Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crossing the Gap with Skype

OK - imagine that one of your students goes on vacation with the family and is going to be gone for a few weeks.

How do you continue to educate them so that they are not weeks behind when they return?
One possibility is through the use of Skype.


One of the teachers in our district is using Skype to bridge the gap. Above you can see the webcam that he hung from the ceiling so that the student could see and hear what was going on in real time with the rest of his classmates. When the student has a question, he can speak up and the class can hear him through the computer speakers.


The webcam is positioned near the front of the room and the teacher writes large enough on the whiteboard so that it can still be picked up by the webcam. Prior to the student leaving, we provided the student with a laptop and webcam. I installed Skype on it and created a generic, temporary account for the student to use. So far, the teacher feels that it has been working well.

Has anyone else had situations like this come up in your schools? How do you work to continue educating your students when they are gone for extended periods of time? I look forward to hearing your stories.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Technology Facilitates Excitement

It is difficult for me to express in words how elated I am as a result of the level of excitement displayed by my students as they embrace the technology of our course. I thoroughly enjoy the smiles and the laughter and genuine interest in both the subject matter and the other students in the course.

I really feel a strong sense of community with my students as we not only talk to each other live via the TV screens but also as we welcome each other into the chat sessions. I really appreciate the level of respect that the students are already showing each other in the physical and virtual classroom. It is amazing to witness the interactions between students when they are allowed to share their voices, to open up, and to listen to each other.

The use of technology truly facilitates this. Blogging to share opinions and ideas, forums for great conversations, live chat for immediate feedback and assistance, wikis for collaborative group efforts, etc. The possibilities are endless and the results are fantastic.

Does anyone have some stories to share about how technology has generated excitement in their classrooms?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Starting Out Fresh

Monday brings with it a whole new group of students to my ITV hybrid course. For students who have never taken an ITV course (Instructional Television), this is already a new experience. For those who have taken them before this will still be a new experience.

No 45-minute lectures but discussions about how the content applies to their everyday life, sharing ideas, collaborative projects, and building relationships with one another over the airwaves. Our 45 minutes together each day is too precious to waste by me doing all the talking and silencing my students. They have a voice too. I share this with my students on the first day. I let them know that they are important and that I care about what they have to say.

Building this course into a hybrid one facilitates the sharing of their voices both to me and to their peers. Even though students are located at up to 4 different schools, they can still work together on group projects. They can still share their thoughts both synchronously through live chats and over TV as well as asynchronously through discussion forums and blogs. Students do not have to worry about sending or receiving faxes, waiting for packages from the delivery service, or waiting for grades until the end of the semester. All of these things are well managed through Moodle where all of the content and assignment instructions are stored. We spend a good chunk of the first day playing with the technology, setting up the required accounts, etc. This is exciting for them from my experience.

Students have been very receptive to the heavy use of technology in my courses. They are very open and generally very fluent with the various tools that I have them use, even when it may be a new tool for them to begin with.

My goal is for the students to walk away from my class on the first day saying, "Wow, that was really different, but also very cool." I want them to experience some 21st century learning.

Good luck to all of you that are starting new classes this week. Does anyone have any cool stories to share about how they start their classes?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Screencasting and Mastery

I watched the video from Wesley Fryer's blog about a couple teachers that are using vodcasts, or screencasts as I prefer to call them, to deliver the lecture content to their students.

While using screencasts in this way is not a new idea, I wanted to draw your attention to the method of content mastery that they are using with their students. They have created a nice little system to better facilitate mastery of the subject matter.

The video is a little over 20 minutes but is worth watching as there are a lot of great ideas in it. This is especially true if you are unfamiliar with screencasting and the potential that it has for your classroom. The teachers also made mention of Moodle which is an open source CMS or content management system. Housing the screencasts within Moodle allows them to keep track of what the students are doing, when they are doing it, and a good general sense of how long they were engaged in each activity.

I noticed that the teachers used Snapkast to create their screencasts. There are some other products out there that will allow you to create similar recordings and each one works a bit differently. Here are just a few to consider along with Snapkast.

This video truly provides a great example of how technology can be used to facilitate  excellence in the classroom. Technology really can work together with traditional settings to enhance learning. Checkit out and try somethig new today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Technology Tale of Horror

Today I participated in a meeting designed to brainstorm some ideas for infusing technology into a unit of instruction for social studies teachers at various levels from elementary through high school. Overall, I felt the day was very productive and our group is going to piece together a very fun culminating activity for the unit.

That, however, is not the focus of this post. I wanted to share what was, from my perspective, a horror story that some fellow educators are living with on a daily basis.

I had an opportunity to engage in conversations about learning and technology with two teachers from a different school district. The discussion was disheartening to say the least. The teachers indicated their disgust at being under such stringent controls that they cannot even make purchases with their own money to try and enhance the environment for the students. They have only one computer in the room which is used for e-mails, grading, attendance, and a few other mundane activities. They have been waiting for a long time to receive some technology that was supposed to have been purchased long ago.

Here we have some teachers that are willing and eager to begin using some technology in their classrooms but the district seems to be uncooperative from their point of view. As a technology specialist myself, I reflected and shared some of my philosophy about technology integration, and was genuinely sad for these teachers. I truly wish that I was able to do more for them but it is really out of my hands.

It seems to me that many of these types of lockdown situations are a knee-jerk reaction to something that happened in the past which perhaps caused the district a little more grief than they wanted or possibly a fear of such a situation in the future - maybe even a little of both.

The reality is that if we, as educators, are going to be expected to train today's youth for their future, then we ought to have all the necessary tools we need in order to make that goal a reality. Certainly, out of respect, I would expect at least a reasonable amount of support.

Do any of you have a story about your districts not allowing access to powerful, relevant, and engaging technology tools for the classroom? Does anyone have a success story of how they overcame such a situation? I look forward to your stories.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


So I went out this weekend and purchased one of those cute little Acer Aspire netbooks for $300. While I admit that I was drawn to them based on sheer curiosity and wanting to touch the technology, I was ultimately interested in them for my oldest daughter to use for school work. I have seen a couple varieties of these - one that has a 120 to 160GB HDD and one that has an 8 to 16GB SSD. There is a big difference there in storage but not in price. I decided to go with the one that had an SSD.

Here is the low down...

  • 8.9" screen

  • 3 USB ports

  • VGA port

  • Ethernet

  • built in wireless

  • web cam and mic

  • card reader

  • headphone and mic jacks

  • 1 GB RAM

  • Windows XP

  • 8 GB SDD with 8 GB SD expansion for 16 total

Acer Netbook

I spent a bit of time configuring this little fella. I started by deleting all the junk that comes pre-installed like the trial versions of antivirus software and MS Office. MS Works was also scrapped. I loaded up Firefox, Open Office 3.0, Skype, Audacity, AVG 8 free, and Thunderbird. After it was all said and done, I still had about 12 GB of disk space left. BTW, there is not an optical drive with this but I have all of my free installers on a flash drive at the ready so it was simple to install these things.

I tested the start-up time and was about 1 min 30 from cold boot to off and running which I felt was pretty good. I tested the webcam with Skype and it worked very well. Overall, I am rather impressed with this one so far. I have used one of the Samsung Q1 UMPCs before and I think this is much better - especially with the full keyboard. It even came with a fully charged battery. I was expecting to have this plugged in for a while on the first night but it was good to go right out of the box (except for the windows set-up stuff). The battery got me a good 2.5 hours without hitting critical battery level.

I found that it was also cheaper to purchase a portable DVD player case to use as the case for the Acer. The bags that they were selling for them were 10 to 15 dollars more. The DVD cases fit perfect so I went that route.

I wouldn't mind seeing a fleet of these go out to a classroom as a mobile lab to see how well they work in that regard. These seem like they could be a nice 1:1 possibility. They are very light, compact, and perform the functions that a student would need to do. The SSD is a nice feature in that the netbook can be moved around without fear of damaging a HDD with spinning parts.

Has anybody got a story to share about using these netbooks in the classroom? Perhaps a small review of one of the other kinds or one that has Linux on it? I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Make Screencasts for Free

I recently came across a free web-based screen capture tool. Here is a short screencast that I made to test the effectiveness of the tool.

The tool can be found at and I found it very simple to use. I did not notice much in the way of editing the video itself. It appears that if you want to change something you may have to redo the whole screencast. It did look like you could add on more though. The audio seemed good and the panning was pretty smooth. For a free tool, I thought this was impressive, especially for use by teachers that are new to screencasting and want to give it a try.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Practical, Relevant Use for Cellphones in the Classroom

Today I experimented with a free online tool called Poll Everywhere that allows students to participate in a poll that yields real-time data. What is the big deal, you ask?

The big deal here is that students vote by using their cellphones. They send in a text message to the appropriate number as given on the poll that you design. If you have the graph projected for the class to see, they can watch the graph update immediately as votes are cast. There is no need to even refresh the screen.

Poll Everywhere pic

The above picture is a screenshot of a quick field test that I did with a small class of students. It was fun to watch them willingly pull their phones from hiding and text their votes. (FYI, we threw 'NO' vote in there just to mix things up and watch the graph update. The students were all for it.) The idea was really to try and get some first impressions from the students on engaging in this type of activity in the classroom. The response was a positive one.

I also like the idea that a teacher can get a sense of how well the students are grasping the material with a tool like this. Imagine asking the students a test type multiple choice question via the poll - All students can respond anonymously - giving the teacher a very fast sense of where students are as a group. Sure, Q&A sessions can still be done via the 'raise your hand and wait until I call on you' method but you often get the same group of kids that will raise their hand and speak up. Students do not want to be embarrassed if they do not know the answer. This way allows the teacher to see where the whole class is very quickly by getting feedback from everyone on the same question with no hard feelings.

It is interesting to note that when I asked the students in the class what type of texting plan they had - 100% said they had the unlimited plan.

A teacher can sign up for the free plan which will allow them to create as many polls as they want which can be responded to by up to 32 people. That would cover most classrooms.

Does anyone have any stories to share about using this tool in their classroom? I would be interested to hear what types of uses you have come up with for the tool.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Great Inspiration

I recently listened to a podcast from Wesley Fryer which was basically a recording of a radio interview done at CJOB out of Winnepeg, Canada.

The interview centered on Darren Kuropatwa, a mathematics teacher who uses technology in his classroom to engage the students.

I want to highlight one idea in particular that teachers can reflect on and consider. Darren uses blogs for "scribe posting" with his students. Each student takes a turn summarizing the day and what they learned then selecting the next student to be the scribe for the next day. Darren talks about the level of engagement and preparedness this helped to create for the students.

I felt that this was an excellent use of blogs and wanted to help spread the word.

I would encourage all teachers to take the time to listen to the interview as there is a lot of wonderful ideas and inspiration to be had from it.

A link to Darren's copy of the interview can be found here.

A link to an example of one of Darren's class blogs is here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Learning to Walk

First Steps

I am reminded of my 5 children as they each learned to walk. At first they worked on standing and shuffling along the length of a table or couch, then they tried to venture forth without the aid of the furniture which often involved some surely frustrating 'crash and burn' experiences but with continued efforts were able to make it across the room safely. Now, I would consider them all expert walkers. In fact, they can even jump, run, play soccer, and ride bicycles! However, as we are all aware, even the most elite of athletes still have their share of 'crash and burn' moments. My children are no different. I am no different. I have been walking for over three decades and I still get tripped up from time to time. Hopefully we figure out where things went wrong and make the corrections. Hybrid learning is no different.

A Walk Down the Virtual Path

When we get started with trying to deliver our curriculum using technology, we should be as toddlers who work to stand, shuffle, and finally make walking look easy. As with learning to walk, making the transition to hybrid learning will take some time and there will be some 'crash and burn' moments but with continued efforts we can and will succeed in this as well. Even the most elite of teachers using technology have their share of 'crash and burn' moments. I am no different. You are no different. Hopefully, we can figure out where things went wrong and make the corrections. This is learning.

Getting Started

OK, so it is time to start experimenting with hybrid learning. Here are some things you may want to consider...

1. What kinds of tools do I have at my disposal?

  • Check with your district technology team to find out what kinds of software might be available within the district for you to use. You should also ask permission before downloading and installing new and unfamiliar software.

  • Check with the educational service agency for your school to find out if they have any resources available.

  • These contacts may also be able to provide you with good information on many free resources and tools that can be found on the internet.

  • Scan some blog sites (like this one) :) for helpful tools, tips, and tricks.

  • Ask some fellow teachers what they might have for ideas.

  • Talk with your principal about any potential budget money that could be used to make a purchase.

2. Try one new thing at a time

  • Don't expect to convert an entire course overnight or in a week for that matter. "Mile by mile, it takes a while but inch by inch, its a cinch." Make small progressive steps towards your goals.

  • Build up your level of comfort with the technology before diving in with the whole class. Understanding the interface and available functions so that you are able to assist students with questions easily will save a lot of time and stress in the long run.

  • There will undoubtedly be some tools that work for you and others that don't. Test them out individually and continue to use the ones that work well with your lessons.

3. Modify an existing lesson rather than create a new one

  • Taking part of a lesson and transferring pieces of it to an online format will be much faster and less stressful.

  • Have students use a discussion forum, create a wiki, or collaborate on a presentation online rather than having a Q&A session or making simple powerpoints.

4. Don't give up!

  • You will have some things that you try which just don't work. Try a different tool for the job, maybe it will work better. Not all tools are created equal.

  • Have a vision for what you want to accomplish with technology and remain steadfast in reaching it.

  • It is OK to ask for help. There is always someone that is willing to help you succeed.

  • Continue to build your hybrid learning toolbox. Take a course, be inquisitive, take initiative.

  • Learn from your mistakes. Make the corrections. That is how we learn, right? It is OK to make mistakes. Do not be afraid to take a risk and try something new.

Are you learning to walk or are you already running? What have you done to start learning to walk? I look forward to your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Best of Both Worlds

Why the Blog?

Before you start asking questions, the answer is no, this is not about Hannah Montana.

This is about the wonderful combination of the traditional classroom and computer technology. A marriage of sorts between partners for whom age is not an issue. Like restoring that old, rusty '57 Chevy that still runs into a sweet cherry red collector for all to admire as it is driven down the street.

Education is a wonderful thing. Technology is a wonderful thing. Combining these two things opens up the possibilities to create an amazingly powerful experience for both teachers and students. The key is to take the best of both worlds and apply them in creative and innovative ways that engage our students in the act of learning subject area matter and 21st Century Skills.

This is Hybrid Learning.

This is where the chalkboard and technology converge and learning takes on a new form. You can give new energy and life to your traditional classroom by adding online components. This blog will gather and share information and resources via links, articles, podcasts, and videos. Feel free to use the ideas in your own classroom.

Beware the Pitfalls

Certainly, integrating technology into your curriculum successfully takes some practice and there will likely be some times when all you have planned will fail miserably. Our goal is to help you along the way and minimize those times when all seems lost.

Look on the Bright Side

Hybrid Learning can be a huge success as well as a lot of fun and I hope that you are able to use the information and resources that make their way here to help minimize the mistakes and ensure that the failures are not quite so 'epic'. Let's stick together as a learning community full of educators and trainers by helping each other. Work hard to set your goals for making hybrid learning possible in your classroom, stay the course and "rock out the show"!