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.