We’re Getting There, LanSchool

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Gave another full period test today in English class, and had a number of students go to LRT to take the test. I suspect that the reading amount (at least before the Sandy days off) was relatively low (perhaps higher with the days off), so I wanted to make sure that there was no wandering on the Internet during the test. LanSchool, of course, is the tool to do this.

We’ve had some difficulty with LanSchool but that seems to be largely fixed. I had not only most of my students show up but also those students that were on the other side of the building in LRT show up. (And I didn’t take the time to figure out whether the Missing Students on LanSchool were there but whose computers weren’t working or just students who weren’t there.) There was one student who wasn’t taking the test, whose computer showed up with about five minutes left in class (waching video), so I messaged him via LanSchool and he came by after class, explained that he was late to school, and we set up the make-up time for his test.

So all in all a good day (so far) with LanSchool.

My First Full Period Test on ItsLearning

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My goal this year is not to use the photocopier and, thus far, I have met that goal. The two hurdles I anticipate are full period tests and mid-terms, the latter of which, to be frank, I’m not sure I’ll clear. I did, however, attempt my first full period test on Friday, with mixed-type questions and some experiments, and it went better than expected.

The test was for my Latin 3/4/5 course and covered two grammatical topics as well as the first fifteen or so lines of Ovid’s Apollo and Daphne. Traditionally, in a paper test, students would receive a copy of Ovid’s text for reference that would also have words and sections highlighted (italics and underline) for reference to specific questions. Students would also receive a vocab sheet. Right there, that presented a problem: juggling a vocab sheet, text, and the questions, seemed unwieldy. The solution? Create a graphics file of the text (via screen shot) and upload it to each question (why a graphics file rather than a text file below). For the vocab, I did upload a separate file, but showed students how to toggle quickly between applications using command-tab.

I also was concerned about cheating, especially with the angles that the screens present. The class, however, is in a double-row U, so the solution was to have the back row turn their desks around, thus putting everyone back to back. It also seemed that, because there is only one question on the screen at the same time, the timing of cheating would be harder (as opposed to a paper test where the whole test, or at least large portions of it, are visible at one time).

I had had a discussion with a colleague (HP) in preparation for the test about the efficacy of multiple choice questions, and she echoed a sentiment that I had shared, namely that the integrity of a question is undermined if there is the possibility of guessing it right. I had thought that but the advent of electronic assessment (beginning with Promethean’s ActivVote) forced me to do otherwise. I still think that to some extent but am willing to sacrifice that for the benefits of e-multiple choice (instant feedback). But our discussion got me thinking about that issue some more and if there was a way around it. ItsLearning quiz module does in fact provide a work around.

ItsLearning has a question type called hotspot in which the teacher uploads an image and then highlights an area of that image as the right area. Students then have to click within the correct area to get it right (imagine a map quiz; you’d upload the map and highlight, say Pennsylvania on the map; students would have to click in PA to get the PA question right). I figured I could use this feature for some of the grammar questions (and even improve upon them). Here’s what I did:

  • I uploaded the graphics file of the text to a hotspot question.
  • I unchecked the box to scale the image to the size of the space (the hotspot question has a fixed space in which the graphic appears; if it is scaled down, it becomes very small; with the box unchecked, students have to scroll through the image but at least can see it).
  • I then wrote the a question and highlighted the correct word on the graphics file of the text, e.g. In line 452, what word does Peneia agree with? The word Daphne is highlighted, and students have to click on that word to get it right.
  • I saved the question, and then copied and pasted it 15 times. This prevents me from having to upload the image each time.
  • To change the highlighted area, click the highlight and then push the clear button; then highlight the new area.

The other questions were sort, for ordering forms correctly, multiple choice, either/or, and paragraph (for the translations).

Some issues that came up during the test.

  • The copying and pasting sometimes resulted in missed changes (e.g. line #s), so that it would say 452 when it should say 455.
  • Taking the test in Chrome, with its swipe-back function (i.e. if you swipe to one side or the other it will surf to the previous web site or to the next if there is one), caused some students to lose work if they accidentally swiped off of the page (this was especially frustrating on the translation pages, which required the longest answers).
  • The test took longer than I thought. I suppose I assumed that the multiple choice would move more quickly than their paper fill-in equivalents, but that might not have been the case. I did take about 10 mins at the beginning of class to go over it, and did create a dummy test for the hotspot question so the class could try it before the actual test, but it still surprised me that three or four were still working at the end of class.
  • ItsLearning seemed to do well with student mistakes (hitting the wrong button, even closing the window); ITL seemed to save answers as students went, which was a nice feature for them.

We’ll see how the grading goes, both the open-ended themselves and the combination of computer-graded and me-graded.

Here’s my question, though. Clearly some students prefer paper tests. To what extent should I honor this preference? There are plenty of preferences I don’t honor; should technology receive special treatment? And what are the factors that go into making this decision?

I’ll keep this updated as I grade and hear more from the students.



Nearpod for the iPad: Makes Me Wish We Had iPads

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Can’t remember where I heard about Nearpod; I assume Twitter, but I feel like elsewhere. In any case, I finally got around to trying it out and, wow, does it have potential. You download the Nearpod app (free) to your iPad as teacher and have students download the app to their iPads (also free). You create a teacher account that links to the Nearpod website. You download content to the Nearpod app on your iPad, either from their library / store (some free, some not) or that you create (content can either be created natively on the Nearpod website, or you can upload .pdfs).

Ultimately, Nearpod is a content sharing tool, but it allows that content to be interactive (I’ve included screenshots of these features below). Your account automatically includes a slideshow that showcases Nearpod’s different functionality, so I set up one iPad as the teacher iPad and the other as the student. I should say here that both times I shared a presentation, my student iPad (the one receiving it) froze and had to be restarted. The second time, though, it downloaded the presentation successfully (I should also say that the student iPad is an iPad 1, so I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it).

When you launch a presentation, Nearpod assigns it a pin. You share this pin with your students who input it into the Nearpod app on their iPad, which then downloads the presentation. You get a list of students signed in (students are prompted for their name and an optional student id). As you swipe through your presentation, it swipes along on the student iPads. But what makes Nearpod stand out are the interactive features. There is a draw feature that allows students to draw on their screens (the example was to circle objects that begin with the letter ‘i’) and then the teacher iPad receives thumbnails of those drawings. There is a quiz feature, a poll feature, and a sharing website or images feature (the latter of which allows them to scroll through the images at their own pace). The interactive features must be created via the Nearpod website, and seem difficult, if not impossible, to integrate into an existing presentation. But Nearpod seems like a fantastic tool for one to one schools, and makes me a bit wistful that we didn’t go with iPads for our own 1:1.

LanSchool Gaffe

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LanSchool is the monitoring program that we have to keep track of what students are doing on their laptops in class. We’ve had all sorts of trouble getting it to work right, but it seems to be pretty much ok at this point.

I use word clouds for class a fair amount (http://www.wordle.net), but the problem is that they are difficult to share. Wordle has a bit of a cumbersome save / search method. One of LanSchool’s features is to beam out a student’s computer to the other students, and so this seemed like both a good use of LanSchool and a good test to see how it was working.

I dial up LanSchool and most computers are visible. Close enough. And I start sharing the word clouds by beaming a student’s computer with the word cloud visible to the other computers. And around the room we go. So maybe 10 minutes into this a student shows up at the door, computer in hand. I know who she is but don’t really know her; she’s not in any of my classes. She comes in a bit sheepishly and says that Mr. Chase sent her. He and I are pretty good friends, and I assume she has some sort of computer question or that he does and he sent her to ask me. She turns her computer screen to me and on her screen is my student’s word cloud.

She had signed up for this course but dropped it. I had made my LanSchool lists before she dropped and, especially since I wasn’t using it much because of the glitches, never edited my class list. So there she was in history, minding her business, when all of a sudden her computer started showing random images (my students’ word clouds). Ten minutes later another student came to my room with the same problem.

Don’t worry, though. My class list is now edited.

Twitter Pedagogy Rather Than Twitter Housekeeping

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I like and have used Twitter for housekeeping things, primarily communicating with students. This morning I spontaneously decided to run a little experiment. Over breakfast, I was perusing my Twitter feed and found this article in the New York Times about the right of Texas high school football cheerleaders to include bible verses on their signs for their school’s football game. We’re in the midst of reading Friday Night Lights in class, and I considered scrapping my plans for today and reading and discussing this article instead. But I figured that I would use this as opportunity to try Twitter out for pedagogy. So I tweeted the shortlink out to my class after reading it with a little teaser before it. The experiment isĀ  1. wheter the students will be annoyed or intrigued by the tweet (which goes to their phones) and 2. whether the students will actually read the article, both because of technical issues (reading it from their phone, even if it’s possible; not all have smartphones, of course) and because of interest. Stay tuned.

Faxing from the Computer

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I had to fax something this morning. I was all ready to print, walk it over to the main office with the fax number, and fax away. But it occurred to me (not fast enough, I might add) that there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do this from my computer (especially with my paperless initiative).

I have a couple of GoogleVoice numbers, and so I began there. It’s Google, after all; surely with a Google phone number I can essentially attach a document to that number and fax it to another. Apparently not. Google didn’t seem to answer my question about GoogleVoice sending faxes but it was pretty clear about GoogleVoice numbers not being able to receive faxes (and I assumed vice versa, so didn’t spend too much time investigating).

So I hit the web and found this post about faxing via the web and the first on the list was perfect for me. Faxzero allows five free faxes per day (three according to the post), which is more than enough for me (and I assume it is limited by email address, so I also assume that using multiple email addresses would be a workaround to the fax limit). There is a limit on page numbers and size, but again no problem for me. And it’s very easy. No account to make, even (which surprised me). Enter your name and email on one side, the recipients name and fax number on the other side, attach / upload the file, and include a note for the cover page. Faxzero emails you a confirmation email (which went to my spam folder) in which you must click a link before the fax is sent, and then sends within 20 mins another confirmation email that the fax was successfully sent (or not). Still waiting on that second email, but don’t see why it wouldn’t go through. And all that time I saved not wrangling with the printer and the fax machine allowed me to write this post.