Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Cheap voting pods

I recently found a website called through a blog/podcast I subscribe to called TechTalk4Teachers. The site was mentioned as Mr. Grissom as the tech pick of the week. The site enables you to set up either multiple choice answers or simple discussion questions that people can respond to via their the text messaging feature of their cell phone. One of the best parts about this site is that as people send in their responses to the site, it automatically updates the graphs and discussion in real time. The other best part about this is that it is all free, only ask for a simple donation if you find the site useful. Although for the price of a small donation to the site the savings to you and your school/district can be huge.

There are some potential drawbacks that are not the big in my opinion but are worth noting. Even though there is no fee for the site standard text messaging rates do apply from the phone company (if you/your students are not on an unlimited texting plan). I don't see this as a huge problem because most kids I surveyed are on an unlimited plan. The other drawback is that it does limit those students who don't have cell phones to using a computer or borrowing a friends. Because they can borrow a friends (one thing they are apt to share) it negates the need for students to access the web to submit their answers. The only other drawback is the limited selection of question types one has to choose from. However I don't see this as a huge drawback as well in that mostly this would be used to get quick feedback to help guide instruction rather than for a formal assessment.

One of the things that is all the rage now are the interactive voting pods that are accompanied with interactive whiteboards and other presentation devices. These devices can cost thousands of dollars and need a ton of setup time and training. Now don't get me wrong these devices are useful and are starting to show some impact on student learning. However with you are able to do the instant voting and discussion portion of this, albeit in a limited fashion, with just a simple internet connection and student cell phones. Now I can hear the cat calls from the balcony already, "Let kids use their cell phones in class? You have to be kidding." No I am not kidding. I know that until recently I was constantly fighting with kids to keep their cell phones out of sight, turned off, etc. But then I start to slowly allow them to use them. First as research devices and simple calculators also as digital cameras in my digital photography class, know I am starting to use them with What I have found is that as I allowed them to use them in class for academic reasons my problems with them decreased to almost nil. Plus I am hitting one of our state tech standards by teaching students the ethical and appropriate use of technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tech Wednesday: Groovin communication

This is tech Wednesday for 5-6-09. There have been a few of you asking me more about Microsoft Groove lately and how I can see it being used or how I use it. Thank you for sharing your responses in how you have been using it or how your students have been using it, even if it was by accident.

My building started exploring Groove as a way to communicate between classrooms and office staff in lieu of phones. We thought it would be better as you wouldn't have the constant interruption of the phone ringing etc. We worked on it for a couple of months but found that it was more cumbersome than the good old phone. If you were sitting at your computer constantly it worked fine but as any good teacher knows you can't be tied to your computer all the time. What we did find it useful for was collaboration between colleagues on projects. As you are able to share documents, create workspaces, etc. through Groove you are able to have a mini workspace where you can edit, comment, and share, information about documents in real time and at less cost than a program such as MS SharePoint. The pluses with Groove are that if you use the public server you have much less hassle with passwords, etc. All one needs is Groove installed on all machines and then send out invite for those who you want to join your workspace. However using the public server might pose issue for security that one who is more techie than I might comment on.

Another way I am starting to experiment with using Groove is for in-class communication with students. As one of our readers pointed out in one of his comments my students (as did his) found groove by "accident" on their machines. At first I panicked, should I let students know about this, what if they get distracted, ahhhh. But then the teacher/guide took over and saw this as an opportunity to work with students in their realm so I let them go. What I found was that there was and still is some distraction going on with chatting but I have seen students use it to ask me and each other questions about assignments, share assignments with me and others (on group projects). It has been interesting watching them play with this new tool. They have taken the time to make it theirs and find ways to use parts of it that meet their needs and ignore the parts they don't need. Now I know some of you may balk at this in saying why would students in the same classroom need to use a chatting tool to communicate with each other on a project. At first I would agree with you but then again we have to think about who we are teaching. Our students (digital natives) are more comfortable communicating electronically than face to face, so if it keeps them engaged in learning and helps them get the project done then I am all for it. I can say this and not feel like I need to turn in my teaching certificate because the objectives for my class center on showing students how to use technology ethically and to solve problems. Now if I was a communications, social studies, writing, teacher I might think differently. One other cool way students are using groove is to turn in assignments to me. Instead of having to post an assignment to our district portal or print it out they simply Groove it to me. Now I only have 2 or 3 students who are doing this but it is serving as an eye opening trial for me. I am actually considering having students next year use groove in my classes have groove accounts and hand in assignments that way rather than online or in a hand in box. It will enable me to give them faster feedback on their work and will also cut down on the paper I use. I can also see this a facilitating the writing/review process as well in giving students a "high tech" way to do peer editing of their work which I find hard to get them to do unless I force them to do it.

I love to see your comments so if you are using or know of someone who is using groove I encourage you to share your ideas here.