Colin's Sandbox

Goal Nine: Technology

Technology’s place in education: the great enabler.

The tendency to use technology for technology’s sake often confuses the issue.  “Technology” is defined in various ways, but to use Merriam-Webster: technology is “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems”.  To many, the word “technology” brings to mind the need two things: to need to reserve a laptop cart or time in a computer lab, and thoughts of impending issues with content filters, class management, and technical issues.  No wonder it looms so large in educators’ minds!

Technology should be used to accomplish something we have not been able to easily accomplish before.  Connecting with other classes across time, cultures, and distances, engaging in simultaneous writing collaborations, facilitating just-in-time research, offering new ways of combining material and media types to synthesize and present students’ findings are all among the possibilities that technology provides.

The Education Technology Toolbox

Throughout the course of my work as a graduate student in the Educational Technology program at the University of Alaska Southeast, I have assembled a set of tools to create, organize, document, collaborate, and expand my own personal learning network.  I feel strongly that this approach would be useful for anyone engaged in 21st century learning.  The individual pieces themselves are evolving fast enough that it’s important to understand each piece’s role in the overall process, and not focus too strongly on the particulars of the tool itself.

Useful Tools for Synchronous and Asynchronous Collaboration

Today’s technology serves to shorten the time between engagement and can enable parties to engage in synchronous communication when previously only asynchronous learning was possible.  The issues inherent in synchronous versus asynchronous as well as in-person versus at-distance have been around for the learner since the early days of correspondence education.  The use of all of these technologies is in the pursuit of engaging with others and working to understand the needs of the teacher in the “digital age”.  Technology has brought us together no matter what the zip code, time of day, or time zone for that matter.

A mainstay of my collaborative work during my coursework has been with Google Docs.  Truly this should be put into both categories of synchronous and asynchronous communication; the real time editing features allows for multiple people to be editing text right and have their changes reflect on everyone’s screen at the same time.  Since all work is saved automatically in the background there’s no worry of submission conflict.  Commenting within the Google Doc is handled in the right sidebar and allows individuals to highlight and reflect on portions of the document being created.  When the comment gets addressed the editor can mark the comment as resolved and the original comment author is notified.

My favorite tool to work with a small group of peers synchronously is the Google Hangouts tool.  In its normal set up it allows up to 10 users to share video and audio.  Google Hangouts integrates into Google Calendar so the process of scheduling and joining a conference is straightforward.  More advanced versions of Google Hangouts, known as Google Hangouts On Air, allows for a live broadcast style event with subsequent publication to YouTube.

In the current semester I’ve started using Google Plus Communities in order to work with other educators and it should be no surprise that this integrates well with Google Hangouts as well.  The use of the community is limiting in some aspects, as you don’t have the features you might expect in a full-fledged web content management system platform such as WordPress or Weebly, but the integration with Google Hangouts, the notification system, and the ease of use make it a worthy choice.

Note Taking

Although Google Docs works well for this purpose, over time I have evolved my note taking strategy to using Evernote (for text) and its sibling Skitch (for pictures) for my note taking needs.  The ability to be able to pop out of the shower with a fresh idea to type a quick note on my phone, file it in the appropriate folder, and then have that note be available for later recollection on any device that I use is a simple yet powerful concept.  Hopefully I remembered to dry my hands beforehand.

Calendaring

Often overlooked is the ability to organize and schedule events both far into the future and as soon as the next half hour with a disparate group of people.  For this I have relied heavily upon the utility that Google Calendar provides.  A side benefit to this approach, at least for smaller groups, is the ease of initiating a Google Hangout from within the interface, and this has reduced the amount of time spent at the beginning of a web conference getting everyone on board.

Blogging

All of my classes have emphasized the importance of using a weekly blog as a tool for demonstrating synthesis of that week’s learnings, and as a means of allowing others to see and comment upon the work that you have put in as well.  The side benefit to this approach is the ongoing creation of a tangible “ePortfolio” that demonstrates publicly your learning path.  My choice from the start has been this very blog, hosted on a modified WordPress platform.  The ease of use, availability of themes, and the ability to extend the functionality makes this the blogging platform very compelling to anyone in the education sphere.  Although there are a variety of options for implementation, such as hosting your own site on your own (or your school’s) hardware, to having your own virtual server in the cloud, probably the easiest way to jump in would be to signup with WordPress using a free account.  If you need more customization and support, the paid versions provide more features.

Micro-blogging and Personal Learning Network Development

Over the course of the Educational Technology program I have come to understand the importance of developing a community of educators that you can turn to to bounce ideas off of and gain advice from, commonly known as a “personal learning network”, or PLN.  While there’s no one tool that covers all aspects of this effort, I have relied upon Twitter heavily for connecting with others.  One feature of Twitter (or hindrance, depending on your point of view) is the limitation of “tweets” to 140 characters.  This forces any trial balloon that you send to your PLN to be a manageable size.  A typical tweet format that I use consists of a small title and a link to more information; anyone who is interested can then dive deeper if they wish.

There are other tools that work for this as well, namely Facebook and Google Plus.  The advantage that I find Twitter presents is the use of tools such as Tweetdeck to help manage the flow via search strings.  In addition, with the way I organize my digital life I tend to use Facebook for personal / family related updates, and Google Plus for class and project related tasks, so while these platforms are certainly capable and useful for engaging your PLN, for my needs they are not as effective as Twitter.

Goals and Standards

University of Alaska Southeast School of Education Standards, Education Technology, Goal 9

Educators use technology effectively, creatively, and wisely in their practice.

a. effectively use  computers and other technologies in their professional practice and evaluate the potential and limitations of technologies (K)

b. integrate technology in planning, instruction, and assessment to support student learning.

c. value technology as a tool for lifelong learning. (D)

ISTE Standards for Coaches (2011)

3b. Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments

3c. Coach teachers in and model use of online and blended learning, digital content, and collaborative learning networks to support and extend student learning as well as expand opportunities and choices for online professional development for teachers and administrators

3e. Troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments


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