Reflections on EdTech
I remember quite vividly the first time I got my feet wet with digital video editing. I was working for NCSY and was preparing a curriculum for a shabbaton/convention. I was looking for a little extra ‘oomph’ at the Saturday night “Kumsitz” program. I borrowed my sister’s lime green iBook, and put together a slide show/video that incorporated the Wu Tang Clan rap about the Holocaust “Never Again.” Here is a YouTube clip with the rap and scenes from Schindler’s List (NOT my video). Alas, this was in the days before YouTube (what? such a time existed?), and I did not publish the video. I’ll have to look around and see if I still have the tape.
In any event, the response to the program was powerful. People had not seen this sort of thing before. And I was hooked. I started putting together more videos and learning more tricks of the trade. One of my early videos was about Shabbos, and I recorded responses of people in the street that I stopped to ask about the day of rest. Here was the result.
I also had the opportunity to watch some true masters of the medium of videos in informal education, first among those being our own Dr. Eliezer Jones, who was simply a game changer in the field of Jewish multimedia presentations.
Alas, as time went on, I got busier in my formal teaching career, I had to start paying tuition bills and went for a cheaper Windows machine instead of a replacement for my aging Mac, and I largely became an observer. But today, as I was putting together a short video on iMovie for my YU Edtech 102 course assignment on visual tools, it all came back to me.
Videos are incredibly powerful. They can call attention to themes, open up people’s thoughts and emotions, in ways that other mediums simply cannot. The incredible thing about the times we live in is that tools for creating powerful videos are plentiful, often easy to use, and not very costly.
Perhaps you have seen in your Twitter feed recently, tweets that trumpet the publication of “The Daily ____” and a link, or something to that effect, to an online newsletter. One of the current popular “spinoffs” from twitter and other social media services are personalized newspaper services. Two of these services that I have looked at are Scoop.it and Paper.li. Here’s how these services work, in a nutshell: After creating an account, you go ahead and input some of your social media accounts (twitter is a particularly effective one), RSS feeds you follow, as well as topic(s) that you want your newspaper to cover. You can name your paper, and customize the format, the look and feel, etc. After doing so, the web based service uses information from people you follow on twitter, and other streams that you follow, as well as its own searches based on terms and areas you have inputted, to create a multimedia “newspaper” (online web based newsletter) with articles, pictures, and videos relating to the subject matter you have selected. You can decide how frequently you want the paper generated, and how much of it is done automatically vs. your own article selections. You can then go ahead and share a link to your paper through twitter or any other electronic means.
I think it would be a great exercise for students to create and curate and online newspaper as a way of researching and presenting a particular topic. For example, if the class was American History, each student or group of students could select a person, time period, or topic, and that would form the basis of their online newspaper. The next step would be to have the students research various online sources of information, be it on social networks, or blogs and/or web sites with RSS feeds, which discuss their topic. Using one of the “newspaper” services, they would then create an online paper that they would share with their classmates (ideally through a classroom network on, say, Edmodo).
Each week, I would have the students discuss the process by which they curated their paper, with an eye on how they decided which articles were appropriate for their topic and which weren’t (this could lead to a great exercise in learning how to identify ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ sources of information online), as well as the top 3 new items of information they learned about in that week’s issue. I would also ask their fellow students to comment on the newspaper issue, with an eye on what was the most interesting or impactful article they came across. (This could be done on a class blog, with each group posting a link to their paper, as well as their reflections, and fellow students responses could be included in the comment section).
I think that this sort of exercise of course allows the students to ‘take ownership’ of a topic, but I think it goes beyond that. It allows students to become a ‘class authority’ on a particular topic, and that not only makes the students feel really great about themselves, but also allows for meaningful collaboration when it comes time to study for tests, etc. Because these papers are being shared with their fellow students, there is an added level of responsibility to ‘get it right’ when it comes to finding interesting and accurate content, as well as designing the paper to be visually pleasing as well. Finally, the social media component of paper allows for the possibility of branching out beyond the classroom as well, as students can share their papers with the world, and perhaps make connections with other (in this case) history buffs as well.
In thinking about current internet productivity tools out there, I am struck by how easy they can make it to discover information, share it, and effectively work together with others. I know that is what they promise to do, so it should not come as a shock, but the contrast with how we ‘used to do things’ is striking.
Even something as simple as Google’s main search page, while technically one could call this a ‘search engine,’ I believe that this is a huge productivity tool. If you remember the early days of the Internet (Lycos and Alta Vista, anyone?), generating even a basic internet search was not a simple matter. You could not just type in what you wanted to find, and expect to find it right away. You would often have to wade through several pages of links that, at best, were tangentially related to your search terms. Google and their search algorithms, of course, changed all that. It is pretty incredible how accurate a google search is in finding exactly what you are looking for, not to mention that ‘add ons,’ like images that relate to your search, products with links to stores to buy the item in question, etc.
Sharing documents has also changed dramatically. Emailing word docs back and forth, making sure you had the right version, while at the time was a great advance, was often tedious as well. Tools like Google Docs, Drop Box, Evernote, and Noterize (for iPad), have made sharing with others and yourself accross multiple devices, ridiculously easy.
One area that I have really been interested in has been in using productivity tools to enhance faculty observation and classroom walkthroughs. I came across an interesting blog post for using Google Docs in classroom walkthroughs, which can be found HERE. I also came across an article on administrators in a Wisconsin school using iPads to collect, share, and analyze data on their classroom walkthroughs. I followed up with the administrator in the article, who told me about the iPad app “Noterize” that they use for this purpose.
Often times, new advances in technology are heralded as game changers, and there is often more hype than substance. But in the case of productivity documents, in my opinion at least, they really deliver on their promise.