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 WeeblyWix 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? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Didn't use iBooks Author to Create my Interactive Digital Textbook

After months of hard work, blood, sweat and tears (well, not all of those), I have finally submitted a new interactive digital textbook for publication. I didn't use the popular iBooks Author by Apple to create this digital textbook.

Right now you are thinking, "but wait, iBooks Author is made by Apple, and Apple is cool, right?" Apple is cool, but Apple is not multiplatform, and this makes all the difference in my world. My textbook is on educational technology, and when it is ready, I intend for it to be read by my own university students (and students at other universities) on any device. I want all of the interactive elements to function on a Windows laptop, Android-based mobile device, Apple computer, Linux desktop, and yes, an iPad. How many of these devices would work with a textbook developed using iBooks Author? Only the iPad (and no, not the Apple computer).

When I started out writing my textbook, I looked into many different platforms for publishing an interactive digital textbook. I looked into iBooks Author, but I realized that anything I created with iBooks Author would only work on the iPad. It was simply not going to work for me to ask all of my students to buy iPads when some had Android tablets, Windows computers, Apple computers, etc. already. Ethically, I couldn't justify requiring students to buy a certain type of device in order to succeed in class.

So I looked a bit deeper into the options for publishing interactive digital textbooks and found only a few alternatives that were truly multiplatform and interactive, one of which was Inkling Habitat. Habitat offers a multiplatform experience so that students on Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, and whatever else can access and interact with my digital textbook. When my textbook comes out, it will be available on whatever device through Habitat.

Because Habitat has worked well for me, I am presenting a workshop at this year's AECT International convention on how to create your own interactive digital textbook and I already have a good number of people enrolled. I am looking forward to the experience! Check out Habitat at https://www.inkling.com/habitat/. And get ready for the first ever multiplatform interactive digital textbook on Educational Technology for Teachers, coming soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Task-centered Learning Differs from Problem-Based Learning

A recent publication by Joel Gardner and myself talks about how task-centered learning (TCL) differs from problem-based learning (PBL). When this article was submitted to Educational Technology, the editor asked if the distinction between TCL and PBL was just one of those simple academic discussions that has little effect on practice. I wrote him back that the contrary was true and shared a few experiences where people have discussed PBL, but what they were really discussing was TCL. This was the reason for the article. Some ideas and theories in instructional and educational technology really are the same thing, discussed in different ways from different people, but in academic discussions, I believe that we benefit from defining clearly what we'
re talking about.

One experience I had occurred at the AECT International convention. I attended a presentation on PBL in which the presenter had implemented a PBL experience for one semester which had all of the hallmarks of PBL, most significantly, the PBL experience provided minimal guidance and coaching for students. The result was a failed class, student scores did not improve significantly. "But," said the presenter, "we implemented some changes the next semester, and saw markedly improved student scores." The second semester was a great success. The presenter still called the second semester approach PBL, but I think it was mislabeled.

As I sat in this session I noticed that the changes that were made to improve the second semester scores were the same types of practices advocated in a TCL approach, not a PBL one. These included the instructional guidance and coaching that are so much a part of the TCL and First Principles of Instruction models for learning. So I guess that is the reason for the article. I believe that this distinction should be important for anyone in instructional or educational technology.