Bring the World to Your Classroom: Videoconferencing

By Bryan A. Upshaw

My worst grade in high school was in Spanish I. Our teacher was tough, and the pace was blistering. I struggled to learn the vocab, grammar, and odd verb conjugation charts. I found the culture interesting, but the rest of the class was just frustrating and seemingly pointless to my future. Guess what subject I mainly teach now? That’s right – Spanish. What turned my worst grade and most frustrating class into my career?

Getting to see the world outside my little East Tennessee community and building relationships with people who at first seemed so different from me changed the way I saw the world. I was inspired to travel abroad, learn a language, join a local Hispanic church, and live with an undocumented family my last semester of college. Those relationships and experiences made language learning fun and transformed pointless grammar exercises into real-world challenges that unlocked boundaries that separated people.

How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom?

I share my stories with my students and perhaps it inspires some to consider traveling one day, but how can I motivate students right now? How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom? In my opinion, one of the most underused tools in education is videoconferencing. While expensive systems with fancy cameras and monitors can make it seamless, most teachers already have the resources to videoconference. If they have a smartphone, tablet,  or computer, then they probably have everything they need!

As a foreign language teacher, I use videoconferencing in my classroom in many different ways. For example, my friend in Nicaragua, Emanuel, converses with my students. My sister shares stories about her semesters abroad in Nicaragua and Honduras. Another friend, Garret, has talked from Germany about his year abroad in Argentina and how it helped him to learn German and get a job with BMW. My students love hearing stories from guest speakers projected in the front of the classroom. They have fun asking questions and always learn something new. Continue reading

80 Percent of K-12 Schools Now Using Digital Content

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

A study by ASCD and Overdrive, Inc.,1 is being released today (1 April 2016). Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K–12 Classroom E-Learning is available for download here. Here are some of the highlights:

1. More than 80 percent of K-12 schools and districts are now using some form of digital content — including eBooks, audiobooks and digital textbooks — in the classroom.

2. Of the 80 percent of respondents who report using digital content in their schools or districts, four out of 10 are using it as part of their curriculum.

3. Devices used for digital content: laptops (75 percent), tablets (62 percent), personal computers (49 percent), and smartphones (17 percent).

4. Contributors to this growth include recognized benefits such as the ability to deliver individualized instruction, allowing students to practice independently, and greater student attention/engagement.

5. As digital content continues to transform the classroom, the concept of a personalized, individualized model of schooling becomes more feasible, according to the report.

6. “Devices bring more knowledge to students’ fingertips than the teacher can give, so the traditional lecture model is no longer applicable. We want content that will engage students and the ability to introduce flipped classrooms with content that students can access at any time, at any place” (Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum, St. Vrain Valley Schools, Longmont, Colorado).

7. The two issues cited most often were equity concerns about lack of Internet access at home and the fear of teachers not wanting to go digital, including teachers not comfortable or effective with digital learning.

8. Across the board, teachers most desire English/Language Arts (ELA) content in digital format (74 percent), followed by science (62 percent), math (61 percent) and social studies (56 percent).

9. Survey respondents report that digital content currently occupies about one-third of the instructional materials budget and the use of digital content continues to grow.

10. This report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 administrators at the school or district level in the U.S.

__________
1 Overdrive, Inc., is a provider of eBook and audiobook platforms for schools.

CFE 2015 Faculty Showcase at UNC: ‘Teaching Less in More Depth’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th annual Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) Faculty Showcase at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This event is indispensible for those who want to gain a concise overview of emerging trends, proven approaches, best practices and innovative experiments in Carolina. CFE organizes the gathering to offer faculty an opportunity to learn more about specific instructional techniques or technology from their peers. For many attendees, showcase talks are the spark that ignites interest in considering changes for courses they teach. It also serves as a reminder for faculty to make use of the many instructional design and pedagogical consulting services the campus has to offer.

The day provided a chance to hear firsthand about the capabilities of the University’s Makerspaces, how teachers use Google Earth’s Liquid Galaxy display and Lightboard, which is currently being built on campus. What makes the showcase an exceptional learning opportunity for instructional designers is the mix of cutting edge technological innovation and low- or no-tech tips and tricks – be it gender neutral language, better writing assignments, role-play or reflective teaching practices and course evaluation. The showcase event closed with a presentation format I particularly enjoyed: Five-minute-long introductions to a variety of topics and projects with the explicit invitation, “Steal my idea!”

mary-huber 2The keynote speaker, Mary Taylor Huber, consultant at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, characterized the CFE event as the “greatest illustration possible” for the theme of her talk, “Building an Academic Commons Through SoTL.” Huber stated that the relationship between teaching and the institutional environment has changed noticeably over the past decade. Teaching is increasingly recognized as a valued academic activity in both general public debates and in the scientific communities. “Teaching is on a fast train,” explained Huber, and pointed out several catalysts for change: diversity, technology, new pedagogies (i.e., undergraduate research, service learning), authentic participation and educational research. Throughout the day, many examples of exceptional teaching brought these concepts to life.  Continue reading

What Sort of Intelligence?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

You may have noticed recent news about Stephen Hawking predicting the demise of the human race due to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)1. Others of genius rank, such as Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil2, have also made this prediction. With “The Theory of Everything” (biopic about Prof. Hawking) in theaters right now, this prediction is resonating across the English-speaking world.

Before digging your shelters or heading for the hills, you should ask, “What is artificial intelligence?” A bit of history may help put this entire subject into perspective. The term was coined in 1955 by John McCarthy, who called it “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”3 “When?” you ask. “That’s nearly 60 years ago! Before I was born!” (I actually was born well before then, but statistically you probably weren’t.)

Funny how AI has not taken over the world in the 60 years it’s had so far. Why the sudden worry? Computers are becoming more powerful and less expensive. Computer memory is dirt cheap, speaking historically. This trend of more computer power and more memory shows no signs of abating soon. Could it eventually reach the tipping point where machines are sentient and self-reproducing? Would they then remove the “scourge” of humans from the Earth’s surface? Might the end be less dramatic in that they would render people superfluous? Imagine a world in which all work, including creative work, is done by machines. Who needs Beethoven when you have the Ultra-Composer Mark IV?

This entire discussion circles around to defining machine intelligence and estimating exactly how smart machines might become. Right off the bat, understand that intelligence, as we commonly understand it, has not been seen in machines yet. No one truly knows if it ever will be. To comprehend why, you must have a feeling for the nature of computers and computing.  Continue reading

The iPhone 6 Plus and Tablets: A Tectonic Drift

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The iPhone 6 Plus arrived via USPS priority mail yesterday, so I’ve had it for a little over a day. My first impression is that it has a completely different look and feel from the iPhone 4, which I reviewed in July 2011. The 4 has a solid industrial feel that’s enhanced by sharply beveled edges. I like the way it looks and feels in my hand. The 6+, in comparison, feels fragile, perhaps because of its thinness and rounded edges. This sense of fragility, however, is gradually fading the more I handle it. My guess is that it will take a few days for a new muscle memory to replace the old.

IPhone 6+ and iPhone 4.

iPhone 6 Plus: 6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches, 6.07 ounces. iPhone 4: 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37 inches, 4.8 ounces.

The most critical factor for me is hand fit. It has to feel comfortable. It took a few hours to adjust to the size difference, especially the length, 6.22″ vs 4.5″. The width difference, 3.06″ vs 2.31″, is noticeable, but it’s surprisingly comfortable in my hand. My immediate thought was that the next version of the plus could easily be an inch wider (4″ instead of 3″) and still fit the average-sized hand.

iPhone 6+ and iPhone 4.

iPhone 6+ and iPhone 4 width: 3.06″ vs 2.31″.

The next critical factor for me is pocketability. It has to fit comfortably in my pants pocket. The 4 fits in any and every pocket. The 6+ fits best in the front pockets. It’s slightly heavier than the 4, 6.07 vs 4.8 ounces, but it actually feels lighter in my pocket. This sensation is probably caused by its dimensions. It’s less dense. Taller, wider, and thinner, the weight is spread out whereas the 4 is concentrated in a smaller area.

Side View iPhones

iPhone 6+ and iPhone 4 thickness: 0.28″ vs 0.37″.

I take my iPhone with me on walks and use it as a music player with in-ear headphones. The 6+ felt comfortable in my right front pocket. I slipped it in upside down because the 1/8″ headphone jack is on the bottom edge. The +/- volume buttons are in the same place as the 4’s, and I’m able to adjust volume from outside the pocket while walking.  Continue reading

The Future of Tablets — and More

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Recent news of a drop in iPad sales1 by Apple triggered some thoughts. Reporting that educational sales of iPads are still on the rise prompted more thinking. Then, I found that some of our customers had a very interesting response to our queries about this area.

We deliver our software as HTML5, making updates unnecessary and allowing for the software to run on any platform: iPad, iPhone, Android device, Chromebook, MacBook, MS Surface, Linux desktop, etc. We can readily convert the software to an iOS app and to an Android app. The question we asked is, “Should we?” The answer, at least from schools, was as resounding “No!”

ipad oct2014

Making predictions is a very risky business, if you care about your credibility. I am going out on a very long limb by making two predictions for the future. Any number of new developments can make these predictions wildly inaccurate or could cement their certainty.

The first prediction is that iPads will continue the decline in sales and eventually level off. There will be some bumps in this path, of course, but the overall process is one of stagnation at best. The article gives some reasons. For example, people are not upgrading their old iPads as quickly as Apple had anticipated. An iPad is not an iPhone and does not engender the mass hysteria with respect to new versions that you see with such a constantly visible status symbol as your cell phone.

Those tablets also don’t have as many preferred uses as many had predicted. Most who can afford an iPad also have a “real” computer that they use for power applications such as word processing. The tablet is mostly used for videos, music, email, texting (when not using the cell phone for that), and so on. In brief, tablets are not supplanting computers in large numbers. Given a computer and a cell phone, with screen size growing apace, the tablet is the “middle child” and is unnecessary to everyday functioning. It’s too large to carry in your pocket and too small for many serious uses.

The above is not to suggest that tablets will vanish, only that they will settle into a niche market until someone radically changes the interface. The touchscreen is magic for young children and some applications. My grandchildren took to them like kids to candy, even at ages 3 and 5. Still, a touchscreen interface can only take you so far. Adding three-finger gestures really doesn’t make it that exciting. The problems lie in two primary areas: screen size and computing power (CPU and memory). The apps for them have been designed to use what’s available.  Continue reading

Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2 After 8 Months

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Updated 7/21/14, 7/26/14

(Related articles: “The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks” and “Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series.”)

Steven Brown, in a 15 July 2014 comment, asked, “Curious to hear how it went after 8 months –- any updates?” His question refers to my October 2013 article, Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series, and the follow-up in November, The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks.

Steven, thanks for the question. Microsoft’s recent offering of SP3 means that the SP2 is no longer a viable purchase option — except for those interested in picking up a bargain. Used, they’re currently going on eBay for about half the original price. However, the differences between the 2 and the 3 are small enough to justify this article update.

For me, the critical variable is weight. The quarter pound difference between the 3 and 2 is negligible. To put this in perspective, it’s the difference between my first-gen iPad and the SP2. They’re both equally heavy — or light, depending on your perspective. The SP3 screen size is touted as a breakthrough, but the 1.4″ difference isn’t that impressive considering the bulk that it adds to the overall size. By desktop and notebook standards, it’s still far too small for serious work for prolonged periods.

The 2160 x 1440 resolution seems enormous compared to the SP2’s 1080 x 1920, but it’s negligible considering the pixels per inch, which is 216 vs. 208. The SP2’s resolution is excellent. I’m using it right now, with the power cover, to write this article. I have it connected to a 32″ 1080P monitor via the SP2’s proprietary HDMI adaptor, and the clarity is equal to my desktop’s.  Continue reading