Spotdox for Remote Computer Access

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I read about Spotdox in the latest MacWorld and it seems useful. Apparently, it hooks into your Dropbox folder and from there gives you remote access to the files on your computer to be copied into Dropbox should you need something and not have it (something that has happened to me more than a few times).

You download the app and copy it into the applications folder (standard stuff). It asks permission to access your Dropbox folder and, remotely, you log into the Spotdox website to access your computer. (I wrote about accessing my computer remotely using Splashtop on the iPad, which works well, but this is a bit more of a targeted app / solution.)

According to MacWorld, it is free for the first 10,000. It’s still free but they’re one download closer to it not being free.

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Thanks to Conference Attendees and Organizers

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I just want to thank everyone that helped organize and that attended the MAVA (MA Vocational Administrators, rather than MA Virtual Academy, which I originally thought) professional development conference and the Wayland Literacy Institute. It was great to have such an informed and involved audience at both. And remember that each presentation is available for download in the Conference Presentation tabs above. Thanks again, and enjoy the summer.

SubmitBox for Collecting Assignments?

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I read about SubmitBox in a comment on a blog and figured I’d check it out. It basically gives you online space for your students to upload their assignments which then syncs directly to your Dropbox account. The advantage, as its demo video points out (at bottom of the home page linked above and embedded below), is that there is no longer any uploading and downloading of assignments by you; students upload to the web site and the web site automatically puts the files in a SubmitBox folder in your Dropbox folder. This folder of course is then synced among all devices and computers and students get feedback as soon as you grade the assignment (again, because of the syncing).

This has potential for a number of reasons. I like the no uploading or downloading feature. That indeed can be a pain. ItsLearning’s bulk download of assignments takes care of one end of this process, but the corrected versions still need to be uploaded individually. I do it, but it might be nice not to have to. More important, I used Dropbox’s shared folders for collecting assignments during the iPad pilot and it was indeed easy and nice to have assignments right there. My concern was the public nature of those folders, that students had access to other students’ folders. I didn’t mind this for small assignments but I wouldn’t want to risk larger, paper-type assignments this way. SubmitBox’s approach seems to address this (minor) security concern.

Some questions I have about SubmitBox:

  • Is the SubmitBox folder in my Dropbox folder a live / open folder, i.e. can I put things in there for a student that they didn’t put there themselves? Or can I only edit / see what they themselves submit? (Sometimes for papers, I like to keep an original version and have a separate corrected version.)
  • In the intro video, mention of notifications was made, but I didn’t see anything about this in the sign up process or on the account page. Obviously Dropbox includes notifications, but I wonder if there are separate SubmitBox notifications or if the video was referring to the Dropbox notifications.

Independent of SubmitBox, Dropbox is nice for collecting assignments because of the column view and preview feature on Macs. For those smaller assignments that I did collect through Dropbox, on which I wasn’t really going to make any comments, I could just navigate to the folder in column view, hit the space bar, and get a quick preview of the assignment without having to open it Word.

So I’ve signed up for SubmitBox and actually will pilot it with my final Classical Lit paper of the year. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Here’s the intro video from the webpage:

Making Your Own Comic Strip on the Web

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We just finished Daedalus and Icarus in the Latin course and have a week and a half before the exam: not quite enough time to read something new (other than an unrelated, shorter poem) but too much time to do straight review.

The exam will include both Daedalus and Icarus and Apollo and Daphne, the latter of which was read at the beginning of the semester. So to review Apollo and Daphne in what I hope is a concerted way students will spend this week making comic strips of Apollo and Daphne, one that is straight plot, i.e. image paired with Ovid’s unaltered text, and the other that is more Latin comp, i.e. image paired with student Latin based on Ovid’s text.

I give students these resources for making their own comics:

The bottom four were taken from this post on 6 Free Sites for Creating Your Own Comics (the top two are there as well, though I did find them on my own). The post includes descriptions of the sites with YouTube overviews when available.

MOOCs and Flipping the Classroom

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After my research into MOOCs for school, I decided to investigate a bit on my own and see what the courses were all about. I’ve been browsing Coursera more than Udacity or edX because Coursera seems to have the greatest variety of courses, especially in terms of the humanities, and indeed I found a number of courses on Coursera that overlap with material that I teach.

I enrolled in a number of courses, but the one I spent a good amount of time in was the Greek and Roman Mythology course. The weeks are set up with a number of video lectures that probably average around 8 minutes on separate topics. And there might be 8ish lectures per week. There are also quizzes to go with the lectures, multiple choice that cover the material. (I was less than impressed with the quizzes because they seemed a bit too skewed to eliminate toward the right answer, i.e. a number of choices seemed silly; I admit that I know a good amount of the material beforehand, so I can’t speak to them from the perspective of someone approaching the material for the first time.)

The videos, however, are downloadable, which presents a pretty amazing resource, especially for a teacher looking to flip. I sampled a few of them, and they seem to be a talking head (or really torso) in front of a very simple powerpoint presentation (or at least ppt format), i.e. a title and then shifting graphics behind the head / torso. The lectures seem relatively dynamic and on point, so I can see potentially using them if I flip.

Perhaps better, though, is to pull our small snippets of the video that can be integrated into presentations that I put together, perhaps more dynamic presentations that incorporate more graphics and interactive elements.

Either way, though, such resources, free to subscribe to, present a wealth of potential for teachers looking to flip.

Flip Your Classroom by Bergman and Sams

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My principal gave me Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams to read. We’d been discussing blended and flipped classrooms for a lot of second semester and the book obviously relates. This is a great book. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It’s short (which makes it easy to start and commit to). And (and do not overuse this term) it is inspiring. I said it. Inspiring. But it made me want to flip my classroom. So I might try next year (more on that later).

The book focuses on both how they flipped their classrooms and why they flipped their classroom, more the latter than the former which I appreciated. The hows, I suspect, will differ from teacher to teacher and school to school; each will have to find her own way to flipping. But the whys (both the causes and the results) were important to me and, well, they convinced me.

Part of the convincing was that we share similar philosophies about the role of teachers, what education is and should be, and of course how students fit into that. And that these philosophies are either not so popular among teachers or are quietly popular.

I can’t go into all of them here but I did flag some pages / quotes that I will share here:

“Aaron had a student who is heavily involved in student council. This year, when homecoming was approaching, she worked ahead. She got one week ahead in his class, and when homecoming week happened, she used Aaron’s class time to work on homecoming activities.” (22)

  • I like this because it recognizes the reality of student life (that our class can’t always be their priority at all, much less their first priority), a reality that teachers at best tend to ignore and at worst grow bitter and resentful over, and achieves a solution that is mutually beneficial, i.e. the teacher’s goals are met (the work was completed) and the student’s goals are met (classwork and out-of-classwork was completed).

“For our students who quickly understand the content, we have found that if they can prove to us their understanding of a particular objective, we will cut down on the number of problems they need to do.” (28)

  • A number of years back we had a school-mandated discussion with our classes about cheating. It was a frank and illuminating discussion. The one takeaway from it that has remained with me is what one student said about cheating on homework: that they are more likely to copy homework if they don’t view it as necessary, i.e. if they already understand something, why should they have to do a worksheet with 20 problems about it. And I can’t argue with that. This quote gets at that same idea, that school should be about understanding and not work for work’s sake, which I certainly am guilty of (though trying to minimize).

“One size does not fit all, and we no longer require students to view the videos if they choose not.” (67)

  • I’ve reached this point with a lot of my assessments; many of my projects have multiple formats to choose from, and if students have an alternative format in mind they are welcome to do it as long as they run it by me first. I’ve never been a hand-down-a-topic teacher, but I’m becoming even less of one as I go on, so that whenever I can I leave topic-choice up to students, so that, it is hoped, they can choose something interesting to them and produce better work. But I had never thought to apply this to delivery / instruction.

“We have expanded the [note-taking] format slightly, letting students take paper notes, but also allowing them to post comments on a blog or to email their teacher. One element that began in Jonathan’s earth science / astronomy class has completely changed the way we interact with out students. We ask all of these students to to both show their notes and individually ask their teacher an interesting question that they thought of while viewing the video. This individual question-and-answer time is very powerful because it requires all students to interact with their teacher on an almost daily basis. In this model, it isn’t just the bright, curious students who ask questions – it’s also the shy or disengaged students who would never dare to raise their hands in a typical classroom.” (98)

  • I like the idea of the interesting-question model but I wonder how it looks on a daily basis. Does it put undue pressure on students? Do they feel the need to be interesting, so to speak, as they watch, and do they worry if no interesting question comes to mind? I’d be concerned about implementing such a system on a daily basis; perhaps one a week or a total for the quarter. I’d be interested to hear more about this in a practical, every day sense.

What struck me most about the book was how much the pre-flipped students and their teachers’ perception of them resonated with me. The idea of ‘doing school’ seemed especially relevant because on of my biggest concerns is that my students, and especially my honors students, are successful because they understand how school works and how to work the system more than they understand whatever material they’re being taught. The goal of the flipped classroom to address this bottom-line approach to school is one of those things that makes it most interesting to me. I would / will be interested to see how students react to it.

So I will continue thinking about this idea and how or if I can implement it. But it is exciting. Difficult, I imagine, but exciting. Any experience with it (the book, flipped, or anything else) is welcome.

 

MOOCs for High Schoolers?

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I did some research into MOOCs and their potential applicability to a high school environment. Here’s what I came up with.

 

The Viability of MOOCs for Wayland High School

 

MOOC consumers seem to fall into two categories: curious learners, who tend to take MOOCs to pursue interests of theirs in a cheap / free environment with quality instruction and resources; and, a smaller but growing body, educators who realize that MOOCs can provide resources for themselves personally and/or for their students. This latter group should be encouraged at Wayland High School to investigate the resources that MOOCs offer as flipped classrooms become more possible and prevalent. Our students will fall into the former category.

A MOOC liaison should be appointed. The liaison will work with the guidance department (if the liaison is not a guidance counselor). The liaison’s job is the following:

  • to discuss with students their interests and goals for taking a MOOC;
  • to help them or facilitate the finding of a course of interest to them that fits their abilities and preparation;
  • to oversee their progress through the course to ensure that they are keeping up with the work and that they are taking advantage of the resources built into the MOOC if they’re having difficulty;
  • to maintain an awareness of the MOOC community, especially new MOOC providers, changes to existing MOOC providers, and the workings of MOOC providers;
  • to facilitate teachers’ introduction to and potential use of MOOCs in their own classes.

MOOC providers should be vetted and known but not restricted. With the plurality of existing resources and the growth, only sure to increase, of additional resources, it seems counterproductive to restrict students interested in MOOCs to one or two providers only that we as a school have vetted and agreed to be appropriate for our students. Rather, vetting should occur on a course-by-course basis and a student-by-student basis.

The awarding of credit by Wayland High School for MOOCs should be further examined by guidance and administration. If students begin taking MOOCs, their connection to our own credit system should be enumerated. Most pressing is the number of credits that a MOOC will count for at WHS and whether or not a MOOC can replace a face-to-face elective in students’ schedules.

Student progress in MOOCs should be tracked. As more students take MOOCs, their progress, and to the extent possible learning, should be tracked (the latter especially in terms of courses that might prepare them for or help them with courses here). The efficacy of MOOCs is one of the more hotly debated topics, with critics citing the largely passive nature of MOOCs as an impediment to learning but proponents citing the greater availability of knowledge to more / all students as a counterpoint. The extent to which this debate encompasses Wayland High School should tracked.

MOOC Offerings: What’s Out There and How It Is Accessed

The primary means of delivery for MOOCs are the companies / initiatives Coursera, Udacity, and edX.

Coursera: http://www.coursera.org

“Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Our technology enables our partners to teach millions of students rather than hundreds. We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” (https://www.coursera.org/about) The Coursera website as of May 28, 2013 lists 3,670,209 ‘Courserians’, 374 courses, and 70 partners. Coursera does not (appear to) make distinctions among its students, i.e. there are no explicitly-for-college or explicitly-for-high-school students courses. I explored one course, entitled “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets”, that seemed appropriate for high school level students, focusing as much on the conceptual as on the technical. It is an eight week course and it describes its work load as 4-6 hours / week. A Calculus course, on the other hand, runs 13 weeks and describes its workload as 8-10 hours / week. The Calculus course also offers a Signature Track option, which costs money ($89 or $49, the latter appearing to be an introductory rate) and appears to officialize one’s participation in a course in a way that non-Signature Track courses do not. Signature Track courses offer a verified certificate of completion, a connection between one’s course work and one’s verifiable identity, and a secure URL on which course records are stored and can be shared with employers, other schools, etc.

Udacity: http://www.udacity.com

Udacity has a more limited course catalog both in terms of number of total courses and range of subject matter. Its five categories are Business, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. But Udacity’s courses are a leveled as Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. Udacity also specifically targets high school students on their About page:If you’re a high school student looking to get ahead before going to college, you will have the chance to take college- level courses and become truly college ready. We have options to earn college credit and you will also have a chance to take subjects not offered at your school.” (https://www.udacity.com/how-it-works)

Udacity courses are free but there is a for-credit option for which students pay money: “The primary difference between for-credit and free classes are the support services and proctored exams that are part of the credit pathway.” (https://www.udacity.com/faq) For-credit courses cost $150 and credit is awarded by San Jose State University.

edX: http://www.edx.org

While Coursera and Udacity are for-profit companies, edX is a partnership between Harvard and MIT. As of May 29, 2013 edX is offering 57 courses that span both the sciences and the humanities, all of which on the home page at least are starting in the fall of 2013. Completion of a course yields a certificate of mastery but there seems to be no credit option. A Wall Street Journal article from January 1, 2013 reports that both Mass Bay and Bunker Hill Community Colleges have partnered with edX to offer credit to their students (the implication being only their students and the potential for credit existing only with such a partnership; would such a partnership be viable for a high school?).

MOOCs Specifically for High Schools

The availability of MOOCs for pre-college students varies. Coursera courses seems to have a range that would allow high school students to access them even without specific or advanced preparation. In fact, Coursera contacted Wayland’s principal promoting its courses for high school students with credit from San Jose State offered. Udacity and edX seem less geared toward high school students without special or advanced preparation.

Brown’s Exploring Engineeering

Brown University in the spring of 2013 offered what seems to be the first MOOC designed specifically for high school students. Its Exploring Engineering program offers four two week courses to high school students as an introduction to not only engineering as a discipline but also the idea of what being an engineer entails, its hope being to “offer a free online engineering class with the aim of teaching high school students about the merits and challenges of the field” and “to get students interested in engineering to better understand engineering, so that they can make good decisions about what they do in the next step.” (NYTimes, The Choice Blog, 4/17/13) It seems that the free Exploring Engineering course then leads to three subsequent two week courses on different branches of engineering, each of which costs on average $500. The spring Exploring Engineering course was capped at 50 students but no such cap was visible on the Brown website for the summer course (though of course such a cap might be specified during the registration process). No credit is offered for any of the courses but a certificate of completion is awarded. (http://onlinecourselearning.com/brown/engineering/overview/#)

Miami’s Biology SAT II Prep Course

The New York Times blog cited above identifies the Brown course as “the first major effort by a university to tailor a massive open online course, or MOOC, specifically to high school students,” but in November 2012 the University of Miami’s Global Academy, an online high school attached to Miami’s Division of Continuing and International Education, launched a three week, six session MOOC to prepare students to take the SAT II in Biology. The course is synchronous, lectures delivered in real time via Skype to students as far away as China. The synchronous format, a rarity for MOOCs, will allow real time questions from students.

The course itself was not to new to UMGA; it had run test prep programs for its own distance students as part of its curriculum. What was new was opening it to non-UMGA students under the MOOC aegis. And in fact that opening up continued. Originally capped at 200 students, the school eventually opened it to 1,000 students because of requests from participants (many of whom were teachers who wanted their students to be able to enroll). UMGA followed up its Bio MOOC with an AP Calculus MOOC.

University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse’s College Readiness Math MOOC

The Wisconsin, LaCrosse MOOC also seems to predate the Brown MOOC and focuses primarily on preparing incoming students for college math. The genesis of the MOOC came from seeing students arriving on campus with holes in their math preparation. Begun as discreet units that the department posted online for student practice, the course piloted a six week format for incoming freshmen that saw their placement in college math rise by almost 100% (37 of 38 students who had been placed in developmental math were instead placed into algebra or pre-calculus after taking the MOOC and the standard math placement test).

 

How MOOCs Work: Potential and Pitfalls

The MOOC approach is an egalitarian one; its purpose is to open up education, often at its highest levels, to everyone that wants it. Gone are applications, admissions standards, and financial constraints. Gone too, though, are credits, degrees, and the relationships that (more) traditional educational models (even online courses) can foster. (One of the most pressing questions of MOOCs, addressed below, is how or if they should be offered for credit.)

The primary factor in the viability of a MOOC is its technological infrastructure. Often accommodating thousands of students, a MOOC must have the raw technological power to service all of those students, a lesson was illustrated the hard way through a Coursera course. Its Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application course was shut down after three days because it relied on a Google framework (using GoogleDocs to manage group work) that could not handle the traffic from the course. There were also other design flaws in the course, which are laid out in the February 1, 2013 blog post of Online Learning Insights (http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com).

But the Fundamentals of Online Ed debacle raises important points not only about the viability of MOOCs but also about the relationship among teacher, student, and course (structure): “Does the responsibility not fall upon the student for the success of a course? ….yes…however, there is an onus on the course facilitators and designers to prepare students for learning by providing some sort of orientation. The instructors need to support conditions for learning, which prepares students to learn on their own, create their own experiences, knowledge, and potentially a personalized learning community. Preparing students includes orienting the student to the technical tools that will be used in the course, guiding them to the applications (a blog platform for instance), and providing instruction for the tools to be used as needed.”  (ibid Feb. 5 2013)

Aside from the technical requirements of a MOOC, the completion rates of MOOCs suggests the inefficiency of the essentially passive MOOC model. Initial statistics focused on the dichotomy of completed the course by completing assignments and assessments vs. not-completing the course by not completing assignments and assessments. Researchers and interested parties found this dichotomy limiting and have developed four categories to describe engagement in a MOOC: completing, in which students fulfill all requirements of the course; auditing, in which students access course information like lectures but do not complete assignments or assessments; disengaging, in which their participation decreases as the course goes on; sampling, in which a limited amount of participation occurs, e.g. a video is watched at the beginning of the course but no more. (“Deconstructing Disengagement: Analyzing Learner Subpopulations in Massive Open Online Courses”; http://www.stanford.edu/~cpiech/bio/papers/deconstructingDisengagement.pdf). This study concludes: “Through our research we were able to extract, across all three classes studied, four prototypical learner trajectories; [sic] three of which would have been considered ‘noncompleting’ under a monolithic view of course completion.” (ibid) The study seems to suggest too that high school completion rates tend to be higher than undergraduate or graduate completion rates.

 

History, Background, Context

“Will the classroom be abolished, and the child of the future be stuffed with facts as he sits at home or even as he walks about the streets with his portable [device] in his pocket?” – Journalist Bruce Bliven

The device in the above quote is neither an iPhone nor an iPad nor even a laptop. The quote dates to 1924 and references the radio, when university courses broadcast by radio were sweeping the nation. (Matt & Fernandez) The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is not a new invention but rather a reconceptualization or adaptation of an old idea: the correspondence course. An advertisement in the Boston Gazette in 1728 promotes the learning of shorthand through lessons mailed weekly to the student. (Holmberg via Wikipedia) The University of London offered degrees via correspondence as early as 1858 and the University of Chicago pioneered correspondence courses in the United States in the late 19th century. (Wikipedia ‘Distance Education’ and ff.) The International Correspondence Schools, for profit schools based in Scranton, PA, saw explosive growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enrolling as many as 900,000 students and spending $2 million a year on magazine advertisements. Students, however, struggled with the passive nature of the correspondence course: 1 in 6 students continued past the first third of the course and only 2.6% of students completed the correspondence course.

The shift from an agrarian to and industrialized nation and the focus on education that it entailed as well as the invention and rapid popularization of radio in the 1930s saw it become the next medium for distance education. In 1921 Latter Day Saint’s University received the first educational radio license (USDLA.org Timeline) and “By 1938, 200 school systems, 25 state boards of education, and many colleges and universities broadcast educational programs for the public schools.” (Wikipedia ‘Distance Education’) In 1948 the University of Louisville, a public university, offered low tuition rates, course materials mailed to students, and lectures delivered via NBC’s radio. (ibid ff.) Indirectly inspired by this initiative as well as by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the mid-1960s, the Open University launched in 1970 in the UK. Similar open universities or universities-without-walls followed across Europe and North America and beyond, using the term Open University in the native language to denote an institution dedicated to distance learning.

The advent of computers and the rise of the Internet ultimately led to the creation of MOOCs. The University of Illinois-Urbana was the first to use computers to facilitate learning in the 1960s with its PLATO project that pioneered online forums and message boards, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multiplayer games, leading to the emergence of what was perhaps the world’s first online community.” (thinkofit.com/plato/dwplato.thm) A single classroom was linked by computer terminals that facilitated communication and the sharing of resources. The UK’s Open University and Canada’s University of British Columbia pioneered the use of the Internet to deliver course content. Concurrently the University of Phoenix opened in 1980 to focus on adult and non-traditional learners who it felt were undervalued at traditional universities and launched its online program in 1989. (Wikipedia ‘University of Phoenix’) It led the way for for-profit universities to harness the availability of the Internet to reach a maximum number of students, its enrollment topping 600,000 students in 2010. (ibid) Such availability, however, also saw the rise of diploma factories, unaccredited schools that used the reach of the internet to award diplomas with little to no work.

1994 saw the advent of CompuHigh, the first online high school, as well as CALCampus “where concepts of online-based school first originated.” (Wikipedia ‘Virtual Education’) From there, online education exploded, developing concurrently with the technology that fuels it. The advent especially of webcams, course management systems, and increased bandwidth to support more video has facilitated the rapid expansion of online offerings at all levels of education.

iTunes U was announced on May 30, 2007 and provided a glimpse of the potential of MOOCs. Stanford and Apple initially partnered in the spring of 2004 “to deliver supplemental course content to registered students using iTunes.” (http://itunes.stanford.edu/content/faq.html) But iTunes U initially included six universities: Brown, Duke, Stanford, Michigan (School of Dentistry), Missouri (School of Journalism), and Wisconsin-Madison. The launch of Stanford’s iOS Programming course quickly became iTunes U’s most popular course, downloaded by hundreds of thousands of students. While iTunes U is ultimately passive (there are no assignments, grading or formal assessment), Stanford’s iOS course illustrated the reach that such course offerings could have.

“The term MOOC was coined in 2008 during a course called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” that was presented to 25 tuition-paying students in Extended Education at the University of Manitoba in addition to 2,300 other students from the general public who took the online class free of charge.” (Wikipedia, MOOC) 2012 saw the rapid expansion of the MOOC, especially through public pairings of MOOC initiatives with top universities. Harvard and MIT launched edX in the fall of 2012 as a platform for their MOOCs and in response to the commercialization or for-profit trend of early MOOCs (ibid). The most visible for-profit MOOC factories are Coursera and Udacity, both launched by Stanford faculty who had taught MOOCs at Stanford with enrollments in the six figures. Both companies pair with top universities to offer MOOCs.

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