Archive for November, 2007

Wii Fit

Does anyone know of any educational applications that are being developed for the Wii?


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And Rebecca, we definitely need you!  Thanks for writing such a great blog.

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randal pinketAnyone who believes that technology makes us more antisocial (yep, people still think that) should listen to Randal Pinkett. Although he’s probably best known as the winner of NBC’s The Apprenctice, Dr. Pinkett puts his learning to the service of others in extraordinary ways.

Dr. Pinkett’s dissertation centered how how technology can be used to build communities and close the digital divide. He established a project in the Camfield Estates, a low-income housing project in Massachusetts, where computers and training were provided to residents. Residents also had access to a restricted community web site where they could create profiles, post community events, chat, share news and participate on a discussion board. Very straightforward stuff. There were descriptions of businesses and services offered in the community and maps showing their location.

The results are inspiring. Rather than isolating people, it turns out that using technology brought folks closer together. Over the course of the year, the number of residents who recognized each other by name increased by a third. The number of residents who phoned each other nearly doubled. The number of residents who knew of the skills and abilities of their neighbours almost tripled. Before the project began, not a single resident knew of volunteer opportunities available in the community. After one year, 42% of residents felt they were “informed” or “very well informed”. People can say what they want about technology isolating people. Projects like this one tell us that the opposite is true.

One final thought … some might be tempted to say that the technology itself made the difference but I’m more inclined to say that it was how it was used. The project focused on the residents’ needs and empowered them to create the bulk of the content on the site. Social networking was a key feature of the web site, and Dr. Pinkett reports that it was also one of the most popular areas of the site. There’s a big message here for anyone who uses technology: focus on people. Dr. Pinkett’s research brings that message home loud & clear.

Dr. Pinkett was a keynote speaker at this year’s Conference on Information Technology. You can read more about his research at the BCT Partners web site.

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Twitter on CSI

First, CSI took on Second Life. Now Twitter?

“Some people just don’t value privacy.”

“They don’t EXPECT privacy. They value openness.”

“Whatever.” 🙂

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Tech tool talk

No Conference on Information Technology would be complete without the latest & greatest in technological playthings. Some of the most engaged learning is happening these days with simple tools that are freely (or almost freely) available online. Joseph Hostetler and Steven Combs of Ivy Tech Community College and Give Us One Minute shared their favourites. They’re both really fantastic presenters and the hour I spent in their session was well worth it.

Steven also showed us an assignment he gives using Google SketchUp (images posted on Flickr slideshow & process walked through on YouTube) — very seamless.

Here are a few more they suggested were worth checking out …

I notice a couple of things about the list. First, it’s amazing how many of these are owned by Google (Gtalk, Blogger, Picassa, YouTube, Google Docs & Notebook). My friend, Ian, wrote about a great session we attended on using Google Apps for Education. It used to be a Microsoft world. It’s fast becoming a Google world.

I’m also surprised that there are no wikis here because there are certainly lots out there including pbwiki, wikispaces, and wetpaint, which recently announced ad-free wikis for educators (and wetpaint wikis include nice little discussion boards). I notice that Ivy Tech uses wikis for its faculty sites.

Another popular tool these days is Ning. Ning is used to create social networks (see Classroom 2.0, Vid Snacks or The Global Education Collaborative). Ning also makes a great quick ‘n dirty learning management system. Maybe these are tools that may make the list next year? 🙂

Incidentally I attended the session with Jonathan Ross, a digital media instructor at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Jonathan was one of the presenters at the first session I attended at CIT. The session offered a useful collection of tips & tricks, and Jonathan created a web site that offers another fairly impressive list of tools to check out.

How about you? What are your favourite tools? How are you using them? Any tips or advice you’d share?

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John O’Brien of Century College was one of the most engaging presenters at last year’s Conference on Information Technology so I was happy to see he was presenting again this year along with his colleague, Ron Anderson. Together they talked about working with faculty who have been left behind in the mad rush to use technology.

Most institutions develop their technology plans around technology pioneers. What about those who feel hindered, left behind, skeptical or disgruntled? It may be tempting to assume those faculty just don’t like technology. O’Brien and Anderson found that probably wasn’t the case. When they asked faculty at Century about their own beliefs around technology, they found that the overwhelming majority were enthusiastic. It’s also important to question our assumptions about what students want. If you look at the latest ECAR results, most students (60%) prefer only a moderate use of technology in teaching. Those results would suggest that a blended approach is what most students want.

O’Brien and Anderson suggest that we need to check the message we’re sending to faculty. It can seem like we’re sending a threatening message … “Resistence is futile“? Instead we need to create an atmosphere were it’s ok to disagree. We need to reward all kinds of teaching innovation such as service learning and active learning rather than just technological innovation. And we need to clarify our “techspectations” (i.e. faculty need to answer their phone and email, upload their grades) so that faculty have freedom to make their own decisions about how they use technology.

Most faculty want to use technology for the right reasons (improving learning) rather than the wrong reasons (my academic chair told me I had to) but there are barriers. Access to appropriate training and support are the key ones. At Century, most faculty preferred to be mentored by other faculty rather than trained by IT specialists. As a result, the college created the Faculty Referral Program to bring together the faculty who wanted to learn with those who had the skills and were willing to share a bit of time to help others learn. The college established a system of peer review for online courses. And they created an innovation lab where faculty could go to learn. Incidentally, the lab sits beside the gaming pit where students go to play online games. Good choice, eh?

The message here is that we can’t assume that faculty don’t use technology because they don’t like it. And the approaches we’ve used in the past won’t necessarily work for everyone. We need to listen, and support people in creating a path that works for them.

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ipod touch

While in Nashville last week, we heard a lot about mobile learning. So when a group of us dropped in to the Apple Store, we took the opportunity to take a first look at Apple’s new iPod Touch.

The iTouch was very easy to use. It was interesting to see how one person in our group intuitively pinched the screen to zoom in and out of a web page. No instruction needed.

There’s a lot of opportunity for mobile learning with tools like the iTouch. Potentially, these are learning environments that you can carry in your pocket, as a friend of mine has noted. Of course, students could use it to browse the web — the full web, not the miniaturized version available on most cell phones. They could share files, watch video, chat or check their email — which is more than students do in most online courses now. By clicking on any of the dozens of web apps that others have developed for the iTouch, students can also share what they’re doing, get organized, play games or check their Facebook. The iTouch is also customizable in a way that learning management systems aren’t and, as a result, integrates better with the other digital bits of our students’ lives.

What would you rather use to take your online course? This or this? Yep. Me, too.

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