Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Constructionism: An important learning method for the Information Age

We live in the Information Age, so it is important to teach using Information Age methods. Although it's been around a while, constructionism is a great Information Age learning method (Harel & Papert, 1991; Papert, 1993). Constructionism (with an “n”) is a student-centered learning theory that more specifically focuses on the role of technology in the learning process. In constructionism, technologies should not be used to simply present information to students. Instead, technologies should be tools that students use to think, to solve a problem, or to complete a task (Papert, 1993). This post is an excerpt from my textbook, Educational Technology for Teachers, which is now available online as an interactive pdf file and also on the Apple iBooks store. 

In constructionism, students should use technology to help them complete challenging activities that result in the building of an “artifact,” or representation of student knowledge. Constructionist theory further suggests that students should be able to make some of their own choices for learning as they create artifacts that represent their knowledge. Students could decide how to complete a task, how to work together, or what format to use when creating an artifact. Some examples of constructionist artifacts could include the following:
  • A student-created website about the battle for Atlanta during the American Civil War
  • A student-created printed brochure that portrays the health benefits of brushing your teeth
  • A student-created video newscast that outlines the plot of a famous literary work
Note how all of the above examples require students to have knowledge of the subject area in question in order to produce the artifact. Technologies can play a role in all three examples because they provide students with applications to help create the artifact. According to constructionist theory, as students create an artifact like the ones featured above, they also build knowledge structures and learn the subject matter featured in the artifact (Harel & Papert, 1991; Papert, 1993). 
Two summer camp experiences that I have been involved with embody the concept of constructionism. These include Digital Media Camp, held each year in Aberdeen, SD, and GameWerks, held each year in Athens, GA. 

At the heart of constructionism, students create projects that represent their knowledge. Within the requirements of the project, students might make decisions on what steps to take, what resources to use, what format to use, and how to represent knowledge. This approach supports student-centered learning appropriate for the Information Age because it emphasizes student responsibility for learning within student-led projects. 


Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1991). Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 13: The CRAP test for Information Literacy

This week, I discuss the CRAP test to help you determine the accuracy of an information source. Teachers can adapt this test for different ages of students in order to help them learn this important 21st century skill. Here are the elements of the CRAP test:

Purpose and point of view

Here are the links from this post:

More information in my book - Educational Technology for Teachers - including a full section on information literacy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

3 Free Synchronous Distance Learning Tools

Do you want to have a videoconferencing session with a student or parent at home? Maybe you want to connect to another classroom on the other side of the world to learn about a different culture or language. Perhaps you would like to invite an expert into your classroom, but that expert lives far away. 

For teachers who wish to communicate with students and others synchronously (live), there are a variety of free tools available online. These tools — which include Skype, Google+ Hangouts and Talky — allow the teacher to connect with students, experts and other classrooms for distance learning. This post is an excerpt from my textbook, Educational Technology for Teachers. 

Perhaps the most ubiquitous free synchronous communication tool is Skype, a communication tool that allows you to chat, call and videoconference with anyone who has an Internet connection and Skype account. Skype wasn’t necessarily created for educational purposes, but it has been used by teachers and students worldwide to share lessons, connect to other classrooms and invite experts to the class. 

All participants in a Skype call must first sign up for a free Skype account, but it has been estimated that as many as 33% of voice calls worldwide are made through Skype, so a lot of people already have Skype accounts. Videoconferencing is limited to five separate locations at a time and is dependent on the quality of the Internet connections of each participant. For voice-only calls, the number of possible separate locations that can connect is 25. To start a session in skype, simply click on the person in your contact list that you wish to call and then click “call” or “video call.” When the call has been established, there is a “+” button that lets you add more people for a group call. 

Google+ Hangouts is another free synchronous communication tool that features group chat and videoconferencing. As is the case with Skype, Google+ Hangouts was not created for educational purposes, but can be used to present a lesson, connect to classrooms, answer questions, and do other learning activities. Google+ Hangouts videoconference sessions are limited to only 10 people, and all participants must have a Google+ account before participating in a chat or live session. 

To chat or videoconference with people using Google+ hangouts, login to Google+ and then type their name in the “New Hangout” field. For a group chat or videoconference session, you can check the checkboxes to add as many people as you want. A new chat window comes up in which you can chat with the group. To videoconference with a person or group, you can click the “video call” button in the chat window. 

Talky is relatively new in the synchronous communication world, but it provides a high-quality interface for videoconferencing which requires no login or previous software installation. Screen and video sharing is possible by all participants in a Talky session, and through screen sharing, the teacher can show presentations, software applications and documents. Students can also share presentations and concepts using screen sharing in Talky. Starting a synchronous session is simple, you just go to the Talky website and then enter a name for the session you want to start. Once you have a session started, participants can go to the correct web address and join the session. 

My book, Educational Technology for Teachers, also includes videos showing how to use these distance learning tools. Don't forget about these useful videoconferencing tools the next time you want to communicate from a distance!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 12: Technology: It's How You Use It!

This week, we talk a little about the future of education and how what we do now with technology in the classroom can be student-centered. Remember, it's how you use technology that really counts! Simply using technology in your classroom won't make a difference with student learning. Using it in student-centered ways will!

Here are the links from this post:

More information in my book - Educational Technology for Teachers - including a full chapter on student-centered learning with technology.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Interactive Whiteboard Activities for Higher-Order Learning

If there's one thing that I want teachers to know, it is that learning will not be affected simply by your adopting a new technology in your classroom. Instead, you must use a technology with an appropriate learning method to really improve learning. In the case of interactive whiteboards (sometimes called Smartboards or Promethean boards etc.), I suggest using Bloom's Taxonomy as a guide to focus on higher-order learning. Remember Bloom's Taxonomy? If not, then here is a nice picture. This post is an excerpt from my book, Educational Technology for Teachers

Bloom’s Taxonomy includes categories of learning outcomes from lower-order to higher-order. These categories are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating (Krathwohl, 2002). The categories in Bloom’s Taxonomy build upon one another. Students who understand something also must remember it. Students who evaluate something must be able to apply and analyze it. 

When using an interactive whiteboard, it’s important to go beyond the remembering and understanding categories and get to the higher-order categories, including applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. Students tend to retain the content that they are able to apply, analyze, evaluate and create, better than the content that they only remember and understand. 

Supporting higher-order learning in the applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating categories is no easy task. A high percentage of teaching in most classrooms leads to lower-order learning (remembering and understanding categories on Bloom’s Taxonomy). This state of affairs is certainly appropriate in some classrooms as students gain a developmentally-appropriate foundation of knowledge. However, in the Information Age, much of the content that students are remembering and understanding is not as useful as it once was, because this information can easily be discovered with a quick Internet search. There are times when applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating are appropriate and necessary to help students gain a deeper content knowledge than that which can easily be found on the Internet. When students are applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating, they also develop better critical thinking skills.

Higher-order learning can be fostered using interactive whiteboard activities. For instance, once a
content item has been taught by the teacher, students can be asked to apply, analyze, evaluate or create an example of this concept through interactive whiteboard activities. Students can apply rules and concepts to sort items into different categories or orders. They can analyze concepts and issues or evaluate the quality of issues and positions through interactive whiteboard activities. Students could also create interactive whiteboard lessons and games that show their knowledge. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Present a concept, then have students do an activity with the interactive whiteboard that helps them apply the concept
  • Instead of having a student respond to a multiple choice question by touching the answer, have students sort items on a continuum or into different categories, making them apply their learning
  • Have students create an example of an idea or concept using interactive whiteboard tools
  • Instead of playing a review game using the interactive whiteboard, have them create a review game for the interactive whiteboard

Creative teachers have found ways to go beyond remembering and understanding to higher-order learning using interactive whiteboard activities in a variety of content areas. When planning lessons, ask yourself how you can help your students to apply, analyze, evaluate, or create as they learn important concepts in your class. See my book, Educational Technology for Teachers, for more information about supporting higher-order learning with interactive whiteboards. 


Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An overview. Theory into
Practice, 41(4), 212–218.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

EdTech for SD Teachers Podcast - Episode 11: Thankful for Project-Based Learning

This week, I continue a previous podcast on project-based learning technologies and discuss the 9 elements of project-based learning and give some example projects that might work for different subject areas.  Here are the nine elements of project based learning:

• Task 
• Directions 
• Student choices 
• Student inquiry 
• Collaboration and teamwork 
• Teacher coaching and feedback 
• Student reflection 
• Public presentation 

More information in my book - Educational Technology for Teachers - including how to create a project-based learning experience and how to use technology in project-based learning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Do Distance Learning?

In a previous post, I discussed which is better for learning, distance or face to face? The conclusion was that students learn as much in a distance course as they do in a face to face course. So if students learn as much in a face-to-face class as they do in a distance learning class, then what are the reasons for creating and providing distance learning? This post is an excerpt from my book, Educational Technology for Teachers.

Access is one of the main reasons that educational institutions offer distance learning options. Through distance learning, students can take classes that might not otherwise be available to them. An excellent example is the Center for Statewide E-Learning which is located on the campus of Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. In this center, distance teachers provide quality distance instruction to South Dakota high school students. The subjects covered include advanced language arts, math, chemistry, physics, and Spanish — subjects that would otherwise be unavailable to many rural students in South Dakota due to a lack of local qualified teachers in small communities, or the low numbers of students who would take the class (Gosmire & Vondruska, 2001). 

As is the case with the Center for Statewide E-Learning, the desire for increased access to educational opportunities has also led universities around the world to provide more and more online course offerings as they seek more funding from increased enrollment. Some universities offer entire programs completely online, reaching an ever-expanding population of students. The new educational fad of offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) was also designed to increase access to more and more students, albeit within courses that are inferior in terms of instructor-to-student interaction and effective instruction (see Gardner & Young, 2013; Kolowich, 2013a, 2013b; Pappano, 2012). Even prestigious universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University offer free and open course materials online so that anyone can access, learn from and use these materials (“MIT open courseware,” 2014, “Open Yale Courses,” 2011). 

Other reasons that students need distance learning opportunities may include illness, medical issues or home schooling. As online learning technologies and options become more common, more and more students are demanding flexible learning options like those that can be supported from a distance (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2011). 

Have you taught from a distance? Why do your students need distance learning?


Gardner, L., & Young, J. R. (2013, March 14). California’s move toward MOOCs sends shock waves, but key questions remain unanswered. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/A-Bold-Move-Toward-MOOCs-Sends/137903/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Gosmire, D., & Vondruska, J. (2001). Distance teaching and learning academy. TechTrends, 45(3), 31–34. doi:10.1007/BF02763554

Kolowich, S. (2013a). The professors behind the MOOC hype. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Professors-Behind-the-MOOC/137905/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en#id=overview

Kolowich, S. (2013b). Why professors at San Jose State won’t use a Harvard professor’s MOOC. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Professors-at-San-Jose/138941/

MIT open courseware. (2014). Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

Open Yale Courses. (2011). Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://oyc.yale.edu/

Pappano, L. (2012). Massive open online courses are multiplying at a rapid pace. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S. E., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2011). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5 edition.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.