using icons, drag-and-drop, and other things we all take for granted now. 
So the Mac distinguished itself and changed the computing world forever because of Jobs's attention to visual design - not just for aesthetics but because he understood the exponential difference visuals made in functionality. The graphical interface made it intuitive and made personal computing accessible.  Bill Gates later made his fortune by figuring out how to cloak the old DOS operating system in a graphical interface like that of Macintosh.  He called it "Windows."
Source of quotations - New York Times, Oct. 5, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Penultimate Week in High School

Just came across something I wrote at the end of school last year, and thought I'd post it in honor of the weather turning this weekend:

Going up the stairs in the morning we ascend into a damp cloud of still air, still stinking faintly of the hundreds of teenaged bodies that passed through the stairwell the day before.  Nothing on Junior Hallway has cooled off or aired out from yesterday.  The June heat wave left all of us wilted, the students whining and sweating in their polyester uniforms, the teachers cranky as we tried to force out the last lessons on the last Wednesday before finals.  I trudge up behind a great beast of a boy who sighs and moans as he feel the air press down, suffocating.  The hallway when we reach it is no better, and teenagers in flipflops and uniforms grumble as they change into their uniform shoes and stow bags and books in lockers, complaining about the heat. 

In class I lay the ground rules.  “No whining about the you-know-what,” I say, gesturing toward the blazing light outside the window.  “Also, no touching the fan.  They are scientifically positioned for maximum air circulation."  

This gets their attention, and a couple of boys and girls look around at the fans, checking to see if this might be true.   
"I don’t want to hear anyone talking about the heat."  A couple of kids look defiant, but they're too hot to pursue it.   I continue: "The only thing I want to hear you talk about is ice cream, ice cubes, ice skating, ice hockey, or ice pops.  Cold mountain streams.  Baby pools.  Got it?”   
They all groan. 
“Why baby pools?” asks the nearest boy, sweating over his notebook.   
“It just popped into my mind,” I answer.  I take attendence, and we try to finish up the Cold War and Korean War.  Nobody wants to, but we do it anyway.  It's June.  
[June 9, 2011]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First day of class with Polleverywhere: What is Art?

The first day of class is often a rut:  go-over-the-syllabus, fill-out-the-index-card, how-many-are-freshmen first day activities, blah, blah, blah.  This time, I decided to learn about my class demographic and share the results  live with the class using Polleverywhere, a free web tool that uses cellphones like classroom clickers.

Ahead of time, I went on the Polleverywhere site and created a few polls asking questions like, "What is your year in college," whether they'd ever taken an art history class or written a research paper before, what their majors are, and so on.  I had some of that info on my course list online, but I thought it would help build rapport if the students could learn about each other in a novel way.

Now here's the cool part.  I embedded a link to Polleverywhere in my pedestrian first-day-of-class powerpoint, and then in class, when we got to that slide, I clicked and went to the Polleverywhere site.  "How many people have cell phones?" I asked.  I think they thought I was going to ask them to turn off the ringers.  Nope. "Use your cell phones to text messages to this number up on the screen, answering the questions.  You 'vote' for your answer, just like American Idol. "
I totally had their attention.  Everyone whipped out their cell phone and got going with the first question, their year at college.  They texted or used smartphone web access to the numbers onscreen.   As their answers reached the screen, we could see the bars on the graph change right before our eyes.
Here are the results of the first question:

 The students were fascinated.  I asked if any of them had ever done this before, and none of them had.  I heard a few people remark that it was "cool."

We did a few more basic questions about who they are.  Here's one:

At the very bottom right of the screenshot above you can see "total results" in which Polleverywhere updates live the number of responses it has received.  There were about 33 people in the classroom, and 30 answered this question.  I use the old-fashioned classroom teacher pencil rule to decide when to continue - when 3/4 of the pencils stop moving, you start talking.  So for Polleverywhere, I wait until about 3/4 of the class has posted its answer.

After we got to know each other a bit, I started a poll question that dealt with the content of the course.  We'd been talking about art and art history all through the class, so  I asked:  "So, what is art, anyway?"  Poll everywhere lets texted or web-input answers float up onto the screen in real time, so everyone could see them. Here are some of the responses:

After we had a good number of answers,  I elicited patterns in them - e.g. many definitions had "expression" or "self-expression" in them; an important subset said art is difficult or impossible to define; and we questioned whether art bore any relationship to "life" or "reality" based on the responses, questions of intention and reception, and so on  I also pointed out that no one had mentioned "skill" in any of their definitions.  We then compared our definitions to some dictionary definitions of art that I had brought along.

Recognizing art and art worlds as historically situated is one of the course goals, so I plan to raise this question "What is art?" every so often as we progress from the Renaissance to the present, so students can revise and develop their definitions, and we can think about how the definition of art has changed over time.

We also got to practice using the web tool, so now the students are familiar with it for whenever I want to use it in a lesson.

Issues:  Poll everywhere didn't display on the screen the same way it had at home on my computer, so bits of some of my questions were not visible.  To be fair, they do warn you in the instructions to practice the poll on the computer and display system you will be using.  I didn't.  Live and learn.  It still worked out great!

Other issue - I had too many intro questions. It does take a little while to text in all those numbers.  If I upgrade, I think I can make it a little more seamless, but at the moment it's a bit expensive for an adjunct.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

To post notes or not to post notes, that is the question.

Recently, on a listserv I subscribe to, a new Advanced Placement course teacher wondered whether he should post his outline of the textbook for his students, or let them take their own notes.  He wrote:
Hi everyone,
> First time AP Euro teacher here, and was hoping for some advice on the topic of class notes. I have several colleagues who favor providing their students with the notes for the course, and several who do not (it has grown into a long-running debate at department meetings). Traditionally I have agreed with the point of view that the work of actually taking the notes is in itself quite important to the learning process. Now, I recently finished outlining the text book we will be using(McKay, 10th ed), and am on the fence whether I should post the notes to my website or not. As I said, my gut instinct is telling me not to, but I have noticed there are several AP teachers who do provide their students with notes. Being that this is my first attempt at an AP curriculum I was hoping to get some more experienced opinions on the matter. Do you provide your students with a set of notes? Has it worked for you in the past? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

> Mike
Here's what one teacher replied:
Do not most university professors have all notes, assignments, etc. al. on their websites?
I do understand your desire to teach your students note taking skills....but are not many summaries, etc. on line for their use anyway?
Almost all of the AP World, AP European, AP US textbooks with their ancillaries and supplementals  provide chapter notes for students on their websites.
I might humbly suggest that students should be taught to "use" the historical information (notes), data, and narrative analytically, ie., seeing change over time, continuity over time, comparative (also contrast) and analyzing POV [point of view] in primary sources to finding truth in the past.  In other words using historical notes from diverse sources to understand historical processes. 
And here's what I added to the discussion:
While I thought the way Mike did going into my first year teaching AP, I found that when I didn't provide notes, many students searched out and printed notes from various online sources, which many of them annotated in class.  Also, in practice I found out the hard way that the pace I had to move at was too fast for such idealism.  I found that if I provided the students with powerpoint notes or even with old-fashioned lecture outlines on the blackboard, that they did take notes during class anyway.  It simply allowed me to go much faster,  and it helped them understand and retain better.  

Ditto for our textbook.  It depends on how well-organized your textbook is and what kinds of signposting and online resources it provides, but students did find it helpful to have some way of knowing what *I* thought was important in the torrent of information the book provided.  I did this by having them fill out a reading "quiz" for homework before we started each chapter (I didn't make these quizzes up myself but modified them from quizzes I found on one of the many wonderful, generous AP teachers' websites.).  They got a modest number of homework points for completing these quizzes, and we went over them quickly in class but I did not grade them.

 About three quarters of the way through the year, I also started a blog (I used Blogspot, and there are others you can use like Wordpress etc. If your school provides you with space on its website, that can work too) where I posted homework, project requirements, links to resources and cool websites we didn't have time for in class, and other information.  Even with my stumbling first efforts at this, I have to say it made life easier for everyone. 

As an improvement for this year and to save the burden of photocopying, I would put the Powerpoints or notes up on a free service like Wikispaces (sign up for a free educational account, which allows you to sign up multiple users at once and restrict access if you like) and Slideshare and let students download and print them themselves.   I would post the links to these sites on the blog so the students could find them again whenever they needed to.  I don't think it is doing their work for them.  The students who want to learn will appreciate it and will continue to work hard, as is their custom, and those who want to cut corners will do that anyway, whether you put up the notes or not.  Everything is moving in that direction anyway (see "The Flipped Classroom"). 

What Mike is really asking is, "How do I make sure my students are learning actively?"  Note-taking (done correctly) is one way of learning actively, but it's not the only way.  Don't agonize over it.  Put the notes up and provide opportunities for active learning and synthesis other ways, with classroom activities, discussion, well-designed projects, web quests, graphic organizers (I used to call them "tables," "charts," and "diagrams" ;-)) and so many other things we've seen on the boards (including note-taking!). You can always stop putting up notes it if it's not working for your class.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wow! Wikispaces history project is a hit!

Just wanted to share with you a comment e-mailed to me by one of my students' parents about my first Wikispaces project for my U.S. History II high school class.*
 Hi this is XXX's father XXX and it's nice to actually see a teacher that lets the parents get involved with the children's work. This is the first time I have ever seen anything like this and it is a true teaching accomplishment. XXX's video was very interesting as it pointed out many harsh realities of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Also, the paragraphs written after were very coinciding with the video, especially the one referring to the Japanese concentration camps due to fear of another attack of some sort. The discussion board is also very insightful and will be a huge help to those students who need help understanding one of the topics posted.
My 11th-grade students researched good-quality videos on World War II, then posted them to their own Wikispaces page on our class site, and wrote introductory texts as well as a paragraph explaining how their video augmented, illustrated, or even in some cases contradicted their textbook.  We spent time in class discussing the criteria that would make a video "good-quality" for a history class - things like accuracy, availability of metadata (who created it, where,when, and why; intended audience, and so on); the source of the video post, the production values, and whether the video showed evidence of any bias or interventions after its original creation.  We talked about primary and secondary sources and what would make a video qualify as one or the other.  (Basically, a primary source is created during the period you are studying; a secondary source is later or at some remove.) Students weren't required to add photos or illustrations to their pages or change the fonts, but I taught them how to do it as well as how to alter their layout and colors.  Many of them chose to embellish their pages in this way, even though it wasn't required.  Many took great pride in their work.

Next, after all the videos and pages were assembled, students were required to view and comment on at least three of their classmates' videos and posts, and I commented on all of it as well.  Here I modeled comments as well as prompted students to improve their pages; and students were able to see their peers' work, and see skilled and not-so-skilled examples.  They also joked around and encouraged one another.  They seemed to like having control over many aspects of the process.

In a related exercise, I posted four discussion questions about topics we had discussed, read about, or viewed in a film on World War II we saw together in class, and students were asked to post to at least two of them.  The questions were designed to prompt students to synthesize the material from these print, aural, and video sources in order to join the discussion.

For the project, we discussed the criteria in class and I posted instructions and a jing about using Wikispaces on my school blog.  When I saw the project was turning out to be pretty exciting, I wanted students to share their work with the adults in their lives, so I offered very modest extra credit if they showed their work to a parent and the parent e-mailed me a note saying he or she had seen it.  I didn't ask for anything more than that, but many parents wanted to write and say what they thought about the project.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled.   I didn't even know Wikispaces existed four weeks ago.  [note: this entry was originally written in late May 2011 and updated in June]
So what did they learn?
  • Synthesized information from a variety of media, including print, digital, and face-to-face interaction.
  • Developed their writing skills: description, summary, analysis, critique
  • Evaluated the content and reliability of web sources as well as concerns inherent to the medium like production values or production interventions (editing, photoshopping and the like)
  • Presented their work to an audience of peers and parents
  • Commented on peer's work
  • Created, organized and designed simple web pages
  • dipped into HTML and WYSIWYG editing
  • Produced knowledge base on World War II

*Because it's a school Wikispaces project, to protect students' privacy I can't publish it to the whole web.  If you'd like to know more about the particulars of setting up this kind of project, e-mail me or contact me via the comments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Prezi and the Economy

One of the most exciting tools for educators I learned about this year is Prezi, a presentation tool that zooms all around a matrix that you create.  Basically you design something like a poster or layout, then you create frames and links that allow you to jump all around in any direction.  It's a lot less linear and one-up than PowerPoint.  Or at least it can be, because you can see several elements of the presentation at once, and then zoom around to whichever one you want.  Of course, if your purpose warrants it, you can always run your Prezi linear fashion, so viewers see things in the order you want them to see them.  But the big difference with Prezi is the feel.  Elements swoop, zoom, and spin - it's a lot less static than Powerpoint, and makes even Powerpoint's animations seem kind of stodgy and lame.

But why read about it, when you can see?  Check out this award-winning Prezi by Jonathan Chan:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wikipedia Redux

Those of you who read my post on the Great Wikipedia Question  ("Edupunks, Latin American Literature, and a Wikipedia Confession" ) will be interested to see how it's handled in a rubric developed by Linda Goldsworthy, a high school teacher in Wisconsin.  Rather than forbid the use of Wikipedia and its ilk, Goldsworthy evaluates student research papers by applying criteria of "overview sources," "directly credited sources," "authoritative quality of sources" and finally, formatting:
> My research paper/project  Works Cited Rubric includes "Overview
> Sources" which can include things like wikipedia, World Book, etc.
> so that students gather key names, places, events, etc.  It is
> meant to give them an idea about their topic. It consists of 10% of
> the rubric.   I let them know that in many college courses,
> wikipedia is an unacceptable source and my goal is to wean them
> from it.  I do spend some time pointing out the references at the
> bottom as potential places to get better material.
> Next, I use "Directly Credited Sources" which can include primary
> sources, secondary sources, etc.  My high school subscribes to many
> databases including things like ABC-CLIO, Opposing Viewpoints and
> Jstor. This may be worth as much as 30% on the works cited rubric.
> The third, and most important part of my rubric uses "Authoritative
> Quality of Sources"  This is usually 40% of the Works Cited rubric.
> Kids know that I spend a lot of time looking at their sites and
> the QUALITY of the sources they use.  The use of the subcription
> databases always let me know that authoritative quality is much
> higher than other sites students frequently want to use.
> The remainder of my rubrics deal with MLA/APA/ASA or whatever
> format I am using as well as spelling, etc. for the last 20%.
> I worked very closely with the librarian at out school to develop
> this rubric.  She's actually assists me during the early stages of
> teaching the students as she knows what works best.
> My goal is to wean use of overview sources and encourage thinking
> skills that help them fine tune their researching abilities.
Wikipedia isn't going away anytime soon, and do we really want it to?  I like this approach because instead of flat and futile prohibitions on using the source we secretly use ourselves, it guides the students towards learning to evaluate and make judgments about web sources on their own.  The sooner the better, I say.

*About the illustration:  I created this by downloading an image of a confessional from the web, then uploading it to  Be Funky, and using this free photo-editing web tool to paste in a speech bubble. Then I cut and pasted the Wikipedia graphic (badly, I admit) using Sumo Paint, a free web editing and painting tool.  It took me all afternoon, and I loved it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Check out my blog for students!

I've been experimenting with blogging as a way of providing my high school students with information - things like chapter notes, instructions for projects, learning objectives, and other information. I started it before I learned about Wikispaces, so I decided to keep using the blog rather than change while the students were still getting used to the idea of visiting the blog.  It's a little rough - I'm learning as I go - but have a look:  Ms. Pushkal's Blog.  I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Resources for Bloom's Digital Taxonomy

Bloom's taxonomy of learning came up in class last night.  Earlier in the course it had been a topic of discussion on our class's Blackboard discussion board, and it popped up again when were were learning about Udutu, a free online course authoring tool that lets you make online interactive site and "learning objects" (like tests, things to read and do, and other activities).  Udutu's documentation doesn't confine itself to telling you how to use the tool (e.g. "click here to add a picture") - it also discusses establishing learning outcomes and some of the old-fashioned lesson- or course- planning activities that are appropriate to each stage of creating an online (or e-learning) course.  While this made it verbose (and maddening when I was looking for quick step-by-step instruction on how to import a video) I do think I will be reading it more carefully before I charge off into e-learning.

But at any rate, it made me think of some recent modifications of Bloom's Taxonomy that people have been making to adapt Bloom's (a product of the 1950s) to the digital age.

Andrew Churches has written a lot about this.  His article at gives brief explanation of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning as adapted for digital learning.  Best of all, it provides annotated lists of common digital tasks, organized by the level of the taxonomy they fall under.  Churches article in is useful, clear, and best of all, specific.  For example, under Bloom's level "Understanding," Churches places the following:
The digital additions and their explanations are as follows:
  • Advanced and Boolean Searching – This is a progression from the previous category. Students require a greater depth of understanding to be able to create, modify and refine searches to suit their search needs.
  • Blog Journaling – This is the simplest of the uses for a blog, where a student simply "talks" "writes" or "types" a daily- or task-specific journal. This shows a basic understanding of the activity reported upon. The blog can be used to develop higher level thinking when used for discussion and collaboration.
  • Twittering – The Twitter site's fundamental question is "what are you doing?" This can be, in its most simplistic form, a one or two word answer, but when developed this is a tool that lends itself to developing understanding and potentially starting collaboration.
  • Categorizing – digital classification - organizing and classifying files, web sites and materials using folders etc. 
  • Commenting and annotating – a variety of tools exist that allow the user to comment and annotate on web pages, .pdf files and other documents. The user is developing understanding by simply commenting on the pages. This is analogous with writing notes on hand outs, but is potentially more powerful as you can link and index these.
  • Subscribing – Subscription takes bookmarking in its various forms and simplistic reading one level further. The act of subscription by itself does not show or develop understanding but often the process of reading and revisiting the subscribed-to feeds leads to greater understanding.
And so on for the other levels of Blooms. 

Churches has also published a long but interesting and accessible article on Bloom's digital taxonomy here.  It's dated 2008 - not sure if he's updated it recently.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's been very frustrating this year teaching AP History where the mandate to "cover" content is merciless. It's purported to be a college level class, but I would never expect my college students to memorize the way students must for AP high school classes. The AP European history essay section - especially the document-based essays in which students grapple with primary sources - is actually quite well-constructed and does a good job mimicking what professional historians actually do. From what I've seen on the AP discussion boards, though, teachers quickly take the rubric and develop formulaic ways of approaching the essay for their students. They have to, to try to get high scores and high pass rates. But it kind of takes all the joy out of it.

A special frustration for me is that the need to prepare for the AP test means I can't spend anywhere near as much time working with students on research papers, which would be so valuable for them. I'm hoping the IT I'm learning to use will help me restructure so we can do more higher-order things (and still get good scores on the test.) For instance, with Proprofs I can put up practice tests, something that would eat up valuable class time were I to do it the old-fashioned paper way. With paper multiple-choice tests, I'd have to grade them by hand, or at very least scantron, so forget re-takes to reiterate the factual recall. But with Profprofs or other web tools like Quizlet or Flashcard Machine I can provide opportunities for the students to re-take and re-visit information many times. I'm looking forward to figuring out ways to use the web to supercharge my course and take the waste out of our precious face time.

About the image: I used BeFunky , a tool I learned about in class last night, to add a European Union flag to an image of a map, then added text.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Oh, dear. Maybe I shouldn't take quizzes late at night. Here's my certificate of non-achievement for a quiz I took on, of all things, research:

It's from an interactive powerpoint module that's aimed at college students and others who have to do research. The interesting thing is the modules are interactive - no "death by powerpoint" here. The stellar results you see above are part of a pre-quiz. Presumably after I complete the modules I'll have a chance to redeem myself and regain my reputation.

I haven't used pre-quizzes much (I know! I know!) partly because they weren't common when I was in school, but having taken a few really brings home to me how useful they are. Some people have to learn through experience, I guess.

Well, here's the test:

I think one thing I learned is to not do these things when I'm tired. But I couldn't resist. That's the nature of the internet, too - keep clicking.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Any art/graphic design teachers out there?

OK, I admit it  - I was looking at shoes on the web, which I almost never do.  Really.  I swear... I mean, not that much, it's not like I need an intervention or anything, not yet....  Anyway, I was looking at shoes for like, one second, and I clicked my way to Polyvore, where users can put together "sets" of clothes, shoes, and accessories from all over the web.  Remember playing with paper dolls? What, you haven't? Never mind.  Go straight to Polyvore and discover what kept Victorian children busy for hours and hours.  Only this is web-based, scissors-free, interactive, and probably not too messy, provided you submerge your credit card in a bowl of water and put that into the freezer about an hour beforehand.

Oh, yes, the instructional part, yes, I was just getting to that - well, students can analyze sets or create sets themselves to learn color theory, design principles, texture - all kinds of aesthetic lessons are possible.  (What? Oh, those gray suede pumps are very distracting - sorry.) Not to mention graphic design principles like composition, font choice and so on.  Users hail from all over the world, so maybe a geography lesson there, or economics, or political science (globalization, anyone?) Here's another example, from a user in the USA:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Edupunks, Latin American Literature, and a Wikipedia Confession

In a month of Instructional Technology excitement here's something that got me pretty excited: Wikipedia's WikiProject_Murder_Madness_and_Mayhem. I was googling "edupunks" and came across this article about a University of British Columbia class in which the student's "products" were high-quality Wikipedia articles on Latin American literature. Now, this is probably old news - the class took place in spring of 2008 - but it addresses a moral-pedagogical issue I've been wrestling with over the last few years: Where do I get off forbidding my students to use Wikipedia in their research papers when I (and at least a few brave colleagues who've admitted it to me) use it all the time and even contribute to it? Now, before you throw my job application into the trash can, look deep into your soul, admit you *love* Wikipedia, and keep reading.

Wikipedia is a great way to orient yourself to a new topic quickly, or to refresh your memory, even though some of what's written on it is crap. In fact, for teaching, the fact that some of what's written on it is crap and some of it is excellent is precisely what makes Wikipedia so valuable: it's a way to introduce students to concepts of scholarship, peer-review, and why citations matter, and to open a discussion on all that good stuff that's part of a proper education. Plus, forbidding students to cite it in research papers is pointless, because everyone always looks at it anyway.

So at a certain point, I found myself singing "How do you keep a wave upon the sand?" so often that I made a virtue of necessity and tried to turn my students' reliance on Wikipedia to pedagogical advantage. That's why for the past few years, as part of the orientation to a research paper assignment, I've given a little lecture on how Wikipedia works (there are still lots of people who don't realize anyone can edit the articles). I show students the Wikipedia page where, every year, I add the race dates for the Atlantic City Race Course (a public service I've taken it upon myself to provide), and I explain the right way to use Wikipedia, as well as its pitfalls for serious research. I tell my students to go ahead and use Wikipedia to see what is basically the received wisdom on their topic, but that they *must* confirm anything they find using trusted sources. I tell them that they can sign up and write Wikipedia articles, and that if they know a lot about something, they ought to. This leads to a discussion of peer review and the entire framework of serious scholarship. Just to underscore the point, I even require my college students to provide, along with their research paper draft, a printout of the relevant Wikipedia page. (This also prevents about 90% of the most inept plagiarism I used to encounter.)

But the Murder, Mayhem and Madness- Latin American literature class project takes it way, way, beyond that: the students actually produced and published the scholarship themselves. The idea was that, instead of research papers, the class would improve Wikipedia articles on their subject. As they put it, "Our collective goals were to bring a selection of [Wikipedia] articles on Latin American literature to featured article status (or as near as possible)." (In case you don't know about "good" and "featured article" status, one of Wikipedia's responses to early criticisms of the quality of articles was to devise these categories, a form of peer review that awards a special status to articles that Wikipedia's editors - or knowledgeable reviewers - determine meet certain quality criteria.) And the students did it: "By project's end, we had contributed three featured articles and eight good articles. None of these articles was a good article at the outset; two did not even exist."
I'm faint thinking about the possibilities - instead of pecking out a research paper so meaningless that even its author doesn't bother to pick it up at the end of the semester (just the grade, ma'am), students in this class published their work and entered the stream of living scholarship that stretches back to at least the middle ages. Their work is out there now, part of the mix, to be argued over, cited, refuted, praised, corrected. They've engaged. And the thing is, this kind of meaningful contribution - this producing rather than just receiving - would not have been possible for humanities undergraduates without the collaborative, Web 2.0 technology Wikipedia exemplifies. So yeh, I'm pretty excited.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


We had our second class tonight.  Have to catch up on most of it via Wimba but I'm entranced with what we did.  I especially like Poll Everywhere, which, in a nutshell, is like a clicker system to get answers to a question from multiple people (polling) only there are no clickers - you just create a poll on the web and have your respondents text their answers to a unique number that polleverywhere generates.  The responses appear on the web in real time.  Classmates explained that you can do this with a large audience -  have the audience answer, and project the results on to a screen in realtime and let them watch it change.  Awesome! How much would parents like that on parents' night?

I also had a look at Wordle and Tagxedo, two sites that create clouds of words with text you provide.  Mostly people talked about using it for the younger grades, but I wonder if I could get my high school history students to dump their notes into it to generate vocabulary terms or an unusual study guide.  Wait, how about a project - dump notes into Tagxedo and use its shape function to form them into a history-related shape (like a flintlock rifle or a covered wagon or a guillotine.  OK, maybe not a guillotine).  Maybe make a Ben-Franklin-shaped word cloud out of text from Poor Richard's Almanac.  Hmmm.  Have to think about this.  Can we get it on the school's lab computers, or will it crash and burn having to download silverline or whatever that was that delayed us tonight?  Test in lab first, I think.

OK, here's my Poor Richard's Almanac word cloud, above.  I chose a snake because I haven't figured out how to make it look like Ben Franklin yet.  This reminds me of the flag Ben published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, "Join or Die"(1754)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Avaunt! It's the Chalkboard Pirate!

Welcome aboard my pirate blog, in which I'll sail the high-tech seas in search of booty to bring back to my classroom.  As a guide I'll have Amy Ackerman and my shipmates in the Instructional Technology course.  I'm hoping to supercharge my teaching, transform it through technology, conquer the techno-seas, or at least stop being quite so boring. 

We cast off last Tuesday learning WIMBA live classroom and creating our own avatar using Voki.  Next order of business is this blog, a profile, and a contract.
I'm also mulling over ways IT can help me maximize classroom time by allowing me to shift some face-time tasks like checking homework and providing notes onto the web.