Some Twitter Meta-Thoughts (not from me)

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Saw this post on Twitter and liked how it conceived of and verbalized Twitter as a comprehensive learning tool. I’m still not at the point where I want to integrate it as a learning tool into my classroom, but posts like this will help when I take that leap.


Plagiarism and Copyright: The Napster Syndrome

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Saw this white paper on plagiarism hopping around Twitter and found it mostly interesting. It essentially breaks down plagiarism into 10 types, ranked by severity, with a brief explanation of each (plus pithy names and icons for each). The list at the beginning is interesting as are the examples at the end; the middle, discussing the studies on which it was based, I could take or leave. But what I liked most about it was that it approached plagiarism (and by extension copyright) as a grey area rather than a black and white area. I find most discussions with colleagues about copyright frustrating because they tend to be both rigid and defensive about it, a syndrome I’ve taken to calling the Napster Syndrome.

The combination of the web and the Napster case 10 years ago (when was it even?) seems to have made people terrified that the federal government is going to bust down their door and haul them off for having a couple of illegally downloaded songs on their computer or, worse, having included images in a PowerPoint without a web address citation. And this is the legacy of Napster: copyright neurosis.

I am both a writer and a photographer, publishing books and selling photographs, both of which of course involve copyright. Do I want my work protected? Of course. And I want the work of other creators protected as well. But, more important, I want common sense. I want people to think things through and figure out the extent to which what they’re doing is really a violation of the spirit of the copyright law. If I use an image per slide of Rome in my 50 slide PowerPoint presentation (deadly boring, I would guess), do I really need to cite the source of each of those images? Am I really infringing on the ability of that photographer / creator to profit from their creation? Am I claiming those images as my own? Would anyone in that room assume (or care) that I took those images? What we can’t ever do is pawn something of as our own that is not our own, either in spirit or execution. That is clearly a violation of copyright and/or plagiarism and I certainly don’t endorse this. But can’t we also ease up on this maniacally blind adherence to a law that, while important, isn’t quite as important to us as we want to make it out to be.

Teach your students about copyright and fair use and citing sources and all of those related topics. Make sure of course that they know that they can’t claim someone else’s work or idea as their own. But also let them know that the explosion of information available on the web makes copyright laws much more complicated than they used to be (hence the advent of Creative Commons, a great resource and a better idea) and that, as with most rules / laws, a common sensical approach is always best.

Paperful: Problems with Going Paperless

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I have officially come to detest paper. I’m at a faculty meeting and there’s a handout going around and my first thought is whether I can get this digitally, whether on ItsLearning or via email. It’s not an environmental thing; it’s an efficiency thing. Every piece of paper I get requires a decision and a place. With my iPad, neither applies: I can open it via email and, if it is only an immediate need, I can delete it with the email. If I want to save it, I can put it in iBooks. Even though things ‘pile up’ in iBooks, those piles are neither visually oppressive nor as difficult to reduce.

But paperless has its difficulties, mostly when dealing with those that are paperful, and that is both students and adults. Towards the end of first quarter I collected a number of projects: Medieval completed their Dante Travelogue projects, Archaeology their Greek Vase projects, and Classical their Summer Reading projects (ok, those weren’t collected at the end of the quarter). These are all projects that can be done electronically / paperless; the Greek vase project is done paperless in the online version of the archaeology class. But the majority of students decided to hand these projects in on paper. Those projects are graded but here is the accumulated paper / view:

This should not be the desk of a paperless teacher. So what to do? I have to be more aware that students are not as willing to be paperless as I want them to be. I also have to show them alternatives to paper submissions, even if they complete their project on paper: the Greek vase project requires paper / the construction of paper Greek vases, but my online students take pictures of their vases and submit the pictures rather than the vases themselves.

The other area that has proven more difficult is ebooks. I like ebooks; I like reading them, marking them up, having (all of) them with me wherever I go without having to dig a book out of my bag. But they also lead to device overload. I have my laptop hooked up to my projector, and sometimes I use my iPad to control that laptop and/or provide notes from around the classroom. If I’m doing that, though, that precludes my use of the iPad for an ebook (and toggling back and forth between iBooks and Splashtop / Doceri is at best cumbersome and at worse technically not feasible). Does that mean I need a second iPad (and I of course meaning every teacher if this is the direction we’re moving in)? Or do I sacrifice the mobility that the iPad provides in terms of notes and classroom management for the sake of the ebook. At this point, no question the former, but it’s a choice I didn’t anticipate having to make.

I love being paperless but perhaps I love it too much; I have come now to detest any paper handed to me. But it is a noble goal to go paperless, if for no other reason than the efficiency. I will continue to work at it. Any suggestions?

Thoughts on the 1:1 (Probably not the Last One Titled That)

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This is a piece that has been germinating for the last few months, as I’ve grown more accustomed to the 1:1, both its positives and its negatives. But I’m constantly being surprised by it, by what it allows students to do (both good and bad) and what it forces me to do as a teacher.

What prompted the entry in the immediate: I showed the Secrets of the Parthenon (PBS Nova) video today in Archaeology. Last block on a Monday back from vacation with a number of students lost to the Lincoln field trip, seemed like a good choice. But of course videos always introduce conflict: I certainly do show videos and I have no problem showing them but there is always that part of you that feels like a cop out. The solution? Worksheet (uh-oh; did I just make a potentially bad situation even worse?). PBS provides a series of questions to go with the video, so I uploaded those questions to ItsLearning and had them answer them as they watched.

Here’s how it went (or perhaps I should say here are the various situations that occurred):

  1. I’d like to think that some students did what I wanted them to do, i.e. watch the video and answer the questions. I’m not sure that’s true, though.
  2. The most common approach was a GoogleDoc that students worked on together. I told them that I wanted them working on their own but to use a GoogleDoc, I suppose, could be considered working on one’s own (but of course it doesn’t have to be); I let it go because I wanted to see what came of it. It was cool, though, to see each person working on the same document.
  3. Some students Googled the answers to the questions independent of the video.
  4. At least one student actually found the questions / handout on the PBS website (the full handout of which of course included the answers), a scenario that hadn’t even occurred to me.

So overall not a particularly successful class. What I should have done (in retrospect) is either have the students pair up with one computer showing the video and the other used for answering the questions (with shared headphones) or have students watch the video on their computer individually and toggle back and forth to answer the questions.

But the bigger question it raised was this: is the advent of the internet, of 1:1 initiatives, of tech-savvy (or at least tech-creative) students rendering video obsolete, especially specific directed video? I can certainly show movies and have students close their computers; those movies are designed to spark bigger picture thinking, to make broader connections to the curriculum, and students can write about them without having to take notes. But the information-dispensing class-watched video seems to be obsolete / unnecessary in the 1:1 classroom. That was the most enlightening part of today’s Archaeology class.

On a more positive note, my English 4 class showed the positives of the 1:1. We kicked off our unit on Title IX today and I wanted to develop the unit further so I came up with a new kick-off activity. Each student or pair of students chooses a specific Title IX case. They find the case using a GoogleNews search and limiting it to a state (the state an arbitrary designation but to avoid having students do the same story). Once the story is approved by me (to avoid the common ‘Impact of Title IX’ stories), they then research the story further and craft a presentation that they will present next week.

The students, after some clarification about search methods (I’d say 3/4s of the class didn’t know the effect of searching for a string in quotations vs. not) and the right types of cases, were into it. They would triumphantly ask if a state was taken when they found a good article (interestingly finding an article from a state and asking about the state rather than beginning with a state and searching for that state; that was unexpected), and were perusing, I would say, at least 5-10 different articles trying to find one that worked. This is certainly not an activity that couldn’t be replicated without the 1:1 but of course the 1:1 made it that much easier.

I have erred for these last three months on the side of letting my students use their computers more rather than less. I have given them access and responsibility in terms of their computers. I am not uncomfortable with this decision; I police when necessary (I closed four computers today alone) but try to minimize that, only intervening when computer use becomes distracting to other students. I leave it to students to determine the use of their time and computer, and if they are distracted or not engaged I blame myself more than them. By the same token, the 1:1 is forcing me to reconsider what a class looks like. If I want them to have their computers and use them regularly, how do I have them do that in a way that engages them and their computer? How do I incorporate their computers in a way that doesn’t just render paperless what they could otherwise do on paper (e.g. take notes)? These are the questions I’m struggling with. Any thoughts?


Online Flash Cards / Study Sites?


On a bit of a whim, I had my Latin students make electronic flashcards for some vocab. They seemed to enjoy the activity, and so we’ve continued it as a fairly regular assignment. But it raised the question of what is the best tool for online studying / flash cards. The students have been using Quizlet and StudyBlue, the latter of which will allow images for free (the former of which won’t). StudyBlue can also organize groups into classes, which seems an interesting possibility (haven’t investigated whether Quizlet can do this, though I suspect it can). I’ve used Evernote Peek and KYW (Reader) in the past but not with students. I’ve also used the quizzing sites (Quia, etc.). Any thoughts on these sites or others? What’s out there that I’m missing? I’m interested in this for both my Wayland classes and my online classes. Any input would be appreciated.

Twitter to the Rescue (again)

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Teaches and peers tend to react to Twitter the way I do to Facebook: utter disdain. ‘I don’t tweet’ they often say with derision. What I think in response is ‘neither do I’. I’m not interested in Twitter for the audience it might provide me; my aphorisms, rants, and anecdotes certainly belong with me. Rather, Twitter for me is a great way to receive information. So over breakfast, I’ll browse through the New York Times, the Boston Globe, SportsCenter, etc. all from my Twitter feed. Those stories come to me rather than I having to go to all of them.

This feature became particularly useful last night. I was showering, and noticed that the water pressure was conspicuously low. If my wife wasn’t doing laundry, I knew we were in trouble (and might have been either way). Twitter, however, to the rescue. From a Worcester school committee member’s Twitter feed (thanks, TN) as well as the Worcester city Twitter feed, I found out immediately what was going on: a major water main break and the water to the entire city had been shut off.

So, try Twitter out. I don’t want to hear your 140-character thoughts. But you might want to have news and interests come to you rather than you going to them. And that’s what Twitter’s great for.


Twitter: Did I Mention I’m Glad To Have You Back?

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My travails with Twitter are well documented here, but I’m in and in for good. I wrote in previous entries about my flirtation with Kikutext (ultimately a bit of a goldigger) and my sheepish but resolved return to Twitter with some extra goodies in hand (Splitweet and TweetCaster). Here are a couple of pro-Twitter anecdotes.

Hurricane Sandy of course just hit. We missed two days of school in the second-to-last week of the quarter and I was giving a test in one class and having presentations in another on one of those days. Many of my students were without power, independent of whether they would have gone to ItsLearning (our CMS) even if they had power. Via Twitter I was able to reach at least many of them in a more direct and less power-dependent way (their cell phones, which of course may not have been charged but are not directly tied to power and can be portably charged, i.e. bringing a charger somewhere with power) to update them about the test and presentations.

So now we’re back in school, and both the end of the quarter and missing assignments loom. I finally got caught up on a lot of that little grading, exactly the kind of assignments that tend to fall through the cracks more than the bigger assignments, so the grades were about as current as they were going to be. Once that was done, I sent out two tweets, one urging students to check Engrade (where their grades are kept) and the other telling them to email me any late assignments rather than posting them to ItsLearning (so that the assignments come to me rather than me having to go search them out).

So, Twitter, apologies for the wandering eye, but I’m happy to be back.

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