Tag Archive: educational technology

Why Google+ Is an Education Game Changer – Education – GOOD.

I normally think that we overuse the term ‘game changer’ but having a Google+ account myself, I see the potential that Ms. Dwyer is talking about.  Google+ doesn’t completely eliminate inadvertent sharing of drunken party pictures with students, but it seriously makes it much more challenging.  I guess if you’re posting the pictures and sharing them while intoxicated, anything can happen.  At any rate, G+ could become a place where teachers and students share information about projects that the class is working on, collaboratively digest articles that are found on-line, and post videos to one another.  The idea of the hangout study group/office hours is also fascinating.  It’ll be something that I’ll be interested to see/read more about in the future.  -Ed


When it comes to incorporating educational technologies into the high school, we tend to be conservative to the point of doing a disservice to the students’ education.  Schools appear to adopt a conservative attitude for many reasons, but chief among them must be push back from teacher who are reluctant to add anything to their repertoire, a fear of exposing the school to possible lawsuits because the law has not caught up the technology, and the school trying to maintain the many demands that No Child Left Behind has already placed on it.  While there are valid rationales behind each of these reasons, the chief complaint that I have is that they do not address the central work that schools have, preparing students for productive citizenship.  Today’s students will be graduating into a world that is experiencing a paradigm shift due to the incorporation of new technologies.  Nobody is quite certain how this world will shift, but one thing that appears pretty certain… technology isn’t going away.

Therefore, schools need to thoughtfully consider what challenges confront this and future years’ graduates, and then plan for instructional techniques that help support students to be competitive in their field of work or for college admissions.  My contention is that school policies that encourage the use of web 2.0 tools/content can increase students’ ability to be critical thinkers, become life-long learners, and foster appropriate practices that will serve them in the 21st century classroom and work place.

Before I really delve into this piece let me first off say that I don’t have all the answers, just a hint of a suggestion.  I have not yet fully figured out how Facebook can truly help support learning in the classroom, for instance.  This one is still a conundrum for me.  I am much more clear as to how Picasa or Flickr, Google Reader, Google Docs, gmail, delicious, twitter, and blogs, can be used to help students gain insight into their world and help further their education.

The other preface that I must offer is that new tools being used to support outmoded ways of learning and teaching become just new toys.  There was a BBC study (and I’m sorry that I do not know the citation) on the use of smartboards.  They found that students in classes with smartboards showed only a slightly higher affinity to their math class than students in classrooms without smartboards.  What does this mean?  Smartboards do not make students love math more.  Sure the students loved the smartboards, but that didn’t correlate to changes in behaviors and mentalities.  The more skeptical among us (probably me) will say, “Who loves math anyways?”  Well, here’s the thing, when students believe that they can do well in a subject, when they know that their teacher believes in them, and that they belong in the school, they will do better in their studies.  That is how a student comes to love math, or any other subject matter.  So, what do you think will happen if this kind of classroom is combined with excellent educational technology? I chose the pictures at the top of this blog for this very reason.  The sage on the stage (right picture at top) mentality can have all of the fanciest toys that they would ever desire and all it does is adds bells and whistles.  The guide on the side (left picture at top) where students are asked to tackle challenging topics using educational technology and working with their peers will take those students much further.

There are many ways that school policies might discourage teachers from using new internet-based technologies in the classroom.  The one that has been prevalent in Columbus, Ohio for a few years is that teachers in the big urban district are actively discouraged from having their own Facebook page.  This isn’t the only school district to enact such a policy, but bear this in mind, they are saying that they do not want their teachers to have a Facebook account, at all!  Now here I am, an employee in good standing with my school district and not only do I have a Facebook page, but so do many of my colleagues and we are all seeking new ways to incorporate these new technologies into our classroom.  I don’t know where an employer cites the law that allows them to even make a suggestion about what an employee does on their own time, but that’s for another time.  At any rate, these types of policies shut dialogue and opportunity down.   Why would you ever want to do that?  Facebook and similar technologies can be used to encourage students to be good, productive citizens in the digital environment, and actively discouraging faculty from this technology only puts them further from the places that students are having a dialogue with one another.

Further, encouraging students to exist in the digital realm virtually assures that they will not only not lose material, but will keep it for in-depth reflection and comparison points.  Our students all have electronic portfolioes (ePortfolios) that they update on a semi-annual basis (see mine below to the right).  This activity is time-consuming, but it causes them to pause in the midst of their active academic work to consider what they have done and how far they have come.  This pause and reflection time allows them to critically analyze what they have done and then we ask them to write out what changes they have noticed in their growth.  It is an authentic and purposeful writing assignment.  The truly brilliant thing?  We’ve noticed a change in their writing and critical thinking skills after completing just one round of ePortfolio submissions!

Finally, the fostering of appropriate workplace/collegiate practices is one of the foundational and ever-lasting hallmarks of a good high school.  We seek to engage our students in a practice and mind-set that will enable them to be life-long learners, but that certainly means that they take good thinking, critical analysis, and expression skills with them after they leave our school.  We know for certain that our students will be asked to engage in these new technologies in their future work places, to interact with friends and family, and to contribute to their community as productive citizens.  Why not help them learn it?!  What benefit does it bring to our students if we do not address this need for them?  We should be trying out Toonlet.com, xtranormal.com, Picasa, gmail, YouTube, and yes maybe even Facebook with our students be discouraged if we expect them to know how to use these tools to better address their future career needs and goals?  It will absolutely be messy and maybe obnoxious at times as well, but that’s the joy of teaching in high school!

The policies that high schools seek to implement in the coming years should strongly consider future technology changes that cannot yet be envisioned.  They should, as a default, seek to open up the doors of the classroom and allow students to learn these broader technology skills and to seek ways to authentically implement these technologies into the teaching, learning, and assessment in the future.  Schools must never forget their first mission, to further the educational needs of the students who will be future citizens in our communities.  Schools should seek to send students out of their buildings with the best skills possible and as prepared as they can be for a competitive marketplace.  Our students should not leave fearful of these technologies, but with a deep, ingrained understanding as to how these technologies can further their quality of life and the quality of the community.

For those of us (me) who are not terribly creative, Toonlet.com can help.  This free comic-generation website helps you create unique characters and base-4 panel comic strips.  The educational applications are many and varied.  I did this comic to introduce myself

Applications are many and varied.  I know that our English department has experimented with using storyboards, cartoons, and comic strips to develop graphic novels, explain story lines, lay out plots, or to complete a scene from a story that they are reading.  As a science teacher, I can see applications here as well.  Imagine a student creating a little comic strip demonstrating the charge on an atom.  There is a strip just like this that is famous with science teachers.

I have included this as a little joke at the bottom of tests and I gotta tell you, the humor is lost on high school students.  It makes me wonder, what might be more ‘fun’, ‘interesting’, or educational (gasp) for students?  That’s why I think Toonlet might be powerful.  Students can use this fun and easy-to-use technology to design their own comic strips.  As a art-inept person, I also appreciate how it basically does the art work for you.  I designed the character of myself, but most of the work was done for me.  I merely had to select from a number of images (almost too many choices), write the words that went into each panel, and decide on layout.  That’s easy enough!  Since the bar for successful use is so low, the technology does not threaten to get in the way of, ya know, learning.  This is the best type of technology!

I had the major honor of visiting the future, sort of.  I was asked by the director of the Center for Experiential Learning, Leadership and Technology (www.cellt.org), Thom McCain, to teach a quick lesson in the Classroom of the Future at the eTech Ohio 2010 conference in Columbus, Ohio.  The major idea for the presentation was, given laptops, school policies that embrace web 2.0 concepts, and creative teaching, what would the classroom of tomorrow look like?  My lesson, which was VERY quick, sought to utilize student collaboration, quick data integration into Microsoft office products for display, and other student reporting technologies to explore the thicknesses of the crusts of the Earth.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to teach in this classroom, but a number of technical details bogged down my lesson.  So I guess on that note, the classroom of the future is a lot like the classroom of today.  The main object of our presentation, how do school policies encourage or inhibit students’ learning, is of vital importance.  I plan to blog on this particular question in the very near future, but suffice it to say, we need policies that encourage the use of these technologies more, not less.


This presentation was developed by a small team and given at the summer professional development conference hosted by the Middle College National Consortium (MCNC).  MCNC is a consortium of high schools that provide students with earlier access to college courses in order to better prepare and support them for collegiate success.  There are over thirty members of the consortium nationwide and what a wonderful group of collaborators and professionals!

See this post by on the CELLT website by Thom McCain for more information.  Thom and I, amongst quite a few others, have been working on digitizing lessons that help support students for a career in the 21st century.  Our work has been presented to many folks around central Ohio and in NY with the MCNC conference.  We have been very pleased with the feedback and interest in this curriculum.  We use it as the primary curriculum for our advisory classes at our school, The Charles School at Ohio Dominican University.  Our 9th and 10th graders have been taught this curriculum for the last three years of the school and we have been very pleased with the response.  Our students are writing and reading better, they are better at collaborative work and presenting their work, and they are developing their professional digital footprint.

The presentation at the MCNC conference was given to a packed house of educators and administrators from MCNC schools around the nation.  Our participants developed at least the front page of an ePortfolio that we created with them in a 2 hour session.  The objectives of the session was to give these committed educators a chance to learn about ePortfolios and to get a sense as to how our students develop theirs.  Technically, this session was challenging, but I really think that it gave our participants a chance to see all of the great work our team has been able to do over a short period of time.

To get a sense about these ePortfolios, please feel free to check out mine.

The challenge that I think that doing ePortfolios puts to us, as educators, is asking students to create meaningful online content that shows their growth over time and causes them to deeply reflect about their academic decisions.  The focus is on the student and their work, right where it should be!

Thanks for reading!

The above presentation was presented at the Student Success Assessment Summit at The Ohio State University’s Fawcett Center on June 23, 2009.  I presented on a panel with other individuals from the realm of higher education (although I was representing high schools).  On the panel with me was Renay Scott of Owens Community College, Rich Robles of the University of Cincinnati, and Joyce Gromko of Bowling Green State University.  The panel was exceptional, informative, and highly involved in the on-going work of bringing ePortfolios to education; all for the purpose of supporting student learning and growth.


PD Day Technology Training

This is a presentation I developed with a co-worker to train The Charles School at Ohio Dominican University staff more about Web 2.0 technologies.


a video by a friend in the MCNC community.  This video was created using the on-line software called animoto.

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