Sunday, February 28, 2010

The teacher, the System Admin and the Manager of Information Services

I know what it is like for many computer teachers in small schools where you do all of the above and then some... I remember getting help desk calls from parents of my students. (Well we were 60kms from the nearest computer store).

So if you are juggling hats as well as budgets there may be a few free tools out there that may be of use to you. Especially if you have admin privileges.

iTalc - I've written about iTalc before - like many tools it can be used for good or evil (webcams recording kids at home - shame on you!!!). iTalc lets you monitor students screens, take them over or even shut them down all from your teacher workstation. Very helpful for working with a teacher who can't seem to connect to a printer.

TightVNC - one of the components of the above italc. TightVNC hooks you into other computers that are not on your desk. I used to use it to control my servers remotely when I was a system admin.

Clonezilla - the open source version of Norton Ghost, where you can set up one computer and roll that setup image to hundreds of others. It also has that magic - redo from start option when you can't figure out how a teacher or students has mucked up a computer so badly that you just have to rebuild it.

The Dude - A free network layout discovery tool. Great for system admins who have a semi tech savvy staff to work with, who occasionally add in new parts of a network without telling you. Also great for that post planning and documentation thing that you have to do sometimes.

OK so these are for the techs. Have you got any other tools in your tool kit? Please let me know.


FOG - Another open source cloning/imaging system that helps you role out a standard operating environment across many computers - recommended by Brian B - check out his blog - This Swiftly Tilting Planet

Monday, February 22, 2010

Free eBeam IWB resources

I work for Keepad Interactive, an Australian based technology company that focuses on interaction between people and how that can be augmented through the use of appropriate technology.

One of the products we sell and train people in is eBeam from Luidia, a device that easily turns any ordinary whiteboard into and interactive whiteboard with the help of a computer and a projector it is a very cost effective way to put a fully fuctional IWB in a classroom without sacrificing board space.

Luidia is always updating their software for this particular peice of hardware, but they have also been collecting resources to use with it, and now it is all available on their web page.

A huge selection of resources sorted by type and age group. It's nice that the company I sell for also take the time to research and find good resources to use with their hardware.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Educational Technology - IWB's

<span class=eBeam Montage" style="border: medium none ; display: block;">Image by eBeam via Flickr

OK I know that this article from Bill Ferriter published in "Teacher Magazine" is just one guy, but it is doing the rounds and I feel I should respond. "Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards"

First off I have to agree with his point about expense - IWB's generally are very expensive. (warning! employer plug). That's why I like selling the eBeam solution because of the reduced cost of both the product and installation.

I also have to agree with assertion that this type of technology is teacher centric. Yep it is a teacher mostly tool whether that teacher is the teacher or a student using it to teach/explain a concept to an audience. The IWB is a presentation tool - that's it. If you are not a presentation type teacher or more importantly your students are not presentation type students then it's not going to work.

A furniture maker is not going to value a chainsaw the same way a lumberjack is, even though they do work with the same basic material.

I liken teaching to being a tour leader on a bus in Europe. There is the complete package tour where everything is done for the client, where they stay, what they eat, what they see and what information is given to them (think people within a certain older age (55+) bracket or a very young age bracket (18-21). It suits these groups of people as either through lack of experience or physical condition they find that this is safer and reduces cognitive load so they can enjoy and take in their physical surroundings.

Then there is the the JOJO (Jump On, Jump Off) Tour, where you have a choice of where you stay (hotel, hostel, B+B, camping ground) and whether to stay with the group, stay longer and wait a couple of days for the next JOJO bus to come through. There is a tour leader who can help and guide you and there is generally a set path around the Continent with some choices to make.

Of course then you have the people who are confident enough to plan their own trip without a physical guide, just the "Lonely Planet" that is completely thumbed through and treated like a holy text and their research on the Internet. Using local transport options they head out and explore on their own.

At different stages of my "traveling" career I chose all three of these options. Four months in Europe on a JOJO bus tour was great as I have an interest in architecture and I knew that the complete tour experience would probably only give it minimal service - so I could stay for four days in Barcelona marveling at the work of Gaudi, but when I needed help I could always contact the tour guide for help. When we travelled through South America we went with a package tour for safety and convenience reasons, once that was over my girlfriend and I continued on our own with only the guide book to help as we explored Brazil on our own.

Teaching is a lot like guiding the tourist - Sometimes a subject or concept just has to be planned out the the nth degree just to get through it all and to get to the overall concept quickly. Sometime you can facilitate them as they move through the curriculum but not be on their case about being at the bus by 8:30am that morning. And sometimes students will go off on their own to pursue knowledge and understanding on their own.

After working in schools in Australia, the UK and Japan, sometimes you need to be the tour leader, guide or just the guy at the information desk pointing them in the right direction and hoping they get there.

In a strange sense of coincidence someone on echalk forwarded a link to a paper the contained the following history

The Summit County (Ohio) Educational Service Center Newsletter (December 1995) reprinted some historical responses to new educational technologies:

"Students today can't prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend on slates, which are more expensive. What will they do when the slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write." From a Teachers Conference, 1703.

"Students today depend on paper too much. They don't know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can't clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?" From a principal's publication, 1815.

"Students today depend too much on ink. They don't know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil." From the National Association of Teachers Journal, 1907.

"Students today depend on store-bought ink. They don't know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or cipher until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education." From The Rural American Teacher, 1928.

"Students depend on these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib. We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of how to cope in the business world, which is not so extravagant." From the Parent Teachers Association Gazette, 1941.

"Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries." From Federal Teachers, 1950.

Brings you back to the old pencils in classrooms metaphor?

To me the the biggest value of the IWB is reducing workloads of teachers and making them think differently and openly about the resources available while providing focus for teaching and presenting. The fact that students find it engaging is in a way secondary.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Free mindmapping / concept Mapping software

<span class=Screenshoot of Freemind 0.8." style="border: medium none ; display: block;" height="218" width="300">Image via Wikipedia

One of the most useful activities you can do with your class is a mind map. It can be to explore what they already know about a topic, what they have learnt about a topic and what they want to find out about a topic. I've seen it used for generating classroom rules and expectations, starting projects and planning out the day as a timetabling tool.

Most teachers will use the IWB software that comes with their board to do this - in the case of eBeam - "The Scrapbook". And while this is perfectly valid way to approach mind mapping (allows saving printing and bringing in media) - it is sometimes better to have a purpose built solution. Many schools have already bought something like Inspiration - unfortunately, the licencing costs are fairly high when you consider the alternatives.

Hence these three free programs that I have used for mind mapping / concept mapping

Freemind, A classic Open source Project (the homepage is a Wiki) - Not a graphic as the other two but still a valid way to get ideas linked together. This is more for secondary and university use than primary.

Edraw, If Freemind is the open source project then Edraw mindmap is the "commercial" side. Still free but with the opportunity to upgrade to more professional versions. The free version is not crippleware though and uses the new office ribbon interface. I really like this software for use on IWB's as it has large icons and easy drag and drop symbols and clip art.

VUE - From TUFTS University. Visual Understanding Environment. This thing is the grandaddy of Mind mapping - Is a combination of all the best bits about mind mapping and making it a presentation tool. If you have ever used Prezzi - this program does the same thing for your mind maps. A new version is out that should make it easier to use.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cognitive and Physical Dissonance

"The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things." - John Dvorak

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny…'" -Isaac Asimov

"Everything makes sense a bit at a time. But when you try to think of it all at once, it comes out wrong." Terry Pratchet

It's funny - I see this a lot when I do training sessions, the cognitive and physical dissonance that develops when people first try out an IWB. I'm not talking in the first minute because that's the wonder / drawing part. It's when they try and do something they usually do on their computer with a mouse but all of a sudden the image is a lot bigger and they have to use gross motor movements instead of the super fine movements with their mouse.

I love watching it though, mainly because it can be so quick from first try to fairly proficient. Sometimes within half an hour. - That's the technical side of things, what about the teaching that flows from that?

Does the IWB (eBeam) and other Ed Tech create a cognitive and (to a smaller extent) physical dissonance that makes teachers re-evaluate their teaching? What has it done for you and what have you seen in you colleagues?

Is the value in an IWB not just about the resources that it can bring to the learning environment, but that the teacher "had" to learn something profoundly new that wasn't part of their childhood experience?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]