Author Archives: kurtfschaefer

Final Reflection

Final Reflection: Integrating Technology into the Classroom Curriculum

This course spanned an array of topics, each exploring different aspects of how technology can be integrated into contemporary educational settings to engage, connect and facilitate learning in a variety of disciplines and levels.  As a project-oriented class, theory was always combined with practice to produce technology-enabled lessons that could be used in my high school chemistry classes.  These projects, showcased on my Integrating Technology Into The Classroom Curriculum website, were centered around the AECT standards of educational design, development and utilization.  Each project was mapped to one or more AECT standard, demonstrating this program’s commitment to producing professionals whose skills and knowledge meet or exceed the benchmark’s set forth by the Association of Educational Communications and Technology.

After reviewing and reflecting upon this course’s projects and blog entries, the following points summarize what I have learned, how I have grown as a professional and what I will carry forth into my classroom:

Technology must be chosen prudently

Technology rarely solves an educational problem on its own; instructors must choose the appropriate technology which is most likely to facilitate the type of learning that is desired.  Determining the relative advantages of each available technology is an important early step in an instructor’s selection process, followed by matching each technology’s relative advantage to the learning that will take place.

In the past, I often chose a technology for my students capriciously, without significant thought as to whether or not it is the best approach to achieve the desired outcome.  Many technologies were explored in this class: interactive powerpoints, instructional games and simulations, educational videos and spreadsheets, social networks, electronic books, electronic collage sites and assistive technologies.  Each of these technologies possesses inherent strengths and weaknesses that were considered while designing the lessons and projects in which they were utilized.  Moving forward, thoughtful consideration of each technology’s relative advantages will ensure that the appropriate technology is matched to the learning task and learner characteristics at hand.  Specifically, the Technology Integration Plan Model (TIP) described by Roblyer and Doering (2013, p. 52-64) provides a systematic approach consistent with contemporary learning theories and teaching pedagogies that, when followed, helps ensure educators select the appropriate technologies to maximize learning and outcomes.  Beyond using the TIP model to guide how I will integrate technology into my own classroom, I will share it with my colleagues during formal professional development opportunities and informal discussions.

Tear Down The Walls

Social networking, “walled gardens” and student safety featured prominently in the readings, projects and blog entries for this class.  “Opening up” classrooms to the outside world admittedly exposes students to risks typically not found in traditional classrooms, or in those protected by restrictive firewalls.  However, the benefits of connecting students with peers, professionals and information outside of one’s physical classroom justify, in my opinion, the need for more open educational environments.

Beyond the obvious need for firewalls to filter out sites containing pornography, violence or other inappropriate content, schools and districts should strive to educate their students about acceptable Internet use, rather than simply restricting them to short lists of approved sites and individuals within their “walled gardens.”  Contemporary technologies allow students to collaborate with peers and industry professionals across continents and time zones and to participate in global scientific studies by collecting, sharing and analyzing data.  Engaging in these and other powerful and potentially transformative ventures is not possible within the confines of walled gardens.  Along with seeking out opportunities for my science students to participate in global endeavors and studies such as those described here, I will advocate to my administration to develop a more proactive Acceptable Use Policy, one which seeks to educate our students to become savvy, empowered and safe consumers of digital information.

References

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

The Accessibility Features of the Mac OSX Operating System

Students with documented physical, sensory and cognitive challenges are well-served by laws promoting technology use by individuals with disabilities (The Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988).  However, many of the once-pricey technologies utilized by individuals with disabilities now come as standard features on all computers.  This post explores a number of the accessibility features available on the Mac OSX operating system and identifies how individuals with disabilities might use these technologies to enhance their computer and Internet experience.

Accessibility Features for the Blind and Visually Impaired

VoiceOver is a program whose text-to-voice functionality gives blind users access to written content.   More than just a simple screen reader, VoiceOver tells the user where they are on the screen, even allowing them to click boxes and other content through specified key strokes.  With VoiceOver, blind users can access the Internet with the same level of functionality as sighted users.  As a screen reader, VoiceOver may also prove useful to individuals with cognitive disabilities, ELL students and students with dyslexia.  While learning the VoiceOver key commands is not easy (or straightforward), the advantages it confers to blind users is well worth the time spent learning how to navigate with it.  Key commands can be circumvented (perhaps most notably for individuals lacking fine motor skills) in favor of using a virtual control called the rotor.  To use the rotor, users simply rotate two fingers around the mousepad, much like turning a dial.  This also takes a bit of time getting used to, but once mastered, web browsing (as well as other actions) can be executed more efficiently than through key commands.

For visually impaired users, Zoom allows for easy magnification of the screen (up to 20 times) either through the use of keyboard shortcuts or via scroll gestures, providing access to content without the use of scanners or closed-circuit television magnification systems.  Mac also comes standard with contrast options for individuals for whom changing the color contrast would improve readability.

Accessibility for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired

FaceTime, a video chat service, allows deaf users to read the lips (and facial expressions) of the person they are communicating with and iMessage is a texting service that comes standard with all Macs.  Closed captioning, available on movies, videos and podcasts, allows deaf users to read the spoken content they would otherwise miss.  Finally, deaf users can enable Screen Flash to let them know when an app needs their attention: instead of making a noise, the screen “flashes,” providing a visual cue.

Accessibility for the Physically Impaired

Physically impaired individuals often interact with computers through the use of joysticks or switches (Roblyer & Doering, 2013, p. 408).  Switch Control on Max OSX allows users to create their own custom panels and keyboards, thus enabling each user to create a “tailored” interface. Adaptive devices (such as joysticks and switches) also work within this system.  The Slow Key and Sticky Key options allow users to customize the keyboard to accommodate for their different needs and an Onscreen Keyboard is available for those who find it easier to type with a pointer, rather than via the physical keyboard.   Finally, Dictation is a voice-to-text technology that allows users to speak into their computer (rather than typing), a technology beneficial to individuals with significant physical impairments.  Setting the Dictation feature up is relatively simple, and using it within Microsoft Word is straightforward (once enabled, it is available in the “Edit” tab).  Dictation’s accuracy, however, is far from perfect: a spoken paragraph resulted in one to two errors per sentence.

In summary, computer manufacturers are keenly interested in making their products accessible to all users.  Taking a moment to familiarize yourself with the standard accessibility features on your classroom computers will not only benefit your disabled students–these technologies may also enhance learning for your struggling students as well.

References

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, Pub. L.100-407. (1988). Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-102/pdf/STATUTE-102-Pg1044.pdf

Obstacles and Solutions to Integrating Technology into the Science Classroom

Teachers of all disciplines face unique challenges and obstacles to integrating technology into their curricula.  This post focuses on two significant obstacles to integrating technology into science classrooms: the mandate to focus on more hands-on learning in science classes and the call for more authentic, inquiry-based activities that mimic the science process.

The first major obstacle faced by science teachers interested in incorporating more technology into their classrooms is the directive to integrate more authentic, hands-on experiments and activities into their curricula (Roblyer & Doering, p. 318).  Both the National Science Teachers Association (2007) and the American Chemical Society (2011) caution against using virtual labs and simulations in K-12 classrooms as substitutes for hands-on experiences in which students touch and manipulate chemicals and physical objects.  One solution would be to avoid an “all-or-nothing” approach to virtual labs and simulations, integrating only those that that are impossible to perform (either because of cost or safety) in K-12 classrooms.  By doing so, students could benefit from the “virtual experience” of using particle colliders and cloning mice, while still building real-life laboratory skills neutralizing acids and bases or growing crystals of salt in physical classrooms.

A second major challenge facing science teachers today is the emphasis on authentic, inquiry-based approaches in the classroom that reflect science as it is practiced by professionals in the field (Roblyer & Doering, p. 317).  At first glance, such an approach might appear to argue against the large-scale integration of technology into classrooms in favor of more hands-on approaches that get students “doing” science on a daily basis.  However, technology has shown remarkable value in allowing students to access, collect, communicate, analyze and share data much more efficiently than through traditional means (Roblyer & Doering, p. 317).  In addition to allowing students to access and process more data in less time, technology is allowing students to participate in actual scientific studies (such as GLOBE and Project FeederWatch) by collecting and uploading data specific to their local environments, often with the same technologies used by scientists in the field.  Thus, when used judiciously, technology can help, rather than hinder, students’ ability to think and act like practicing scientists.

References

American Chemical Society. (2011). Importance of hands-on laboratory activities. Public Policy Statement 2011-2014. Retrieved from: http://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/policy/publicpolicies/invest/computersimulations/2011-04-importance-of-hands-on-laboratory-activities.pdf

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). (2007). The NSTA Position statement: The integral role of laboratory investigations in science instruction. Retrieved from: http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/laboratory.aspx

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Relative Advantages of Using Technology to Enhance Learning in Science

With technology’s growing presence in K-12 classrooms, many teachers are asking, “How can I best use technology to enhance the learning experience of my students?”  This post focuses specifically on how technology can make science education more engaging, relevant and authentic for students.  M. Roblyer and A. Doering argue that technology possesses relative advantages over other teaching tools in several key areas, most notably: engaging and supporting students in authentic scientific investigation, supporting science skills and concept learning and accessing science information and tools (Roblyer & Doering, p. 320).

Authentic Investigation

Global scientific initiatives such as Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), Project FeederWatch and Journey North are engaging students by involving them in authentic, ongoing investigations across the planet.  Students participate in all aspects of the science process, from asking questions, collecting data to analyzing results.  Students in the GLOBE Program use data loggers to record information about their local environment before uploading it to the GLOBE database, becoming collaborators in a world-wide scientific investigation.  This process not only provides science students with a greater sense of purpose than when conducting typical labs, it teaches them to think and act like practicing scientists via an authentic learning experience.

Support of Skills and Concept Learning

Inquiry-based learning has never been easier to implement than now: interactive simulations such as those produced by the University of Colorado and virtual labs like those found at the ChemCollective provide students with opportunities to derive scientific principles, rather than simply study them.  Complex systems can be poked and prodded and cause-and-effect relationships can be established.  Teachers can use animations to teach abstract concepts, or assign auto-graded practice problems to students who need more practice.  Science games make learning fun and help students hone their problem-solving skills.  In short, technology has moved well beyond drill-and-practice capability, ushering thousands of teachers into the role of learning guide, rather than content-deliverer.

Accessing Information and Tools

The Internet provides contemporary students and teachers with information and learning tools that are transforming science classrooms across the globe.  Up-to-the-minute scientific data is available for student use, such as that found at NOAA, NASA and NIH; rather than working with hypothetical numbers, students now calculate, graph and analyze data with real-world relevance.   Teachers and students can follow the latest advancements in scientific research as they happen via RSS readers like Feedly, fostering discussion and providing tangible examples to theoretical concepts learned in school.  Finally, Teachers can access thousands of lesson plans within seconds, no longer confined by their lack of experience, time or resources.

References

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Student Safety On The Internet

Student Safety On The Internet: Tips for Teachers

As teachers integrate Internet-based activities into to their curricula, higher levels of student engagement are coming at a potential cost: opportunities for plagiarism, exposure to inappropriate web-based content, access to misinformation and unintended interactions with strangers are just some of the potential dangers students face when learning online.  Below are a few proactive steps teachers can take to help keep their students safe while using Internet-based platforms for learning.

Reinforce Guidelines For Responsible Internet Use

Discovery Education recommends reviewing your school’s Internet Safety Plan (ISP) or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) frequently with students (“Internet Safety”, n.d.).  Don’t assume that your school’s technology teacher has already discussed the Internet Safety Plan/Acceptable Use Policy with your students; the information in them is important enough to warrant reviewing the guidelines on a consistent basis.  Highlight the actions in the plan that are relevant to the day’s activity and discuss potential consequences for students who take risks and ignore the guidelines.  Finally, actively monitor your students’ online use: circulate throughout the room or use programs such as SynchronEyes to ensure they’re on-task and staying safe. If your school does not have an ISP or an AUP, volunteer to help craft them.  Two good places to start are Education World’s article “Getting Started On The Internet” and Siskiyou Union High School’s student-friendly AUP.

Instruct Students Not To “Over-Share”

Discovery Education also cautions students not to “over-share” when using Web 2.0 tools (“Internet Safety”, n.d.).  Instruct students not to use full names, email addresses, personal or school addresses, phone numbers, personal photos, etc., when engaged in school-related activities.  Students can typically seek and receive feedback in a variety of ways without divulging personal information or sharing email addresses.  Teach students about online fraud, scams and advertising aimed at teen audiences.  Finally, explain to students why being mindful of their  “online footprint” is important.  For suggestions on how to do this, read the “What Does Your Electronic Footprint Say About You?” section on my Rules for Online Netiquette webpage for high school students.

Teach Students How to Evaluate Online Resources

The quality of information online varies from reputable, scholarly-produced websites and articles to spurious online “journals” purporting to house the peer-reviewed work of academics and professionals.  In his article “Evaluating Internet Research Sources” on his Virtual Salt website, Dr. Robert Harris recommends sources that contain as much of the following information as possible: Author’s Name, Author’s Title or Position, Author’s Organizational Affiliation, Date of Page Creation or Version and Author’s Contact Information (Harris, 2013).  Professionals, academics or companies/institutions of repute will likely include this information on any site they produce.  Second, Harris advocates evaluating the quality of the information contained within the site with his “CARS” checklist: appraise the information for Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness and Support.  Specifics on his exact criteria for doing so can be found in his article.  How might you teach students this approach?  Create a list of websites of varying quality, and model the application of the CARS checklist with students. An example of how you might do this can be found here.  Hold students accountable for using reputable sources and include a “Sources” section on your grading rubric to ensure students are aware of the value you place in using quality, reliable information.

Teach Students What Plagiarism Is And How To Avoid It

Plagiarism has never been easier.  The ability to search the web for academic papers, journal articles, books, blogs, images, music and other information in an electronic format that is easily copied and pasted has tempted more than a few students to do just this.  Students (and adults) routinely post and modify images, music and videos created by others onto their social networking and personal websites, unaware of copyright laws or fair use guidelines.  For these reasons, helping students understand what plagiarism is and how it can be avoided in academic settings is more difficult than ever.  Plagiarism.org is an excellent resource for teachers seeking to explain different types of plagiarism in clear, student-friendly terms.  Incorporate structures into your classroom that discourage last-minute plagiarism: scaffold research projects for students appropriately, requiring them to develop it in stages, with teacher feedback along the way.  Finally, teach students when citing sources is appropriate and how to do so correctly.  The Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab is a well-regarded reference tool for anyone seeking guidance on writing and referencing.

References

Getting Started on the Internet: Acceptable Use Policies. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml

Harris, R. (2013, December 27). Evaluating Internet Research Sources. Retrieved October 21, 2014, from http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm

Internet Safety. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from http://web2014.discoveryeducation.com/internet_safety.cfm