Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2015

How to? Tablets, Internet Security & a delay

Imagine a tablet project, which is starting off very slowly as it is, where the classes are already going on for about two months, but the tablets still couldn't be handed out. 

The goal is to provide a couple of classes with some tablets to work with. These tablets should be used in almost all subjects. They won't be individual tablets per se, but there will be enough of them, so that almost everyone in the class is able to use one. 

As I mentioned before, the school year has already started. Ideally the tablets should be used right from the get go, but in this case there has been a delay. Now this is where the first part of the question comes in, why the delay?

The tablets couldn't be delivered, because, apart from some random preparing of the administrator settings, the tablets will be outfitted with an anti-virus app/program. So the follow-up question now becomes, why is it necessary to install this, especially while well knowing what kind of delay it causes?

Doesn't this bring up great teaching possibilities? For one, this seems like the perfect time for the kids to talk and learn about internet security. Basic questions like, why do we have/need such programming, do you think it is necessary, what can we do to prevent mishaps etc. 
Secondly, if someone decides that it is absolutely necessary to install it, why not let the kids do it? It seems like an ideal time for kids to learn about how to get started with a tablet, what kind of settings to use and how installing works. By handing them a fully equipped tablet, you take away many interesting and useful learning opportunities.

Why is that? Even if its a theoretical issue, how do you go about solving it?

Donnerstag, 11. Juni 2015

Vodcast - Sources

Since YouTube doesn't allow proper embedding of external links, I will provide you with the sources I mentioned below:


Safer Internet - Das Internet sicher nutzen!

Opening Facebook: How to Use Facebook in the College Classroom

"We Don't Twitter, We Facebook": An Alternative Pedagogical Space that Enables Critical Practices in Relation to Writing

A Review of Research on Facebook as an Educational Environment

Let’s ‘Face’ It: Facebook as an Educational Tool for College Students

An analysis of Facebook intensity and privacy management practices of public school educators in the United States

Montag, 23. Februar 2015

Another Mahara Video

I posted my second Tutorial-ish Mahara Video. It is not quite like the first one, as in, it is not exactly a step-by-step guide through some basic things.
I wanted to make a Video about some of the common question I get asked during most of the Mahara introductory workshops: who can see my page? where do my documents go? And so on.

Since this topic is not something that is best shown on the platform itself, I tried to spice up the video with some nice little animations. The first time you use some kind of new application, it seems like endless trial and error. Even if you read and watch how-to-tips, the first time around, everything takes at least twice as long. It was nevertheless fun to think up and create the animations.

So here it is, and like the last time, it is in german.

Mittwoch, 11. Februar 2015

Practical Theory - Meta-Analysis and Research

Not too long ago, the word meta-analysis was ever-present in the education world. John Hattie and his meta-meta-analysis was the big news. Actually, to be more precise, the german translation came out only two years ago, and it was around that time when I first heard about it. I was in the middle of my studies and our teacher training didn't really include any in-depth discussions about educational research. Although I became somewhat familiar with the topic in his book, I didn't really get closer to research and the theory behind it.

I graduated and co-wrote my bachelor thesis with a good friend of mine. We did some basic research, but we had a great supply of data from the research project we were involved with. Additionally, it is basically a teaching certificate, so in its essence, we only really acquire the competency for teaching, not as much continuing on with research. 

Either way, I became involved in educational research in my Masters program right from the get go. It is kind of funny, because based on a couple of forum messages and questions from other students, it seemed like this particular MA program really did presume that everyone enrolled is (fully) competent when it comes to research methods and theories, or at least have statistical and mathematical knowledge. I wouldn't say I was surprised that they assumed everyone has those basic principles down, but I also think about the many different degrees in the german-speaking countries. Considering they are a distance-education university, one would think they are aware that their students come from varying backgrounds. In addition to that, they accept various degrees and the Austrian degree we attained, is focused more on going straight into teaching and like I mentioned before, not like other "teaching" degrees from universities. 

Anyway, it was not easy getting into statistics again. Since that is pretty much the basis for educational research and studies, there was no way around it, we had to work through it. It was really interesting in the beginning, because the tasks we got, got us started on the right foot. We had a couple of example meta-analysis we could choose from and analyze. As the term went on we got more and more comfortable in discussing meta-analysis, despite all the statistics and maths.

We delved into meta-analysis, research and numbers, and a couple interesting philosophical ideas and thoughts came up. For one, it started with having read a couple of postings about the aforementioned meta-meta-study (here is one and two.) Secondly, our task was to pick a certain topic for the end of the term and pretty much do a "theoretical" meta-analysis about it. Obviously the focal point was not doing the actual research, but getting us to understand the process. 

Although I have limited knowledge and experiences, I do feel like educational research is really, really tough. It is tough because people can be very different. Of course one could take on neuroscience and psychology in order to work out "how" exactly people work, but even that is one of the more challenging scientific research fields.

Secondly, a more 'hands-on' thought if you will, concerned the sample size. Obviously the sample size is something that is not only relevant to educational research, it is vital for medical research as well. I think it is interesting to discuss and think about the threshold of sample sizes in educational research. What kind of threshold would you feel comfortable with? Is it simply the class size? The number of students at a specific university? The children attending schools in a city? I think herein is one of the toughest parts. If you decide to research the effects of primary school children using tablets in mathematics classes, and you find out that 12 out of 20 show improvements in their learning, does it make sense to introduce the same exact method in another random primary class (and expect the similar results)?

Would it make sense to try this method on the whole school? What if it still shows a positive effect (depending on your method of statistical-choice and your definition of 'positive')? Can we just take that method and put it to use in the whole district? Although the sample size becomes bigger, the results might become less encouraging. Now if the sample sizes are big enough and you get a somewhat 'positive' effect, and you look at it straight on, you have to think about the actual number of children that improved, and weigh it against the number of children that yielded the same results as before. Did your opinion of the method change?

Now the most obvious point is regarding variables. It kind of ties in with the first point I made (and could shift the attention to more individualization in the classroom). Not only are there many people who are all different, but there are even more variables around those people. How old are they, where are they from, what previous experiences do they have and so on. So even if you have a reasonable sample size, is it even possible to include enough variables?

The field of educational research is fascinating. It might not be for all people, because it involves way more statistics and mathematics than regular humans would like to see. Also, we will probably not get any "100%-positive-effect-guaranteed" study results any time soon. So what is its purpose?

For me, most of it is a great thought experiment. For example, if a study performed in Europe about the effects of tablet use in the classroom and the results are positive, does it mean that I can stick tablets into African schools and see the children sprout with knowledge? If the answer is no, then it gets interesting, because then I can think about the differences and variables that would change that and so on.

Educational research can also point to various signs or function as an indicator. Just think about when the use of computers started in the educational world, and how it shaped its own development and changed along the way. So it is certainly trend-setting in some way. It can point to new directions or ideas and it can lead to the development of new theories, and those theories can someday turn into studies, and the cycle can repeat again.

My Mahara Video Tutorial

It all comes back around and starts to fit together. There are many possibilities that through new technology influence teaching and learning, without question. I have been thinking about experimenting with video tutorials. It actually started a couple of months back when I was working on some content for a newsletter. The idea was to send this newsletter to teachers every month with some information about a project. As a little nugget, it would include some form of new practical information, be it an App, a new Web 2.0 tool or something along those lines. So we found a couple of cool Web-Apps. We thought about writing a quick explanation about what it can do and how it could be used.

We didn't really have that much time to click through it and try everything. So we went on YouTube and started looking for tutorials, which we could attach as additional information for the teachers. It turns out there aren't that many video tutorials in german out there, especially for maybe lesser known Apps. That is where I first got the motivation to start something. I know there are a bunch of sites out there that put up lists and lists of Web 2.0 Apps, but clicking through all of them is tough. It would help teachers to just go on YouTube and type in an App name or maybe just a subject and then see short tutorials pop up. They shouldn't be much longer than 6-7 minutes. That way, even people with tighter schedules have an opportunity to check them out quickly and try to paint themselves a picture about the App and if it is worth using in their class.

Since I've been involved in teaching and coaching for quite a while now - so basically explaining for a living - I figured it shouldn't be that hard to record something for a couple of minutes. I got really lucky, because as it turns out one of the projects I'm involved in was somewhat in need for exactly that. This meant that I got an easy start, I got (had) to do my first tutorial about Mahara. This was exactly what I needed to get everything going and get to motivation to work through the issues you encounter in the beginning.

But enough about that, here is my first mini-tutorial about Mahara (this one is in german, but I might do something in english as well):

Donnerstag, 1. Januar 2015

e-Learning platforms intro

Originally, I had planned on writing about the introductory seminars for Moodle in my last term at teacher training. It was an interesting experience, but I kind of got away from the topic as the term went on. Now I got the opportunity to hold a Mahara workshop for a couple of teachers and sort of experience the whole process from a different perspective. Although I've been working with Mahara for quite a while now, I actually never got around to work with it in a primary/secondary school setting.

The premise at both the workshop and my seminar was that the attendees were all rookies in terms of the platform itself. For the Moodle course, there were student teachers in their last term, while for the Mahara seminar, there were experienced primary and secondary teachers present. Obviously the biggest difference was that for the Moodle course we had a full university term to work with, but the Mahara seminar took around 2-3 hours. Therefore it is clear that there is no way to attain the same level of detail in a couple of hours compared to a process that lasts a couple of months.

My first encounter with both platforms was very similar. The first time I got in contact with each of them I basically didn't have any guidance. Our first Mahara version was very low on features and usability compared to every version since. Also, we were the first group at the university to use the platform, so we were kind of the test-dummies. I guess that's why my whole mindset later was to just go out there and click my way through everything by myself. I say that because my first encounter with Moodle was me getting the task of creating and filling a Moodle course structure with content, but the content I was supposed to work in, being nowhere close to my field of expertise.  So as I built and explored, I simultaneously learned about the platform itself - about what it can do, how it can do it. A thinking process for how it can be used properly for my own work started right away.

This "click-and-explore" approach is obviously not always the ideal choice. Especially when it comes to beginners for e-Learning platforms, there is a bit of restraint. Although I like to tell the participants in my workshops that they should do exactly that, I always leave it to the very end. It is important to get rid of the "fear of the unknown" in the beginning. The relationship between user and platform has to become somewhat natural for them to be able to use this approach. The best way to achieve that is still a simple step-by-step guide about the basic handling of the system. The key is to get to a spot where the handling becomes second-nature and you can focus on more important things, namely talking about the actual benefits for using a specific platform.

Of course it takes a while to get over the shakiness, but most of the time e-Learning platforms work along the same principles and it is enough to give participants a simple framework of how to use the system. This is all easier said than done, but unless attending a workshop about a new e-Learning platform is "mandatory" (in their own mind), the participants are open to experiencing new things. It also adds extra motivation, helps swaying their mood and opinion if they are shown the "upgrades" a platform can bring to their teaching and their work.

All in all, it is interesting to think about personal experiences with a certain kind of introductory method and how it can work in various settings, be it beginners in the field of e-Learning or absolute pros wanting to try out something new.