10 February 2010

Battling the Tech Learning Curve

Is it poorly designed tech that sometimes has a steep learning curve, or does it just depend on the skill?

Last year our school got our first set of student response clickers (ours are from Turning Technologies), and as a techie, I was very excited to give 'em a go.  My dept. chair and I sat for at least an hour one afternoon learning how to develop interactive slides integrated into PowerPoint and practicing the actual polling process.  There was certainly a learning curve, but we eventually figured it out and were hopeful at the promise of our new toy.  I never ended up checking the set out last school year, but several did, and student response was postitive.

This year during one of our district professional development days several of the math teachers had a chance to go to a session about using these clickers in the classroom for formative assessments.  They learned how to make slides, create session reports for easily entering students answers as graded assignments, and a few bells and whistles to boot.  I was busy leading my own session that day, so I missed out on the collaboration.

After finding Poll Everywhere through an #edtech tweet, I actually decided to ditch the district clickers and hold out for the day when my kids could just use their cell phones.  The reasons I liked Poll Everywhere were simple:
  • (with sacrificing some functionality) it's Free
  • The interface is pretty user friendly
  • No hardware to keep track of
  • No hardware issues to destroy my lesson
  • Possibilities for short-answer responses (Turning Technologies makes clickers that make this possible also, but we do not have this model.)
  • Students love using their cell phones anyway
But still, teachers were using those clickers, students were engaged, and I began to feel left out waiting for my day that is still a long time coming.  So last week I signed up for the clickers and sat down to create PowerPoint lesson with those interactive slides.  To my utter frustration, I'D FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING.  I left school that day after slaving at those slides for 45 minutes with nothing to show for it and dejectedly crossed my name off the clicker list for the next day.

What does it mean, then, if a teacher comfortable with tech (who has already once learned the basics of the software or hardware) gets frustrated enough with its implementation that even they give up?  Was I expecting too much to have a bicycle-type experience?  Or does Turning Technologies need to make its PowerPoint plug-in more intuitive?

Are there other tech toys or software that have given you a similar experience?

01 February 2010

Facebook in the Classroom: Should I Heed the Warnings?

First off:  I WISH.  I think that using it as a networking tool COULD be worth exploring.  I understand from a liability (and time-wasting) perspective that the risks are probably too great to open up school use.  So we'll experiment with use on the other side of the firewall.

Last night I dipped my toe into the Facebook pool for use with my classes.  I set up a fan page for Mr. C Baker's Math Class and plan to use it as a communication tool for both students and parents and a holding place for notes, links, and resources.

My fears are not founded upon students finding incriminating photos of past transgressions (nor present).  I am not concerned with crossing any lines of professionalism in interacting with students online (because I do not believe I am).  I do not fear opening my classroom or teaching to criticism from the outside (because it brings accountability and transparency with it).  I have been a believer even since student teaching that if you are afraid or wary of observations and eyes in your classroom, then you probably know that there are deficiencies in some manner of your teaching (and need to be humble enough to address them).

So, then, the fear I do keep is in boundaries for myself.  As it is so natural for me to interact on Facebook for my personal social networking, I worry about being sucked in with the allure of building "fans," addressing students' and parents' questions, and monitoring my discussion board to see if students are using it.  What can I say; I'm a sucker for unique hits.  I think this is a healthy fear, however.  A fear that springs from self-awareness of my weaknesses and obsessions is a fear that keeps me in check.  It's a fear for improvement.

In the end, I'd say my Facebook fan page is really just an extention of having my own class website on freewebs with discussion board, or my class twitter account.  I know there are many educators (including the official NEA stance on the subject) that would criticize my decision; even some close to me.  I guess all I'd have to say to them, is that I reserve all rights to act now and ask for forgiveness later.  I think that has to be the nature of any educator acting as an early adopter of technologies.

We'll see how it goes!