ICTs in the classroom: To use or not to use

In the past few months, I have posted a handful of articles on various technologies or websites, discussing their quality, comparing them, looking at the implications… All in all, I have really been focusing on tiny details which reside inside a much greater question: should schools promote the use of ICTs in classrooms? Should technology take over our education and send pencils, paper and blackboards to a long and peaceful retirement, a deep slumber from which they would only be awoken for the occasional power shortage? Let’s look at the main arguments on both sides (as a warm-up, you may want to watch the videos on this website. But then, you’re probably so eager to read the rest of the article…).

The advantages of ICTs over conventional (which is the polite word I will use as a synonym of old-, and very old-, fashioned) methods are certainly very numerous. First and foremost, ICTs, as mentioned by Patricia B. Arinto in her very complete slideshare presentation on the subject, allow for an “exponential increase in information”. ICTs allow users to access much more information than any amount of books, and this information can also be accessed much more quickly. Moreover, the use of technology can nowadays be equivalent to saving money. How? For example, it can be assumed that all students have access to a computer outside of school. Thus, sending their homework by email to their teacher is actually a totally free (and ecologic) substitute for printing them (this use of technology is used by a teacher going under the name of ICTlady who works in a school where budgets are extremely limited). The third main argument in favour of ICTs is that it is highly motivational for students (if you don’t believe me, read over this very complete study, it is kind of totally convincing…). Many students do not like school because they do not understand its use in the “real world”; using ICTs makes school much more representative of students’ everyday lives, and so much more apparently relevant.

However, using ICTs in school also has its downfalls. First of all, the implantation of these technologies does require a significant investment from schools. Although they may be profitable in the long run, interactive whiteboards, computers and tablets do come at a high cost. Moreover, giving students constant access to the internet for educational purposes is a bonus, but it comes with a major problem: it gives students constant access to the internet for non-educational purposes. And no matter how many sites the school board decides to block, I can guarantee that students will find new sites which can effectively eat up their time and attention. Thus, ICTs in school can be seen as one more temptation on the Everest-shrinking mountain of temptations that students have to get off-task in school.

There are also two arguments that are advanced against ICTs which I consider to be ill-based, and so will attempt to demolish for you. First of all, some will argue that the internet is not a reliable source of information because it contains a lot of, well, crap (this argument is brought up with a bit more decorum in this other great slideshare presentation). That is true. But people are always faced with false information, and we must simply learn to filter it ourselves, to deal with this reality. So why not learn it in school? Isn’t school made exactly to prepare us for real life? The second argument, which is mentioned in Kelly’s blog article amongst others, is that teachers are not up to date with those technologies, that they cannot keep up. To me, that is equivalent to saying that teachers should not discuss actuality, news or important events because they may not have kept up. It is a teacher’s duty to keep up, to prepare students for life tomorrow and not for life ten years ago.

And now that the main arguments have been put on the table (or screen, sorry, I can’t help if I grew up in a “conventional” school), I feel the need to present another counter argument. I wrote that ICTs can monopolise students’ attention, and I will not withdraw that. However, in a boring class, am old window sill can monopolize a student’s attention. Students have always been world champions for going off task, and the only way to stop them from doing so is not withdraw anything interesting from their sight, but to get an interesting teacher in front of them.

So overall, to me, the debate on ICTs can be taken down to this: they are a source of huge knowledge, and they motivate students, but is it worth the money?

And, between you and me, is that really a serious question?

I>Clicker & co.

Reading over one of my classmates’ blog, I fell upon an article on i>clicker. Ever heard of this? It is a brand which sells remote controls which can be used by students to answer to their teacher’s questions (there are a few other similar brands, but I will refer to this one as it is the most widespread). Their answers are then sent to the teacher’s computer, each remote control being identified with a number. Thus, instead of asking one student to raise his hand and answer, and without having to go through the tedious process of collecting the answers on sheets of paper, the teacher can easily know immediately who got each answer wrong or right. Useful? Necessary? Let’s find out!

I personally had the chance to use such remotes (I don’t know which brand they were, but they worked the same way as the  i>clicker+, the most basic model from i>clicker) in a few Cégep classes.  I found the experience very positive. They forced participation from everyone (the teacher could see who had answered), they made it easy to spot which questions made more people struggle and they added a bit of a fun, game-like aspect to the class (if even 18-year-olds liked using them, I suppose they must be a good motivation tool at lower levels!).

A lot of students seem to agree with the fact that those remotes are a big plus in certain classrooms; in an article on clickers, Leslie Intemann quotes a pilot participant on the subject: “So far, students seem to be enjoying the experience, and everyone is pleased with the ease of use and rapid response of the polling system.”

Of course those clickers, will not magically make any lesson perfect; as pointed out in this article, although they help to enhance interaction between the teacher and his class in contexts where this may otherwise be difficult, most clickers are limited to multiple choice questions. This presents a certain difficulty for teachers, who have to make relevant questions which can be answered with multiple choices.

Overall, the use of clickers is simple and does not require much preparation time or prior expertise in informatics. Thus, I think that they are an effective, useful tool that can make end of semester revision or quizzing a bit more lively and interactive. Really, their only downside is their price. But then, their isn’t a way to reach those goals without paying… or is there?

Depending on the resources already available in your school, you may realize that spending on such remotes is a bit of a waste; there are many other means to get many students’ answers across to the teacher in no time. Creating a Google Drive document, creating a class forum or asking the students to answer on a doodle or other polling website can be done with any computer that has access to internet. Thus, in schools where computers are easily available, clickers really aren’t necessary. A suggested in Mike Conley’s blog article on i­­>clicker, at levels where every student has their own cellphone or iPod touch (with the Text+ ap), you can even have them text answers to their teacher! For schools which follow the Bring Your Own Device way, this can be a free option.

The only problem with using cellphones or computers is that you expose yourself to the risk of having students use their device for other things, be it texting their friends or checking out other sites on the Internet. Thus, one basic choice arises: either run the risk of having students go off-topic, or pay the price for remote controls. Both options are defendable, it simply depends on how you consider the inclusion of ICTs in school!

Welcome to Prezi, or How to Finally Get Rid of Those Boring Powerpoints

“Prezi.” In the past few months, I have heard this mysterious one-syllable word uttered in various contexts, often being compared to Microsoft Powerpoint, sometimes referred to as a mind-mapping tool, almost always pointed out as a revolutionary website. After all those weeks of unforgivable ignorance, I finally decided to sign up to Prezi and to see what all the fuss was about. After trying out the site and reading a few articles and reviews on the matter, here, my friends, is what the fuss is all about.

Prezi is a presentation service that is available for free online. It can be used to prepare digital presentations of various forms and styles. Once you have signed up, you can create your presentation very easily, either starting from a blank page or from one of the many suggested templates. From then on, the possibilities are endless; you can add text zones, images, symbols, videos or even background music, and you can organize all of these in any way you want, using arrows, titles, colors, highlighting and much more to guide your reader through the presentation. The size of your Prezi is not limited to a regular screen-sized page like with PowerPoint; a Prezi can be huge, and you can zoom in on any part that requires focus, as well as navigate through your presentation easily, in whatever order seems fit. As the author of this article nicely summed up, “[Prezi] is sort of like Powerpoint on steroids”. A Prezi presentation can also be made to  go from one thing to another in a predetermined order, a bit like with a Powerpoint but in a much more attention-retaining way. One of the articles I read, which holds a lot of good information on Prezi, gave a link to a presentation which uses this feature very effectively. All of these optiosn make Prezi a very good tool for education. As pointed out in this article I found on Teachers First, teachers have to deal with “the popularity and educational benefits of using graphic organizers with your students”. And Prezi goes much further in that direction than any other tool I have seen so far.

Although I have not experienced this yet, being new to Prezi, I have read in this article, amongst others, that a Prezi presentation can be shared and edited simultaneously by many users. This can be very usefull, as it allows collaboration without having to meet up and work on a single computer.

This website can of course be used in many ways in education. Teachers can use these presentation to make their classes ever more lively and complete, and the zoom in/out feature can be used in various ways to help students understand better, as is demonstrated in this very interesting Prezi presentation. Just as teachers can work with Prezi to prepare their classes, students can be made to use it when they prepare oral presentations, or it can even be used a a means of presenting the conclusions of a research project.

I have only discovered this site a few days ago, yet I am already in awe as I see everything that can be achieved with it. I am certainly going to use it as a language teacher, and I hope that any teacher who discovered Prezi by reading this article will barely finish reading me before signing up.

Additionnal Sources:

A Review of a Presentation Technology: Prezi

Prezi, the New PowerPoint

Weebly: A Wonderfully Well-made Website Creation Tool

In the past few years, the Internet has become something that is inherent to every aspect of life in North America, even more so for children than for the average technologically deficient adult. Because of this change, it has become essential to use the Internet in classrooms so as to make them seem a bit more representative of real life, and so a bit less painful and insipid. One easy way to include the Internet in everyday teaching is to create class websites, which can then be used in various ways. I have recently been introduced to Weebly, a tool that allows anyone to create a website freely and effortlessly, and I must admit I was pretty impressed. Simple, effective, versatile, it has everything you need to build an interesting and complete website.

Subscription to Weebly is free; all you need to have is an e-mail address to create your account. Once that is done, you can start building your website. Adding pictures, texts and titles, making multiple pages, changing your website’s setup, all of these options are available and easy to manage. Weebly does not require huge mastery of informatics; beginners will easily find their way through it. As can be read on WebsiteToolTester.com (who gave Weebly a 5 out of 5 overall rating), Weebly is “simple, uncluttered and easy to use, and that’s exactly what people with limited technical skills need when it comes to creating their own internet presence.”

As I started to create my own website, I was impressed by how quickly any modification is made on your page. Uploading pictures, changing setup or adding a page is made instantaneously. Mike Johnston’s review seemed to indicate that this is not the case for other similar websites: “What I love about this website builder is its speed. It’s incredibly fast and the modules update immediately unlike some other builders I’ve used” (by the way, this review also explains very clearly how to use Weebly’s different options).
For school purposes, Weebly can have various applications. As suggested on Kate Klingensmith’s blog article, Weebly can be used to set up a classroom website, where lesson plans, announcements, calendars and classroom policies can be put up. Another possibility is to create websites for specific projects; instead of handing out sheets with the instructions, students can be given the address and asked to complete all of the tasks present on the website. This can be very useful because it allows the teacher to include links, videos or documents that can help the students in their project.
Although Weebly is fairly simple and clearly organized, I have found two good tutorials which clearly explain how to maximise its use: one on the basics of Weebly, and the other on creating a classroom website with it.
But enough has been said about it now. All that is left is for you to go and try it out yourself!

Google Drive: More Than the Average File Storage Service

A bit more than a year ago, as I was slowly fumbling my way through my last session of Cégep, I came across Dropbox, a file storage and sharing service which helped me greatly in the completion of my last team projects. I immediately started to use this program to share all types of files, or simply to make them easily accessible from any computer. For me, Dropbox slowly evolved from being a school resource to being an everyday tool; I even got the other members of my band to start using Dropbox so as to share recordings and documents. However, one of them soon proposed that we start using Google Drive instead. He did not have Microsoft Office on his computer, and Google Drive has its own native documents, so that made sharing much easier for all of us. Since then, I have moved a few of my things from my Dropbox account to my Google Drive account and must admit that it is much more complete and efficient. The few reviews I have read also consider Google Drive as very good, Kat Orphanides claiming it is “the best free sync service”. Here are a few reasons why teachers and people in general should pay special attention to this new web service.

As I mentioned earlier, Google Drive has its own native documents, which means it is not dependant on other software. This is a great way to avoid incompatibilities between documents created on different computers. It can be accessed from computers using any operating system, although it cannot be installed on any computer; from what I read in Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ article, it cannot be installed with Linux. This is however only a slight inconvenience, as your documents can still be accessed online.

As opposed to Dropbox, Google Drive allows many users to work on the same document simultaneously and to see each other’s actions in real-time. This is very useful, as it avoids the problems that can be caused when two users work on different copies of the same document on Dropbox. Having experienced it, I know that these modifications are made almost instantaneously.

Google Drive offers 5 GB of free space, which is more than Dropbox’s offer (2 GB). Although iCloud offers 5 GB and Microsoft’s Skydrive offers 7 GB, these two have the disadvantage of being linked to a specific operating system (respectively Mac and Windows).

Many people are afraid of Google’s policies, which grant the company a lot of rights on uploaded material. However, as Zach Whittaker writes in his article, you always keep intellectual property on what you upload. You must simply be aware that Google can do anything they want with the information you put on your Drive.

Google Drive can be a very useful tool in classrooms. The most straightforward way to use it is of course for a teacher to share documents and notes with his students. An article by Wesley Dean that I found even suggests that students could submit papers to their teachers through Google Drive; any modification that is made after handout date will be shown in the document’s Revision History. Another way to use Google Drive in classrooms is to get students to work on it. Thus, they can accomplish team tasks or projects without having to meet outside of school. Another article pushes this idea even further, mentioning that this makes interschool projects much easier.

In conclusion, Google Drive is a very easy to use and handy tool which, in my opinion, should be used much more in schools as well as outside of them.

Cartoon Creation Tools: an Interesting Addition for Language Classes

This week, as I was browsing through my fellow classmates’ blogs, I stumbled across two articles (Maxime’s and Charle-Antoine’s) which discuss the ups and downs of two different cartoon creating websites, respectively ToonDoo and Make Beliefs Comix. As both sites seemed very interesting, I decided to look at them myself so as to determine which one might be best used in an educational context. But before presenting my conclusions, here is a little overview of the general benefits a teacher can draw from such resources.

First of all, teachers can use cartoons to make their presentations more lively; including an original comic strip in a Powerpoint or Prezi, or even adding a bit of playfulness to handouts can be effective ways to maintain students’ attention in class. As Med Kharbach points out in his article on Educational Technology and Mobile Learning (which also presents various cartoon creation websites), “you can see the excitement in [the students’] eyes the moment they know [cartoons] are included in their lesson.”
As pointed out by Maxime on his blog, comic strips can also help young students understand difficult or abstract concepts.

Some people think that this is where the use of comic strips should stop. However, I think that teacher use is not the only way that cartoons can be beneficial in classrooms. Although, as expressed by José Picardo in his article, “pupils are likely to get carried away”, creating specific cartoon projects in language classes can be very efficient. In Quebec, because the reform program focusses a lot on social interaction, comic strips can be useful because they employ a lot of “social” vocabulary and gambits. If a language teacher is able to maintain a certain discipline in his group, getting them to create cartoons can thus be a very entertaining and enriching project.

Of the various websites available, the choice is hard to make and depends on your own preferences. I personally looked at ToonDoo and Make Beliefs Comix, and here is a quick comparison between the two. Although they are both fairly simple to use, I found ToonDoo a bit more clearly organized, and so maybe better for young students. Moreover, ToonDoo offers the possibility of taking pictures from you computer and adding them to your cartoon, which did not seem as simple with Make Beliefs Comix. One downside of ToonDoo is that it contains some speech bubbles and actions that are inappropriate for schools, so I would not use it with young students.
Whether you choose to use one of these two sites or a different one, it should be easy to use for your students and offer as many possibilities as can be found!

 

“Can in Bring my Cell Phone in Class?”

“Of course you can’t!” Or could you…

Being currently out on a practicum as a High School student teacher, I have encountered differing views regarding the use of cell phones in classrooms. While some teachers consider those objects as a nuisance, a distraction for students that is hard to control, others have begun to integrate it for research purposes. Cell phones and iPods can be an easy means of accessing the internet and its endless resources without having to move to a computer lab. Although I was initially reluctant to accept this as a sufficient reason to permit the use of cell phones in classrooms, I have decided to make some research and have discovered many reasons why these devices may now have their rightful place in High School classrooms.

Cell phones, being powerful search engines, can indeed be seen as a fit replacement for traditional computer labs; they can be used from any classroom, and offer the big advantage of being owned by nearly all High School students. As Lisa Nielsen wrote in her blog article, “in a time when schools are facing tightening budgets, using technology that is readily available is logical”.

Another way to use cell phones in class is to adapt quizzes or polls to modern times, in the process making them more interesting for students. As I read in a blog article by MindShift, the program called Poll Everywhere allows students to ask questions which the students will answer through texting. This allows the teacher to collect answers easily without spending on an expensive system of clickers, and gives the opportunity to shy students to answer quizzes without having to speak in front of the group. The teacher can even give the best answers anonymously.

There are many other uses that can be made of cell phones for academic purposes. They can be used to record classes or to take pictures of some notes, and Robert Earl, in his article published online in The Altlantic, suggests that they can also be very good tools on field trips. However, most teachers agree that cell phones have all these positive sides. The reason why they are still banned in a lot of schools is that they also have some downsides.

One of the major worries concerning cell phones is that students may use them for non-academic purposes. In an article published by The Guardian, Eddie Falshaw makes an interesting comment on this issue: “The worry for us, is that the phones will be used more for social purposes, but that is where the education comes in”. His point is that it is the teachers’ role to make sure this doesn’t happen, and to get students to use their cellphones the right way. Schools should evolve and adapt to new technologies, not ban them because of the disagreements they might bring. As Meg Ormiston wrote in his article on Teach Hub, “we didn’t ban pens in our schools because students can pass notes during class”.

Although cell phones make class management more difficult, I believe they should be embraced as a new difficulty that can be dealt with through other means than rejection. After all, school is meant to prepare students for real life, with all it contains. Ramsey Mussalam, quoted in another blog article by MindShift, makes a statement that I find very interesting: “I’m here to serve my students. If we can leverage cell phones in a way that’s meaningful, I’m going to do it.”