Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Do you Know About these Free Alternatives to Microsoft Office?

Software licenses can be very costly for schools, and many schools don't want to lock their school into a certain office suite of applications just so students can create documents, build spreadsheets, draw, or create presentations. Now that Microsoft Office is going to an online subscription model, more and more schools may be looking for alternative office software that can be downloaded onto school computers at no cost. Free software can also help when students need software to complete projects and assignments on their own home computers or laptops. The rest of this article is an excerpt from my book: Educational Technology for Teachers.
For those looking for a free and open-source office software application that is a viable alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite, OpenOffice fits the bill. OpenOffice includes several software applications such as writer, calc, impress, draw, base and math. All of which can be downloaded and used legally at no cost. 
OpenOffice Writer functions much like any other popular word processor with a large set of features for writing and editing. OpenOffice Calc is a spreadsheet application similar to Microsoft Excel, offering a variety of spreadsheet functions and features for calculating numbers. OpenOffice Impress can be used to create presentation slideshows. OpenOffice also features a software application for creating graphics and images called "Draw," a database creator application called "Base," and a math formula application called "Math." All of these programs are free and can be downloaded and used on Windows, Mac and Linux computers. 
LibreOffice is also a free and open source office suite of applications just like OpenOffice. It includes Calc, Writer, Impress, Draw, Base and Math as well. LibreOffice is based on the OpenOffice code so it is very similar to OpenOffice. 

Knowing about these free alternatives to Microsoft Office can help save your school money and better engage students in document creation, spreadsheet building, and slideshow presentations. And for students who do not have an office suite at home, these applications can be downloaded and installed for free. If you are using one of these free Office suites, please comment below about your experience. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

6 Ways Teachers can Use QR Codes for Learning

What are those funny looking bar code things anyway? Quick response (QR) codes are codes that can be scanned with a QR reader to provide instant access to a variety of materials and information. These codes are most often provided on print-based materials such as magazine advertisements, flyers and books. Perhaps the most common use of QR codes is to provide access to websites about a particular subject, but QR codes can link to any kind of information that can be placed online. This page is an excerpt from my recently published book, Educational Technology for Teachers.

QR codes take advantage of internet-connected handheld computing devices such as smart phones. These devices must have a QR reader app installed in order to access the information linked with a QR code. A few recommended free QR reader apps include Scan and Neo Reader. To scan a QR code, simply open the QR reader app on your device and then scan the code, you will automatically be taken to the linked website.

Here are 6 ways teachers can use QR codes for learning:
  1. QR codes can be placed on worksheets to link to audio recordings of spelling or vocabulary words, or to video reenactments of historical events that have been studied in class. 
  2. Teachers can provide access to class presentation recordings by placing QR codes on a posted calendar in the day the class presentation was given. 
  3. Teachers can place QR codes on trees or other outside foliage that link to more information about genus and species. 
  4. Sheet music could be printed with QR codes that link to audio recordings of individual student parts featured on music websites like Noteflight
  5. QR codes can be placed around the school to link to further information about each room or about various objects. 
  6. Students can place a QR code in a paper or poster that links to their own work in an online portfolio.
To create a QR code, the website or material to which the QR code will link must be online. You can copy the web address to the website or document (or anything else online) and then paste the web address into an online QR code maker, which generates a QR code that will link to the web address. Two recommended free QR code maker websites are QRstuff and The QR Code Generator. To learn how to make a QR code at qrstuff.com, Watch the free video lesson in chapter 3 of my textbook.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Make Your own Class Website for Free: Video Tutorials and Recommended Websites

In the past, creating a website was an activity limited to only those who had specialized hypertext markup language (HTML) and cascading style sheets (CSS) programming skills. Now, a variety of easy-to-use applications are provided free to help those without specialized knowledge to create websites. This page is an excerpt from my recently published book, Educational Technology for Teachers.

Perhaps the most common type of website in education is the class website. Teachers use class websites to serve a variety of educational functions, from keeping in touch with parents and students about class activities, to chronicling activities completed in the classroom. Class websites might feature many different items including the following:
  • Assignments and homework 
  • Class news and announcements 
  • Pictures and text describing recent classroom activities 
  • Links to supplemental learning resources 
  • Personal information about the teacher, including a resume 
  • Class rules 
  • Supply lists 
  • Class calendars and schedules 
A variety of online tools allow users to easily create a website for free. Some recommended tools include Weebly, Wix and Google Sites. Google Sites and Wix are featured in my book because both are popular, free and simple. To see how to use Google Sites and Wix to setup a free class website, go to chapter 3 of my book and watch the instructional videos. Chapter 3 is free to access. You'll learn how to setup, create content and add pages to your own free website.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Making Education Relevant: What is Task-Centered Learning?

Task-centered learning is a method of learning that uses real-world tasks that make learning more relevant. In task-centered learning, students gain skills that relate to outside of school activities and competencies. It's been a good year for publications with my book that also recently came out as I mentioned in a previous post. 

Dr. Joel Gardner and I recently published an article in TechTrends entitled What is Task-Centered Learning. A pre-publication draft can be found on my account at academia.edu or at this link. This article provides an overview of the task-centered learning/instruction models so far, reviewing and combining task-centered models including Merrill's First Principles of Instruction, the 4C/ID model, Elaboration Theory, and Cognitive Apprenticeship. Then the article synthesizes these models to show the types of things a teacher or instructional designer should do to ensure that they follow prescriptions for task-centered learning. It follows up on a previous article - Task-centered learning differs from problem-based learning.

For this article, we decided to call it task-centered learning. Task-centered instruction, as it has been referred to in the past, was (in our minds) not a sufficiently accurate term. When they think of the word instruction, many people conjure up images of stimulus-response learning made famous by B. F. Skinner. Task-centered learning is very different from behaviorist-based learning, the learning tasks, activation of prior knowledge, demonstration/modeling, application, and integration/exploration mentioned in the article are elements that we associate with learning, not instruction. What is Task-Centered Learning? is a great primer for anyone interested in understanding task-centered learning/instruction. Check it out and share your thoughts in the comments! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Educational Technology Textbooks Must Be Different

Educational Technology for Teachers textbook cover
I have taught undergraduate educational technology classes for teacher candidates for over three years now, and I have reviewed many different textbooks to see if they are worthy to be used in my classes. Most of these textbooks cost a fortune and none provided the level of interaction that I want to see in my classes. So I went on teaching without a textbook and just pulled in readings from different sources for the class. 

In my searching, I knew that a textbook on educational technology cannot be just like any other textbook. We teach about the future of teaching and learning in the Information Age. We talk about classrooms in which every student has a tablet computer. We share about the possibility of futuristic interactive digital textbooks that include videos, activities, slideshows, quizzes and more. But we do this all without using an interactive digital textbook as an example! Instead, paper-based textbooks do their best to tell students about the more advanced technologies out there, or worse, they hide their obsolescence by avoiding the topic of interactive digital textbooks altogether. 

So over a year ago, I decided to author my own educational technology textbook for undergraduate classes. Now it is out! Educational Technology for Teachers is the first ever multiplatform interactive digital textbook on educational technology and yes, there are videos, slideshows, visual stories, image tutorials, sample projects and quizzes built in to this interactive digital textbook. As mentioned in a previous post, I used Inkling Habitat to author the book. This book will not just tell, but show my students how to use technologies for teaching. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Praise Students for Effort, Not for Participation

Dr. Mark L. Taylor came to our campus to teach our faculty and staff about generational differences, and teaching to generation NeXt. Our current generation on campuses all around the United States has been characterized in many different ways, from Digital Natives, to Generation Y, to Generation Me to Generation neXt. Dr. Taylor discussed traditionals, boomers, generation X, and then, of course, Generation neXt. 

One key idea that I found interesting in all of this is the level of selfishness among generations. Whereas traditionals (who experienced the depression and world war 2) were characterized by sacrifice and duty, generation neXt is characterized by entitlement and narcissism. We have certainly moved toward increased entitlement on a large scale, and experts indicate that with modern parenting techniques, this entitlement among generations is likely to continue. 

A personal experience with my own kids relates quite well. My daughter played on a 5 year old soccer team where we lived in Georgia. During the season, her team won a few games, and lost quite a few. In Georgia there was the expectation that all soccer players at this level receive a trophy at the end of the season. Not just the winning team, not the hard workers, but ALL players got a trophy at the end of the season. I am also ashamed to say that the next year when I was the soccer coach, I collected money from parents, bought trophies, and distributed them to our 6 year olds after a mediocre season. I learned that this approach is not uncommon among this generation. Through this experience, kids learn that they get a reward not for effort, but just for showing up. 

The bottom line for a college professor like myself, is that my students from generation neXt (and yours, if you teach) will expect a reward or praise for just showing up to class, or just handing in an assignment. I have seen this phenomenon in my classes before and frankly, I'm not willing to lavishly praise my students for just showing up. I don't think this is the answer. Instead, I am much more interested in changing the expectations for my students. Overall, I think praise in our society must focus back toward effort and quality of work, not on participation or talent. So think twice before you offer too much praise to your kids/students! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Social Media is the Weapon? - Lessons from Columbine

Last week at Northern State University where I work, Darrell Scott came to present about Rachel's Challenge. His daughter, Rachel Scott was the first person killed in 1999 at Columbine High School when two boys opened fire on her as she ate lunch outside. Darrell's speech to congress later that year was not about the need for gun control, which was a surprise to many. His speech was about the need for kindness and compassion. 

Rachel was one of those people who deliberately reached out to those who were different from her, new to school, lonely, or picked on. Darrell remembers his daughters legacy by encouraging others to share the type of kindness and compassion that Rachel shared. This is the only way that violence in schools can really be stopped. Rachel's challenge is to create a positive culture change in schools with kindness and compassion. Studies have shown that this program, when taught in schools, has been quite successful in helping improve faculty-student relationships and reduce negative behaviors such as bullying, and alcohol and drug use. 

Of course, I am interested in how things relate to educational technology as I work to prepare my own students to deal with technology issues in the classroom. I don't know everything about what happens online between middle and high school students, but there are a few things I do know. I know that social media sites have been used as a weapon to belittle, make fun of, and hurt those who are different. I know that youth (and immature adults) say things online that they would never say in person. I know that I lose a lot of faith in humanity every time I read the comments on YouTube videos. However, I also know that social media can be used for very positive, kind, and compassionate communication, and also for high-quality learning. 

Online, people often feel like they are more anonymous, and can say and do what they want without the same consequences as a face to face interaction. But this is not true, there are real consequences. Just as Darrell Scott advocated kindness and compassion instead of gun control, I think we need to specifically advocate kindness and compassion online, not the wholesale blocking of specific social media websites. Social media sites have great potential to support learning, so let's keep the sites open, but teach our students to use kindness and compassion. It just might save somebody's life! 

Perhaps you have some experience teaching students to use kindness in social media, how have you taught this in your class?