I am interested in putting IT in Mathematics teaching to improve student outcomes

Monday, 4 August 2014

Using Facebook in Education

I am one of the seemingly few who resisted for so long the constant pressure to join and be part of the Facebook world. I felt it to be intrusive and quite simply a waste of time I couldn't afford. Still a few years ago I had an idea of how to use Facebook as a means of engagement with my classes and I have never looked back.

So is Facebook really the great evil for educators and deservedly banned in so many of our schools? Can it be a time waster? Absolutely, but there are huge benefits for connection and collaboration as well.

Anyone that has used forums knows that this is a powerful way to connect to people with similar interests and to seek answers to questions. This is why on most school learning management systems there are places for forums. The problem is the students don't use them. Maybe they do at the beginning when they are really keen but the novelty soon wears off, and the forum goes quiet. So the question is how to create a forum that the students themselves will drive and want to use. First the forum must have a clear purpose and fill a need that the student's themselves have. Secondly it should be easy to access from any device, anywhere, anytime. Thirdly it should give updated timely notifications of activity on the forum. Lastly it should be setup, run and maintained by the students themselves.

For me as an educator the time where I see the need for greatest collaboration is when the students are working through problems and get stuck. This typically happens at home when doing homework. This usually meant in the past that the student either had to wait till the next day to get help from the teacher, or to ring one of their classmates in their friendship circle to seek help. This is a 1-1 interaction and is very limited in the ability to truly collaborate. This is where technology has opened new doors. The greatest resource the students in class have is each other, so how to tap into this potential when they go home, not just their friends but the whole class and maybe even their teacher.

Enter Facebook "groups". At the start of every year I ask for a volunteer to set up a Facebook group and get all the students in the class to join. I then emphasize the fact that this group is for the students themselves to ask questions of each other when they are working through problems at home. The first time someone posts, I mention it the next day and if the question went unanswered I will go through it with the class. It does take a bit of effort and encouragement at the beginning but once they realize the power of the group it just takes off. I also have a student take a photo of my class board at the end of every lesson and this is posted to the group. This has made me feel more connected with the students as I now know what they are struggling with in the homework before they come to the next class. If I am online at the the time they post their question, I can also chime in and help as often it is just a minor misconception that is holding them back. I have copied a small sample of students interaction below. They don't have touch enabled computers so they are handwriting their problem and taking a photo with their phone. Check out some of the time stamps, this is when they are working!

When students are really struggling they arrange a "skype" session to increase the amount and ease of collaboration. In the future when all students have devices that have decent stylus support I would see greater use of programs such as Microsoft Lync to collaborate. However the initial point of connection must be where the students are at, and at present, good or bad, they are on Facebook.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Surface Pro 3

There has been a lot of hype about the Surface Pro and what it can do. The original thought behind it seemed to be to combine a tablet and laptop into a single device. This has been emphasized time again but as an educator this was not what was exciting.

Windows 8 showed the power of having the interaction of touch enabled screens to make the whole experience feel more natural. I have recently gone from using a surface pro 2 back to my hp laptop and still find myself touching the screen expected it to read my gestures. The power of touch and more importantly the ability to "ink" or write directly onto a screen is what is exciting. This opens a whole new world of interaction with the pc. Yes this technology has been around for a while but no-one was really progressing it. The Surface Pro 1 really set a new standard and challenged the others in the industry to raise their game. Unfortunately several years later and still there is not a single device that comes close to matching the natural way the Surface Pro handles "inking". I now see why Microsoft has had to come into the hardware market, the ability of the software was out pacing what the hardware could produce and it was limiting the fantastic advantages of things like onenote. Still I think that many have missed the point as to what the likes of a Surface Pro opens up for education. Dr. Grissom in his blog (link below) put it so very clearly, the Surface Pro is a game changer and the rest of the industry needs to see this as such.

So onto the Surface Pro 3, the latest iteration of the Surface Pro series. I was lucky enough to have a short play with one today and I must say I was impressed. The first thing that struck me was the lightness, it finally felt like a tablet, not a netbook pretending to be a tablet as the Pro 1 and 2 seemed to me. The writing, "inking", had risen yet another notch from the already impressive early versions. The size of the screen finally made me think that this might be a laptop replacement but I would really like to have it a while before I came to that conclusion as it would only really be a true replacement if I could type reports on it comfortably.

Again the debate as to whether or not it is a laptop replacement rears its head. Does it really have to? At the price point they are bringing it out at I guess it forces the issue. Still there is hope for the die hard laptop and additional tablet fans, the rumour of the new Surface 3 with pen support. I assume that this will be priced at something similar to the Surface 2, and be an alternative option for those not wishing to replace their laptop but still wanting to take advantage of the "inking" ability of the Surface.

I have said how excited I am to be using a Surface with "inking" and onenote and believe there is the potential for a real shift in how we as educators teach, but what really blows my mind is the thought of all the students having access to this technology and what that would mean. That is where this technology can really shine.

What a great time to be an educator!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

edchat conference

I am looking forward to the #edchat conference. Just sharing ideas on how technology can be used to enhance pedagogy is very exciting. As one of the organizers is at my school I have had a sneak preview of the type of things being offered and I feel like a kid in a candy store. I love to hear and share ideas about education, especially how to move away from the traditional model which is less and less appropriate for the needs of students, especially moving into the future. I believe we have an extremely exciting position as educators during what is becoming a huge shift in education. The use of technology has made things possible which were only dreams a decade ago.