Kevin Blissett: Out of the Cave

Leadership, Classroom 2.0, Curriculum, China

Top eLearning Tools

Jane Hart at Jane’s E-Learning Tip of the Day lists her compilation below of the top 10 e-tools for learners and top 10 e-tools for professionals (hat tip: David Hopkins at eLearning Blog//Don’t Waste Your Time).

Top 10 Tools for Learners

The current Top 10 list of tools for learners, based on contribution of 47 Learners AS AT 4 APRIL is:

  1. Google Search
  2. YouTube
  3. Firefox
  4. Twitter
  5. Delicious
  6. Facebook
    Google Reader

Top 10 Tools for Learning Professionals

The current top 10 tools for learning professionals to use in their own professional practice for creating learning “solutions” for others and their own productivity is AS AT 4 APRIL as follows, based on the contributions of 21 learning professionals

  1. Delicious
  2. Twitter
  3. Skype
  4. Slideshare
  5. Google Reader
  6. Google Docs
  7. Audacity
    Google Search

I’m currently using almost all of these tools, and I’m slowly introducing more of them to my students. Many of the tools have had a profound impact on the way I teach and keep up to date in education, and on the way my students learn and produce. 

I might also add Digg to the list as I use it often to find top articles on topics of interest.


April 21, 2009 Posted by | social media, strategies, technology, tools | Leave a comment

Yahoo Answers Homework Questions

Charles Sipe at The School Principal Blog directs us to Yahoo Answers, a site which functions to answer any question that might be on your mind, but which also has a sizable education community for students with nagging homework questions. Sipe explains:

It can be a good alternative for students who need help and can’t get help from a parent or tutor with their homework.

One drawback to to community answer sites like Yahoo Answers is that anyone can answer your question, resulting in an inconsistent quality of answers. However the point system can indicate the authority level of the user who answers the question since providing the best answer to a question earns the answerer 10 points.

Yet another good resource for students who may be too shy to raise a hand or, sadly, too nervous about bothering a busy parent.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | resources, technology | 1 Comment

Ride the Technological Wave in Classrooms, or Get Left Behind

ride-waveThere continues to be resistance among some in education who see learning social networking skills and online publishing as somehow outside of the framework of the set curriculum. I could not disagree more. I have seen my learners’ writing skills improve astronomically via use of our classroom blogs, and recognize that so much of social interaction, finding a job, shopping, etc. is being done online. These are skills that must be developed–emphasizing the benefits as well as the dangers–in order to prepare learners for success in their future lives.

Julie Lindsay addresses this topic in her e-Learning Journeys blog. An excerpt:

I tried to explain that my class does not end when the students work out the door. The collaboration, interaction and socialisation continues. My students interact with each other, they interact with me, their teacher, via online tools of various names and varieties which could all come under the broad term of ‘social networking’. They have their own online areas, including digital portfolios, as well as community areas. They post to blogs and respond to each other. They are out there using social bookmarking, folksonomy, class wikis, creating podcasts and vodcasts and putting them online, using social imaging (flickr) and anything else I can think of to encourage motivation and excitement in their ultimate quest for learning. I do not apologise for this. I do not essentially see anything wrong with this in 21st century learning. In fact this approach has changed my whole teaching style and changed the way I interact with the students. The development of PLEs (personal learning environments) and ubiquitous and mobile computing means I now start my classes with ‘…open your blogs, refer to the class wiki…etc’ rather than ‘..take out your books and copy from the board’.

Read more.

Photo by San Diego Shooter

April 19, 2009 Posted by | skills, social media, technology | Leave a comment

Oh, no! My Internet’s Down!

Kevin Purdy at Lifehacker gives some sage advice on what to do when–insert prayer of your choice here–the internet is down. Among his suggestions are:

  1. Take a look at your lengthy to-do list.
  2. Organize pc files and folders.
  3. Do some old-fashioned work.
  4. Use your mobile unit.
  5. Clean out your workspace.

As resourceful educators, it’s not hard to find things to do offline:

  • Talk with a colleague.
  • Work on lesson plans/units of inquiry.
  • Mark assignments/assessments.
  • Call some parents.
  • Read one of those things used at one time in the classroom–a book.
  • Teach!

April 15, 2009 Posted by | strategies, technology, tools | Leave a comment

Classroom Use of GoogleApps

Helen Barrett explains how GoogleApps can be a one-stop shop for creating centralized, dynamic, and effective e-portfolios. I’ve been using Blogger for my students’ blogs and had considered using other applications alongside, but Helen does a great job here showing how it can all work together. I’ll definitely plan on working more applications into my curriculum map. She has also created a group site where educators can share ideas about how one fully can use GoogleApps in the classroom.


April 13, 2009 Posted by | strategies, technology | Leave a comment

So You Think You’re Multitasking…



Generation M students–those saturated in technological media–may appear to be multitasking geniuses as they IM, SMS, listen to their iPods, and say hi to mom all at the same time, but research is indicating that focusing on several tasks simultaneously is probably reducing the results in each of the tasks and creating “antsy” minds in need of downtime.  And the issues associated with this multitasking lifestyle don’t apply solely to Gen-M’s; they are also applicable to professionals who juggle multiple tasks every day in the workplace.

A Time magazine article by Claudia Wallis speaks to this topic and reveals that true “multitasking” may be a fiction, that it instead appears to be quickly toggling on and off activities upon which we are actually focusing individually. While having many different activities going on at the same time may have some benefits, studies are showing that meaningful interactions within the family and the classroom are being deleteriously affected. Wallis cites anthropologist Elinor Ochs, director of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, who explains:

“We saw that when the working parent comes through the door, the other spouse and the kids are so absorbed by what they’re doing that they don’t give the arriving parent the time of day,” says Ochs. The returning parent, generally the father, was greeted only about a third of the time, usually with a perfunctory “Hi.” “About half the time the kids ignored him or didn’t stop what they were doing, multitasking and monitoring their various electronic gadgets,” she says. “We also saw how difficult it was for parents to penetrate the child’s universe. We have so many videotapes of parents actually backing away, retreating from kids who are absorbed by whatever they’re doing.”

Gen M’s multitasking habits have social and psychological implications as well. If you’re IMing four friends while watching That ’70s Show, it’s not the same as sitting on the couch with your buddies or your sisters and watching the show together. Or sharing a family meal across a table. Thousands of years of evolution created human physical communication–facial expressions, body language–that puts broadband to shame in its ability to convey meaning and create bonds. What happens, wonders UCLA’s Ochs, as we replace side-by-side and eye-to-eye human connections with quick, disembodied e-exchanges? Those are critical issues not just for social scientists but for parents and teachers trying to understand–and do right by–Generation M.

As a result of all of these activities constantly “requiring” attention, multitaskers seem to have difficulty focusing on one task deeply and following it to its conclusion; consequently, tasks which are completed are often done so superficially. This would seem to indicate that students, leaders, and project managers should focus intently on the task at hand, complete it, and then proceed to the next task versus taking  bites out of multiple assignments over time. 

Take a look at the rest of this insightful article.

Photo by Farai

April 11, 2009 Posted by | multitasking, technology, time management, university | Leave a comment

Finding a Social Media Crack in the Great Wall

This article from TechCrunch details the difficulties that top social media sites are having trying to break into the massive Chinese market.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | social media, technology | Leave a comment

Another Look at Laptops in Class

Should we or shouldn’t we? We should! The ongoing debate about the wisdom of using laptops in class gets a fresh look in this article by John Timmer.

Many schools are now adopting a 1:1 laptop to student ratio but not without hiccups.  The benefits are numerous, and the flaws tend to center around the machines causing distractions, be it from aimless surfing, chatting, game-playing, etc. In my view, it’s nothing that a vigilant teacher cannot solve for the m0st part. And just when you get the laptops under control, another distraction will be lurking right around the corner. 

In any case, whatever solutions are found now are likely to be a temporary fix, and the shrinking of laptops and rise of smartphones are going to provide the next generation of students with a wealth of new, and harder to manage, distractions.

(Come on, haven’t these distractions existed since the dawn of man? When I was young, the distractions were throwing paper airplanes, passing notes–love or otherwise–and drawing caricatures of the teacher. Isn’t this just a hi-tech version of that?)

April 3, 2009 Posted by | strategies, technology | Leave a comment

The Death of the Classroom?

I just happened upon an interesting though logically incomplete article entitled “Long Live Instructor-Led Education” by Saul Carliner of Concordia University outlining his reasons for believing that face to face classroom instruction is not being threatened by e-learning courses and training. While I tend to agree with him in principle, I do not believe he offers the strongest arguments for his position. Carliner begins by suggesting that instructor-led classrooms are not being hurt by the current world recession:

For those of you thinking the current recession is the jarring event that will result in a revolution in learning; think again. Although a speaker at Online Educa in Berlin this past December predicted that entire training departments will be obliterated in the recession, that’s only likely to happen if the rest of the organizations these departments serve are obliterated. Otherwise, what we have learned from previous recessions is that training receives—on average—equal treatment. That is, if the overall staff of an organization is cut 10 percent, then the training staff is cut 10 percent, as Training magazine reported in 1993 when it analyzed spending on training during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, and in 2002, when ASTD analyzed spending during that recent recession.

Fair enough. I accept the statistics as accurate. However, he does admit that the recession will likely increase the number of instructor-led e-courses. Won’t an increase in the number of these online courses lead to a decrease in face to face courses and, accordingly, an overall decrease in the number of teachers/trainers?

Carliner next approaches the meat of his argument by averring that formal classroom learning will not be replaced by informal learning–exemplified by blogging, social media, etc.–for the following reasons:

a) Informal learning is flawed. It is too narrowly focused and “sporadic.” That is, the learning does not have a proper context and is, consequently, unconnected. I tend to agree with this point.

b) Informal learning is inaccurate:

  • Content errors are higher.
  • Sources are unverified or not properly documented.
  • Bloggers, for example, are relying on other inaccurate bloggers, which compounds the problem.
  • Writing is not as meticulous.

These points do not appear to be very convincing. Ultimately sourcing a piece of writing, be it a university research paper or a blog post, depends entirely on the writer. You can have sloppy essay writers as well as sloppy bloggers. I suppose his point is that having face to face interaction reduces the possibility of error due to accountability to the instructor. However, aren’t bloggers accountable to a far larger audience, which has no compunctions about “calling out” and correcting the poster on shoddy writing? Wikipedia is a good example of this. Errors tend to be pointed out fairly quickly, perhaps even more quickly than a teacher would do in marking a term paper.

c) Interruptions cause a breakdown in the learning process.

No problems with point “c.”

d) Social media is often not a proper mode of training:

  • Quantity of users does not equal quality of content. (Ain’t that the truth.)
  • A study shows that only 21% of social media users actually create their own content and multimedia.
  • Research indicates that face to face interaction is still more effective socially.

Carliner seems to echo my own thoughts here.

He concludes by posing a question: Then, why are many bloggers trumpeting the “Death of the Classroom”? Carliner explains this–rather simply–by reasoning that bloggers hold this position because they feel that they have learned effectively via e-learning so everyone else can too. While he may be correct, this is not a very strong point.

We are a long way from abandoning the tried and true learning practices of the past in the face of the technological onslaught encircling us; however, using a high dose of technology in the classroom setting is not only preferable but essential.

April 2, 2009 Posted by | social media, teaching quality, technology | Leave a comment

Not Forgetting Arts and Letters in the Race for Information

In his article, “Pleasure, Beauty, Wonder,” John M. Eger, communications and public policy professor at the University of San Diego, intones a familiar refrain in today’s discussion over how to educate students: Is the beauty in our world and in education being lost in the race for information?

Eger points out the following statistics to illustrate the task assigned to educators:

  • The top 10 jobs for today’s students don’t even exist yet.
  • Adults will change jobs 10 times by the time they reach age 42.
  • Some reports indicate that the amount of data and information has doubled every year in this century.

Clearly, getting a handle on all of this information and determining which is relevant is a major task for the 21st century workforce. However, there is another dynamic working here: In this high volume information age, the arts seem to be taking a back seat to more technologically oriented studies. Eger believes that this is a mistake, and I agree.

Correct use of all of this information is essential. Character, ethics, and a grounding in the humanities are crucial components to properly processing all of the data out there. Eger continues:

Addressing an education conference in late 2006, Dana GioiaRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, then the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said that we need “a system that grounds all students in pleasure, beauty, and wonder.” He added: “If we are going to compete productively with the rest of the world, it’s going to be in terms of creativity and innovation.”

Eger appears to be in favor of an integrated inquiry based approach to education. I have no problem with that notion so long as there is a proper amount of hard content to contextualize it. Students are never even going to scratch the surface of all of the facts out there, but they do need enough of a grounding and context to make sense of them. Moreover, they need a foundation in non-tech disciplines in order to correctly process and apply the knowledge.

April 1, 2009 Posted by | skills, technology, university | Leave a comment