Will clickers make your classroom interactive?

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | education, technology | Comments Off

Clickers – also called voting devices – allow learners in a classroom to respond simultaneously to questions posed by their teacher.  Some teachers use cell phones (already in the pockets of learners) for the same purpose.  It is claimed that harnessing technology in this way results in an interactive classroom.

How does it work?  The teacher asks a question – typically a multiple choice one – and allows learners to use a clicker or cell phone to select the correct answer.  The results are collated and if a data projector is available, a graph can be displayed immediately, showing how many selected the correct answer.

Clickers can be a useful continuous assessment tool in classrooms.  But does the use of this technology transform the classroom into an interactive one?  Not necessarily.

A graph showing learner responses

A graph showing learner responses

The mere fact that children interact with a piece of technology does not guarantee that they are interacting with the learning material.  When the teacher displays the results graph and learners see whether they were right or wrong, and how many in the class were right or wrong, this also does not guarantee interaction; it is the same as handing a marked test paper back to learners.

But when the teacher uses the information gained from the voting exercise to reason with the learners, interactivity can happen.  For example, she may ask those learners who chose the wrong answer for the reasons for their choice.  Likewise, she can ask the learners who chose the correct answer to defend their choice.  In this way a lively discussion between learners will be triggered, with the teacher guiding the discussion so that the learners can draw correct conclusions.  Now we have an interactive classroom!

The value of technology in this case is that of a catalyst for interactivity.  In the same way as certain chemicals act as catalysts to let other chemicals react with one another, voting devices can spark off interactivity.  Interactivity happens between learners and learners, between learners and the teacher, and between learners and the learning material.  The technology is only the catalyst, but all depends on how the teacher uses it!

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Make your classroom interactive by using a visualizer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Gadgets, technology | Comments Off

Teachers, do you want to make your classrooms more interactive?   A visualizer may be just the piece of equipment that you require.

A visualizer – also called a visual presenter, digital visualizer or a document camera – is a digital camera which, connected to your computer, allows you to display images through a data projector.  It functions in the same way as the old overhead projector, but with all the additional benefits that modern technology offers.

You can use a visualizer to display a page of a textbook, allowing you to zoom in, highlight text and make annotations.  Whatever is done, can be saved; it is no longer necessary for learners to spend valuable time to take down notes.  A good visualizer will allow you to record the work you are displaying, as well as your voice, so that the entire lesson can be made available for revision, or for those learners who could not attend class.

At times you may want learners to see a real item – not a picture.  This can be a challenge if the item is very small, particularly if you’re teaching natural science or biology and you want learners to observe details that can’t be detected with the naked eye.  Some visualizers have a microscopic function … just imagine how useful that would be in a class.  Learners can remain at their seats while you zoom in on detail; it is no longer necessary for them to queue up to get a turn looking through a microscope.

Have you ever done a science experiment while forty learners are crowding around you to see what’s happening?  Doing the experiment on the display surface of a visualizer allows learners to view the experiment in real time from their individual desks.  Snapshots at certain stages of the experiment can be taken and then incorporated in later discussions, future lessons or revision sessions.

Whereas a scanner limits you to displaying two dimensional images, a visualizer allows you to display two or three dimensional items.  When you rotate or move objects, learners can see the details of the object from different angles.

With a document camera in the class, any object can be viewed as the opportunity presents itself – in this way spontaneity is added to your classroom … and isn’t this what interactivity is all about.

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Why the fuss about tablets?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 | Tablet, technology | Comments Off

Tablets are taking the world by storm.  You see them wherever you go: on airplanes and trains even elderly people use them to read novels and magazines; in coffee shops men in suits are glued to the small screens while sipping their latés;  house wives watch movies on them; and children use them to play games.

Tablet hype is gripping the world.  Some claim that this technology innovation will be the one that will revolutionize education.  Others are less enthusiastic about the possibility that tablets will enhance education and point to previous technologies, such as laptops and interactive whiteboards, which have failed to bring about radical changes in teaching and learning.

Regardless of how we may view tablets, we can’t deny the fact that they are here.  And that is what the fuss is about … tablets are here by popular demand.

Production and sales of tablets are outstripping that of PCs and laptops.  Tablets are becoming more affordable, while their capacity and functionality are increasing with each new model appearing on the market.  The number of tablet owners and users is growing at a staggering speed.

It is impossible to ignore a ubiquitous device.  We may not like what car emissions are doing to the environment, but we can’t ignore cars when we want to cross a road; likewise, we can’t ignore the ever-growing presence of tablets on the planet.

Technology fascinates people, particularly younger ones.  Since tablets will fall into their hands at one or other time, we may just as well explore how to use them for educational purposes.  Cell phones and computers have already been found useful as teaching and learning tools; a tablet lies somewhere in between and should therefore be useful too.

Look past the hype factor and see tablets as potential education tools.   Discover the ways in which they can help to transform dull school rooms into exciting learning centres.

For more information about tablets click here.

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Does size matter when choosing a tablet?

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 | Tablet | Comments Off

Tablet size does matter – but only to you.  There is no universal right size for a tablet; the right size depends on your requirements and your personal preference.

Tablets come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from cell phone size to computer screen size.  Some manufacturers try to merge cell phones with tablets, resulting in huge phones with tablet capabilities, or tablets with which you can make telephone calls: these devices are sometimes called phablets.

Tablet size is usually given in inches, as measured diagonally from corner to corner and the two most common sizes are 7 inch (7″) and 10 inch (10″) although in-between sizes are becoming popular.

Smaller tablets have the advantage of being lighter than the bigger ones.  It is possible to put a small tablet in a lady’s handbag, or squeeze it into a pocket of some jackets.  When used as a reader, many people prefer the smaller tablet – to them it feels more like a book than a bigger device would.  The weight and size make it more comfortable to hold for a long period, particularly when reading in bed and holding it with one hand.

Of course, if you make the letters bigger for easier reading without your glasses, the smaller screen will require that you flip to the next page more frequently – some people find this rather annoying.

The clear advantage of a bigger tablet is its bigger screen.  This is useful when browsing the web, eliminating a fair deal of zooming and scrolling.

In general, small tablets are cheaper than their larger counterparts – if size does not matter to you, it may matter to your pocket.

The jury is still out on which size tablet would be most suitable for students at school or college.

The size of the tablet remains a matter of preference that is determined by how you anticipate using the device.  Find an opportunity to play around with different size tablets before you purchase one – there is no substitute for holding the tablet in your hands to experience how it feels.

For more information about tablets click here.

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Must I dismantle the computer room when I plan to bring tablets into the classroom?

Friday, July 12th, 2013 | Mobile learning | Comments Off

It is true that mobile devices in a classroom are more beneficial for teaching and learning than the static computer room of yesterday.  But if the school already has such a computer facility, should you get rid of it?

We can benefit from some ancient wisdom that comes to us in the form of one of Aesop’s fables, The Dog and the Shadow.  It goes as follows:

It happened that a dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace.  On his way home he had to cross a plank lying across a running river.  As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath.  Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also.  So he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen again.

The moral of the story: beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to let go of the substance – in this case the computer room.  The goal of using mobile devices on a one-to-one basis in the school remains a dream – a shadow – until every child indeed has such a device.  This may take a while to accomplish.  While working towards the realization of that dream, the computer room plays a beneficial role in giving digital access to all the learners in the school.

Getting rid of computer room too soon – or allowing it to fall into disrepair – could mean that your learners are deprived of the opportunity to engage with digital resources.  Don’t let go of the substance before the shadow has been transformed into reality.

For more information about tablets click here.

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Not all e-learning conferences are scams

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 | technology, trends | Comments Off

Some time ago I posted an article on a phenomenon I called The conference scam.  I received many messages through Twitter and LinkedIn of people who agreed with the sentiments I expressed about conferences dealing with technology in education.  It should be noted, however, that not all conferences fall into this category.

Last week I went to a conference for teachers in Bloemfontein, organized by SchoolNet.  What a delightful and worthwhile experience that was!  It was attended by over five hundred teachers and the presentations were done mostly by teachers who shared their experience … this was clearly not a money-making event, but one that truly helped teachers to hone their skills.

Over the next few weeks, two more conferences will be held that may be worthwhile to attend.

The Education Technology Summit 2013 is scheduled for 23-24 July 2013 and takes place in Midrand, Johannesburg.

Blended Learning: Perfecting the Blend is the theme of the The e-Learning Update – 2013 conference that will take place 6-8 August 2013  at the Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg.

Have a look at the programmes of these two conferences and decide if either one, or both, will be beneficial to you.

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How do I go about choosing a tablet that’s right for me?

Monday, July 8th, 2013 | Tablet, technology | Comments Off

Having many choices is good, but too many options can be problematic.  This is true in the case of a teacher who wants to purchase a tablet: the market is flooded by so many different types and models that it is a challenge to decide which tablet is the best one for you.

How will you go about choosing a tablet that’s right for you?  Think about how you will select a car:

You’ll start off by considering what your needs are.  Do you need a small car to take you to work, or a bigger one for your family, or a vehicle that you can use to transport goods for your job?  You will consider the cost of vehicles and what you can afford.  For some people additional features are important, such as a good sound system, air conditioning, park assist, and so on.  Aesthetics may play a role, such as colour, shape and ergonomic features.  Once you know what you want, the range of options is narrowed and the choice becomes easier.  Your choice may be further restricted by models that are currently available through the vendors in your area.

You can follow the same approach when selecting a tablet.  Think about your requirements.  How do you plan to use it?  What are your needs at present?  How much can you afford?  What is available?

Some of the things you would want to consider about your tablet include:

Size: do you want a small tablet to fit into your pocket or handbag, or do you need one with a larger screen size?

Platform: which operating system do you prefer?

Features: what are the special features that would make a tablet work for you?

Cost: can you afford it?

Brand: do you have a special brand preference?

Before rushing out to buy a tablet, have a look at the tablets of your colleagues and friends, talk to them, visit trade shows and ask a trusted vendor for advice.

For more information about tablets click here.

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Technology is used to improve safety on South African roads

Sunday, June 30th, 2013 | internet, technology | Comments Off

The following media release may be of interest to you … it once again illustrates the value of harnessing technology.

How is My Drive.co.za strives to improve road safety and provides valuable feedback to drivers

Johannesburg, June 2013 — Every year approximately 14 000 people lose their lives in road traffic related accidents and thousands more are injured. How is My Drive.co.za has unveiled a new concept in South Africa which strives to improve these statistics. This new website provides road users with an easy-to-use online platform through which road incidents, such as bad driving, can be reported, stored and searched. This results in removing the anonymous nature of driving and provides valuable feedback to the public.

The idea behind the website was developed after witnessing multiple incidents involving reckless driving and a disregard for the rules of the road, which is increasingly becoming the norm in South Africa,” said Igor Rodionov, the creator of the website.  “After countless brain storming sessions it became clear that social responsibility and internet technology can be combined effectively to make a positive difference.”

Road users who are interested in improving road safety can create an account on the website and immediately become road spotters. This allows road users the ability to easily post road incident reports on any vehicle.  Once the report is submitted, it gets verified and becomes available via the search feature.

The idea is that by allowing road spotters to submit various reports using their computer or mobile phone, the anonymous nature behind driving is removed and the public can receive valuable feedback regarding their driving style. Using this information, bad drivers can improve their driving behaviour and become more reluctant to break road rules. In return, road spotters can register their vehicle registration and receive email notifications when reports become available on their vehicle.

Additionally, the website provides businesses, a commercial solution which allows them to monitor their drivers by placing a How is My Drive.co.za decal at the back of their vehicles. Their system has multiple benefits to businesses including reductions in accident rates and costs. Since the system does not use expensive call centres, How is My Drive.co.za is able to offer businesses a cost-effective solution.

How is My Drive.co.za is a website which is committed to making a positive change in road behaviour and a good South African initiative. To obtain more information, please visit www.howismydrive.co.za.

[This is a guest post; the content was provided by Igor Rodionov.]

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New technologies to see animal dissections obsolete in the classroom

Monday, June 24th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

Gone are the days when the smell of formaldehyde emanated from high school science class rooms; no longer is there a need to make the dissecting of frogs, rats, and other animals a strict requirement to be the top of the class.

Today’s budding high school scientists can wave that all goodbye as new technologies such as narrated computer software, step-by-step DVDs and lifelike manikins are being developed to help students gain practical, and even hands-on, knowledge of internal biological systems. This not only improves the lives of animals, decreases their capture in the wild, and eliminates the need for intentional breeding, but also marks great improvements for the educators and learners themselves.

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

All animals are conscious, living beings. We look to our educators to teach our students to be respectful of all life, and to teach the value of that life,” says Erika Vercuiel, manager of the Animal Ethics Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA).

There is no question that at times, medical research is needed, but we aim to replace, reduce and refine any process involving animals, especially at high school and first year university level.”

Countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Argentina, and Slovakia have already banned the use of animals in dissection at elementary and high school level. Several states in America have also passed policies that require schools to offer alternatives to dissection to those learners who do not wish to participate.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the United States, 95 percent of medical schools in that country, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and all Canadian medical schools, have discontinued the use of animal dissection for medical students and none expect or requires students to participate in animal dissection.

The PCRM reports that both students and educators prefer the use of simulation-based training to that of the use of animals. Studies have also concluded that learners engaged in alternative methods, such as interactive learning, narrated software, and DVDs, retain as much information – and in some cases even more – than students using animals.

In addition, for schools not financially equipped to purchase animals for each student, each class, each year, along with costly lab equipment, the once-off fees for the purchase of alternatives are a welcomed affordable option,” says Vercuiel.

Lessons become more efficient, as the time spent preparing and cleaning the classroom, teaching etiquette, and explaining procedures is eradicated when alternatives are employed. In addition, educators can customise and save lesson plans for their students.

Utilising alternative methods to dissection, especially at high school level, teaches learners additional lessons and benefits that go well beyond the biology lab.

Vercuiel continues, “Making a stand in the classroom encourages students to become conscientious citizens, who respect animals and their environment. This type of compassion has been shown to overflow to the child’s surrounding family and community.”

On the other hand, an insensitive attitude towards animals, especially by adults the children has been taught to emulate, can actually be negative lesson for young learners.

Several alternatives are currently available such as interactive DVDs, lifelike models and interactive computer models. The DVDs include general notes for teachers, and introduction to the external features of the animal, then leads the learners through the digestive, urinogenital, circulatory system, nervous system, and skeleton systems.

For more information on the ethical alternatives to dissection please contact Erika Vercuiel animalethics@nspca.co.za.

[This is a guest post by the National Council of SPCAs.]

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The conference scam

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 | education, training | Comments Off

Have you noticed how many e-learning conferences are held these days?  And each one is touted by the organizers as a can’t afford to be missed event.  Some of them are even called summits … adding a touch of grandiosity to the occasion.

How valuable are these conferences?

Having attended a good number of them over the last few years – and presented papers at many – I’ve developed some resistance to attending them; not all, but most of them.

Some e-learning conferences are simply a rehash of the same stuff: same themes, same topics, same speakers. Of course, some themes and topics remain relevant for a while.  And some speakers (like Maggie Verster) are evergreens who stay on top of their subjects and always have something new to share (and even if you hear the same presentation more than once, you are inspired and enthused every time).  But in general, why should we want to listen to repeats of known information?

Then there is the exorbitant price you have to pay to attend, often in Pounds, Dollars or Euros.  It may sound less than when the price is quoted in Rands, but it’s a con – with the current exchange rate you’ll be paying a fortune.

The ultimate rip-off is when companies buy speaking slots to plug their products. This is done in different ways.  Sign up as a platinum or gold sponsor, and you’re assured of keynote speaking slots … and you’re guaranteed a captive audience that will not leave their seats because they paid through their necks for them.

Earlier this year I had an experience with organizers of an e-learning conference that really jolted me.  I submitted a proposal to deliver a paper at this conference.  A few weeks later I received an email request for a company sponsorship.  I passed it on to the marketing division of the company for which I am working.  After consideration it was decided not to sponsor the event, and the organizers were informed.  A few days later I received a call from the organizers and the conversation when something like this:

“We were wondering if you could talk to your company about a sponsorship,” the man said after we exchanged customary pleasantries.

“I’ve passed your request on to our marketing division, and I believe that they have communicated their decision to you,” I replied.

“Yes, the marketing folks decided that they will not give us a sponsorship.  Is it possible that you can help us to change their minds about this?”

“I would not want to do that,” I said.  “Our marketing guys know best what the company can afford and how the marketing budget should be spent.”

“It’s a pity,” the man said, and paused a few moments.  “I notice that you have sent a proposal to deliver a paper.”

“Yes, I did, but I have not received any confirmation yet.”

“You see, that’s just the point.  We’re currently going through the proposals and your chances to be accepted are increased considerably if your company gives us a sponsorship.”

I was speechless.

If my proposal was turned down because my topic was not appropriate to the theme of the conference, or the abstract was weak, or the organizers thought that I am not a good enough speaker, I would have accepted it without any argument; not all proposals fit and not all are accepted.

What is the implication?  Those presentations that you and I pay to see are often selected, not on the basis of the merit of the material to be presented, but because the slot has been bought.

Does this mean all conferences are suspect?  Not at all!  Conferences remain a valuable way to gain and share knowledge and experience.  But before you sign up for the next conference, check who the sponsors are, who the speakers are, what their topics are, how much you have to pay to attend … also who the event organizer is … and then decide whether attending this event will be a good investment.

Beware of the conference scam!

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