Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Open Digital Media Resources for Project-Based Learning with Technology

Open licenses such as creative commons have led to the proliferation of sites that offer free and open digital media resources. These websites offer music, audio, video, clip art, and pictures under open licenses that allow you to edit remix and mash up media files for project-based learning experiences. See a quick and dirty guide to copyright on my blog here. Media files on these websites can be downloaded and incorporated into educational projects. Using open-licensed media in project-based learning can save students and teachers a lot of time and difficulty. This post is an excerpt from my book, Educational Technology for Teachers. In a master's project, we used open digital media resources of the Nixon Kennedy debates to create a video about blogs and wikis. This video shows that students can use these resources to show their learning in many different and creative ways. Here is a list of my favorite websites that offer open digital media resources for project-based learning:

Creative Commons Search - Search for open-licensed media
Wikimedia Commons - Open photographs, videos and sounds
The Internet Archive - Open photographs, videos and sounds
The Library of Congress - Public domain media

WP Clipart - Public domain clip art for education
Open Clipart - Public domain clip art
Morguefile - Free and open photographs
Pixabay - Public domain photographs and clip art

YouTube - A vast collection of videos, some of which are open licensed
The Open Video Project - A repository of digitized videos, some of which are open licensed
Bottled Video - A collection of free stock video clips

Freesound - Open-licensed sound effects
CC Mixter - Open-licensed music
Musopen - Classical public domain music

When students and teachers download a media file from one of these sites, they must pay close attention to the license under which the media file is released and be sure to meet license requirements. Usually this means attributing the original author by mentioning them in a credits or citations section. Another way to attribute the original author could be to link online to the location of the original media file or to the profile page for the author.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Younger Teachers Report Having More Time to Plan Lessons With Technology Than Older Teachers

In a recent survey to a sample of South Dakota teachers, I asked several questions about barriers that were present and that might keep teachers from implementing technology in the classroom. Here's a list of the barriers to technology use that are common in the literature on this issue:

  • Access to technology tools and resources
  • Technology training and support
  • Administrative support
  • Time
  • Beliefs about the importance and usefulness of technology tools and resources
Overall responses from all survey participants
To explain these items briefly, teachers need to first have access to technology tools and resources if they are going to implement them in their classroom teaching and learning. They also need adequate technology training and support or they won't know how to use technology tools and resources appropriately in the classroom. Administrative leaders in districts must also support the use of technology for teaching and learning. Teachers who wish to implement technology enhanced lessons must have the time they need to plan and prepare such lessons. Finally, teachers and administrators must have beliefs consistent with a technology enhanced approach, including that technology tools and resources are useful and important and that teachers can be successful when integrating technology into learning experiences. 

For the matter of time, some significant findings came out of my survey. It turns out that if you come from a bigger school district, you are statistically significantly more likely to report that you have more time to plan and prepare lessons that integrate technology, however the effect size for this calculation was very small (partial eta squared = .006). The more significant finding in this area was age. Respondents who were in their younger ages (20s) were less likely to report that they had little time to plan and prepare lessons that used technology. The effect size for these questions was still small (partial eta squared = .026), but certainly statistically significant (p < .001).  

Overall responses from all survey participants
Whatever the reasons for these findings, it seems to make sense to find ways to provide older teachers with more time so that they can develop lessons with technology integration. Take a look at some previous findings about technologies available in classrooms from this survey for more information. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Camera and Video Shots for Project-Based Learning

Lately my mind has been on video. Maybe it's because Digital Media Camp - a fantastic example of project-based learning in action - is coming up again next year. Or maybe it's because we just discussed the importance of project-based learning in a meeting with a local school superintendent. Whatever the reason, when students embark on a project that includes video, they should know about some basic shots and when to use them. As I mentioned in a previous post on video composition, almost anyone has access to some kind of video camera in our modern age. The following is an excerpt from my book, Educational Technology for Teachers.

In order to put forth a clear message in video, different types of camera shots should be used. There are three main types of camera shots that can be used in a video production; wide, medium and close up (Spannaus, 2012). The wide shot – sometimes called the long shot – is used to show an entire object or human body, along with some of the setting or background. This shot shows the relationship between the object or body and the scene in which they are placed. Wide shots are often shown at the beginning of a scene to give the audience a sense of the spatial relationship between important aspects of the scene. They establish a sense of place and orient the viewer to the setting of the video.

The next type of camera shot is the medium shot. This shot is closer in than a wide shot and shows part of a subject in more detail. A medium shot would show about half of a human body but may show more or less than this. Medium shots are used to show more detail than a wide shot but still include hand gestures, movement, and other important actions.

Another important camera shot is the close up. In a close-up shot, only a certain feature of the subject takes up most of the frame. Details of the included feature are clear in a close up shot. The most common element featured in a close up shot is a person's face. Such close ups can show feelings, so close ups are vital for dramatic sequences. Close ups are also used to highlight steps or methods in educational and training videos.

Using a variety of different types of shots can enhance the quality of a video production in project-based learning because the different shots help to put forth a clear message. Wide shots can establish a sense of location, close up shots can provide detail on procedures or concepts and medium shots can capture everything in between.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ed Tech Podcast for SD Teachers Episode 32: Opportunities to Get More Technology in Your Classroom

Have you ever wondered if there are any opportunities out there where you can apply and be awarded money for technology items in your classroom. Of course it isn't easy or guaranteed to get money or technology for your classroom, but it can be well worth it. Here are links to the opportunities that I discuss in the podcast episode:

Also, don't forget about opportunities that may be available through your local school district and through your state department of education. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Composition for Project-Based Learning Videos

Few could have predicted a day like the present in which almost everyone owns a device that can capture video. Many of us have smart phones in our pockets right now that allow us to capture video of anything happening around us. If you don't own a smart phone, you may have a video camera, iPad or other devices that can capture video. Because of the proliferation of such devices, many teachers are turning to project based learning experiences in which students create videos. In a previous post, I have discussed what project based learning is.

The best videos, however, are the ones that follow the rules of good video composition. In my book, Educational Technology for Teachers, I discuss some of these rules as follows. Students and teachers who create video can practice good composition even with the most rudimentary video equipment. Composition refers to the way that items are placed in the video shot in order to make meaning. Some important guidelines with regard to composition will be presented here.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a video composition guideline that states that the image being recorded should be divided into nine equal parts using two equally spaced vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines. Then the main subjects in a scene should be placed on one of these “1⁄3 lines” for a more interesting composition (Spannaus, 2012). For instance, a landscape shot should not place the horizon line (one of the main subjects of the shot) right in the center of the image, but should instead place the horizon line on or near one of the horizontal 1⁄3 lines. A person standing in a shot should be placed on one of the vertical 1⁄3 lines. Following the rule of thirds leads to more interesting and satisfying video and photo compositions.

Nose Room

Nose room (or lead room) should be considered for video shots that feature a person or moving object. Nose room means giving adequate on-camera space in front of a person’s nose or in front of a moving object. For an on-camera person, the space in front of the person’s nose should be more than the space behind their head (Spannaus, 2012). For a moving object, the space in front of the moving object should be more than the space behind it. Adequate nose room in a shot gives the viewer a sense of satisfaction or direction, while a lack of nose room may make the viewer feel uneasy. The rule of thirds can help guide the placement of a person or object in a shot so that it has the right amount of nose room.

The 180 Degree Rule

Video professionals follow the 180 degree rule when shooting video of a conversation or other interaction between two people. If two people are in a scene, there is an imaginary line that connects and continues beyond them. The 180 degree rule tells us that the cameras that are shooting video of the two people must not cross this imaginary line. As long as the cameras stay on one side of the line the resulting shots will make the characters look like they are talking to each other and not away from each other. If the camera shoots elements of the scene from opposite sides of the imaginary line, then the result is disorienting for a viewer. The people look as if they are looking away from each other as they hold a conversation.

Head Room

Head room refers to the amount of room above a person’s head in a shot. Good video compositions leave little room above the head of people and other subjects. Amateur video producers often make the mistake of leaving a lot of room above people’s heads, which results in uninteresting compositions.

Camera Handling

Students and teachers who create video should also practice good camera handling techniques. Good camera handling means making sure that the camera is still or that it only moves in smooth, even motions. Placing the camera on a tripod will help to make sure it stays still or that its movement is even and smooth. Handheld shooting should be avoided because this type of camera handling produces unnecessarily shaky shots that can disorient viewers. These techniques also should be used even if the camera is a smartphone or tablet computer. When using a smartphone or tablet computer to shoot video, students and teachers should also hold the device “sideways” in a landscape direction rather than in a portrait direction for better composition.


Devices that can capture video are everywhere, but most people who shoot video don't do a good job of composing shots to make meaning. Most student-created videos are low quality and do a poor job of putting forth a clear message. These elements of video composition should be taught to students who create video so that they know how to make quality video projects.


Spannaus, T. (2012). Creating video for trainers and teachers: Producing professional video with amateur equipment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Smaller School Districts in Smaller Towns have More 1:1 Classrooms

I recently sent out a survey to over 12,000 teachers in South Dakota and received a response rate of about 10%. Responses came from all across the state and provide a good picture of educational technologies available in South Dakota public schools. I reported on overall findings in a previous post. After cleaning and analyzing the data further, I found that 49% of classrooms are 1:1 environments in our state of South Dakota. That means that about half of South Dakota classrooms have a technology device (laptop, tablet, or desktop computer) available for each student. As I have presented these numbers to my own Education students, they are shocked that so many classrooms in South Dakota are 1:1 environments.

This is part of the reason why we have an iPad initiative for Elementary Education students. In our initiative, every Elementary Education student receives an iPad and as a consequence, our classes are also 1:1 environments. Northern State University instructors use these devices for a variety of different educational activities and students learn what it is like to work in a classroom in which all students have a technology device. You don't know what is possible until you have experienced such a classroom, and our students are getting a taste for the types of activities possible in a 1:1 environment.

Going back to the survey data, I decided to take a closer look at the different types of school district sizes, town sizes, subjects and grade levels in which we can find 1:1 classrooms. After analyzing the survey data, it turns out that smaller school districts (under 1,500 students) are statistically significantly more likely to have 1:1 environments than larger ones (over 1,500 students). Also, schools in smaller towns (under 5,000 people) are statistically significantly more likely to have 1:1 environments than larger ones (over 5,000 people).

In my own observations, school districts with smaller numbers of students in South Dakota are better able to purchase devices for each student because fewer devices are needed to be purchased to meet the 1:1 requirement. Smaller districts are also able to work outside of large bureaucracies when making decisions about spending for technology. Larger districts are less likely to make investments for 1:1 devices because they have too many students or because they work within a more difficult bureaucratic environment to make spending and technology decisions.

Further analysis of the survey results reveals that these 1:1 environments are about evenly spread between, elementary, middle school and high school environments. There is no statistically significant difference between the amount of 1:1 classrooms available in high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

Overall, it appears that school districts with smaller numbers of students in smaller towns in South Dakota are able to provide more technology to their students, giving them more opportunities for 21st century learning. I am sure there are many different factors for larger school districts as they consider adopting 1:1 devices, but hopefully the knowledge that already about half of all classrooms in South Dakota are 1:1 classrooms will serve as a tipping point for larger school districts to start making technology more of a priority as they strive to catch up with the smaller districts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Classroom Response Systems for Action Research in the Classroom

In my Classroom Technology class, we have compared and contrasted different classroom response systems that can be used to get students involved in the learning experience. Most educators use these systems for simple review games and activities, but the real power of these systems is to use them as a way to do action research in the classroom. The classroom response system should provide the teacher with actionable information about each students' understanding of the standards. The information gathered with a classroom response system should be used to determine if additional instruction or activities are needed in order to help each student better meet a content standard. In our class, we have discussed a process of action research that can be used with a classroom response system.

In this process, a teacher sets a learning objective and then uses a classroom response system to take a baseline measurement of student knowledge about the learning objective. Then the teacher plans and implements a lesson, activity or project that will help students reach the learning objective. After the lesson, activity or project, the teacher uses the classroom response system again to determine whether students have learned the objective and makes any adjustments to the implementation that are needed. In this model, the learning activities are always tied to and adjusted based on actual learning data, rather than just anecdotal evidence or observations.

So far in our class we have compared four classroom response systems, Poll Everywhere, Plickers, Kahoot, and Socrative. Many of these have been covered in previous blog posts, which can be linked here (Poll Everywhere, Plickers, Kahoot) Here are some of the similarities and differences between these tools: