Saw this on the Zagg blog that allows users, within a relatively short (10 seconds or so) time frame, to take a back a sent message in GMail. Probably one of those things that you won’t need often but when you do you’ll be glad it’s there.
December 6, 2013
December 3, 2013
My English class finished Friday Night Lights the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break, just enough time to not stretch things out but not enough time to test and start something new. So I decided to try a quick blended experiment. Students would schedule five minute conferences with me in those two or three class days between finishing the book and the test to review for the test. They could come in pairs if they wanted but no more than that. As usual, I used Doodle to schedule the conferences.
I wasn’t expecting much from these conferences, seeing them as a likely unsuccessful experiment but a way to fill the time between finishing the book and the test. I quickly, however, realized how valuable these meetings were, however short they were.
The substance of the meetings ranged from the fairly logistical (format of the test, approach to studying, etc.) to the more substantive and book-related (primary themes, important characters, etc.). After a day or two of the meetings, having realized the usefulness of the meetings, I myself started approaching them more consistently, checking in first about the format and then asking some questions about the book.
In these mini-discussions about the book, it occurred to me that such an approach might even be a viable way to assess, perhaps not as a mandatory assessment but as an option, especially for students with certain accommodations or that don’t test as well in a traditional setting. This approach is obviosuly related to the book group idea, an approach that I have not yet tried (but is on the list…), but this blended experiment was an encouraging first step.
November 24, 2013
I have a meeting on Tuesday that will keep me off campus for two of my four classes, and in the first three of those four classes I’m testing. I didn’t necessarily want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to proctor (though they would have happily had I asked) but with the break coming up I didn’t want to reschedule the tests. So I figured it was high time to let the students test on their own.
The test is on ItsLearning and is all open response anyway, so why not? Well, here a few reasons why not, and then I’ll discuss my thinking on them.
I get it. Of course I get it. But I suspect (or at least I’m hoping) that the ones that would cheat, would cheat as readily in the classroom. And I like to think that I’m vigilant and savvy but, let’s be honest, if they wanted to, especially on the computer, I’m betting they could pull it off (in or out of the classroom). A more positive take on the issue is that, at least at Wayland, it seems that the more you trust students, the more willing they are to honor that trust. That’s not to say of course that they are completely trustworthy at all times but, in general, I have few incidents that involve serious violations of trust.
An interesting variable is that my English 4 class is taking the test tomorrow and Tuesday, depending on the section. The tomorrow class was (appropriately) griping that the Tuesday class could take the test wherever they want. So I made the decision, without much hesitation, that tomorrow’s class could also take the test out of the classroom, even though I would be there. They have the option of coming to class first block to take the test, or taking it elsewhere / at home. I know one student has two frees after my class, so she will wake up, take the test (in her pajamas, according to her), and go right back to bed.
The Tuesday class, with whom I discussed this first, agreed that the test should be taken during the class time. They confidently and consistently suggested that, if the test were scheduled out of class time (I had suggested that evening) that they would either forget or neglect. The tomorrow class didn’t love the test during class time but didn’t protest too vociferously.
So there it is. We’ll see how it goes. I did include an honor code statement on page one of the test (they download the test as a Word .doc, complete it, and upload that same document to ItsLearning), and I reproduce that below.
Any suggestions or comments are welcome (especially as regards experience with this with high schoolers?).
November 8, 2013
I have used Dropbox in the past to collect assignments and more so to make available for students class notes. But this year, especially in my English 4 class, I have committed to using Dropbox more and more to collect assignments. And I am loving it.
We use ItsLearning as our LMS but, as with many things with ItsLearning (and other LMSs I assume) Dropbox takes what is a multi-step process in ItsLearning and reduces it to a single (or at least significantly reduced) step process (and that is for both student and teacher).
The real advantage to Dropbox is the ease of grading. I should also say here that I use Dropbox only for quick / small assignments that require few to no comments; papers are still submitted through ITL (for a number of reasons). On my Mac I navigate the Finder in column view because I can navigate folders using the keyboard / arrow keys rather than the trackpad. Each assignment has a folder into which students save or drag their file. Once in the assignment folder, each document can be quickly and easily reviewed by me by using the arrows to get to each file and by using the quick preview function to see them. (The quick preview function uses the space bar to open up a preview of the document in the Finder without the rime it takes to open in an application.) Any short comments I need to make go in Engrade with the grade for the assignment.
I’m also experimenting this quarter with a new approach that hopefully will streamline make-up / late work (because without (more permanent, i.e. ones that don’t disappear after five seconds) notifications there is no way to know when a student has submitted something and so inevitably you’re checking repeatedly without any assurance that something new will be there): I’m now coloring my active assignment folders green; that signals to students that they can still submit there. Once I grade the submitted files, I will change the color of the folder to red. That signals to students that they should no longer submit there and email the assignment to me. I’ve not used they system yet but I’ll see how it goes.
So give Dropbox a try for collecting assignments (especially using column view). It’s a good tip for streamlining the process.
October 24, 2013
Macros are one of those features that had been on my radar screen for years. I heard about them at some conference and, as an avid (Word) Track Changes user, macros seemed a compelling way to make that even a more efficient process. But they just lay fallow. I never quite got the momentum up to do anything with them. I put them on my summer list this past summer but, again, there they stayed.
So that first wave of papers came in and, as I often do, I found myself writing the same things over and over again: don’t use 1st or 2nd person; don’t use contractions; don’t list examples; be analytical rather than descriptive; etc. Maybe because I was grading the papers earlier than I usually do (don’t worry; they’re still not done); maybe I was looking for a new project (as I always seem to be); or maybe I just got sick of seeing them on my radar screen. Whatever reason, though, I just dove right in.
Just to be clear, a macro is a scripted / personalized keystroke command, i.e. you set a keystroke command (usually a complex one; more on that below), and that keystroke command does something that you program it to (and I don’t mean program in a code sense; again, more on that below).
The process is relatively simple. Begin in Word’s Tools menu. At the bottom is a Macros option. Choose from that Record New Macro. Give the macro a name and then click the ‘Keyboard’ button below in the ‘Assign macro to’ button-board. Then click ok. (If you don’t ‘Assign’ the macro (in the button-board) it will create the macro but doesn’t give you as many instructions. I’m guessing that it records the same as it would otherwise but I prefer to go through all of the steps.) And in the next step you’ll actually set the keystroke (and that’s all you’ll do, despite the preponderance of text boxes). Enter the keystroke you wan to use (usually a two step process with the first being the activator or trigger keystroke (in my case, shift-control-command-c) and the second being the individual key / macro). The ‘Currently assigned to:’ readout below the ‘Press new keyboard shortcut’ tells you if that combo has already been used. (You can replace existing shortcuts but might not want to.)
What sold me on macros, when I really understood their potential, was when I set the set-up macro. When I open a student’s paper, I save it as a corrected version (usually just be appending Corr to the existing file name), I blow it up to 150%, and turn on Track Changes, itself a few-step process. Now, I simply hit shift-control-command-C and then K. That’s the keystroke I set to do all of these things (after saving). From five individual steps to one step I’m ready to grade the paper.
Similarly, I have one macro in Excel. For my assignments with a more structured grade, I like to use Excel for a grade sheet. I can input the number grade and include comments and Excel adds or averages the different grades to yield the final grade. The problem with Excel is that it is difficult (or at least I don’t know how) to duplicate a form in a page-by-page format (I know I can copy and paste but it’d be nice to have a form approach where it automatically makes something a new page; this is when I miss AppleWorks and FileMaker Pro, old school databases rather than spreadsheets). With this assignment, I started using separate sheets within a workbook for each student; this makes it better, but making a new sheet is a multi-step process. A macro, however, makes this a one step process. The macro copies the first sheet, pastes it into a new one, and erases the data from the old sheet. All I have to do now (where before I did a separate step for each of those things) is the macro and changing the name of the sheet.
Some downsides to macros. First and foremost, the keystrokes. Because Word already uses so many defaul keystrokes, you essentially have to be able to play finger Twister on the keyboard to activate the keystroke. (Shift-control-command-C itself takes some dexterity; I first discovered the need for such dexterity when I learned the screen shot keystrokes, especially the addition of option to the keystroke to copy the screenshot right to the clipboard. But it’s not quite as difficult as it sounds after some practice.)
Second, simply remembering them. I’ll admit it. I went a little crazy with recording macros and recorded probably a few (maybe more than a few) too many. But I do tend to remember the ones I use most commonly, and I suspect I will remember more as I use them more; I’ve only graded 10 or 15 papers with them.
Finally, input vs output or the efficiency factor. Many of my first macros were relatively short (awkward phrasing, unnecessary, etc.) but I realized quickly that typing these was pretty much as fast as activating the macro. My later macros took advantage of the macro to include information I might not type, especially repeatedly, as the paper progresses. Now with a single, albeit complex, keystroke I can include a full line or two comment detailing not only the issue but also an explanation of why it is less preferable.
Macros take some work on the front end to be sure. But especially with the onus of the sheer number of papers to be read / graded, they can help you move through that pile more quickly and, more important, potentially include more substantive information in your comments.
I’ve included the Evernote reference page I made to remember them (and, yes, I do toggle over to Evernote fairly frequently to check / confirm) so you can both see the kinds of comments I make and to make fun of how many macros I made (and how few I actually remember…).
October 23, 2013
As I’m sure most if not all of you know, a local teacher was killed, allegedly by one of her students. Few real details beyond the basics have come out but a fuzzy picture of Colleen Ritzer is beginning to emerge. I am not naive enough to try to make sense of such tragedy, nor will I pretend to know someone that I most definitely did not. But a friend of mine here in Worcester on the School Committee (@cascadingwaters) retweeted one of her tweets. I had read about how part of her emerging profile is based on her social media presence, so I checked out her Twitter page.
Wow. Without the sentimentality attached to tragic and premature death (my visit to her page notwithstanding), this was a compelling glimpse into what I suspect is the natural mode of communication and connection of a younger generation of teachers, a mode that I in turn admire and am wary of. But it seems clear from Ritzer’s Twitter page that she was able to balance the natural connections facilitated by Twitter and the more practical side of Twitter that allowed her to use it for pedagogical purposes.
I’d say between 75 and 90 percent of her tweets were school-related. And the majority of these were homework assignments, divided by what appeared to be class but perhaps by some sort of scheduling distinction (a lot of initials were used, initials I assume stand for classes but could have been letter days, bell schedules, etc.). Sprinkled among these assignments were non-assignment but school-related tweets, many of which, because of the time of year, had to do with PSATs:
I appreciate what appears to be an easy mix of directly-school-related and indirectly-school-related material. It shows what appears to be a young teacher with a preternatural appreciation of the balance needed to both help students and endear them to you (which then of course makes it easier to help them); note the hashtag in the second tweet.
It is also clear that she cared about her students in a way that is natural and genuine. More than once on her feed she responds, either to a direct tweet or unsolicited, to what as best I can tell is a student and some aspect of their personal life: the death of a grandparent, a declaration about the difficulty of junior year.
I am conflicted about the ethics of teacher – student contact via social media. On the one hand, I get it. Adults are responsible and shouldn’t / wouldn’t engage in relationships, online or otherwise, that violate the basic compact of our relationships and our vocation (even though, of course, there are examples of exceptions to this rule). And, though I do not use Facebook and do not use Twitter in an outgoing way (i.e. I rarely Tweet and have never sent out a purely personal Tweet), I understand, and have participated in, non-school contact with students (via email or text message) as part of relationship building, trust building, etc. And those relationships are important to me, and I appreciate them and endorse them as advantageous for both student and teacher. But it is clear that Ritzer understood this tension and was able to walk that line in a way that belies her age. Her Tweets are occasionally personal but never in an obnoxious or trite way. And even some of the personal tweets draw connections to her students: one such Tweet about her devotion to Target prompts, again what I assume is, a student to respond that she is working in the Danvers Target.
So as I wrap this up, a few parting thoughts.
- Check out her Twitter page: https://twitter.com/msritzermath. It is tragically now an inert if insightful tribute to what all signs seem to suggest was a teacher with tremendous potential, both realized and, well, potential.
- I would love to know more about her use of Twitter as an educator: do her students follow her and so get their assignments from her feed? was it mandatory for students to follow her? was Twitter the only way she disseminated such information or was there a more traditional parallel?
- Along with #2, on the one hand I never would have known about her use of Twitter if she hadn’t been killed (that an unfortunate realization in itself), but on the other hand she leaves a tantalizing glimpse into the new generation of educators.
- Along with #3, her use of Twitter, and especially the balance she strikes between professional and personal, is emblematic of what teaching is, will, and perhaps even should become, and is emblematic with a comfort level and nativeness (nativity?) that I, and other, older (I’ll just say it) teachers will never possess. Using Twitter for her, I suspect, is as natural as using a dual cassette deck with high speed dubbing to make mix tapes was for me.
I never intended this post to be sentimental or personal, though if it is that I of course have no problem with that. On the other hand, I hope that I have been able to pay some small, professional tribute to one who was clearly already a good teacher who, with her whole career ahead of her, could only become an even better teacher. Ave atque vale.
October 12, 2013
I did some research into MOOCs last year, and it was interesting to see such a different format for learning: mass content delivery, automated grading, peer grading, etc. Especially difficult, I imagine, was tailoring a course that accomplished the instructor’s goals, while still being viable logistically with so many people.
I saw on Coursera’s home page that they were offering a course in the Fundamentals of Online Teaching that is part of a series of courses that could lead to a certificate from UC Irvine. This course seemed not only a good way to first experience a MOOC for myself but also a potential gateway to a certificate that would help me professionally.
I’ve now completed two weeks of the MOOC and I’m not sure I’m impressed / willing to buy in. Part of the lack of buy in is that the certificate requires enrollment in Coursera’s Signature Track (which requires a nominal fee of $39) and an average of over a 90 in the course. And I suppose this is where the problem comes in. The second quiz had an open ended question (I won’t repeat the question here) that required a key word. The first time I took the quiz I included the answer with an explanation (including a colon after the answer). I received no credit for it. Knowing that such questions operate on keywords, I took the quiz again (the course allows you to take quizzes twice) and entered just the answer. Again it was marked wrong (this time I’m not sure why). The point I lost on that quiz left me with an 84 rather than a 94 (or an 8.4 rather than a 9.4), the difference between ‘passing’ for the certificate and not ‘passing’.
Now I realize that I can and probably should email the professor / course, investigate the problem, and solve it such that my grade reflects my knowledge / performance. But, exacerbated by the formal elements of the MOOC, i.e. that I am one of 10,000 students, my investment in the course and my willingness to pursue what is likely a nameless, faceless process is significantly diminished. I’m just not sure I want to be one of thousands of students who might be sending along the same issue (and the issue has already shown up in the discussion board).
So I’m certainly not willing to write MOOCs off. They can provide engaging content in an egalitarian way that few other resources can. But this experienced has introduced me first hand to the problems, or at least the difficulty, of attaching any kind of credit or mandated performance to a MOOC. I would have no problem with the quiz question if I were taking the course for my own edification. But, if I had in fact signed on for the credit, dealing with that quiz question, forced because my grade determines my progression, would be frustrating and ultimately I suspect not worth it.