Learning by Design

This morning I sat down to do some reading. Willingham’s point of view that teachers are better off applying Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) to content versus students got me thinking about eLearning and the principals of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (www.cast.org) argues that accessible curriculum and instruction can be achieved by building in multiple means of presentation, expression and engagement. Essentially, UDL is flexible enough to ensure that even the most diverse learners can achieve. In some ways it reminds me of MI as UDL also is mindful of individual intelligences. eLearning and mobile-learning curriculum approaches promise to engage students in new and innovative ways. In some ways, mobile devices and apps have already delivered on this promise and many young learners use apps in self-directed learning activities. However, in order for teachers to be able to fully utilize these curricular approaches they will also need realistic ways to map out standards to systematically teach content across the core areas.  Essentially, eLearning must be flexible. But it also needs to be precise with respect to content delivery and learning objectives and outcomes. This is at the point that I then lost an entire afternoon to random web searching and you-tube tutorials on the differences between HTML5 and Flash.  My reason for going off in that direction was because of the controversy surrounding the capabilities of each with respect to designing interactive and engaging mobile learning experiences. I seem to have wasted a lot of time just to find out that there are a lot of emotionally charged opinions out there. But essentially, it would seem that there are some fallacies circulating about Flash in great part do to this Apple post: Thoughts on Flash (http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/). I learned that Flash apparently does work well on mobile touch screen devices. See this post: Flash Works On Touch-Based Devices (http://www.leebrimelow.com/?p=2027 ). And that although HTML5 may be the future, it is not there yet so Flash is still useful to many. See this post: Is HTML5 Ready for eLearning Development? (http://www.upsidelearning.com/blog/index.php/2010/05/05/is-html5-ready-for-elearning-development/) .

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Case Study Link

After a little searching, I found a free site that hosts Powerpoints, so here is my case study. I chose to focus on Proloquo2Go which is a communication app that works on iPads, iPod Touch, and iPhones. Schools are starting to purchase this combination of software and hardware to meet the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) needs for students with significant communication impairments. I have approached this case study from a very pragmatic perspective and have taken some time to detail features that are in some ways non-technological, i.e. the cases and other hardware that is available to improve durability and accessibility. Overall the case study is meant to highlight whether or not the Proloquo2Go app is a viable choice for schools when looking to the meet the communication needs of their students who require AAC.



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Intuitive Technology

App browsing and shopping can be an addictive pastime. Its easy to start reading review after review much the same way as someone’s Facebook post can drag you off into reading a series of comments and then eventually other people’s posts until you realize that you don’t even know these people and should really get back to task. So getting back to task now, if you read app reviews you will find out what people like about an app and what they don’t like. If enough people complain about the same absent feature then the developer will eventually update the app to resolve this issue or another developer will design a new app. This is especially true around popular, mainstream apps where the voice of the market is especially powerful. But it seems a lot harder to influence design features when you are a part of a minority group of consumers. For example, consider the dated an inflexible e-textbook we looked at as a group.  Do the publishers of that e-book care about their consumers’s as much as say the developers of Angry Birds. Both are making money and both are serving a consumer.  Maybe the publishers are taking for granted that they will sell their e-book because they do not have a viable competitor or because its consumers are less vocal.  Some other issues raised last week showed people playing a passive role in their interactions with technology. This was especially true in the case of the hospital error where the nurses failed to question the computer. Even though peoples’ lives are increasingly interwoven with technology it seems that sometimes we forget that technology is a product of human intellect and design. As consumers we need to actively guide developers to ensure that technology is flexible and intuitive enough to meet our needs. And as a society we need to remember that technology is a product of our invention and therefore fallible to human error.


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Cell Phone-less Kids

http://www.cellphonesinlearning.com is an interesting resource but it brings up issues of access as well as culture. Some parents perceive cell phones as potentially dangerous because of issues around mobile security. For example, any phone with GPS can be found and photos taken with a phone can be tagged and tracked as well if posted online. There are also other safety concerns around inappropriate texting, messaging and the exchange of media. While some families have gone to great lengths to child proof their cable box and internet access options, child proofing smartphones is a little more challenging. Many service providers offer parental controls for an additional cost.  And Apple has responded to concerns by building in more parental controls into their devices. However, there are still many concerns and challenges that some parents simply do not want to deal with.  Although there are many interesting applications of cell phones in classrooms, what are the alternatives for students who do not have access to this technology? And what about the issue of different parenting philosophies and attitudes towards cell phones and other mobile technologies that present security/safety issues?

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Digital Textbooks: Are We There Yet?

Digital textbooks… What about them? I’ve got a couple. But mostly I’ve got your old school hardback and softcover sorts. I am not really even sure what I think about digital textbooks. Mostly I like the fact that I can just download them. But really that is a convenience that I am seeking out more when I am doing research and want a resource immediately. Textbooks don’t always fall in that category either because I have enough time to shop around for something used and more affordable or because I am still a little old school and want that tangible paper copy to mark up. But what I don’t like is carrying all that stuff around so digital textbooks are nice in the sense it can reduce what you have to carry and yet all your resources are at hand. Of course as I started to contemplate this topic I hit the web to see what others think about digital textbooks. Wow. So right away I happen on Nate the Great at The-Digital-Reader.com. Well Nate is great in the sense he makes a great point that it is sometimes useful to have several resources open at once and in front of you. And yet most book readers are single window apps. I have been there for sure in the old fashioned sense. I love to pretend I am some crazy intellectual recluse and have books, articles etc. spread out and stacked up. It makes me feel better especially when I am struggling with writers block because at least my environment is cheering me on.

And of course there is something to be said about needing to digest multiples sources of info at the same time. And having to close one book and open another book within is a book reader app is not convenient when comparing and contrasting text. Also what about the tactile aspect of reading, highlighting and marking text? This latter point, I think is a little easier to resolve if e-reader developers remember to incorporate options for sensory feedback.

If I consider digital textbooks and programs such that the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) have developed, I can see a greater potential for digital textbooks for K-12 students especially as it relates to Universal Design for Learning.  See http://www.cast.org/learningtools/index.html and the UDL Bookbuilder (web based). Some of these tools are certainly flexible enough to make digital textbooks accessible to a the majority of K-12 learners. Of course issues around access to technology then come into play. Some children may not have computer and or internet access at home and many schools still struggle with adequate internet access especially in rural, older urban schools and low income areas. Digital book readers are coming down in price but these readers often don’t offer the flexibility that CAST’s example of web-based UDL digital books.  Even if such applications could work on more affordable digital readers, these devices still average approximately $200 each. Will schools have the resources to purchase these for home use? And will they be flexible enough for their end-users? The promise of digital textbooks is huge and exciting, but its real world application has some kinks to work out.

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My Son’s IPAD 2

The other day I decided to jog to class so I grabbed by son’s IPAD 2.  It was a gift for my son when he had his last surgery. I felt so bad for him that I spoiled him with the coveted IPAD 2 that he liked to tell everyone that he was getting soon either for his birthday or Christmas. Anyways, as I settled into class another student pulled her matching device out. We were both sporting the same lime green smart cover. She joked that we might get our IPADs mixed up if we were not careful. I laughed and said I doubt it as the numerous kid apps and movies loaded on my son’s would be a red flag.  Before spoiling my son with his very own IPAD, I had in prior years certainly engaged in the “pass back” phenomenon. Mostly because I was trying to buy myself some quiet moments during a long drive or while stuck waiting in line. My children quickly took whatever smart phone or device I had at the time. They also quickly tried to covet my laptop so I bought them their own and loaded it up with lots of learning software. I never took any systematic data on which programs or apps were most effective. However I later learned some of my son’s favorite reading programs were the same his speech pathologist used. Again I am not sure if they were helpful with regard to him becoming more fluent but I can say that e-learning has certainly motivated my children and have made them more excited about learning some traditionally mundane and rote academic skills like memorizing times tables.  I have to laugh over Willingham’s story about the high school students who transformed the focus of their learning project from history to mastering the basics of Powerpoint. I think that e-learning leaves lots of room for diversions but the same is true for more traditional learning forums. Instead of gazing out the window and daydreaming, students are fighting the temptation not to toggle between the on task web assignment and their facebook account. I don’t see this as a problem with technology although certainly app developers need to carefully consider what are effective design principles for young learners. Rather this is a problem with modernizing classroom expectations and learning etiquette.  Learning communities need to be vigilant in how they structure technology access and use in the classroom in order to promote on-task learning behavior as well as ensure that content is motivating yet focused on its intended purpose.


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My First Blog Ever

I have never blogged in my life! I feel the need to disclose this fact first. I don’t have anything against bloggers and I have often read the blogs of others. I just never really thought to try it. Whenever I feel like sharing my thoughts or feelings I usually just pick up the phone and call a friend or send an email. It is a little weird now that I think about it that I haven’t blogged before. I consider myself a techno savvy person. I love everything related to technology and have several apple mobile devices for my two boys and me. Plus blogging would probably improve my writing skills.  So why not blog?


Despite all of my good reasons to take up blogging the truth behind my first blog ever is that I am doing it because it is a required part of my grade.  I am starting to realize that perhaps I am not that different in some ways than that “old-school” teacher who refuses to utilize or integrate the SmartBoard into her curriculum and instruction.  Our personal styles and comfort zones play a strong role in how we choose to share our thoughts and feelings. It also affects the tools a teacher selects and uses. The above is also affected by our experiences growing up. As I noted before I would consider myself tech savvy and a digital native. But after exploring several of the readings I now realize that I fit the category of Generation X. I grew up with things like computers, emails, and Atari. That experience is vastly different from Generation Y or the Millennials who are growing up within the context mobile online social communities with technology in their pockets and every facet of their life. As I continued to peruse the readings, I also explored Twitter for the first time. I had never looked at it before. I thought it was something teenagers did and I regarded it as kind of ridiculous. I was so surprised to see that I could follow the Council for Exceptional Children, the US Department of Ed, CNN, etc. It is wonderful. Convenient and totally accessible! My point to all of this is that even though the use of mobile technologies is growing exponentially, it will take some time and motivation to help the non-Millennials integrate this technology into their individual cultures.

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