Guest Post: Keep up with Technology so You Can Keep up with Your Students

Guest Post by: Isla Wright

I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

And things are changing. Instead of paper, we use laptops, instead of books, we use e-books. You want to be a person who pushes students forward, not the one who holds on to the relics of the past. There is a gap between students and their teachers, as the students are one step forward, when it comes to knowledge and usage of technology. Here are some tools that you can easily integrate in your teaching and get one step closer to your students.

  • Edmodo: It is a communication platform for teachers and students. Usually it is used for giving announcements, sharing folders and distributing assignments. However, you can go outside of the box and implement some unusual ideas. For example, you can create a current events group for students to post articles that are relevant to the topics of your classes. Or organize a national book club or start a competition. It can really lead to unlimited options.
  • Blogging: This can be your direct contact with your audience‒your students. By sharing thoughts and ideas, they are invited to give their opinion. A broader discussion can develop; you can do special researches on interesting topics or give students additional reading material. Students can evolve in critical thinking and active conversation. The conversation can start on the blog, but continue in class, or vice versa.

Also, you can help students by checking their notes and discussing them on your blog, needless to say without naming names. There might be issues with chemistry notes, math, or physics, which they did not realize. As you want to make sure that what they wrote is correct, this can be a place for reviews and debates.

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  • VoiceThread: this is an application that adds voice to documents, slide presentations, videos or collections of photos. You can include students and encourage them to post their own presentations or integrate comments on original ones. It allows students to present and defend their work, which as a result, makes students active in a classroom. It is a creative opportunity for students to tell their stories and share their vision on different topics.
  • Wikispaces: A great place for a class or a group, as all participants can edit documents. Furthermore, if you want to develop researching skills of your students, you can use this platform for students to share sources and ideas. It emphasizes a high level of communication and critical thinking, as students can get involved in debates.
  • MindMeister: Encourage mind-mapping in your classroom! Users can collaborate with each other, and organize their ideas in a new way. It is excellent for group projects. The mind maps and schemes get a fresh, dynamic look, which attracts viewers to pay more attention while concentrating on seeing all the details.

You can also use it while creating your own plans for your classes. It keeps things very organized and visible. What is great is that it is very flexible, as you can approach it from you mobile phone or any computer, as long as you have Internet connection.

As you see, the good news is that there are so many options to choose from. These are only some of the tools that are out there. In order to be a great teacher, one should not stop learning. Look at this as your opportunity to teach young minds not only facts from the books, but also an effective usage of technology. This is their preparation for the real world.

VoiceThread

One assignment for my research methods graduate class required me to use the technology/website VoiceThread to reflect upon a well-remembered event prior to our current teaching practice.  I reflected upon my experience of a lockdown drill.

VoiceThread is a great technology that allows a user to upload a video, PowerPoint, or most media files and add audio to it, then other users can comment on the video using audio, video, or text.  Audio comments can be uploaded using a phone or a computer microphone.  Additionally, a commenter can pause the video while still continuing to speak and use a pencil tool with multiple colors to draw attention to an element in the video.

From their website:

Voice Threading:

  1. to communicate ideas using more than one of the senses
  2. to connect with an audience in an authentic and simple manner
  3. a discussion that simulates a live presence

It has great applications for K-12, higher education, and business.  VoiceThread would be a great tool to use for a Flipped Classroom or an online class.  There even an app for the iPad that will allow you to create and edit your VoiceThreads.  VoiceThreads can be embedded using an object code (see below) to websites, linked to on VoiceThread’s servers, and sent in an email.  VoiceThread will even post directly to your Facebook or Twitter account if you give it permission to do so.

However there is a major drawback.  It’s a bit costly.  The single K-12 educator license is $79/year.  Have more than one teacher using it at one school?  You can purchase a school license, which starts at $450/year.  Some features cost more while there are discounts for number of users.  However, if you are not affiliated with a school, individual plans start at $20/month.  There are discounts for teams and companies.

So why is price such a big drawback?  There is a free account, but it is so limiting that it essentially allows you to try it out once or twice and then you have to make a decision to purchase a license or not.  Commenting is always free, but uploading your videos will cost you.  Also, the free account limits you to 25MB per upload, which can be a bit difficult if you have a longer video.  While using my free account, the iPad app seemed a bit restricting as well.  I could not use the microphone on my iPad to record audio over a video that I uploaded using my laptop.  Lastly, the free account restricts a user to only 5 video uploads and does not allow you to delete any video.  Thus, you really need to record video using another program and then upload it once it is completely done, if you want to capitalize on the restricted 5 uploads.

Overall: I really like VoiceThread.  I think it would be excellent with a paid account, but the price point is a bit difficult for me as this is a technology that can only be used with itself (you can’t really use it to add an audio comment to a YouTube video; you can only use VoiceThread commenting on VoiceThread videos).

Below I have embedded the VoiceThread I made for my assignment (direct link here).  This specific video was created by first making a PowerPoint presentation, which I then published to video in order to preserve fonts, transitions, and set slide advancement times.  Then, I uploaded the video to VoiceThread.  While I could upload the .ppx file, VoiceThread could not read the fonts, even after I embedded them into the file.  Thus, this video is actually number 3 of my 5 allotted VoiceThreads.  Once uploaded, I then had to use an external microphone to record my voice because I could not get my laptop microphone to work nor could I use my iPad.

Feel free to comment on the video using VoiceThread or in the comments section on this blog entry.