Category Archives: Technology Tools

iPads and Playdough? The Use of Tablets in Kindergarten

Recently the school board in Auburn, Maine announced that it would be spending $200,000 to provide iPads for all their Kindergarten students. The District Superintendent, Tom Morrill
seem to inflame an already controversial decision by  suggesting that iPads in Kindergarten will provide “improved student proficiency scores” by sustaining student engagement with the curriculum. (Huffington Post). The parents of this community  have started a group called Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education and it is interesting to read their opinions and suggestions for iPad use in the classroom which includes a  “gradual thorough research based introduction of iPads with a select group of students to monitor effectiveness of the tool before proceeding with wide scale implementation.”

No kidding!

Were the school board officials drinking some kind of Steve Job’s martini when they decided on full scale iPad implementation without a modest pilot program?

Despite this clumsy decision making process I am cautiously celebrating this school board decision. It’s too early to determine what effect the iPad will have on student proficiency scores but there is evidence to suggest that computer tools provide students with extended, repeated, increasingly complex tasks that allow them to develop memory capacity and problem solving skills (Ray and Smith 2010). Environments that provide explicit, systematic and contextualized learning experiences can be enriched by computer assisted instruction because there is potential to foster increase of phonological awareness, vocabulary acquisition, and alphabetic knowledge in young learners (Macraruso and Walker, 2008) .

The key word here is  “potential” because there are too many other variables that determine the successful use of technology in a classroom environment not the least of which is  is the confidence of the teacher to use technical devices in creative and sometimes complex ways.

More often than not equipment such as iPads, Smartboards, laptops, iclickers are placed in classrooms and teachers are “strongly encouraged” to use these devices with little training and minimal time to learn, troubleshoot, and share their understandings and doubts about such tools. As a result, their unacknowledged investment of time and growing resentment forges a path of least resistance which can sometimes lead to mundane uses of the sophisticated tools that simply maintain a sense of order in a classroom and do not require a teacher’s undivided attention to troubleshoot unexpected technical issues. Do iPads belong in kindergarten classrooms? Given how diverse learning environments can be there is no conclusive answer- yet.

But despite the school board’s alienating decision making process  I hope this initiative is successful and that the teachers and students in Auburn discover imaginative, stimulating, connections and approaches to learning with the iPad.

More views about this topic:
Thinking about iPads in Kindergarten
The coolest Kindergarten ever

Digital Kindergarten

Teaching Kindergarten with iPads

Paying A Premium To Tune Out The World

I read this article over the weekend about highly educated ambitious people relying on paid subscriptions to applications such as Anti-Social and Freedom to prevent themselves from social networking distractions while working on their computers. Really? This reminds me of the time I first saw those tiny chocolate bars that you could purchase for more money than a regular chocolate bar but provided a relatively guilt free sugar hit. Why can’t we postpone the distractions until the work is done? Why can’t we buy normal food portions and consume what we need? Are we so detached from the present and so uncomfortable with solitude that we constantly crave online social interactions?  Kathy Gill from Washington University suggests that tweets,  status updates, blog comments etc.. raise serotonin levels so that some people are conditioned to rely on these stimuli like pathetic Pavlovian canines. I don’t get it. I’m on the outer reaches of the extrovert spectrum but I turn off all distractions when faced with impending deadlines that require long hours in front of this screen. Then again I’ve never bought a skimpy chocolate bar for double the price either. How about you? Would you pay for a tool that helps you tune out social distractions?

The Dark Side Of Technology

Bee Wolf Ray's Photo Stream

So despite my absence in the blogosphere I have  spent more time than I care to admit in front of the computer in the last six months. That’s the problem. After spending 6-10 hours a day working on projects and tasks that I am paid to do I have no motivation or inspiration to spend my ‘free time’ sitting in front of this screen.  This is significant because the learning I have acquired over the last six months has been grueling and satisfying at times but does not feed the other technically creative side that inspired me to use technology tools in the first place. What would I love to do on this silly machine?  I still have two thousand photos that I would enjoy sifting through from my recent trip to Italy. I would like to find some fitness apps that I can download on my iPod touch to monitor pace and distance in running, I would like to extend my editing skills with video and dig deeper into Adobe Premiere. By this time of the day I’m tapped out. So I’m off for a run and then out to celebrate a milestone. I cherish my time away from the keyboard and the screen and I’ll try and figure out a way to carve out the creative pursuits that drew me to this digital world  in the first place.

Is the Grim Reaper Waiting For Elluminate?

Is it just me or is anyone else frustrated with the way in which most presenters have been using Elluminate to express their ideas? I have seen about twenty webinar presentations  and most of the time presenters have adopted the traditional didactic practise of illustrating findings for most of the scheduled time, then allowing the remaining  five minutes of a presentation for questions and answers. During the course of their lectures I can’t help but wonder about the lost opportunities to hear from the other participants or in many cases…observers. Sometimes I have wondered whether webinars are just another expensive anachronistic device and my patience has been waning as a participant in this online experience but there is reason to hope! Hope for a truly participatory online experience arrived during a sixty minute presentation by George Siemens at LearnTrends 2009. In his presentation he harnessed the ideas of some of 100 participants by allowing people to contribute ideas regarding the challenge of finding balance in the apparent dichotomies of learning support structures. It was an engaging open ended discussion about these realities. Below are a few screen shots of the presentation.

After a brief introduction about his topic and the an explanation of how his presentation would progress, he provided a quick tour of the recommended Elluminate whiteboard tools that we should use then posed his first question to the group:

” What dualistic principles do you deal with when supporting learning in the workplace?”

As the whiteboard filled  with ideas someone eventually remarked (in the chat window) that this was too busy for them. George suggested that this was just ‘stage one’ in allowing ideas to be exchanged. From this initial template, ideas could be categorised and examined for emerging patterns.

In subsequent slides he asked participants to mark or remark on areas where they also experienced tensions in working with different perspectives.

It was fascinating to watch participants take ownership of this exchange. In the slide below George was trying to compare the continuum of perspectives we must hold in order to maintain relevancy with any implementation process. He said, “Just imagine that the left and right side of the screen are labelled with ‘Gladwell and Laskas’.” He had reviewed this same slide earlier in his presentation with the same clarifying comment and repeated this request again when he posted the graphic a second time but this time one of the participants just wrote words on the left and right side of the screen so that it would be clearer.

This session was an inspiring example of how to provide a context with which people can exchange ideas, doubts, needs, questions and insights. I highly recommend you watch this presentation if you are looking for an Elluminate best practice illustration.

How is Twitter Like The Diamond Head Game?


The Diamond Head Game was a unique American game show that aired for 130 episodes before it was sadly cancelled in July 1975.

impalergeneral’s photostream

One of the highlights of the show was the “Money Volcano” in which contestants stood in an acrylic looking cage (more attractive than the one in this picture) while money spun around them at great velocities. The aim was to capture as many bills as possible in thirty seconds. Among the dollar amounts in the “Money Volcano” was one bill worth $10,000. I don’t remember anyone catching the elusive $10,000 bill but I always wanted to try out the “Money Volcano” for myself. I experienced something like the “Money Volcano” yesterday when I joined the Twitter session #lrnchat. As soon as I signed on to #lrnchat, hundreds of ideas, opinions, questions and links about learning and technology began to scroll down my feed page. At first it felt like I was floating in a moshpit of ideas but then I dove in and started to respond to inquiries that sparked my interest. As soon as I took time to draft an idea then thirty more tweets would scroll down the page. “Ahh…I can’t keep up!” I screamed. Is this what a distributed model for knowledge exchange feels like?

After a few minutes I started to breath again and I didn’t attempt to keep up with all the random insights. I selected what looked interesting and hastily responded. I desperately felt the need for a better interface to review ideas and make more relevant connections with the numerous “conversations”. I felt like I was just grasping at ideas hurtling by me. Maybe there is a virtual sticky noteboard that illustrates a coloured note every time a tweet appears  so that I can categorize, save, respond to and easily retrieve tweets and responses. Otherwise, the chaos of rapidly streaming ideas obstructs the potential gems of deeper inquiry. Maybe it’s my beginner’s uncertainty with the ambiguous random direction of interactions. I’ll step inside the “lrnchat Volcano” next Thursday at 5:00 PST and find out whether it’s a meaningful exchange of ideas or a just a fascinating distraction for me.

WordPress Workout In Victoria

ninahale’s photostream

So what happens when 100 people get together to share how they like to share? Is it like the quintessential campfire complete with perfectly roasted marshmallows, caramelized smores and Bono acoustically crooning in the background? Bono was a no-show but there were some sweet moments during the day. Here are some of them.

Cindy Stephenson provided some exemplary blogs to review if you are new to blogging and looking for ideas. Some of these blogs include:
Steven Rubel
KD Paine

If you ‘re interested in making some money from blogging or an online presence Cindy suggested copyblogger as comprehensive introduction.
On Cindy’s recommendation I checked out Chris Brogan’s blog and his book, “Edit Yourself” in order to obtain some guidance about sustaining my own interest in my blogging.

There are so many cool technology tools out there. The problem for me is I won’t bother to try them out unless I see how they can be used in a variety of contexts. Triss Hussey’s presentation provided a thorough explanation of how he uses a variety of tools to enhance his blog.

Just when I was beginning to think that this blogging experience was getting too intense for me Lorraine Murphy’s presentation provided an irreverent breath of direct plain speaking opinions about communicating online. My favourite quotes, “Don’t waste your time with side bar widgets, no one looks at them.” “If you’re after google hits go with not .org.” My all time favourite, “If I’m bored, I look for online plagiarizers and I report them.” Sorry if these quotes aren’t completely accurate Lorraine-please don’t report me!

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega is living proof that how you communicate speaks louder than what you say. This guy is funny. He’s also passionate about using dynamic tools to enhance online communication. Check out his integration ideas. Better yet find out where he is speaking next!

Paul Holmes organized this amazing day and given the enthusiastic response another WordCamp Victoria may happen in six months. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Traversing The Twitter Torrent


jmilles’ photostream

Following certain people on Twitter is like attending a department meeting in which one person who particularly adores the sound of their own voice talks incessantly about every agenda item effectively aggravating their colleagues to passive fits of nausea. You know what I talking about.

After twenty minutes of this relentless pontification you begin to imagine medieval torture devices that are more humane than sitting for one more minute  through this meeting. That’s how Twitter felt for me this week. I chose to follow two respected innovators in the field of technology and one person sent more than sixty Tweets a day about every incidental topic on the Net. Want to know how to open a wine bottle with a shoe? Happy National Toilet Day? Who cares? I was expecting to receive Tweets specifically about technology innovations not random quirky trivia links that I could likely find myself through Stumble. This led me to suspect that one of these prominent Tweeters has Tweet Serfs who’s mission is to send out a Tweet every few minutes or else risk being banished from The Slick Technology Superstar Kingdom. Today I will stop following all those people who I suspect have Tweet Serfs and limit my Tweet Deck to those who recognize quality over quantity. My advice is to boldly filter your tweets or drown in the drone of superfluous intelligence.

Boring Tools vs Boring Instructors

I just finished reading this from Michele Martin’s blog:

“As adults we look at an empty cardboard box and see it as a storage device. Somewhere to put ‘stuff’. As children we looked at that same cardboard box and saw a plane. A car. A train. An adventure waiting to happen. What happened to our own creativity? It seems like we get confronted by a ‘virtual learning environment’ and think that’s enough. The learning will happen regardless of the effort we put into it. Wrong! So, so wrong! When eLearning works, it’s an amazing, interesting, vibrant, evolving, engaging, rich space. When it’s just a shell. A place to download PowerPoints… boy oh boy is it a sad bag.  Sarah Horrigan

One of the teaching patterns I observe again and again is the mundane use of dynamic technology tools. I can’t believe I am defending PowerPoint but one of the  reasons there is a backlash against PowerPoint is because presenters have chosen to replicate traditional handouts in PowerPoint slides when there are so many other features that could make this tool an interactive engaging communication tool. For example how many people have ever used the pointer options in slideshow mode to emphasize a statement or an illustration? It’s a basic option that can be easily activated in slideshow mode but I rarely see is used. We adopt the same monotonous patterns when using learning management systems to distribute course materials or communicate with students. Unprecedented commitments of money and time are wasted in creating repositories of resources in which the control of content is managed by the instructor. This reinforces the antiquated expression of learning as a passive activity of consumption rather than an interactive accountable construction of ideas and perspectives.