MOOCs and Education

There are two stories in the New York Times today about MOOCs (massive open online courses). Yes, two!

The stories deal with the ways schools are taking advantage of these open courses and finding ways to incorporate them into their college or university curriculum as for-credit courses. Of course, that also means they’re finding ways to monetize the courses, but still. It’s interesting because a while back, the talking heads were screaming that students shouldn’t be receiving credit for these courses.

This first one is how San Jose State is using them as remedial coursework to catch students up to where they need to be when they enter college.

The second one talks about community colleges who have taken M.I.T.’s computer classes and turned them into personalized courses that can be adapted to fit the pace of individual classes, or even students.

Here’s links:

I wish K-12 administrators would take the hint and get on this train, too. After all, as the first article states, about half of U.S. undergrads are not college-ready after graduating from high school and need those remedial courses. Perhaps if K-12 education took a page out of higher ed’s book and started adapting these materials to suit a high schooler, we wouldn’t have the gap in the first place!

Ah well – Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and with K-12 education, nothing moves quickly. I guess that just means job security for me for a really long time!

Happy Tuesday, all!


Keep Working Hard

Wow! I can’t believe I haven’t posted since March 24… sorry about that!

Anyway, I have to explain why — It’s actually pretty cool. It’s a lesson in sticking through the tough times and continuing to work toward your goals. I’ve been, and it’s finally paying off in a big way. Let me explain…

I got an internship! It’s not publishing related, but I’m okay with that, because it’s educational-technology-related! I’ll be interning this summer (read: starting now) at a company that coaches schools through the implementation of their own online learning programs! How cool is that?

The president of the company initially launched his model at a school in my area a few years ago, and it won an international award from iNACOL (International Association for Online Learning). INTERNATIONAL!

Now he travels all around talking about best practices in online education and helps school districts plan, design, and launch their own online programs for public school students. I’m so excited to start!

In other news, I’ve also become a more frequent contributor to the newspaper I’ve been freelancing for — also cool. I still work at my college’s library.

And finally, I got a long term sub position (which ends next week, so expect more activity then!) to add to my resume as well! Talk about a busy time!

It’s just insane how life works sometimes. This time last year, I was about to graduate from college, my father was facing open heart surgery at 48, and I was really quite depressed. I had nothing except my summer job that I’d been working since freshman year (which I will not be going back to this summer, due to the internship!) and I was getting turned down for full time work left and right.

Now I feel like my options are pretty limitless. By that I mean that I have opportunities in all three of my career fields of choice — all that’s left is to pick one and make it happen!

So to anyone out there who’s feeling a little less than optimistic about your situation at the present moment, just hang in there. Good things really do come to those who WORK for them!

My Book-less Semester: Week 1

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A week or so ago, I posted about how I purchased all my textbooks for my second semester of graduate school in eBook form. The main reason behind this decision? Money. The eBooks saved me around $50-70 this semester, which might not sound like a lot to the average working adult, but for me, that’s two weeks of groceries or a tank and a half of gas. The other reason is that my program, Instructional Technology, is about 70% online courses. My eBook purchases have now just combined 100% of my course materials onto my laptop.

The first week of school was pretty slow. Syllabus week proved to be just that: reading and posting that I’ve read the course syllabus, have my materials, yadda yadda. My first readings aren’t due until this week, but I did try to get a jump start on them this weekend.

My goodness, was it difficult! As I suspected in my last post, it took just about everything in me to get through the reading without checking my Facebook newsfeed, or scrolling through my endless Tumblr dashboard (curse you, Tumblr, for endless scrolling!), or to keep out of TweetDeck.

My first reading wasn’t bad. I got through it and then thought, “Oh, I’ll just reward myself for that with a little social media.” Two hours later, when I had wanted to accomplish all my reading over the weekend, I was still busy on Pinterest, my newest obsession (read about my newfound relationship with Pinterest here), pinning wedding reception photos, which is extra pathetic because I don’t even have a significant other (my cousin is getting married in June though, so that’s how I justify this behavior).

Once I got a hold of myself, I closed my applications and got back to work on my second reading, which was a particularly dry introduction to Web 2.0 technologies. I know, it was like fate was intervening here. Part of the assignment for the reading was to visit the sites mentioned in the text, and granted, they were education related, but all it took was the opening of a new browser session and I was off task again.

Needless to say, I did not finish my readings on Saturday. Sunday was a complete loss, what with the Super Bowl being on and my incessant need to partake in tweeting about commercials, the 49er’s awful first half, and of course, the highlight of the night, when the power went out at the Super Dome. There was no way any reading was getting done.

On the plus side, my eyes didn’t bother me from looking at the screen! Hopefully tonight after work I will have better luck settling myself down to get the readings for my other two classes out of the way. I’m thinking that with practice and discipline, perhaps I can work up to the ability to do all the reading without getting distracted.

Also, mega thanks to WordPress’s The Daily Post for linking to my blog post about going paperless and reminding me to post my update about it!

Join in the conversation! Is anyone else going paperless this semester?

Censoring Books?

Happy Monday everyone!

Today I’m sharing an article I wrote dealing with the issue of censorship in schools. Here’s the article.

Two books on this school’s summer reading list, Prep (Curtis Sittenfeld) and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Tom Wolfe) were contested at a school board meeting by parents who called the material “pornographic” and “inappropriate,” among other things.

It turned into a pretty big deal, and tons of national groups got involved in the issue of constitutionality of banning these books. Also, to add fuel to the fire, the conversation erupted the week before National Banned Books Week! Some of the agencies that got involved were: National Coalition Against Censorship; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Association of American Publishers; Independent Book Publishers Association; National Council of Teachers of English; and PEN American Center.

Now, from covering the story for many more board meetings after the initial complaint, I became interested and rented Prep from the library. Personally, I didn’t think it was that horrible, especially compared to what’s on the radio, TV, magazines, etc. But I can see how, to an unsuspecting and naive tween, the content could be a little jarring. I’ve never read Wolfe’s book, but just from the title alone, I think it’s clear that the content may be a little controversial, which should have alerted parents from the start.

The district ended up taking the books of their optional summer reading lists, but the titles are both still available in the library (story about that resolution here).

Personally, I’m against any kind of censorship of literature. It’s a slippery slope from censoring one or two books here and there to eventually becoming a Fahrenheit 451 society. But I also understand that schools are have a responsibility to parents and can’t just ignore their voices. As someone with a background in education, I think the school’s resolution is a good compromise (students can still check the books out of the library).

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

End of the Smartphone Era?

I read this article by Nicholas Carlson in Business Insider. Carlson talks about the latest projects coming out of Google and Microsoft, which are glasses that display data right in front of your face. There are a couple key differences between the two products, and Carlson argues that these goggle gadgets could be the end of the smartphone.

Google Glass, according to the article, is a device that doesn’t involve lenses like regular glasses. Instead, it almost seems like a head band that rests on the bridge of one’s nose and has a small screen attached to its right edge, presumably where information would be displayed. And if you click on the link I provided back there, you’ll see in the image results page that someone has cleverly compared the head device to what they wore in Star Trek. Humorous, yes, but the two are very similar.

Microsoft’s product only has blueprint drawings floating around on the web, and Carlson included pictures at the bottom of his article. This version appears to be more like actual glasses that one wears. In the blueprint, it shows someone viewing a baseball game while wearing the glasses and data appears on the lenses about each of the players on the field. Pretty cool, but these glasses remind me of the ones that little kids who need glasses would wear to play sports, so as not to break their “good” pair.

Personally, I wear contact lenses because I DON’T LIKE WEARING GLASSES. They fog up whenever there’s a significant temperature change (like a heated car vs. outdoor winter weather, or an air conditioned room in humid summer), which is way too common in Pennsylvania and other areas with definitive seasonal weather. Glasses hurt my nose and make my ears sore. Yeah, maybe the glasses have the internet built into them. Maybe they aren’t even really glasses but a futuristic looking head band with a screen. Regardless, both devices, as they are now, rest on the bridge of one’s nose and use ears to hold them in place. And that sucks. Plus, what about people who already have prescription glasses? And people who want to wear sunglasses?

How would we enter text to search with these things? Would I have to tote my wireless keyboard to the baseball game, along with my glove, hot dog, XL soda, peanuts, and everything else?

I don’t know, but these glasses have a long way to go before they’re ready for the public to latch on to. Carlson does have an interesting point, though.

Computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning.

First they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next they’ll be on our faces.

(Eventually they’ll be in our brains.)

Has anyone ever read M.T. Anderson’s Feed? Written in 2005, it’s the story of our society in the future with the internet embedded in our brains, and all the interpersonal, moral and societal issues that arise from it. You should check it out, it’s a pretty intense read.

The smartphone isn’t going anywhere for a while. Unless Apple comes up with a product that trumps Google Glass and Microsoft’s product, I think society is perfectly content to have the internet in the palm of our hands.


Read more:

Technology in Education – iTunes U

I just finished listening to the first in the three-part series of webcasts on how to implement and use iTunes U. It was a pretty exciting introduction to the application. Aside from two Apple heads talking about the software, they invited a high school and a university teacher to jump in and talk about their experiences with using iPads in the classroom.

For instance, Matt Baier, a Social Studies teacher from California at Cathedral Catholic High School, teaches all of his classes with the iPad, as his school has a 1:1 ratio for iPads to students. So every student gets an iPad!

Things that he noticed were much easier included collecting and disseminating assignments. All it takes is a simple post of the materials necessary to the iTunes U homepage and then all his students have what tMatt Baier (Cathedral Catholic HS) talks about using iPad in the classroom.hey need. Similarly, using various storage apps on the iPad allowed his students to turn in their assignments with a simple click.

He talked about a night when he realized that he would have to call in sick unexpectedly, and he was able to create a lesson and supply all the materials at 3 a.m. by putting them on iTunes U. He shot off a quick email to the sub outlining what the kids were doing, but there was no need for using an emergency lesson plan because he was able to let the kids know what they had to do before they even got to school that day.

One thing that struck me was the ability to create your own textbooks on iTunes U. I think this is awesome. As someone who likes to tailor their materials to suit my individual classes, being able to create my own textbook for my students is a huge bonus for me. No more skipping chapters or jumping around a huge anthology – I can decide what and when I want to do things in the book.

Another plus that was highlighted by Matt was that there is less of the “I didn’t know that was due” and “I didn’t understand the assignment” because the iPad sends push notifications to students when new posts are released and reminds them of due dates. “Centralization” was a buzzword – students had everything they needed right there on one device.

He also mentioned that students were able to communicate in a backchannel type discussion during the presidential debates. Even though the debates took place outside school hours, the students could communicate in real time using the iPads and the discussion features on iTunes U.

Another bonus? Parents with their own iOS devices can check out what their kids are doing in class. Matt mentioned that since it was an election year, some parents were checking out his materials and the projects students had created just because they were interested in the subject.

He also talked about the ability to publish student work to the district iTunes U page for everyone to see. Schools that are subscribed to iTunes U can have parents associate their Apple IDs with the district page and have access to everything the district makes available, such as the student newspaper, projects, policies, handbooks, etc.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty cool thing for schools to do. However, it depends heavily on the amount of money that can be spent to get the technology (iPads, iTunes U, etc.) and the training for teachers to be able to use it well.

My own personal concerns center around students remaining on task during instructional time and when they are allowed to work on projects using the iPad (podcasts, iMovies, etc.). I hope that there is some way that this can be monitored during class. Additionally, it’s important to remember that at first the technology may impede students’ learning. Not only will it be important to train teachers on using the technology, but also teach students how to use it as well.

Other than that, the benefits really do outweigh the potential setbacks. For instance, shy students will have a less stressful way to participate in class. Additionally, students who are absent are still connected to the classroom and are less likely to fall behind. It seems like the iPad and iTunes U have the ability to take learning outside the classroom and turn daily experiences into learning experiences with the connectivity the technology could provide.

YA Fest (we need more of these)

Check it out.

A Lehigh Valley library (in Easton, if you’re familiar with the area) is hosting the first Young Adult Fest to celebrate YA Fiction next Saturday, August 4. They’ve got about 30 area authors coming to sell and sign copies of their books, and they will be having panel discussions with the authors. The goal is to attract local kids toward libraries and reading.

I think this is wonderful. With my background in education, I know for a fact that kids don’t read anymore. I asked my students once how often they read books outside of school, and the responses I got?

“You mean read a book that I don’t have to read for school?”

“I don’t even read the book we’re reading now.”

“I have better things to do than reading.”

“People read books for fun?”

This is not an exaggeration, and believe  me, their writing and test scores showed it. I made them read out loud every day by going up and down the rows in class, and you wouldn’t believe how many of these 15 year old students struggled to read materials that were at a 5th grade reading level (these were 9th and 10th graders).

It floors me because I was an avid reader in school. I love reading even now. More events like this YA Fest will help kids get interested in reading and writing again. I’m going to the event to check it out and maybe mingle with some of the authors, so I’ll post an update about it next weekend. If anyone in the blogosphere is in the area, I encourage you to attend as well!