Thursday, February 28, 2008

Google Sites Takes Aim at SharePoint

A year ago, Google introduced Google Apps, a suite of word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation software that let groups of users edit and view documents over the Web, integrated with gmail and basic personal Web site publishing tools. According to Matt Jansen at Tech Blorge, Matthew Glotzbach (product director for Google Sites) more than 500,000 businesses and several thousand schools and universities have adopted Google Apps and 2,000 to 3,000 more are added each day. NOTE: Google offers an expanded academic edition of Google Apps to schools and nonprofits.

Now Google is set to continue its assault on Microsoft with the roll out of Google Sites yesterday (only a fews days before Microsoft hosts a SharePoint conference in Seattle). The site publishing framework lets office workers create "intranets" -- centralized archives of company information that can only be viewed within an organization rather than on the public Web, which is helpful for team collaborations. In addition, individual team members can also create profile pages of their activities, interests and schedules. In school settings, Google Sites can function as virtual classrooms for posting homework assignments, class notes or other student resources. Students can work together on a Site to add file attachments, information from other Google apps (such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube and Picasa), and free-form content. Creating a site together is as easy as editing a document. In addition, users can actually edit a document together in real time. The administrator/teacher always control who has access, whether it's just him/herself, team/class, or the whole organization. Individual students or teachers can get started by simply inputting their school e-mail address.

Like other elements of Google Apps, Google Sites will be free and requires no installation, maintenance or upgrades (for education and nonprofits). All information is stored on Google's secure servers and can be accessed on any computer connected to the Internet.

One advantage of Google Sites--as far as collaboration is concerned--is that it allows groups of users to easily create and edit Web documents that include text, images, videos, spreadsheets and other types of documents. From my experience with SharePoint, including multimedia such as videos on SharePoint blog and wiki pages is not an easy task.

Although many feel that Google doesn't have a chance against megamonster Microsoft, I think that the more alternatives we have the better. Google Sites takes wiki collaboration one step forward.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why use a blog in teaching

People are writing and using blogs for many reasons. Here are some links I found on Mark Wagner's blog: 10 reasons why blogging is good for you. Blogging for business: Top 10 Reasons for Blogging Why do we blog? Weblogs can be your backup brain! Blogger Moms talk about their reasons to start blogging. Why blog? Why blog?

There are also
several sites dedicated to explaining why using blogging in education is a good idea. I especially recommend Weblogg-ed (I have Will Richardson's book and attended a conference presentation on blogging by him--he is one of the gurus on blogging, wikis, and podcasting). For those wanting a pretty exhaustive list of ways to use blogs in their classroom and/or teaching practices, I would suggest Anne Davis's list: Ways to Use Weblogs in Education
Blogs in Education - This page is designed to provide you some resources if you want to get started using blogs for yourself or with your students. There are articles about blogging as well as sample educational blogs. Matrix of some uses of blogs in education - This brief discussion includes a link to a graphic matrix.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Types of Interaction in Online Learning

In his editorial entitled “Three Types of Interaction,” Michael G. Moore suggests that distance educators need to agree on the distinctions between three types of interaction, which he labeled 1) learner-content interaction, 2) learner-instructor interaction, and 3) learner-learner interaction. He also notes, “The main weakness of many distance education programs is their commitment to only one type of medium. When there is only one medium it is probable that only one kind of interaction is permitted or done well.”

Learner-instructor interactions

The most common form of interaction in many classrooms—whether online or face-to-face—is learner-instructor. The instructor presents information (or causes them to be made); organizes the students’ application of information and ideas—either through practice of skills or manipulation of information and ideas; organize assessment procedures to determine students’ progress and to inform changes in teaching strategies. For the most part, the instructor is the students’ primary audience. In addition, the instructor may also provide counsel, support and encouragement—though the amount may vary according to the learners’ abilities and teacher’s personality and philosophy.

Learner-content interactions

This is the primary aim of education—where the learner intellectually interacts with the content, resulting in changes in the learner’s understanding, perspective, or cognitive structure of his/her brain. Texts were initially designed to impart knowledge—not to entertain—generally a one-way form of communication. However, with today’s technology, learners are able to interact not only with written text, but also with content broadcast on radio and television, with electronic recordings on CDs, video/DVD, and computer software. Moore notes “The frequency and intensity of the teacher's influence on learners when there is learner-teacher interaction is much greater than when there is only learner-content interaction.” Blogs and wikis, however, provide learners with new avenues to create their own content and publish to a wider audience—beyond just the instructor.

Learner-learner interactions

Moore suggests that the third form of interaction will challenge our thinking and teaching practices—especially related to online learning. Inter-learner interactions—between one learner and other learners, alone or in a group, with our without a synchronous instructor presence—has been deemed extremely valuable, if not essential, to the learning process in our modern globalized society. Online tools provide an alternative for large classes to interact in smaller groups and to extend the conversations beyond the classroom. In totally online courses, learner-learner interactions become even more important means for building community and avoiding learner isolation. Learner-learner interactions such as discussion boards and group work allow learners the chance to reflect on their learning and to share those ideas with their fellow learners. Through groupwork, learners have the opportunity to create thoughts, share those thoughts with others, and hear others’ reactions. The resulting group analysis, debate, and shared perspectives help them develop conceptual learning and higher order thinking skills. Furthermore, groups provide support and mutual feedback that promote self-understanding and generate an experiential foundation for learning (MacDonald, 2002).

Learner-Interface Interactions

New information technology and media have added new dimensions and possibilities to the conduct of teaching and learning, creating the potential for more interactive, interpersonal, group environments. Therefore, Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena (1994) propose a fourth type of interaction, learner-interface. They argue that the types of interaction identified by Moore (1996) do not consider the “the interaction that occurs when a learner must use these intervening technologies to communicate with the content, negotiate meaning, and validate knowledge with the instructor and other learners” (Hillman et al., p. 30-31). Therefore, the learner must be skilled in using the delivery system or he/she may not be able to participate in any of the other types of interactions.

More Interactions

In more recent research, Northrup and Rasmussen (2000, cited in Sharp & Huett, 2005) advocate the addition of learner-feedback interaction, which involves closing the communications loop--providing the learner confirmation of receipt and accuracy of what was sent. Sutton (2001, cited in Sharp & Huett, 2005) proposes another type of interaction—vicarious interaction, which is based on the “principle that enhanced achievement and satisfaction may occur even when all students do not interact directly” (p. 224). In other words, learners can learn vicariously by observing the interaction of other students such as “when a student actively observes and processes both sides of a direct interaction between two other students or between another student and the instructor” (Sutton, p. 227).

Not only is it important to define and distinguish the types of interaction that occur in distance learning, but it is also equally important to carefully design interactions into the learning environment so that all relevant types of interaction are represented. Northrup (2001, cited in Sharp & Huett, 2005) suggests a framework of “interaction attributes” that can be employed—interaction with content, collaboration, conversation, intrapersonal interaction and performance support. Collaborative interactions are an essential element of any pedagogy which assumes that learning is a social endeavor and that understanding comes through modeling, reflection, participation in, and reaction to the behaviors and thoughts of others. Distance education, more than ever, allows learners the opportunity to interact not only with the content and the instructor but also to gain new insights through their interactions with their fellow classmates. As MacDonald notes, “While current research may not be able to ascertain which type of interaction is most valuable or necessary to students in distance education, it seems plausible that, given all the documented benefits of learning communities, the quality of distance education should improve with renewed focus on incorporating learner-learner interaction.”

Friday, February 8, 2008

How NOT To Use PowerPoint

I found this video linked to Teacher Hacks blog. Don McMillan is a comedian that has an hilarious take on ineffective PowerPoint presentations. His skit would be a great way to introduce what not to do when assigning a PowerPoint presentation to students--it might also be helpful when designing our own presentations as well. The video is located on his myspace account, which has some inappropriate comments, etc.

Life After Death by PowerPoint

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Educational Uses for Second Life

Using Blogs to Expand the Curriculum--2 ideas

I was reading David Warlick's blog "Mr. Blogmeister" where he provided several examples of assignments using blogs to fit the new ISTE standards. The following two I thought would especially be useful in higher education. I've included them with minor grammatical adjustments. Both these assignments take blogging beyond just the journaling/diary-keeping concept. The first assignment asks students to think about the learning process--how they actually found the information and to evaluate that information. Warlick only asks the teacher to respond, but I think student responses might also generate discussion about why certain information was appropriate and how the student came to his/her conclusions. As always, having students role play or take on the persona of a character in a story, poem, or play adds a new dimension to the study. But having them choose a particular place/sentence in the text requires them to read closely and to evaluate. As the other students play out the second character, the story changes. The blog also allows for commentary on why the students chose particular sections and why they answered the way they did.

  • Research & Information Fluency
  • Assignment:
    As students are engaged in a major research assignment, ask them to journal daily about their experience, listing what information they have found, how they found it, and how they evaluated the information to assure its appropriateness to the assignment. Read and comment on the blog entries, giving support, tips, corrections, and other aide.

  • Critical Thinking, Problem-solving, & Decision-Making
  • Assignment:
    After reading a story, novel, or play, ask students to pretend to be one of the characters, and describe one sentence that might have been spoken to another character and at what time that might have overcome the roadblocks of the problem more quickly and with less cost. Ask classmates to read the blog entries and comment what the second character would logically have said in return.

    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    Seven Principles of Effective Teaching and Online Learning

    Eugenia Conway, Assistant Director of The Teaching Academy at New Mexico State University notes that “Many instructors of traditional courses who rightly believe that learning is a social process consider ‘same-time same-place’ interaction central to a successful educational experience’” (American Federation of Teachers quoted in Conway, 2003). They dispute whether students can get an equivalent education online. Therefore, one way to ensure that quality remains in online learning is to review Chickering & Gamson’s principles, which were based on 50 years of research and have been considered the standard for best practices for over 25 years. Her paper relates the Seven Principles to online learning: Teaching Strategies for Distance Education: Implementing the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Online Education. Not only does the paper provide specific ways that technology can enhance teaching and learning, but it also contains a discussion about “opposing paradigms”—teacher-centered (traditional, positivism) vs. student-centered (constructivism) classrooms and provides specifics for developing rubrics and electronic portfolios.

    I also came across the following resource which provides a, "A Framework for the Pedagogical Evaluation of eLearning Environments". The paper uses Chickering & Gamson's (1987) 'Seven Principles of Effective Teaching' as the framework for examining the potential of Virtual Learning Environments to enhance learning. It also includes a questionnaire based on the viable system and conversational models articulated by Britain and Liber (2004). The document is made available from Eduforge, "an open access collaborative learning and exploratory environment designed for the sharing of ideas, research outcomes, open source educational software, and tools within a community of educators, researchers and developers."

    Tuesday, February 5, 2008

    Instructional Designer as Consultant

    Last night I attended a panel discussion coordinated by one of the professors at Queens. The topic was advertising. Since I initially wanted to go into public relations, and I was Publicity Chair for several organizations/groups, I have an interest in advertising and media relations. Therefore, I decided to attend. Although the discussion primarily focused on how the various panel participants did their jobs, I found one gem that I could relate to my new job responsibilities.

    Toward the end of the discussion, one student asked how the panel members would handle a client who came in with an idea that they thought would absolutely not work or the client that came in with a "it's my way" attitude. After much discussion, the final verdict was that they worked as consultants only. Ultimately, the client has the right to make his/her own decision. Their job is to listen to the client and provide options. That means they often prepare several packages/choices for the client to choose from.
    One participant indicated that his company recognizes that there is the client's idea, the company's idea, and the idea that blends the two (hopefully, the one the client chooses).

    The discussion had relevance to how I need to work with the faculty at Queens. My role is that of consultant--which entails building trust on both ends.
    The word consultant comes from the Latin word meaning "to discuss;" a consultant today is a professional who provides advice in a particular area of expertise. Like the ad people, it is my job to be familiar with the possible options that faculty have in converting their courses online and to help them develop their ideas. I need to present these options, but be aware that ultimately it is the instructor's decision on which options to incorporate and when.

    During the instructional design phase, I work with each faculty member to review the course's learning objectives and consider the following questions:
    • How should content be organized?
    • How should ideas be presented to the learners?
    • What delivery format(s) should be used?
    • What types of activities and exercises will best help learners?
    • How should the course measure learners' accomplishments?
    The answers to these questions help create the course structure and lead to appropriate instructional strategies. When I suggest instructional strategies for a course, I am drawing upon not only theoretical knowledge (what I've read) but also practical experience. There are many different ways to sequence and present content to learners. As the panel also pointed out, part of my job is education--educating faculty about what is available to them, the advantages and disadvantages, how to use these resources, etc. Generally, the course's activities and exercises must fit with the type of learning the students' are asked to do (tied to the objectives). The course's assessments should measure the learner's progress toward meeting the learning objectives; therefore they should also fit the learning objectives. Thus, the clearer the instructor is in defining what he/she wants the learner to accomplish the easier it is to choose instructional strategies and assessments.