Why I am leaving computers for composition books (part 1)

I announced to my classes today that we would no longer use computers in the classroom for the rest of the trimester. Some students were happy, others were annoyed, and a few didn’t know what to think. They had been using computers in the classroom for the past two weeks with my student teacher and now, as I was taking the classes back, I got to make the announcement. 
Here’s some of the thinking that went into the decision to put the computers away and return to writing in composition books.

A driving question that I have been thinking about since the summer of 1997 is how can students use computers (or technology) for learning? This was my guiding question during my National Writing Project experience and I have been returning to the idea each year that I have taught.

After I discovered the Moodle framework in 2004, I have used computers in my classroom off and on until three years ago. Then, I decided to stress the question and would try out an interesting idea: What would happen if I had computers for each of my students everyday for the entire grading period? 
Up to this point, I would schedule the computer carts about once a week for in-class quizzes or for specific online conversations that I wanted my students to enjoy. I should also mention that the school that I teach at is not a one-to-one computer school: that is to say, that there isn’t a computer for every student. Instead, we have roughly 12 computer carts that hold about 14 laptops for a student body of roughly 1500 students and about 85 teaching staff. We do have a few standalone computer labs that can be scheduled for class use and we have a media center with approximately 30 computers for student use. We have more computer access than some schools, but we have a lot less than other schools. 
As teachers, we schedule which carts we want on certain days and then the scheduling fury gets a little heated because as a teacher, you need to schedule sometimes weeks in advance. Also, like other schools in our state, there is usually a week or two that we are administering state-required tests that students take on the laptop computers. Things are little tight and usually you’ll see less than half of our staff members use the carts because of the lack of resources. I do think that some staff members would like to use the technology with their students in their classes, but logistically, there’s really not a way to do it. 
Now, back to my second paragraph: I have, for the past three years, checked out two laptop computer carts for almost every day of each trimester for my students to run the entire class through Moodle: schedule, assignments, discussions, messaging and gradebook. And, when I say “checked out” I mean that I would, sometimes, do the scheduling for the next trimester a week or two before the end of the previous trimester. In short: I would try to get a jump on the reservations and typically would schedule out an entire trimester in one sitting (and, as in the current trimester, only have one day where I couldn’t use the carts…during the testing window). 
You have to know that even though I hijacked the computer carts for the past three years, the teaching staff has been fairly supportive of my efforts. I have shared with the staff on a couple of staff development opportunities about Moodle and teaching online. I think that most of the staff has a respect for my knowledge of technology and of pedagogy and that I was doing something with the computers that wasn’t the mere “let’s type your final drafts” use of the carts. It might have been annoying to them when they were also trying to schedule the computers, but in general, I think they just accepted that I had the carts and it meant something. The feedback that I got staff members whose children were my students was that this digital learning was meaningful and it helped prepare their students for the years in college. 
But then, in the past few weeks, I had a chance to evaluate my experiment and after some reading, observation and reflection I realized that I had to test out my current hypothesis that has been nagging me since 1997: Maybe these new technologies are good for initial engagement, but lack the sustaining power of writing and speaking and listening. Maybe, with each new applied science gadget: the iMac, the Palm Pilot, the iPad, comes a thirst for the shiny new thing with the promise that this new shiny new thing will help things get better. 
My working answer to that idea as of last Friday was: probably not. 
Next post: What I read, observed and reflected on last week.

Malware: One reason I hate Windoze Laptops

So, this has happened to my wife’s laptop before, but my father-in-law got the Malware from hell. It’s the one that poses as a virus scanner and unless you “buy” their product every time you get on the internets or click the button of “No” (that you don’t want to protect your computer), connstant popup windows until you give in an “Buy.” In fact, the Malware is pretty tricky as it disables you from any fix you want to do in your control panel or even running RegEdit from the command line.

A Google search here is simply useless as you get links to other products to fix the problem. Oh, and btw: If you buy the product that is holding you hostage, nothing happens but you just lost $49.
So Ken dropped off his laptop and I started fiddling around in SAFE mode, but nothing was really working for me (there is sort of fix (in varitions) of editing the Registry (though the instructions do leave out a few steps. Oh, and if you try to run a Malware removal program, well it won’t work and you get a faux error message.

I think the first sign for me that this was a hoax is that when you try to run FireFox, the Title of the program has “Internet Explorer” and, this really bothers me, two exclamation points (no one in their right mind, even in Redmond, would use !! in an error message.

I called Ken and said I couldn’t fix it. He came over today and said that he had an idea and it works.

HERE’S one fix:

  • Start up in Safe Mode (Hold down the F8 after restart).
  • Log in
  • Delete your copy of your Malware Removal program.
  • Download a new copy of a Malware Program (Malwarebtyes Anti-Malware free version worked fine for us).
  • Run the program in quick mode and in 10-15 minutes or so, it’ll find the trojan and follow the prompts.
  • The program will want to restart the computer and yes, you should.
  • And you are good to go.

LESSONS

  • Stuff happens and sometimes a Google search is only a string of paid advertisements.
  • The best solutions are the free ones.
  • If you can, buy a Mac. If that make you vomit in your mouth, then run a Linux distro (you simply do not have this issue as much or at all under those platforms.

Episode 26: No Reform

After a little time off, we’re back again with a new podcast: No Reform.

After my little rant entitled: In education, there really is no reform and let’s just drop all of the rhetoric and let the people who need to teach, teach…I get back to some more practical ideas.

With Ning.com announcing their new pay-for-services schedule, there are some Open Source options (one being BoonEx Dolphin).

EduMemiary
From the makers of Memiary (memory + diary) comes the educational version with the question for students: What did you learn today? Wonderful way to engage students in reflecting on their own learning.

Messaging in Moodle
Instead of turning it off because we fear that students may *gasp* message one another, let’s use the feature for our own advantages in education: students communicating with the teacher.
Also, if you want to limit student messaging to only other students in the same class, take a look at this hack from moodle.org.

Here’s the podcast:

Next Week: ReadCloud and Grading Strategies in Moodle.

After a year, things haven’t changed much

After a year of concentrating my efforts on my summer project, 40 Plays in 40 Days, I’m ready to return again to this topic of technology in education and how really messed up were are sometimes in the thinking that the Internet or Web 2.0 or a Kindle or iPod Touch or any of the things to come will save US education.

Wait a second, that wasn’t an entirely accurate statement: my gut feeling hasn’t changed, but I do have more experiences of using technology in the classroom and more things to share about using Moodle in the classroom.

Look for some regular podcasts to be coming here and to the iTunes Store soon.

On a cracked gMail account

We’re really not sure how it happened or what triggered it, all I know is that my wife’s gMail got cracked and the ISP address notes the location of the “doings” somewhere in Nigeria.

Yes, it’s cliche: an email asking for money scheme.
Somewhere around 3:30 am, someone (or something) scrapped her account, took her contacts and started sending everyone who has ever had contact with Lori the following email:
Hey,

This had to come in a hurry and it has left me in a devastating state.

I’m in some terrible situation and I’m really going to need your

urgent help. Some days ago,unannounced,I came to visit a resort center

in South Glamorgan England, UK..but I got mugged by some hoodlums and

lost all my cash,credit cards, I’m financially stranded right now and

my return flight leaves in few hours time but I need some money to

clear some bills, I didn’t bring my cell phone along since I didn’t

get to roam them before coming over. So all I can do now is pay cash

and get out of here quickly.I do not want to make a scene of this

which is why I did not call my house,this is embarrassing enough.I was

wondering if you could loan me some cash, I’ll refund it to you as

soon as I arrive home just need to clear my Hotel bills and get the

next plane home, As soon as I get home I’ll refund it immediately.

Write me so I can let you know how to send it.

The first email went out around 6:30am and by the end of the day, we got emails and phone calls from nice folk who just wanted to make sure.

We reported the incident to Google when we were unable to access the account (probably triggered by the number of spam emails sent out). Google was incredibly quick about responding to the issue after we completed the process of verifying the hijacking.

In the end, I was surprised at the email and what the cracker would gain from this little email scam. No links to follow, no nothing.

Then I noticed why: when I sent an email to her account, nothing appeared. In fact, no emails since the attack were in her InBox. And then I stumbled on this:

They set up another account and had all emails forwarded to that other email account. Just sitting in the shadows, waiting for “I’ll help you out” emails to come through. Pretty sneaky, really.

What we learned:

  • Change your passwords every once in awhile
  • If your account gets hijacked, be sure to check all the settings to make sure your emails aren’t being forwarded.
  • Be thankful for nice people in your contact list who can be forgiving.

Flagging 21st Century Skills: As long as the news comes from people with titles

Perhaps we shouldn’t even file this under the “made common sense awhile ago” category, but Education Week is reporting the following about the 21st Century Skills movement:

The phrase “21st-century skills” is everywhere in education policy discussions these days, from faculty lounges to the highest echelons of the U.S. education system.

Broadly speaking, it refers to a push for schools to teach ­­­critical-thinking, analytical, and technology skills, in addition to the “soft skills” of creativity, collaboration, and communication that some experts argue will be in high demand as the world increasingly shifts to a global, entrepreneurial, and service-based workplace.
But now a group of researchers, historians, and policymakers from across the political spectrum are raising a red flag about the agenda as embodied by the Tucson, Ariz.-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21, the leading advocacy…

Let me be clear: It’s not about who is right or wrong and I’m not planning on standing on the moral high road because I’ve posted about this before. Instead, it reminds me of how education in the US works: spend money on going to conferences so that people who are not practicing classroom teachers can tell you that things look horrible and you have to do X now to save our schools. Lots of numbers and charts are flogged against the pathetic picture of the US educational system and it’s high time to find some type of a messiah or Moses to lead us to the promised land or heaven or economic stability.

Those same conference attendees (who are in a place of authority according to the pay scale and the hierarchy) go back to their schools and start to spread the same message to the teachers in the name of being a team player. When the community asks what is being done about test scores (and mind you, it seems to be the numbers folk focus on…perhaps the fault of our press or our lack of involving our community into the real conversation of education individuals), there are solutions that involve time and money. And, in 3-5 years, another road-show rainmaker comes to town and a new presentation by a non-practicing classroom teacher and we cycle through the entire process in the hopes that “this time, things will be different.”

You may not like this, but if a school really wants the standard-based movement with it’s reliance on progress by numbers to work, cut out the middleperson (the teacher) and buy a lot of computers and hire a consultant and then you will have the numbers to prove that a student has mastered the material. Save a lot of money and possibly, promote the capitalistic spirit during these hard times. Students could graduate earlier and finally we’d have proof of how effective a standardized-based education can be.

If you are asking me, a classroom teacher, if I think all of this is the best thing for students, then after being a bit shocked that you’ve asked the person who spends most of their days with students and not with developing talks to give to lots of people for a large sum of money (oh, sorry, that’s paying your for your expert knowledge), I’d probably say the following.

Probably not.

Probably not because there’s more to an education to “mastering” standards and besides, to get a question correct on a multilple-choice assessment is not the most effective way to measure “mastery.” In fact, the system as a whole is flawed and the one, large-scale example of this (the “Houston Miracle”) was a numbers game. Remember: It didn’t work as we were told and I am still amazed that many people (probably not practicing classroom teachers) still think that it is the way to go.

Which brings me back to the 21st Century Skills thing: it’s business folks telling education how to do its task (because, yes I have to say it, US businesses are such models of excellence, aren’t they?). Why are people who are reporting on education surprised when someone says that maybe the latest rainmaker, 21st Century Skills (with it’s many-colored rainbow charts), may actually not be the answer. And maybe that’s the real issue here: maybe in addressing education in the US, maybe it’s not about finding “the answer.”

Episode 25: No School Bailout

RIS (Randomly Interesting Stuff)

Memiary (www.memiary.com)
Record five memories a day
GMail Tasks
Gmail now adds tasks to your email interface. (see GMail blog entry)

Show Notes:
There are significant business losses and now those same businesses are asking the government for a bailout; these same businesses blame the economy for their problems. And yet schools have been forced into ineffective business models that have been proven to fail.
Schools, instead, need to return to what they do best: learning and creating and fun.

Listen

Next time: “Reader-Response theories in Moodle”

Episode 24: Lessons from LiveBlogging

Recently our local paper decided to liveblog the last two Presidential debates and the one VP debate. Let’s take a look at how to set up a liveblog and consider why liveblogging an event might be a good idea.

The Elkhart Truth has been looking at ways for their paper to interact with their readers and during this election season, decided to facilitate liveblogs for the debates.

DebateWatch VP Debate (2 Oct 08) http://www.etruth.com/Know/News/Story.aspx?id=463348
DebateWatch Presdental Debate (7 Oct 08) http://www.etruth.com/Know/News/Story.aspx?id=463741
DebateWatch Presidental Debate (14 Oct 08): http://www.etruth.com/Know/News/Story.aspx?id=464344

The site that eTruth.com used was www.coveritlive.com

Listen to the episode:
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Or, download this podcast here .