Monday, April 26, 2010

Maker Faire NC 2010

Many of you may not know that I started my "official" teaching career as a shop teacher. Sure it was called Technology Education, sometimes known as Vocational Education, and more commonly known as CTE (Career and Technical Education) or as we are now known Technology, Design and Engineering Education (TDE). (Can you tell we keep trying to reinvent ourselves?) I came out of college ready to teach wood and metal shop, use CNC machines and robotics for instruction and build my own computer. I loved every minute of it. I ended up teaching Printing & Graphics and had 2 AB Dick printing presses. All of this is a long winded back story about how Maker Faire and "The Maker Culture" are so important to me, and I think have a huge place in education. It is quite apropos that my book club read "Shop Class as Soulcraft" this week to get me in the right frame of mind.

So what is Maker Faire NC? It is a place where anyone that ever wanted to build, create, solder, program, and sometimes destroy comes together to play. It is a place where geeks can strut their geekiness, and kids can build something out of trash, where learning by doing is the most important rule in the world. It is an educators paradise. This is the culmination of everything that I believe in as a person and as an educator.

So what did I learn at Maker Faire?
More importantly I was inspired by so many people to go a Make something and I think that is what Maker Faire is all about.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Oh and did I mention my quilt group, Triangle Modern Quilters, had a booth? We crowd-sourced a quilt, everyone had an opportunity to sew for either the first or millionth time and help us build a memory of Maker Faire NC :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Laptops in the Classroom

I am pleased to announce that the College of Education is moving forward with their 1:1 Laptop Program. Our goal is that all students graduating from the college have an understanding of how to teach in a 1:1 environment. I am in the midst of a huge professional development undertaking to help our faculty model teaching in a 1:1 environment. This has been a dream of mine for some time and I am so excited that it is coming to fruition. I hope to stream out our session and will post more information soon.

Which is why when I saw this on a university listserv I died a little. (All names and subjects have been removed)

As I mentioned in class yesterday, I really do want your feedback about my idea to ban the use of laptops in the face-to-face section of CLASS starting next semester. I know that at first blush that seems a strange idea - banning technology in a course about technology, but let me explain where I am coming from. There are only about 15 or 20 students out of 100 who use their laptops in class - but that small percentage uses them intensely.

So what have we learned about the place of laptops and cellphones and other mobile media over the course of the semester? We have examined a wide variety of helpful tasks that they certainly enable. But do any of those tasks take place in our classroom? The lectures and powerpoints are all posted online so note-taking is brief outlining. I take us to the relevant websites and so the student is freed from that task as well. So far I can't see any imperative positive reason for laptops to on during the class. The only borderline reason would be that students have gotten used to taking notes on their computers. However, my in-class TAs for both this year and last year report that laptops rarely are opened to word/text pages. They are almost exclusively opened to social websites. Those observations are consistent with my "front of the class" observations when there seems to be little relationship between course content and keyboarding behavior - not much typing, a lot of point-and-clicking accompanied by broad smiles and suppressed laughter. I enjoy the class, but I'm thinking that the smiles and laughter aren't always stimulated by the lecture !

The next thing I think about is the damage that mobile technology does to our time in class together. We have looked at a number of reports this semester about multitasking. The current data seem to indicate that we do an awful lot of it, but that invariably we would do each task better if we did them one at a time. It is the pressure of time that forces us to multitask. Those results argue for the perspective that checking email, Facebook, whatever during class leads to poorer retention of the material being covered in class. One might argue that a student should be free to make that decision on their own. Obviously, I have trouble with that argument, but I have even more trouble with the implied argument that student A can make that decision for students B, C and D who are seated around them. It is one thing for a student to choose to distract themselves to the detriment of their own learning, it is a far different thing to subject the students around them to those distractions.

Cell phones are already prohibited - although a few of you seem to have forgotten that.

So what I am asking is not if you would like laptops to be banned from the class. Rather, what I am asking is do you have any non-entertainment, academic reason for them not to be banned? I don't think you can respond to these posts so please send me your feedback at

I instantly thought of the video going around about a professor that destroyed a laptop in class to prove a point.

I started to write my response immediately, but had to hold it in the draft queue. I have learned to keep emotional e-mails around for awhile before I send them, especially when it is someone I do not know. Luckily, the responses that came back were well constructed counter arguments that included discussions surrounding small group work, back channeling, change of lecture style, etc. including:

An emerging trend in my own learning approach is to use technology to supplement a presentation.. If I am listening to a speaker who cites a resource or topic that adds value to what s/he is saying, I often pull up resources from the web that enrich his/her presentation.. It is a richer context.. and actually improves my retention of the teachers/presenters thoughts.
and my favorite:

Sometimes, the reason students are doing things other than what is required for the class they are in is simply because they are bored. If I have the choice of listening to a presentation which essentially regurgitates and minimally expands upon slides I've already downloaded and viewed and a chapter I've already read, versus getting some productive work done via clearing out some emails, working on another project, or so on, I'll choose to do the ladder items.

The discussion seemed to degenerate from there into an all or nothing scenario and eventually grew into.....

Obviously there is middle ground to be explored. But when a laptop brings the multi-million dollar entertainment industry into the classroom no professor can compete, nor should they have to - that is not our job.

I find this interesting since if a professor is a primarily a lecturer and they are on stage talking for an entire class period with minimal interaction with their audience, ahem I mean students, then that sounds a lot like a performer or "entertainer" to me.

What gives me hope is that there is discussion about middle ground, and that is exactly what we need to be talking about. Banning laptops are not the answer, neither is ignoring the issues that arise from laptop use. Is the a bigger classroom management issue, of course it is. Does this merit a discussion with the class - YES!! Should pedagogy change in a laptop classroom - ABSOLUTELY!!! What we can't do is teach the same way we have in the past and expect nothing to ever change.

And to be honest - lets stop blaming the technology for "taking me off task," I can be just as bored without a laptop as I can with one.

I had several concerns about posting this in such a public forum, my intent is not to disrespect or misrepresent any faculty issues. I would never have written this if this had been an individual e-mail, but due to the fact that this was sent to a listserv, the writers themselves have placed this in a public domain.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The ever changing world of free in cloud computing and Ning

One of the things that educators in general love is "free," but free always comes at a cost. For some it is living with Google Ads on your page, for others it is living on the generosity of a company . Last week the rumors about Ning and their change in direction from a primarily free service to premium offerings rocked the tech world - not just the education one. We've seen this before, and the majority of us live in the "fear" of when our free services will leave, either due to abandonment of a project altogether (re: Google Lively) or change to ads or pay for services (re. Wetpaint)

However, I was really surprised that Ning took this direction. They initially really seemed to understand community and how to build one with a mix of free and paid options. When the word came out that Gina was leaving Ning - I should have known something was up.

Now I pay every month to remove ads from my Ning. I feel that when I use this as a teaching tool I needed to be ad free. I was also lucky enough to have the budget for the less than ~$250 a year to keep it running. Comparing this to running something internally - it was actually more cost-efficient for the external model.

I really do like Ning, I like the concept, the way it works, and how easy it has been to use, but it is not Ning that makes a community. I recently finished my thesis research on Ning and found that what makes Ning such a great learning resource is the way it empowers the users of the community, not the just the creators of the community. We talk a good deal at our university about how to define our courses to be platform independent, so that we don't rely on BlackBoard or Moodle or Ning to deliver our content. I think it is important for us to teach our pre-service teachers how to conceptualize the use of tools "in the cloud" so that they would work on several different platforms. So that the losing of one tool isn't as devastating. And there have been some great alternatives posted by Mashable and Buddy Press. The use of created social networks will not go away, it will just grow more diverse.

As for me, I'm keeping my Nings and I'll pay for them, but I doubt I'll present about Ning anymore.