Thursday, February 3, 2011

iPad - Marvel or Menace?

This class we talked about the iPad, and went through a number of
"apps" that are available for it. This sort of walkthrough was interesting, but I always find that I learn much more from actually diving into the technology hands-on. It would have been very informative to be able to pass the iPad around the class while we talked about it.

My impression is that the iPad is attempting to replace conventional computing with a series of simple push-button applications and a virtual keyboard. I don't know if this is a reasonable substitute to a full-power computer, because I haven't used one, but I imagine that the proprietary nature of Apple's line of iProducts will prevent it from becoming a widespread and revolutionary tool, able to adapt to its user's needs immediately, and run software designed by anyone.

But the competitors are coming, and there is clearly a demand for the technology, whether it is because of Apple’s well-tuned sense of novelty or because people actually have a need for it. The concept is from smart-phone technology, of course, but the device is larger, and costs much more.

Similar devices that are more specialized, such as the Kindle, are less in demand because of Apple branding and because of the increasing need in computer technology for efficiency and convenience.

The way the iPad has come onto the scene feels very much to me like it is an attempt to produce the big-screen TV effect for a smart phone (sans phone). It is attempting to replace the netbook as an efficient internet surfing device. Unfortunately in learning more about the iPad I discovered that you can’t multitask on it. As a Mac user who is used to running six programs at once, word-processing as I scan emails and check my calendar, I find this flaw to be unacceptable and deal breaking. I no longer am interested in owning one.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Smart Boards

Hello, future. The smart board is surely a glimpse at what is in store for us in the next thirty years of teaching. Maybe it will or maybe it won’t catch on, but the fact that some people got this piece of machinery together means that we are moving in this direction. The mouse will be nearly obsolete in 10 years, I predict, because we will all be swiping and dragging our hands, wrists and toes all over our computer screens (if they are even still called computers). Yes, it won’t be long before we have more sophisticated systems in place in our schools than even Jean-Luc Picard (of Star Trek) could have imagined.

Of course, all burgeoning technologies have their drawbacks, challenges, and mistakes. I think it is a mistake, for example, to have a pen tray. I hope that feature is entirely removed soon. There are proprietary pieces to be lost, without which the board loses some functionality (the ability to select pen color at will) and potential for damage (what if the wrong marker makes it into the tray?). Also the fact that the board we saw in class today is dependent on a video projector makes it difficult to use with extreme accuracy, whereas a board which could be backlit would be much more efficient, self-contained and accurate.

It does seem to have great potential for lesson planning, digital object manipulation, and interactive computing, especially the software portion of the package. I can also see the advantage of having a document reader when using a smart board. Being able to draw on real paper documents with the smart board pen would be a useful way to highlight information in a handout, and as long as the classroom was set up to support multiple projection sources, it shouldn’t be a huge problem to do so. Much less time is spent on making transparencies, etc. You can also zoom with a document reader.

I was interested to learn more about how Smart boards are used in classrooms, so here is a video I found on YouTube.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Confession of a Choral Teacher

This is my confession.
I stand guilty of sin – specifically the sin of heresy against the Lord of Educational Technology. I as a teacher am entrusted with and expected to use PowerPoint, as well as projector screens, Smart boards, email and whatever technologies are available, to make my lessons approachable and comprehensible to my plugged in pupils. I have broken this sacred trust on more than one occasion, however, for several reasons.
For one, I do not have prep time to create extensive PowerPoints for every class I teach. My time goes into planning rehearsals, and into photocopying forms, communicating with parents, planning concerts and field trips. The number one priority must be music, and that’s where I feel like I fall short of my expectations on the technology education spectrum.

This is also my podium.
My second defense against the charge of heresy is that I am a music teacher, and I typically teach in a choir class, which operates very differently from the typical high school learning environment. We sit in rows, stand, and move around, always using our own bodies to make music. It may be low-tech, but learning happens on a high order, and it’s learning about our own natural abilities to make music. There is a beauty in a rehearsal atmosphere that defies the grace of a Smart board and surpasses the need for document readers and mobile phones.

I am required by my students, the music, and myself to be immediately responsive to what I hear, and to teach musical concepts as they arise. I cannot in this context make use of “educational” technology.

Choir is about performing as a team, in harmony and unity. It is similar to a gym class in this way, and also in that we are using our physical selves to learn and embrace curriculum. Gym class also typically does not involve many technological presentations.

One must state that students don’t seem to mind the lack of note taking and deskwork in either of these learning environments.

Lord, have mercy on me. I have sinned.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Tech

This course has scope to consider so many possible avenues for exploration into educational technology and related issues that it is almost dangerous to lump all these avenues together. It would almost be better if communications technology were specified, or if we focused on research and presentations in particular. With a course named Teacher and Tech, however, we are constrained by our freedoms. Any technology that could potentially have an application in the classroom becomes our course material. Any idea that loosely connects technology to the idea of learning becomes a text.

One could say that we have not lived up to the idea of drawing those links yet between teachers and the technological cornucopia that is 2011. So far we have explored different technologies available to teachers and generalist classrooms. Some examples include Powerpoint, (although we have not spoken at all about projectors and screens) blogging, Podcasts, virtual classrooms, film and internet resources. We have spoken less about how to obtain technology for your classroom, how to decide whether a certain technology fits the bill as educational and useful, and what might be the different technological requirements of a specialty class such as music, art or power mechanics.

In terms of dialogues on the idea of technology in the classroom, we have had several good ones. One of them centered around a video in which kids of this generation are seen to be spending ridiculous amounts of time online, text messaging and playing video games. The video did a good job of showing that these kids are actually normal, except in some behaviors. One topic which I think bears further discussion is that we as teachers need to either meet students where they are at, in terms of using their technology (despite fears of pandering to the student’s whims) or teach the ethics of technology, reasonable restraint of “screen time,” and the value and nuance of face-to-face meetings with real people. I would argue that we can teach both, but the real debate is how far to lean one way or the other.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

First Impressions

This is my second course blogging experience, for Teacher and Technology. My first was for a class last term about classroom management. Anyways, it's nice to be back online, and here goes another term of blogging up a storm.

My first impressions of the course were largely guided by the media presented in the first class, namely a Norman McLaren film by the name of Opening Speech. This was an excellent way to open a class about technology, because it presents some of the difficulties of living in an age where teachers rely on technologies to be effective in presentation. In this particular context, it was effective and rather charming to be welcomed in a humorous way. The film consisted of a man attempting to make a speech, but being fought by his communications technology. First, his speech notes were crumpled and out of order, so he abandons them. Then his microphone seems to take on a life of its own, and we are treated to a Marx Brothers type of slapstick comedy as the microphone evades every attempt the speech-giver makes to speak into it. Ladders, nails and pure strength prove ineffective against the reticent device, and he is forced to abandon (read: kill) this communication aid as well. Next, he takes a bigger leap, and physically jumps into the projection screen, where we see the content he had attempted to get across in a speech on film. This is where the context becomes important; the film was originally made for the Montreal film festival, where the power of film would have been the message to that audience. To our class, however, without the context of “film festival” we see that technology gives us options about how to communicate information, and that we can explore different options. It also encourages us to be tenacious in our attempts to use technology.

I am enjoying the discourse on Information and Communications Technology theory in the course thus far. Hearing something that we all know in an intuitive way described so academically is somewhat like an out of body experience, but it is an interesting perspective to come at ICT from.