Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Technology Tools - Week Four

I viewed the intime video 'Night of The Twisters'. The teacher uses Inspiration software to help students develop a web about what to do when tornadoes may be imminent. Throughout the video the teacher works on language arts, science and technology skills with the students. I initially thought that the teacher was being a bit patronizing, but I realized that she was asking probing questions to help students develop critical thinking skills.

The teacher kicked-off the lesson with a cassette reading of what one family did during a night of tornadoes. The teacher engaged students to think about what would be the appropriate safety measures if they were outside or inside during a tornado. She used Inspiration software and had each student contribute to the web. Later, the teacher used MS-Word and each student added a sentence to the class paragraph. Technology skills were made attractive to the students by having them add clipart to the class project.

I chose this video as I am weather buff and have had some experiences with tornadoes. At work, I become distressed when, during tornado watches or warnings, my co-workers bunch-up against the plate glass windows to look for dangerous weather. These are supposedly educated people who should know better! I've been caught inside the Wall Cloud of a tornado and on another occasion was hit by the glass shrapnel of an exploding window. One really needs to think about storm preparedness when living in the Midwest.

The 'Night of The Twisters' video gave me some ideas on how to help teach my co-workers about what to do during tornado watches and warnings. Last year I sent-out an e-mail explaining the appropriate tornado drill procedures. Before the tornado season is upon us again, I will talk with our Office Manager about a safety drill.

Does anyone remember those Shop Safety films? What happens when someone uses a lathe or drill press without eye goggles? I vividly remember those 6th grade movies and they certainly made an impact on me and being safe around dangerous machinery. I am going to look for an online video that shows the aftermath of tornadoes and what can happen to people who do not take safety precautions. I will plan on getting it shown during one of our weekly meetings, have a brief group discussion and then ask everyone to walk to the safe areas within the building. Videos can be powerful and a great way to transform the way people view situations and circumstances.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Week #3: Encouraging Creativity at School and the Workplace

The third week of my MEIT Course, CEdO515 - Technology Tools, has us exploring ways that technology can be used to incite student creativity. What I found interesting in the readings from the Egbert text is that creativity arises from prior knowledge. Oftentimes, it is when we are presented with a new problem that we have to use critical-thinking skills and originate a solution.

According to Egbert, effective creativity tasks encourage divergence versus convergence. Students are not penalized for thinking outside the proverbial box, but are encouraged to elaborate and support their findings. I believe that this should apply to business as well. Companies should embrace and reward divergent thinking. Many companies advertise for employees who can ‘think outside the box’ - but do they really embrace it? If a company is to survive and thrive, then divergent thinking will help it adapt to new situations and problems in the market.

One of our assignments this week was to research lessons that use curricular spreadsheets. I utilized netTrekker and found an existing lesson that asks students to investigate water usage at home. The lesson has a downloadable Excel spreadsheet for recording water usage over the course of a week. Each cell contains a value for gallons of water used which is tied to a total water used formula at the bottom of the sheet. The lesson further asks students to play ‘what-if’ scenarios with the data to find ways to reduce water use. Students can change the line item values and see the impact on the total gallons of water used.

The lesson enhances student familiarity with spreadsheets but also challenges the student to ‘think’ about ways in which water might be conserved. If the household dishwashing machine uses 30 gallons the student might arrive at ways to reduce its use. Should all students have the same conclusion and graded on the basis of same results? No! Doing so would punish creativity and dull inquisitive minds.

At work, I train new hires on our software products, internal procedures and plant the first seeds of the corporate culture. I explain the workflow of the company and the needs our products fill in the market. I emphatically tell the new hires that they should maintain a critical eye and question how things are done internally and with customers. They have unique life experiences, prior knowledge and ‘fresh eyes’ to see opportunities for improvement. I follow-up with their supervisors and gently remind them that I told the new hires to question everything. The divergent results pull us out of our comfort zones - but fresh approaches to problems take all of us to a new, creative plane - and that is exciting!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Technology Tools - Week #2 Blog: Cooperation & Collaboration

The second week of MEIT CEdo515 continues to pique my interest about the possibilities for using collaborative online resources in teaching and group projects. Most people are familiar with word processing software such as MS-Word. I have been an MS-Word user for 10+ years but I must confess that I am a clumsy user. In our coursework we have been using Google Docs for online word processing. I was, and still am, amazed that I could do most of the things I could do with MS-Word.

In addition to reading Chapters 3 & 4 from the Joy Egbert textbook, one of our additional assignments this week is to examine online word processing applications. In our weekly readings from Joy Egbert, the author defines ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperation’ in technology-supported communication tasks. Collaboration is where participants are all working together towards a common goal or solution. Cooperation is when participants work on a piece of the problem separately as part of the overall framework.

The readings explained the concept but the exploration of the online word processing software really brought it home for me. What grabbed my attention is that one can share online word processing documents and collaborate real-time with multiple users. MS-Word allows me to place a shared file on a network drive, but the result is more of a cooperative effort than collaborative.

My study group met this past Sunday using TokBox and later Skype for audio and video sessions. The group was provided with the focused and specific task of completing questions from Chapter 2 of the Egbert textbook. Our instructor provided a collaborative word processing resource called EtherPad. Initially, we divided the first set of questions and worked on them individually (cooperative). On the second question set we all interacted and worked towards a common understanding of the questions to achieve consensus on the answers (collaborative). Throughout this experience with EtherPad, I could see what everyone was typing.

In hindsight, I can see where the course instructor took the very same components Egbert espoused and applied them to this week’s exercises. A lot of planning went into fostering the intended social interactions and it is something I will carry forward into my workplace.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reflections on Week One - CEdO515 - Technology Tools

The beginning of my third MEIT class finds me reflecting on how things have changed since I was a K-12 student. When I was a boy it all seemed so simple. I went to school and studied English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science. Maybe it is the time of the year with Thanksgiving just passed and Christmas coming on so soon, but I find myself thinking back to how it used to be.

Our school technologies consisted of musty textbooks, chalkboards and erasers that were de-chalked with a machine down in the basement. The smell of a freshly mimeographed lesson handout - why did they smell so good? And, dare I say it, the excitement we would all feel when we walked into our classroom and there was a film projector setup and ready to go. "Movie in class! Movie in class!" Now that was a memorable, fun, technology-driven learning experience!

In my MEIT class we are looking at how to incorporate learning technology into lessons. Gone are the mimeographed hand-outs and filmstrip projectors of my youth. They have been replaced now in my Masters program with 'Nings' and 'Wikis and the hand-outs are links to assignments. Instead of writing-out my quiz answers and essays in longhand I do so now electronically from a computer.

Gee, do I sound like I want to bring all of the old stuff back? No way! Those filmstrips had a record player and the record was always scratched that someone always had to help over the defect. "Christopher Columbus first discovered Ameri, Ameri, Ameri, Ameri, Amer (Zzzwhaaa-sccrunnka-bonk!) in 1492". Besides, our MEIT Professor showed us an in-class movie short on Monday night - so it's all good. We still have 'Movie in Class! Movie in Class!".

Now that I have come back from my trip down memory lane, I am really looking forward to learning how to effectively integrate technology into my work. The MEIT course has shown me the possibilities with Web 2.0 resources and information resources available on The Internet.

This week I used ToonDoo to create a cartoon. My sister Mary was always the artistic one in the family but I was able to use the supplied backgrounds, characters and captions to create a 3 panel cartoon. It took a few minutes to get the hang of the Web-based application but I soon found my groove. I had a lot of fun doing this assignment.

I used Google Docs' presentation application to create something I needed for my work with 4 software implementers. I used ZohoShow for presentations in my prior class and I wanted to challenge myself with something new. I created a presentation on 'ADDIE' which I shared with my co-workers. Although I had reviewed ADDIE with them before, they were drawn-in by the presentation and the fact that I had done it on the Web.

The MEIT program and courses are exciting for me as I keep having these, for lack of a better term, 'Eureka' moments. I take what I have learned in each weeks' class and reflect on how I might apply it to my work. I also teach sailing and I am considering the possibility of creating materials and brief courses that sailing students can review during the winter months. I am rusty on sailing knots, so perhaps I will challenge myself to re-learn them and try my hand at a creating an online presentation - that could be a good start - but I need to reflect just a wee bit more.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Retrospective of MEIT Course cedo510oct09

As I finish my second MEIT Course (cedo510oct09) through Cardinal Stritch University, I was asked to reflect on the course. Specifically, did I 'connect' with the content and will it help me in the future?

Well, the course has been an eye-opening experience pulling me out of my comfort zone. A theme running through the course is one of change. All of must be prepared for technological change that impacts our teaching professions. Our instructor set the background for this theme of change by having us watch and comment on a 3-Part series titled, 'Triumph of the Nerds'. Series took us from the garage-tinkering PC hobbyists who adapted, and those that did not, to changes in technology and business/consumer acceptance of personal computers.

One of our course assignments had the class experimenting and reporting on alternative operating systems. I had heard of LINUX, but for the first time I got hands-on experience loading and exploring functionality in 2 LINUX OS'. I was amazed and astonished that the OS offered so much and could run with so few system resources. It was truly a transformational experience to realize that all of the older PCs relegated to scrap heaps because they could not run Windows 2000 - could have a new useful life. The same assignment opened my eyes to the Open Office software that came with Knoppix and Ubuntu and that the OS provided free software open to everyone at no price.

The 'Classroom of Tomorrow' blog assignment (see in blog history) made me pull it all together and think about what the future might hold. Change is inevitable so what are the forces that will shape and drive that change? Will the classroom even change at all? This particular assignment had me thinking, reflecting, pondering and puzzling for over a week. And isn't that the point of school and higher education - to make one think?

The MEIT cedo510oct09 course challenged my personal comfort zone with technology and, more importantly, has cemented the realization that change always does occur. As I move into the future I must deal with the tools and resources I have today and keep an eye on the technological and social horizons to plan for tomorrow.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preparing for a PC Disaster

There is always the potential for catastrophic loss on a personal computer. The threat list is long and is not limited to malicious software (Viruses), user error or hard drive crash. The solution is to put a tiered disaster recovery plan into place – TODAY! Now, did all of that read like one of a hundred ads you have seen on The Internet or appearing in your e-mail? Well, all of those advertisements are true.

Before computers, important documents were stored in bank safety deposit boxes or in hanging file folders in a desk. Items stored at home did not fare well if a fire or natural catastrophe occurred. During the mid-West floods of 2 years ago, the evening news was filled with images of people wading back into their damaged homes, shoveling mud out of basements and forlornly looking at ruined family photo albums.

In the early days of PC computing users backed-up data to floppy disks which were stored in fireproof safes. Some users had the misfortune of a fire in their workplace and discovered that diskettes stored in a safe had not burst into flames, but had been melted by the heat into black, synthetic puddles. All of the data was permanently lost – as well as their personal computers.

A few years ago a computer hard drive crash was a common occurrence. I used to be diligent in making backups to CDs of my personal data. Resumes, picture files, templates, spreadsheets all found their way onto CDs at least once a month. I must admit that I have become relatively complacent about backing-up and properly storing my computer data files.

At work all of my data is automatically backed-up to offsite storage in a fireproof, tornado-proof server farm. If my place of employment were to suffer fire, flood or some major catastrophe all of the data would be safe. But what about my personal data that I use at home and for school? I know the answer and it is, “Uh-oh!”

Lately I have been doing a personal computer component research assignment for my MEIT course at Cardinal Stritch University. I was specifically asked to look into backup devices and make a presentation for the class. While doing my research it made me think about what data I needed to ‘protect’. I have Vista OS, Adobe Creative Suite 3 and Office 2007 yet I can easily reinstall or obtain new copies as I am a licensed owner. Upon reflection, the key is to protect data files containing work that I created. Word processing documents, personal spreadsheets, digital photographs, design templates and Web-browser bookmarks.

So where does one start on putting together a disaster recovery plan? Begin by identifying and organizing the hard drive folders where your data resides. Pictures, documents and basically anything that you created or will create need to have specific locations.

The next step is to implement a backup system for your data. A system can be a mix of several solutions including free online storage, CDs, and external storage drives. Backup the data folders you identified at a set interval – ideally the briefest possible window of time ensuring nothing is corrupted or lost. If you have a small amount of data consider creating periodic .Zip files and e-mailing to your free Google or Yahoo account. An important point to make is that if the backup system for data is not automated then one needs to commit and schedule reminders and follow through on the action plan. I mentioned backing-up bookmarks earlier, consider using a social bookmarking application such as Delicious which automatically syncs your bookmarks with their server.

Finally, storing your backed-up data offsite is critical to the disaster recovery process. Rent a safety deposit box and place your external storage devices (USB Drives, CDs, etc.) in the bank vault. Better yet, why not consider an online storage solution like Mozy? Many online storage providers allow one to setup automated backups of data to their facilities. With online storage you can access your data files from anywhere and the automated backups remove the ‘human factor’ from backing-up and driving your data across town to the bank.

Having said all that, I really should backup my Dell computer right now. I really should. Well, maybe after I light the charcoal grill next to the house. I better use extra charcoal starter, it’s very windy out. What could go wrong?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Preparing for the Classroom of Tomorrow

I was asked to Blog about what the classroom of tomorrow will look like, how will this affect teachers and students and what I should be doing to prepare. I don’t have the ability to predict the future but I can make observations on what is happening today and might happen tomorrow. Sigh, If only Miss Cleo still had her Psychic Friends Hotline I could make a phone call and know what tomorrow will bring. So after a week’s reflection on these questions this is my ‘Crystal Blog’.

The America as we once knew it, flush with cash and a leader producing an educated, technologically innovative labor pool is on the decline. This is not a failure of public and higher education. Rather it is a reflection of America’s changing economy and American businesses no longer driving domestic demand for advanced labor skills. Globalization erased borders and now businesses flow with little resistance towards the least expensive means of producing goods and services. In economic terms this means balancing the mix of fixed and variable costs to maximize profits.

Let’s look at the costs of producing an educated populous. School districts have fixed capital costs in buildings, heating, cooling, electrical systems and maintenance. Relatively recent additions to fixed costs are networks, computers and electronic whiteboards. Districts’ variable costs are generally but not limited to teachers and salaries. In the current economic times district budgets are examined, re-examined and pared to maximize return on investment.

Okay, so what does the future hold for the classroom of tomorrow? Let us start by looking at where we are today. School districts and teachers have clients in the form of students and taxpayers. Teachers deliver ‘product’ using available means. Taxpayers balk at adding more teachers yet demand greater results. In effect, they are saying that the capital improvements have been made and now demand a greater return on investment.

The classroom of tomorrow will have traditional face-to-face classroom learning blended with computerized solutions. Students will still need to learn how to read and write but as we incorporate computers they will also need to learn how to interface with educational technology. A transformative shift must also occur where computers are no longer perceived as toys but as a means to research, communicate and learn. The transformation will require greater diligence for parents ensuring that children are doing schoolwork on computers and not playing games. Since parents are paying for the education via taxes and they demand better product, they too need to understand their role in the process.

Teachers will create lesson plans that combine online digital resources and classroom activities. Lesson plans may include guest speakers via The Internet, interactive Web-sites (Geography, Mathematics, English, etc.) and Web-based homework assignments encouraging research and electronic submission. The classroom of tomorrow demands that teachers expand their repertoire from the bricks and mortar classroom to the virtual classroom and resources on The Internet.

Initially, the teachers of today will require retooling via programs such as the Cardinal Stritch University MEIT. However, as time passes and we move through this computerization ‘bubble, new educators will enter the workforce and the blended approach of classroom and computerization will be the new norm. New educators will already have had the experience as students in the classroom of tomorrow and will carry their experiences forward, innovating and creating new blended solutions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Computer history for Brian Adams

My first personal computer experience was with an IBM 3270 PC in 1986. I had been working for several years as a Mainframe programmer when I took a job with a subsidiary of Tenneco. I was more than surprised when my new desk included a personal computer tied into the IBM Mainframe! The IBM 3270 PC was really an IBM PC XT with a 3278/3279 emulation board, 640 KB of RAM, 10 MB of disk storage, 2 5.25" floppy drives with an IBM Color Graphics Adapter.

Up until this time, I worked mainly on terminals and I had one screen. The IBM 3270 PC computer had special software allowing me to have five windows running concurrently. I used four for mainframe sessions and it was very useful. I could work on code in one window, compile code in another, review compiler output and execute all at the same time. Overnight I went from being limited to one at activity at a time to running parallel processes. It was truly a remarkable machine and I will never forget the awe and excitement I felt with this computer.

I soon found myself waiting for the office copy of PC Week to arrive and would read it cover to cover to learn about the latest software and hardware offerings. To the chagrin of the IT Department, the accounting and marketing departments were sneaking personal computers in the back door for analysis and promotional work. I wound-up working with these departments to pull mainframe data down to the personal computers in a format that could be used by spreadsheet and graphical software.

Within a year of my IBM 3270 PC I had a toolkit in my desk so I could upgrade computer memory, disk drives, video adapters, etc. I could pull chips, add math co-processors and had become a PC Geek. Looking back, that period of time was exciting, revolutionary and a remarkable leap forward.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Video Conferencing

This past week I acquired a Logitech Web camera with a built-in microphone so that I could initiate and participate in Video Conferences. The Web camera was quite easy to setup on my MS-Windows computer. I played with the pan and scan features, light settings and ability to catch still images. But wouldn't it be nice to see others over The Web?

I decided to investigate a Video Conferencing program called Skype. I had heard of Skype in my MEIT Course at Cardinal Stritch University. Skype has free audio and video and some extras for a fee. To check-out Skype for yourselves just click on Skype to learn more. I installed Skype and was impressed with how easy it was to verify my audio settings and locate classmates that already had Skype accounts. Later in the day I was in a Video Conference with Louis Loeffler and the audio and video were crystal clear.

My first experience with Video Conferencing was in the 1990's. Video conferencing was an expensive endeavor requiring and ISDN Modem and leased lines. All of this equipment was tied to one computer in a physical conference room. Also, one had to pay a conference provider such as AT&T, PolyCom or MCI for the use of their Audio/Video Bridge.

The mid-1990's saw the advent of desktop cameras with proprietary technology often requiring a special video card for the computer. The quality of these systems were marginal at best. Slow connections would cause a camera to freeze for a 10-15 seconds capturing a participant in mid-yawn or with eyelids closed. Nothing is more distracting than watching someone caught in a yawn for seconds while the audio moves ahead.

Let's fast forward to 2009. Wow, what a difference a new millennium can make for Web-based video conferencing. When I used Skype with Louis Loeffler and later with my classmates the video and audio were fast and clear. I kept waiting for a camera freeze capturing a participant with eyelids down or face scrunched - and none of that ever happened.

I used to think of Web-based video conferences as a waste of bandwidth - now I see (pun intended) that the audio and video technology is excellent and most affordable.

So Instead of This -

I know have THIS!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Welcome to Beelearning

Welcome to the 'Be e-learning' Blog. My name is Brian Adams and I have been involved with distance learning since 1995. I worked for a company called DataBeam which created the T.120 standard which is now widely utlized in Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Web-Conferencing.

At DataBeam I traveled far and wide to implement collaborative meeting and LMS solutions for major Telecoms, Corporations - mainly the early adopters. Products utilized thin client and Java Applets for end-users. One of my first challenges was to help traditional face-to-face educators become comfortable and effective in the brave new electronic frontier.

I collaborated (remotely) with a consultant and developed one of the first online courses to transform instructors from the classroom to the online environment. The course focused on building class rapport, break-out groups, and timed lesson plans. We also examined the various role of available tools to support student acquisition of knowledge, skills and even transformation.

Today, I work for Pharmacy OneSource providing clinical software to pharmacists. All of my consulting and training is done remotely from Middleton, Wisconsin. Gone are the days of standing in airport lines waiting to get through baggage screening with my shoes in hand.

I employ Whiteboard, Application Sharing in combination with homework exercises to help my Pharmacists master our software solutions. I am also a Sailing Instructor at the University of Wisconsin. I enjoy teaching, mentoring, and the personal satisfaction when I see my students succeed.

The last point is why I am taking the MEIT through Cardinal Stritch. There are so many opportunities to reach-out and help others via e-Learning. The Peace Corps has an initiative for what they call, 'Overcoming the Digital Divide'. Until recently computers were very expensive and out of reach for most people in less-developed countries. With the advent of small notebooks - a village with some form of Internet access can be helped.

I was extremely encouraged after our first MEIT class when we learned about Google Docs. Think about it? One no longer needs to have MS-Office or MacWorks to work on spreadsheets, word processing, etc. It's free and people can collaborate remotely. Just turn-on that solar-powered $99 Notebook and you are on equal footing with the industrialized nations. Amazing!

Altruism aside, I am in the MEIT to gain the Master's credential and that it would help me in the short run in my capacity as a corporate trainer. Long term, I would like to work in a public setting - perhaps a school district, community college and someday in a more enlightened capacity.

I look forward to our courses and learning as much as I can!

Brian Adams

PS. I took the picture of this Bumblebee in June of 2009.