Screen Recording
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 03/07/13

In the last two weeks I found myself making several narrated screen recordings to help people to understand and learn a key procedure on their computers or mobile devices. Normally, I put these instructions in writing, in a step-by-step list, as you have seen in this series of articles. But for some procedures, my students found the written version much less helpful than the narrated video of the action actually happening on the screen.

Some of the screen recordings showed how to:

You may see an example of a short screen recording here.

Many of my colleagues have found these recordings very useful in their online courses, where they cannot demonstrate the procedures live in the classroom. They find that having an online library of narrated demonstrations to be a useful resource for students and an efficient method of teaching. New software tools have made these recordings easy to produce, and new compression algorithms have made them easy to distribute online.

Many tools exist to make screen recordings; here are suggestions and instructions for using them on four platforms: Macintosh, Windows, iPad, and Android tablet.


Screen recording is built in to the QuickTime Player app that's shipped with every Macintosh. Follow these steps:

  1. Launch QuickTime Player.
  2. From the menubar, choose New --> Screen Recording.
  3. Click the triangle to turn on the microphone.
  4. Click the red button to start recording.
  5. Click and drag over the portion of the screen that you want to record.
  6. Narrate your actions as you perform the procedure.
  7. Click the black square in the QuickTime Player window to stop the recording.
  8. Review your recording, then save it ini a convenient place.

To compress your recording for more efficient delivery over the web, follow these steps:

  1. Open your recording with QuickTime Player.
  2. From the menubar, choose File --> Export --> for Web and devices.


Windows 8 does not provide a built-in screen recorder, so we'll need to install a third-party application to help us accomplish the task. We used ezvid, an open-source screen recorder. First, download ezvid and install it. Once it is ready to go, follow these steps:

  1. Launch ezvid.
  2. Click the Capture Screen button that looks like a little TV.
  3. Click the Use Advanced Settings button at the bottom left of the dialog box.
  4. Select the Microphone Capture icon and the Select Capture Area icon.
  5. Click the Start Advanced Capture now icon.
  6. over the part (or all) of the screen that you want to record.
  7. Speak as you demonstrate the procedure.
  8. If you need it, add circles and arrows as you go along, with the draw tools button in the lower left.
  9. Click the stop button in the lower left to stop the recording.
  10.  Upload your completed screen recording to YouTube (you'll need a YouTube account to do this.)

Once it's up on YouTube, you can send the link to your students, or embed it not an email or posting to your blog or LMS.


The iPad, like the other tablets, seems incapable of recording the activity on its own screen. But we found a way to send the video output of the iPad to the Macintosh, which recorded our voice along with the activity on the iPad screen. This trick is accomplished with a little $180 black box called an Elgato Game Capture. Here's how to use it.

  1. Download the Elgato Game Capture software for your Mac or Windows computer.
  2. Connect an HDMI video adapter to your iPad, with the other end to the black box.
  3. Connect the Elgato USB cable from the black box to your computer.
  4. Launch the software on your computer.
  5. Start the recording.
  6. Run the procedure you want to show on the iPad as you speak the narration not your computer.
  7.  End the recording.
  8. Save the results.

The resulting file is nicely compressed and ready to be posted on the web, emailed, or distributed by other means.

Android Tablets

Again, I found no way to record the screen and my narration on the tablet itself, but got very good results using the same Elgato Game Capture black box that I used with the iPad. Follow these steps.

  1. Download the Elgato Game Capture software for your Mac or Windows computer.
  2. Connect an HDMI video adapter to your Android tablet, with the other end to the black box.
  3. Connect the Elgato USB cable from the black box to your computer.
  4. Launch the software on your computer.
  5. On the Android tablet, use the Settings menu to show your touches on the screen.
  6. Start the recording.
  7. Run the procedure you want to show on the Android tablet as you speak the narration not your computer.
  8. End the recording.
  9. Save the results.

If you need to edit or compress your screen capture video, you may use QuickTime Player on either Mac or Windows, as well as other software tools such as MPEG Streamclip. With good compression, and economic use of time, these screen recordings should be small enough to distribute by email, through your learning management system, or by posting on your teacher web page. To keep the recordings small, economize by:



Power to Learn - Teacher Preparation and Technology

Teacher Preparation and Technology
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 02/21/13

Why should teachers know how to use technology for teaching and learning?

1. It's in their classrooms.

2. It's with their students.

3. It works.

4. Authorities require it.

1. It's in their classrooms.

According to the latest survey by the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2009, 97% of classrooms contain computers, 93% enjoy Internet access, and schools house one computer for every five students. 69% of teachers report using these computers regularly for teaching and learning. 48% of classrooms have digital projectors, 28% contain a smart board, and these are used where available by 72% of teachers. (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Teachers' Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009 (NCES 2010-040))

2. It's with their students.

95% of students age 12-17 connect regularly to online sources of information. 75% of them own a cell phone, 23% own a smartphone, 74% own a computer, and 75% send text messages with these devices, and 80% use online social network sites such as Facebook. (Pew Internet and American Life Survey 2011)

3. It works.

Research literature throughout the past decade has shown that technology can enhance literacy development, impact language acquisition, provide greater access to information, support learning, motivate students, and enhance their self-esteem (ACT, 2004; CEO Forum, 2001; Boster et al., 2004; Mann et al., 1999; Tracey & Young, 2006; WestEd, 2002). Indeed, researchers have affirmed that computer technology provides abundant opportunities for students to build or modify their personal knowledge through the rich experiences that technology affords. (What is the Impact of Technology on Learning?)

4. Authorities require it.

Most states require teachers to be technically competent to qualify for a teaching certificate. Twenty-two states include technology competence in their list of requirements, and another 15 require such competence as part of their program approval process. Five require technology competence indirectly, and in eight states no requirement is listed. (Technology Competencies for Teacher Certification: A Survey of the States)

As early as 1998, the Council on Basic Education, a conservative voice, suggested that

To be effective, technology certification for educators needs to be part of formal education policy and a required element of school and teacher evaluations. . . . Educators need a system of technology training and certification.

Since 1998, The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education has required teacher technology standards for use when accrediting teacher education programs. NCATE standards now expect accredited schools of education to provide adequate access to computers and other technologies; faculty and teacher education students are expected to be able to use it successfully.


What should teachers be able to do with technology in the classroom?

The faculty at the Hunter College School of Education defined the general and personal skills with computers, networks, and other devices that are changing the way our culture deals with information. Their list includes the generic technical skills the teacher should be able to apply to the day-to-day tasks that are common to all professions, as well as the technology skills peculiar to the profession of teaching.

The competencies in this list are drawn from an analysis of teacher technology competencies that have been listed by organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education and state certification offices, as well as from the reports of more than a thousand practicing teachers who participated in the Teacher Technology Profile in 2005-7 The competencies are organized into five aspects: productivity, communication, research, media and presentation.


The competent teacher can...


The competent teacher can...


The competent teacher can...


The competent teacher can...


The competent teacher can...

Those are the skills that just about every teacher needs, no matter the subject or grade. Beyond these are the more specific technical skills required of a high school math teacher or a teacher of visually-impaired students, competencies that would be embedded into specialized courses and programs.


Power to Learn - Rolling Out iPads

Rolling Out iPads
by Guest Columnist Kyle DuBois, Third Grade Teacher, Barre Town, Vermont, 01/17/13

Last summer I presented to my administrators the possibility of using iPads, an Apple TV, and digital projector as an alternative to some newer technologies that essentially were achieving the same end as interactive whiteboards. My administrators agreed to let me pilot 1:1 iPads in my 3rd grade classroom, and they were rolled out in early January. While I am using my iPad to teach in the same way other teachers use interactive whiteboards, this article will outline the pre-planning and procedures of the initial rollout.

Tech Management

The school purchased a total of 25 iPads. Instead of purchasing Apple Protection Plans for all 20 classroom devices, they decided to purchase 5 extra devices that will be stored should anything happen once the devices are out of warranty. The students' devices are stored in a locked cart in the classroom and are never used outside of the classroom.

One concern from the tech staff at my school was how the devices would be managed. With the goal to be a true pilot to test the feasibility of a larger rollout, they did not want the iPads to be end user controlled; the tech staff was looking for an enterprise management solution. The solution that they settled on was Meraki's Mobil Device Management.

My iPad is imaged and controlled through Meraki. I can also access the App Store with a school provided Apple ID and password, however I can't download any purchased apps. Paid apps are purchased through vouchers by the IT staff and pushed to my device through Meraki.

Student iPads are identically imaged under one school provided Apple ID. This allows the tech staff to easily push apps to the classroom devices. The downside of this model is that while each student can personalize their iPad (store passwords to GoogleDrive and Dropbox accounts, set backgrounds, store photos), should a device need to be restored, none of the personal data will be saved; the iPad will be reset to the original image that each device started with. Storing photos and files on a Cloud service can neutralize some of these negative effects.

Classroom Management

One of the challenges I faced was implementing the iPads mid-year. The first six weeks of school (and sometimes beyond!) are spent purposefully introducing and practicing all of the procedures in the school day. By January the students are well used to the flow of each day. I was glad that I anticipated how awkward it would feel to begin the slow and methodical teaching of new rules and procedures. Though it is tempting to try and get them up and running at the pace of a January school day, in the long run I was much better served to teach the new procedures as purposefully as I do the markers and scissors at the start of the school year.

As a class we brainstormed our rules for iPad use, refining and ultimately voting on a set of rules to be posted on the iPad cart. It's important to give students ownership in the rules, and makes it easier for me to hold them to the expectations that they created. Some of the rules our class came up with were to be honest, respectful, responsible, calm and ready to learn.


There are three nuts and bolts procedures that help make 1:1 run smoothly in the elementary classroom. The first is having a clear organization system. In my classroom students are already assigned numbers. These student numbers are used for the order they sit in the circle, the order they line up, organizing mailboxes, etc. The tech staff has a barcode on each iPad that they use to identify individual machines, and then they used a permanent marker to number the cases. This allows us the ability to swap iPads if need be. One example would be if the school purchases a copy of a high priced app for a student on an IEP one year, the next year a student who has a different number in our class system can have access to that app by swapping the cases.

The second key procedure, to drill early and often, is some sort of verbal cue for students to bring their attention off of the iPad and onto the teacher. I chose a verbal cue I already use when students are working with math manipulatives and art supplies. I'll give a 10 second and/or 5 second warning, followed by "hands off, eyes up". I hold students strictly to this directive once it is given, welcoming them to close their cover and move the iPad to the corner of their desk if it helps them. This means fewer repeated or incorrectly followed directions when teaching a new procedure or app.

Lastly, I set clear expectations for handling the devices. In my classroom students must use two hands when carrying iPads. When they are not being used, students know to store them on the far inside corner of their desk group to lessen the chance of them being bumped off of the desk. Water bottles are not allowed in the classroom, and if students want to eat snack while working on the iPad, it must be an iPad friendly snack (nothing liquid, sticky, or messy - think goldfish instead of Cheetos, carrot sticks instead of pudding). These last two tips, and lots of other useful information, come from third grade teacher Laura Wright, and can be found in a downloadable Google Doc.


Let's look at the initial days of the iPad rollout.

Day 1: Students practice the following procedures:

We practiced this routine several times on this first day, and ran it slowly every day for the first week. Making sure the retrieval procedure is orderly from the start will help it to remain that way once students are excited by a certain app or project.

Day 2: Remembering that practice helps eliminate accidents, students review the following procedures:

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

With every new app or use for the iPads, the pace was slowed down and procedures taught step by step. This set the groundwork for the largest procedural task we will undertake this year - shifting their daily Reading Journal, Math Journal, Science Journal, and worksheets to being done on iPads and stored in the Cloud. This process will be detailed in a future article.



Power to Learn - Paperless Teaching

Paperless Teaching
by Guest Columnist Molly Dubois, Music Teacher, Burlington, Vermont, 02/28/13

Schools spend thousands of dollars a year purchasing and maintaining copiers and printers. The average high school copies 140 pages per student per month. For a typical 1000 student high school, that printing costs more than $100,000 per year*. In today's schools, we have the technology to begin using less paper, and streamline our administrative duties, conserving both time and resources.

Grade books. My school subscribes to a web-based student management system called JupiterGrades, that has a great mobile site. It allows me to bypass the paper grade book and input grades as easily on my phone and iPad as I can on my desktop. If I am grading students in class (playing test, quick check), I use my phone or iPad and input the grades directly. If I am grading papers or recordings in my office, I can use the desktop site. All of these are accessible if I bring work home as well. Once I've done the initial input, my work is done. The grades are available for students and parents online. As long as I keep it up-to-date, all I need to do at the end of the quarter is add comments.

If your school doesn't subscribe to a similar system, the same work could be done in a spreadsheet on your GoogleDrive and accomplish almost the same goals- your grades would be accessible anywhere and very little work would need to happen at the end of the quarter.  

Lesson plans. Every school and teacher is different, but no matter how you set up your lesson plans, you can find a way to do it with less (or no) paper. As an experienced teacher with administrators that do not ask to see daily plans or expect a certain format, my daily plans look more like outlines. I develop these based on my (administration-approved) curriculum, each day's lesson moving my students closer to the goals of the course. I use the Notes app on my iPhone and iPad to organize my lesson plans.

I have one note titled with the name of each course I teach. In that note, I maintain an outline of my class plan and goals for the next class. Since many of the activities and goals loop from one class meeting to the next, I don't need to rewrite it again and again. Before class starts, I use the note to write the agenda and goals on the board. When I'm in class, I can pull out my phone and quickly make a note of how far the class progressed on a particular activity, or something I need to remember to address next class. Outside of class, I can add information in on my iPad, after referencing my curriculum.

Does your school require a more organized lesson plan? When I'm doing a formal observation and want to provide my administrator with the lesson, I use the school's standard lesson plan format, and write my lesson using Pages. Once complete, I will share it with my supervisors. (Yes, I share it electronically. Often, my supervisor will bring her iPad and work from there. Sharing it electronically allows the recipient to choose whether or not to print.) When I think of a great connection to add to the lesson at 11pm, I can use my iPhone and iCloud to access the document and amend.

Student work. The majority of paper teachers use is for student work- handouts, worksheets, written tests, and more. There are many ways to streamline student work to use less paper. If your school has 1:1 technology, this is easy: use Google Forms to create and administer worksheets. Post homework assignments and readings on your course website. Allow students to hand in assignments online in a variety of formats (dropbox, email, shared Google Docs). Remember, when students hand in work electronically, you can access it from anywhere with your tablet or laptop- no more dragging the giant bag of papers and notebooks home every night!

If your school has not yet adopted 1:1 technology, it doesn't mean you have to give up on going paperless. If you have access to a computer lab, bring students there when you're giving a written assignment. Give students options when handing in assignments- for the students who have technology access, let them complete and share their assignments online. Continue to allow other students to hand in the work on paper, if necessary. Use your website as a place to collect and share assignments, instead of printing and copying instruction sheets and project rubrics. When you do need to print and copy, consider combining several assignments into one double-sided packet to use less paper.

Regardless of your school's technology access, you can find ways to minimize or eliminate paper use in your teaching. Whenever you determine a grade, write a lesson, or collect an assignment, challenge yourself to do it without paper. You'll often find that by keeping your work on a computer or in the cloud, you'll save yourself time and energy. Ask your school administrator to offer a paperless challenge: If teachers can reduce paper use by a pre-determined amount, the money saved will go into new technology for classroom use.


* According to Xerox and Hewlett-Packard, the two biggest manufacturers of modern copiers, the average total cost of ownership for their latest products ranges from 10 to 13 cents per page. See

Power to Learn - Five Tips for a Class Web Site

Five Tips for a Class Web Site
by Guest Columnist, Molly Dubois, Music Teacher & Educational Technologist, 02/14/13

Today, students, parents, and school administrators expect teachers to maintain a class website. Yet many teachers spend time and energy creating and updating websites nobody sees. Or, they build beautiful sites that are forgotten and left idle for months. How do teachers create class websites that are useful, simple to maintain, and appreciated by students, parents, and administration?

Simplify. Add only the elements you will use and have the time to maintain. Do you want to keep a calendar on the site to share upcoming events or assignments? Add a calendar, but keep it updated. See if you can add to the calendar from your smart phone or tablet, so it will be easier to keep current. Do you often share links to external websites with your students? Add a page for links, so students can easily find other sites relevant to your course. But think carefully about what you will use on the site, and keep it free of clutter. If you won't be using a blog, don't put a blog on the website.

Use it. Create an Announcements or Assignments page and use it to post in-class and homework assignments. If your school has 1:1 technology or you're teaching in a lab, make your website the launch pad to worksheets in Google Forms, the gallery of student work for class commentary, or the host for links to videos or articles. If your students have access to technology when you're absent, leave your sub activities on your website so your students can have access to the assignment while you're home sick or at a conference. Using one website as the anchor for all of your online work makes it easy for students and parents to stay in touch with you and your class.

Update. There is nothing more disappointing than accessing a website only to find the information outdated. Keep the calendar up-to-date with assignments and events. Even if you're assigning traditional pencil-and-paper homework, post the assignment online so students have access anytime, anywhere, and so parents and administration can see what your class is up to. Keep a gallery of student work, both to share with the adults and to give your students a chance to critique. If you can, post pictures, audio, or video recordings of your students at work. Many of these updates take very little time, especially if you're already putting them on your computer. Don't give yourself a set time of the week for website updates. Instead, when you finish typing up an assignment to print out, take two minutes to put it on the website.

Teach. One of my favorite uses for a class website is as a resource for students who have missed class or need a refresher on a concept recently taught. This could be as simple as posting class notes or lecture outlines. Or, you could use an app like Educreations to explain an idea or equation, and post that presentation on your site. This might also be helpful to parents- imagine them trying to help their child with homework when the method of subtraction is completely different from the way they learned it 30 years ago. Better yet, have students create tutorials to explain what they're learning. Whatever you do, having lessons accessible on your website means that instead of individually re-teaching whenever a student needs a refresher, you can send them to a tutorial, and they can explore it themselves.

Share. Recently, I added a curriculum for two of my classes to my class website. This has been helpful in many ways. First, it offers transparency for my administrators and other school personnel. Second, it allows me to easily share my plans with colleagues both in my own department and in other schools. Third, it gives parents and students access to the class expectations and benchmarks. Finally, it has been helpful to me simply to have my work accessible anytime and anywhere. I can add to it from home and bring up scale sheets anytime at any school.

Following these five tips, you can make your class website a hub for updated information that is appreciated by administration, parents, other teachers, and especially, students.

Power to Learn - Study Right—What Works

Study Right—What Works
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 02/07/13

Recent research led by Professor John Dunlosky, Kent State, examined thousands of studies in order to find which study techniques worked best for students. The result was a list of the Best and Worse Ways to Learn.

The losers were highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing-all skills we encourage our students to use both online and offline. According to the research, the best thing about these techniques is they require students to read the assigned material. We have to ask ourselves why these techniques aren't working. Maybe it's because our students don't know what to highlight, underline, reread, and summarize? Have we taught these skills? Have we checked how our students are using them? If students were competent in these skills, would the research have had different results?

DiigoWith the transition to online studies, students should master use of digital tools such as Diigo for desktops, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. With Diigo, students can highlight, create interactive sticky notes, make and organize bookmarks, take and annotate screen shots, and share what they are doing with you. Using the sharing feature, you can easily see if your students are mastering 21st Century study skills and if these skills are working for them.

FlashcardappWhile highlighting and its companions made the bottom of the research list, the winning study skills were: (1) spreading out studying of the material over a period of time, and (2) engaging in practice testing. Review of material over time is the best way for students to retain the content long term - the opposite of cramming, studying over time combined with practice testing works. Both of these techniques are perfect for digital learning. Students who have content they need available on their computers and digital devices can study anywhere. They can use flashcard apps such as Flashcard Machine, Quizlet, and STUDYBLUE to create ways to test themselves. Whether they are at their desks, standing in line, waiting for a dental appointment, riding on a bus, or sitting on a park bench, they can review and test themselves on what they want to master.

You may be wondering about what the research found about study practices such as mental imagery, asking "why" while reading, explaining to yourself what you are reading when you are reading, and using keywords or clues to remember. These techniques weren't with the losers, but they didn't have the advantages offered by studying overtime and quizzing.

Obviously, helping students to realize the importance of studying over time and frequent non-graded testing is the best path for improvement in learning. But we shouldn't forget that if students master other study techniques, these may be of use to them as well.





Power to Learn - From Bungee Jumping to Differential Equations

From Bungee Jumping to Differential Equations
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, 01/24/13

In his 1623 book The Assayer, Galileo wrote,

'Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these one is wandering in a dark labyrinth.'

Later pundits have summarized this to "The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics." And indeed for the last two thousand years humankind has been learning to read this book. Arab and Persian astronomers discovered the mathematics that determined the paths of the stars and invented a mathematical oration to explain when heavenly bodies would move, appear and disappear. (The 3 Kings' Prophecy.) Greek and Roman surveyors invented formulas and equations to help them bound and measure the extent of their empires. (Pythagoras' Triangle.) Philosophers of the enlightenment strove to explain and predict everyday occurrences through orderly systems of relationships. (Newton's Apple.)

Modern-day scientists and technicians made daily use of these discoveries and inventions, when they harnessed the power of nuclear fission, predicted the path of the first rocket to the moon, and developed the GPS that tells you exactly where you are. Without mathematics, the very nature of the man-made world would not be what it is. If God was a mathematician when she put the universe in motion, our species has served as her active students, constructing and discovering the ancient language.

But somehow we have lost the sense of wonder and power that captivated and motivated the Arab astronomers, the Greek geometers, and the rocket scientists. We often teach mathematics as if it has no connection to nature. I watched some sixth-graders at a top flight school face a phalanx of long division problems -- dividing decimals, on paper, no explanation, no rationale for their connection with the real world. With glassy eyes and resigned countenances they plowed through the 40 relentless problems, and learned that math was a necessary chore with little application to or foundation in nature.

I worked with a community college that claimed only 10% of its freshmen were ready for college-level math, based on an entrance exam with 60 problems like these:


Algebra        problem

What is the domain?

Algebra        problem

Rewrite using only the sine function:

Algebra        problem

Of the sixty items on the exam, only nine have any relationship with nature, such as:

56. A saline solution is 20% salt. How many gallons of water must be added to dilute the mixture to 8 gals of a 15% saline solution?

And this severing of mathematics teaching and learning from nature and practicality is not a function of college level. Let's look at the 8th-grade exam required by a major northeastern state of all its students. Most of the questions on the test -- for which millions of students are being prepped every day -- are like this:

Multiple        Choice        Algebra        Question

Of the 27 questions on the test, only five appear in any kind of an applied context. The questions we ask our students come out of the blue, with no relation to each other or to the original meaning of math. The math we teach and test bears little connection to nature, few practical applications, and no sense of context.

Where's the drama of Galileo's dropping things from the leaning tower? What happened to Newton's wonder at the fall of the Apple? Where's the challenge of landing the rocket on the edge of the crater?

At an inner-city high school in the same state, the principal confronted the number of his students failing math in their first year. "If only I could turn math upside-down, we could get them through it. Start with a practical problem, and learn the math as we work together to solve it. That's the way we want this school to work -- but the math curriculum gets in our way."

The Common Core math standards now being proposed do no better at reviving the link to nature and practicality. In Common-Core Math Standards Don't Add Up, Grant Wiggins shows how "there is not one word in the standards document about building curricula backward from rich, nonroutine, interesting, and authentic problems."

The kind of math that this principal laments and the Common Core perpetuates is also not friendly to modern digital technologies. Students are not allowed to use common mathematical software tools when they take these tests, and the problems themselves are based on the kinds of paper-and-pencil tasks that mathematicians had to perform by hand before the advent of computers. So, there's little place for equation editors, graphing calculators, or geometric sketchpads in the teaching and learning of math in many schools. Even at schools where every student has a laptop in his backpack, math is still done on pencil and paper, as it was a century ago.

How can we connect math back to its natural and practical origins, and take full advantage of digital technologies as we teach and learn it? A few examples observed in forward-looking schools may suggest the right direction.

Tennis Launcher

The tennis team doesn't need the practice ball launcher during 5th-period math. So the students set the angle, adjust the force, start the video recorder, and pull the lanyard. Pop, swoosh, and bop as the ball misses the trashcan target by 1.2 meters. Frame by frame they analyze the video clip, plotting the course of the ball with points on the Cartesian plane laid over the video image. A pair of students downloads the coordinates of the points to a spreadsheet for further analysis, while another pair computes the initial velocity. "The closest curve-fit is parabolic, but the right half of the graph is off quite a bit from the perfect curve," reports the first pair. "We start off at 3 meters per second, but it drops pretty quickly as it reaches the top of the arc," reports the second.

Bungee Jumping

Armed with videos of human bungee-jumping, as well as a special apparatus they built in a corner of the gym, each small group of 12th-graders predicts the point at which the downward motion of the weight ceases. In order to do this accurately, they've had to learn to use differential equations, understand the acceleration of gravity (a second-order equation), and factor in the friction of the air. It's a complex prediction, with any possible paths to the truth. Each group plots its prediction with the graphing tools on their various laptops and mobile devices, runs and records the experimental apparatus, and reviews the digital video. The goal is to determine a mass that will stop falling just above the floor. (See

Green Roof

The school roof needed replacement anyway, and the lowest bid came in at $153,000. The sixth graders are hard at work designing alternative roof systems more friendly to the environment than the rubber fabric proposed in the bid. One group designs a green roof, with rocks, grass, small bushes, and other natural features that conserve water and provide outdoor laboratory space for science experiments. They are developing their cost estimate. "We need a layer of gravel 2.5 centimeters deep across the entire eastern quadrant of the roof. How many square meters is that?" They do the calculations, multiplying and dividing decimals in rapid succession. They are thrown for a loop when their research finds that gravel is sold in cubic yards, not meters: more calculation, more math. "That puts us over $130,000, " reports the self-appointed accountant for the group.

How different from the flat page of problems we began with. The approaches in these examples begin with a practical problem worth solving, one that requires certain math concepts and skills for its solution. The questions and the challenge are carefully designed by the teacher to require the learning and practice of the kinds of math the students need to learn. This is what the principal meant by turning the math curriculum upside down.

Have these students come back in contact with the predictive and explanatory power of mathematics? Have they come to understand how it might help them get their work done, now and in the adult world? Have they shared a bit in the wonder and power that so impresses their ancient forbears?


Power to Learn - Conference 3.0

Conference 3.0
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 01/10/13

Recent articles in this series have described Education 3.0, characterized by new forms of teaching and learning that leave passive listening, pencil, and paper far behind. I am often asked to speak on this topic at national and international education conferences. It's interesting that almost every one of these conferences is conducted in the old-fashioned way, with paper handouts, passive listening, and long lectures. Many follow the traditions of the medieval university, which while quaint and comfortably familiar, are tuned more to the principles of Education 1.0 than to 3.0.

This week's article investigates what an educational conference might look like if it followed the principles of Education 3.0. The story is told through the eyes of a hypothetical participant, Jefferson Thomas, principal of Democracy High School in AnyTown, AnyCountry.

Principal Thomas learns about the Education 3.0 conference from a fellow school leader in AnyTown. He looks over the agenda on the conference web site, and finds that it is promoting exactly what his school is looking for. So he registers for the conference and pays his fee online. He also uploads a photo of himself that will show up in the online conference directory.

Next day Thomas receives an email from the conference organizer with a password to the conference participants' site. Here he finds summaries of each presentation in both text and podcast format, as well as an extensive set of online references about Education 3.0. He's especially interested in the links to other schools that have already moved down the road toward this new form of teaching and learning. He sends some of these links to three of his key teachers.

After browsing the materials, the teachers ask if they might also attend the conference, and so Thomas forms a team of participants from Democracy High School, and registers his teachers (at a reduced fee). The three of them meet a week later to plan which of the breakout sessions to attend. They download the conference app onto their mobile devices, so they'll be able to work with the materials even when they are off-line.

When they arrive at the conference site, the group connects to the wireless network, and then taps the Print Badge button on the app. After picking up their badge from one of the printers, they find a table in the main assembly room, and look on their mobile devices through the latest additions to the conference. At their table also is a team from another school; they are using mobile devices borrowed for the day from one of the conference sponsors.

They see on the conference app that the back-channel conversation has already started. Participants are sharing their questions in the text chat window; many are wondering how Education 3.0 would look in their own schools. Some are posing questions to the conference presenters.

Promptly at 9:00 AM they hear an alarm on their devices, the lights dim, and the Commissioner of Education welcomes and challenges the participants to move forward in their schools to develop the kind of citizen our country needs for its future. He also answers some of the questions posed to him through the backchannel text chat. Then he introduces the next presenter, an old, but savvy, man from the USA.

This professor directs participants to the online companion to his presentation on Education 3.0, and asks them to follow along on their devices. Every so often he stops and poses a question. The small groups at each table discuss the question, and enter their answer into the audience response system. They see the compilation of the responses appear on the big screen as the presenter reacts to them. Thomas enjoys this kind of informal participatory session. So do his teachers.

They see slides of A Day in the Life of an Education 3.0 Student, which provokes much discussion at the table as the groups react to the presenter's questions.  The answers posted on the big screen are lively and thoughtful. They see the presenter and the conference organizer circulate among the groups to listen to the discussions. And the back channel text chat is going wild, with participants and presenters posing and responding to questions in real time.

Finally the presenter asks each participant to use his or her mobile device to respond to the Education 3.0 Inventory, a measure of how far each school has moved toward Education 3.0. The results are reflected on the big screen in real time, so they can see how their school compares with the others. At the presenter's direction, each school team chooses four items from the inventory on which to focus their efforts at this conference and for the coming year.

The conference organizer then lays out the assignment for the day: that each school will develop a Day in the Life slide show that illustrates how those four items will be transformed in their school over the coming year. He challenges each group to gather from the breakout sessions ideas and images that will form the basis of their Day in the Life stories, which they will build on and present in the creative session that will close the day.

After a coffee break (full of discussion among participants and presenters), Jefferson Thomas and his teachers choose three different breakout sessions to attend, and also begin to outline what they will show in their Day in the Life at Democracy High School.

Thomas's math teacher attends a session on Turning Math Upside Down, presented by a teacher from Brazil who begins every math lesson with a real-world problem or simulation, which the students must solve using a variety of digital math tools and approaches. Thomas's teacher has already listened to the presenter's podcast on this topic, and read his paper, so when they get to the session they can get right down to the practical nitty-gritty of how to revamp the curriculum to take advantage of this kind of teaching.

The literature teacher at her session learns to use her mobile device to compose and publish an eBook that her students can interact with on their mobile devices, laptops or PCs. Again, she is prepared: the presenter in his pre-conference podcast suggested they bring some raw materials with them that they might use in building their eBook.

Thomas himself goes to a session on Leadership Toward Education 3.0, where he finds other principals -- some from schools that have implemented new forms of teaching and learning -- discussing strategies for moving schools forward.

All of the breakout sessions are aimed at helping Thomas and his team develop the new ideas and practical skills that will enable them to envision and implement Education 3.0 back home at Democracy High School.

During lunch, discussion continues at the tables and over the backchannel text chat. Thomas meets several old friends, and many new ones that he found on the conference directory, all working toward the same goal of educational transformation. He sends text messages to two school directors who he knows, but cannot find, and they make an appointment to meet at the next coffee break.

In the after-lunch breakout sessions - where the morning workshops are repeated - Thomas and his team attend three more useful meetings, for which they have prepared themselves in advance. Along the way they shoot photos with their mobile devices, that they will use in their Day in the Life story.

After a coffee break, the team assembles at its table in the main room. The presenter leads them through the process of telling their Day in the Life story through pictures. When they're done, they share their stories with other schools via wireless projection. The conference ends with a parade of participants' visions of what Education 3.0 will look like in when it is fully formed.


Power to Learn - Technology and Learning

Technology and Learning
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 11/22/12

This article describes three trends in technology that are changing the face of higher education, and three implications for colleges and universities.

The three technical trends are mobile learning, online courses, and access to information.

Mobile Devices

Most college students today own a mobile device, and some carry two or three with them all day long. Whether it's a laptop computer or tablet or smartphone, these devices are capable of the full gamut of connections, communications, and access to information. In the past three years, the tablet is the fastest-growing mobile technology in the hands of students, tripling from 2011 (7%) to 2012 (25%). (Pearson study). Apple alone is selling 12 million iPads per quarter, with at least two million of these into the hands of students. Students use these mobile devices in their daily work and carry them to class and on the subway.

Fact: in 2006, the percentage of students owning a desktop computer (71%) and a laptop (65%) were about the same. Three years later, the percentage of laptops (88%) was double that of desktops (44%). (ECAR study)  By 2012, the tablets are outselling both desktops and laptops in the education market.

Students use their mobile devices in four ways: as a library, as a communicator, as an organizer, and as a teacher.


A student's first stop on the road to research is at their mobile device. They search academic journals, news accounts, books, libraries, maps, and data collections to find what they need for their assignments. A mobile device can hold 10,000 books and access millions more online. It can browse the collections of most of the world's museums and many of its libraries.


Letters in the mail and talks on the phone for most of our students have been replaced and enhanced by email, texting, videoconferencing, and social networking sites. 95% of students use these technologies every day for communication. (ECAR study)


Students use their mobile device as an organizer. On it they keep their calendar of events, class schedule, projects, assignments, and research results. They keep track of their contacts, their professors, their fellow students, their family their friends. On the same device they organize their books and articles, their class notes, videos, images, pictures, and diagrams. They eschew paper and embrace the device for this important  task.


The same mobile device also acts as a teacher. Students use it to learn what they need to know: a foreign language, a history lesson, or a mathematics equation. On their mobile device they harbor tools that help them to learn. They can connect iTunes U and learn most anything from thousands of college professors who have contributed their best material in the form of podcasts available on the web for anyone to use.

Online Learning

The second trend brought on by this ubiquity of mobile devices is online learning. One-third of college students today in America are taking at least one online course this semester, and some students take their entire degree program online. (Sloan report) Some of these courses are 100% online while others blend online experience with periodic class meetings. Hunter College offers dozens of online and hybrid courses in all of its schools. Through our recent Hybrid Initiative we explored student and faculty reactions to this new kind of hybrid online course. We found that when the courses were well structured, with frequent assessments and a variety of learning activities, both the students and the faculty found them to be rewarding.

The online courses that are most successful are those which are self-paced, where students learn when they wish to learn in a variety of modes, mostly on their own, but with frequent group activities and discussions with their teacher. But most of the work in these courses is accomplished on their mobile device - all done by themselves as individuals..


At the extreme end of the online course movement is the MOOC. These Massive Open Online Courses are offered by the world's best universities, such as Stanford, MIT, and the University of Texas. They're open to anyone, they are self-paced, and provide a variety of learning activities. The work in the best MOOCs is rigorous and challenging.  Tens of thousands of students enroll in some of these courses. Generally, these are not given for credit; the materials put together by professors are organized simply for the students to learn from. The student who takes these courses is not seeking a credential or a grade; he or she simply wants to learn something new from the world's best minds.

Hunter College doesn't offer (yet) any MOOCs. The closest we have is the Technology Competencies course at the school of education where 2500 students are enrolled each semester in an online program to learn the technologies they need to be certified as a schoolteacher. This isn't really a MOOC -- while the course is massive and online, it's not open to anyone, only to degree candidates in the School of Education. Through this program, we have learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn't work in online self-paced higher education.


The third important technology trend is access to information. Over the last 20 years the world's information, from libraries to articles to academic journals to news to  data have all been gathered together, digitized, organized, indexed and posted online so  that most anyone can find the information they need. The efforts of Google, the world's librarians, and the new breed of information programmers have made this revolution possible. This means that we don't have to go to the library to read a book or to find an idea or to access the latest data in our field. So the valuable skill these days is not locating and memorizing information, but knowing what you need, figuring out what it means, and determining what to do with it. Those are the new basic skills for the college student.


These technological trends imply a change in the role of three functions at the heart of the university: the lecture, the textbook, and the classroom experience.

The lecture

If all the world's information and ideas are available online to anyone, and if every one of our students has a mobile device that can access that information, what's a professor to do? A lecture that simply lays out information doesn't satisfy. A lecture that repeats the information that any student could find online easily it's not worth sitting through. So at the best schools the best teachers are using their lecture time in very different ways. Instead of laying out the information that the students need to know, these teachers use class time to answer students' questions, conduct live experiments, and discuss the implications of the topic at hand. Before the class meeting, the professor sends the students online to get the basic information that used to be in the lecture. No more stand and deliver. No more sit and git.

The paper textbook

The second implication of the technology trends is the end of the paper textbook and the paper journal. These are dying quickly. The business plans of all the major textbook publishers call for the paper version to come to an end as various forms of digital online books to become the core of their business. For periodicals, each week sees an announcement from another journal announcing that it's abandoning its print version and going to an all-online publishing format.

Our students prefer this. The most recent survey of college students found that nearly six in 10 students preferred digital books when reading for class, compared with one-third who said they preferred printed textbooks. (Pearson study) Tools for faculty members to publish their own eBooks are finding good use at Hunter College, with several faculty at work on authoring this new form of publication.

The classroom experience

In the best schools, the end of the passive lecture and the static text transform the classroom into something very different. What happens in class is more up-to-date, the work focuses on discussions, questions, and implications and the future, rather than on a recitation of the findings of the past.

These three trends and these three implications have changed the expectations of our students. They expect to come to a college where the classroom is up-to-date, lively, and focused on thinking. They expect all the information they need to be available online and playable on their mobile device, so that they may study anywhere at anytime. They expect their professors and their college to take advantage of the latest information technologies, and to understand how to take full advantage of the mobile device and the information revolution. An institution of higher education that fails to meet these expectations and improve academic quality will quickly lose its reputation.


Pearson Study

ECAR Study

Sloan-C Report

Power to Learn - The Many Forms of Word Theft - Part III

The Many Forms of Word Theft - Part III
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 11/08/12

The ten words and phrases introduced in Parts I and II of this series, should serve as clever reminders to your students that word theft comes in many forms-from outright stealing to unintentional, well, we'll call it borrowing or perhaps, sloppy writing. Let your students know that intentional plagiarism-copying entire papers or chunks of others' work is what most students attempt, but that some plagiarism results from rushing to get a paper completed before the deadline and/or careless note-taking and source citing.

Teaching how to write research papers takes time and patience. Students need practice, for if they fall into the habit of copying and then using it for a report in the lower grades, the transition to "It's not okay to copy," isn't easy. With that in mind, here are a few additional ideas for plagiarism prevention, some of which come from the Turnitin White Paper, The Plagiarism Spectrum: Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism.

Make your plagiarism policies specific. The worst types of plagiarism should result in the most serious punishment, while infractions that may be the result of lack of understanding about research writing or minor or unintentional mistakes, should carry lesser penalties.

Give students research assignments designed to: (1) make them look beyond one source for information, and (2) challenge them to insert their own original ideas about the topic.  For example, "Compare Lincoln's early life to those of current presidential candidates" is a much better assignment than "Do a research paper on Abraham Lincoln". -Or for "Catcher in the Rye," consider "How might the book "Catcher in the Rye" have been different if Holden Caulfield had had a cell phone?"

Show students examples of the different types of plagiarism. To help you, examples are provided in the Turnitin white paper. By reviewing the types of plagiarism, your students will know that you will be looking for word theft when you grade their papers.

Realize that with the growth of the Internet, sometimes it's difficult to understand what is original content and who wrote the content. The Internet makes it easier to engage in plagiarism. Not only can student find sites where they can purchase whole papers, online they have worlds of information on just about any topic available to them. Showing students how to find reliable sources must be one of the steps in teaching research writing.

Don't just assign research papers, teach students acceptable ways to complete them. Help them learn to use their computers to save and organize notes and sources. Demonstrate how sloppy note taking usually results poor grades, no matter how beautifully a paper reads. Introduce your students to examples of how careless research causes big problems.

Remember that it's difficult to paraphrase and to understand when ideas need to be cited.  Not many people are skilled at paraphrasing, and students are often stymied by it. After becoming familiar with their topic, they also have difficulty knowing which ideas don't belong to them. Besides, knowing what is considered "general knowledge" may not be part of your students background.

Encourage your students to come to you for help with citing sources, paraphrasing, and any other research problems before handing in their papers. Give them links to specific sites that deal with citation that you think they will find accurate and helpful.

If your school subscribes to a plagiarism prevention service, don't use the service to grade student papers. Let students use it to learn if their paper contains any problems with originality. These services can serve as excellent ways for students to learn how to improve their work before they submit their final copies.

Writing papers in middle school and high school should be a positive learning experience, which will give students the foundation they need to write well and honestly when they go off to college. With you as their guide let them make their mistakes now and learn from them.


Power to Learn - The Many Forms of Word Theft - Part II

The Many Forms of Word Theft - Part II
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 11/01/12

If you haven't read Part I of The Many Forms of Word Theft, you've missed the clues that will help you teach students about the worst types of plagiarism-cloning, CTRL-C, Find-Replace, Re-Mix and Recycle.  The titles are designed to make warning bells go off in students' heads whenever they contemplate stealing words.

In addition to the five types of plagiarism discussed in Part I, Turnitin, the plagiarism prevention company, listed five more in its white paper, The Plagiarism Spectrum: Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism.

The Less-Obvious Forms of Plagiarism include:

6. The HYBRID - In a Hybrid paper or report, your students collect information from sources just as they should. When they start writing, they give credit for some of the ideas and words that came from others, but they also insert passages they don't properly identify. Sometimes this happens because a student is a sloppy note-taker or is rushing to get a paper done, but sometimes they know what they are doing and think that if some parts are cited correctly, you won't notice the parts that aren't.

7. The MASHUP - Mashup creators take information from different sources and mix it to make it seem like their work. They don't bother to credit sources-either mistakenly thinking that what they are writing is theirs or intentionally trying to make it look like theirs. Research writing can get confusing when students have spent lots of time learning about a topic.  Unless they've been meticulous with note taking, they may start thinking that the ideas came from their heads.

8. The 404 ERROR - Maybe your students know lots about their topic and decide to just go ahead and write without bothering to look up sources to find out anything new. Or perhaps they've looked up information on the topic, but don't bother to write down where they got the information. They know that they need to cite sources so they make up their own quotes and cite sources that may have nothing to do with their writing or may not even exist.

9. The AGGREGATOR - It's easy for your students to fall into this plagiarism category. How many times have you heard students say, "I can't write about this. The author says it much better, so I need to use his words"? That's the problem here. Your students may write a properly cited paper, but all of it is information taken from others. Your paper has very little or no original ideas.

10. The RE-TWEET- Re-Tweeting is when your students do a good job of citing sources, but their writing is simply too close to the source's words. Sure, the writing is a bit different, and they've been honest about whose ideas or words you are using, but it's not different enough to be their own paper. Re-tweeting is also when students use a paper they've previously written in an attempt to change it around to make it into a nice, new paper.

In Parts I and II of The Many Forms of Word Theft we introduced ten plagiarism prevention words and phrases that will help your students beware of the many types of plagiarism. Turnitin, the company who created the titles, offers other suggestions for teaching research writing. In Part III, we'll cover the Turnitin ideas along with others that may assist you in your continuing struggle against sloppy research and writing and word theft.


Power to Learn - The Many Forms of Word Theft – Part I

The Many Forms of Word Theft – Part I
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 10/25/12

Turnitin, the plagiarism prevention company has published a white paper entitled The Plagiarism Spectrum: Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism. The paper describes the most prevalent types of intellectual theft and offers recommendations for thwarting them.

To come up with the ten types of plagiarism, Turnitin examined thousands of student papers that contained "unoriginal work" and surveyed almost a thousand teachers about student writing. The results of the study allowed researchers to define specific ways students plagiarize and to give categories memorable titles. These titles should be useful to you as you help your students master the skills of research writing.

Although all types of plagiarism are a concern, the types that are considered the most egregious are those in which students knowingly copy, falsify sources, and/or hand in papers and reports that have been changed somewhat, but are actually the work of others.

According to the white paper, the five worse forms of plagiarism are:

1. The Clone - If your students are cloning, they are copying someone else's work word for word. They haven't bothered to change anything, except the name of the author.  The sad fact is that most plagiarism is cloning-outright theft.

2. The CTRL-C - Control-C isn't exactly cloning, but it's pretty close. Your students have filled their reports or papers with chunks of someone's work and haven't even bothered to give the author credit. Even if they gave the author credit, which would have been nice, you probably wouldn't give them a passing grade because most of the paper was taken from one source.

3. The Find-Replace - You see this all the time. Students think they'll avoid getting caught by changing vocabulary. Even though what they've done is stealing, at least they've learned to use a thesaurus.

4. The Re-Mix - Paraphrasing isn't easy, but perhaps some of your students have mastered it to some extent. Maybe they used several different sources and paraphrased from them for their papers or reports? Either way, the work isn't theirs, for all they've done is play scramble up other people's writing.

5. The Recycle - Some students try to recycle their own papers without citing themselves as sources. They think they can get around writing another paper, because they are sure no one will know, probably not even the teacher they handed it in to the year before. Besides, they rationalize, it's their writing, isn't it? Even if they cite themselves, papers and reports are meant to be original, and too much from previous papers isn't a good idea.  Students should know that Turnitin and other plagiarism prevention services keep student papers in a database and recognize immediately that the paper's been copied.

Encourage your students to internalize these titles so that the next time they are tempted toward intellectual theft, the titles-Clone, CTRL-C, Find-Replace, Re-Mix, and Recycle will pop into their brains warning-"Don't take the risk."

In Part II, we'll tackle five other types of plagiarism, their titles, and ways Turnitin suggests you can help your students learn about properly using source material in their writing.

Power to Learn - A Tablet for the Common Core

A Tablet for the Common Core
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/18/12


Can a tablet cure the common core? Do the new mobile learning devices offer tools and techniques that can help students master the new definition of the basic skills? We've been working on these questions in several one-to-one and curriculum development projects this fall. This article looks at one area of the common core, the English Language Arts standards at the middle school level, specifically those involved with the new approach to reading and understanding informational text.

Working with several groups of teachers, common core experts, and several brands of tablets, we've come up with an interesting approach that can be applied to almost any such text on any tablet. The process follows seven steps.


The common core approach tells us to confront the text directly, without lots of context-setting or lead-in. Just read it and try to figure it out all by yourself, like a detective entering a crime scene that she's never seen before. Read the words, the sentences, the paragraphs. What seems to be going on? Have you seen anything like this before? Pretend you've just found a long-lost scrap of paper with these words on it, and try to figure out what the text is trying to communicate.

On a tablet, you can do this easily. As a teacher, you can get the text onto your students' tablet in many different ways:

This first stage in the investigative process is best accompanied by discussion among readers. What are you finding? What's going on here? What might this be about? What's interesting about it? In the classroom, the teacher can enhance this discussion using one of the response apps such as E-Clicker or Socrative.

And then after the talk, take some time for reflection and response, which might be written as text (using the tablet's keyboard) or spoken as voice (with the tablet's voice recorder) or both (with the tablet's speech-to-text feature.)


Now we use the tablet to help us move deeper into the text. Put the text into the eReader app, such as iBooks on the iPad. Tell students to read the text until they come to a word they don't know. Tap that word. Then annotate it with what you think it might mean, based on the context, and what you know of similar words. Annotate nouns in blue, verbs in red, and adjectives in green. Then mail those definitions to the teacher, or to fellow students, for their review. EReader apps such as iBooks on the iPad can do this easily.

Next, Students can compare their own definitions with those of the dictionary by selecting each unknown word, and tapping the define tab. But these definitions are just the beginning of the reading process. Students must next analyze the text, with the help of their tablet and their teacher.


In this step students try to figure out what the text means. They do this by re-reading and thinking about key phrases and sentences, guided by questions from their teacher. Teachers can develop a version of the text with these questions built-in, using one of the ePub authoring tools listed above, and ask students to use the annotation feature of their tablet's eReader app to answer the questions, and mail their work to the teacher or to fellow students for review.

Key questions for this step in the reading process might delve into the whys and wherefores of a certain phrase, or compare one phrase with another, or look for common as well as contrasting words. Questions at this stage should stick to the text itself, in an attempt to figure out its meaning without reference to outside resources. Like a detective at a crime science, the reader is looking closely at the clues, leaving no word unexamined, and making notes of her observations.


Once analyzed, students should explore the text, investigating its context, and asking questions about the author's situation and goals. Guided by questions from the teacher -- embedded in yet another version of the ePub -- the student relates the text to the world around it. This is best done by using the tablet's browser or reference collection to locate information that helps explain the text, from background material to maps to similar texts to information about the author and her values and beliefs.

Again, the questions posed by the teacher can help this exploration along, pointing the student in key directions and suggesting cross-references. As before, these questions may be easily embedded in a version of the ePub.


We include certain texts in our literary or historical canon because they contain lessons for us all. These anchor texts contain implications for the future, or for our own lives, and are often referred to by others. At this fourth step in the reading process, the student extends the text in these directions. Following yet another set of questions and suggestions from the teacher, the student uses his tablet's reference collection and it's browser to find how far this text extends itself into the past, present, and future of its own context, as well as into other areas further afield.


To show that the student has learned something from the text, we ask them to use their tablets to create a piece of work that proves his or her understanding. It might be as simple as a summary text written with the word processor, or as complex as an original play written on, rehearsed with, and filmed through, the tablet. It might be a photo-essay or a podcast. Or a slide show, or an idea-map. The tablet harbors tools to create many different types of work products.


The tablet can also check for understanding through traditional quizzes and tests. Many ePub authoring tools include quiz-makers that embed themselves right in the text, and are self-correcting. Teachers may also link directly from the ePub to quizzes and tests in the school's learning management system.

So next time you need your students to work with a text, especially an informational piece, consider following the seven-step process described in this article, and doing it all on the tablet. For an example of this approach applied to the Declaration of Independence, try this link -

Power to Learn - Mobile Learning: A Day in the Life

Mobile Learning: A Day in the Life
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/11/12

Three developments over the last five years are combining to enable forms of teaching and learning that have never before seemed possible. These three are:

The instant popularity of the iPad, and its swift adoption by schools and colleges and students, signals the harvest from these trends. As I work with educators experimenting at the cutting edge of this movement, and taking full educational advantage of these trends, I foresee a school experience far different from what most students know today. Here's what a day in the life of a tablet-toting student looks like. (iPad apps are referred to in in bold italics.)

Wake Up

The student's wake up call is a chiming alert from his tablet, reminding him that his biology project is due this afternoon before 3:00 PM. Checking his Calendar, with which he had earlier set the alarm, he reviews the project assignment.

Teachers at this student's school distribute all course events -- meetings, assignments, projects, tests, and so forth -- as calendar events, which upon receipt by their students, show automatically in the Calendar. Red for history, green for biology, and so forth, forming a colorful matrix as the student views his week of work.


Having neglected his biology assignment, our student now gets to work, setting forth his project plan in Notes.

He begins his investigation by consulting his biology textbook in iBooks, searching for information about the human circulatory system. As he reads the words, he taps to see a definition of unfamiliar words, and calls up images and videos to illustrate key concepts. He highlights passages he wants to remember, and notes his interpretations in the margins. Fascinated by the section on EKG and heart rate, he takes the book's advice to do a quick experiment, on which he will base his project.

All of the learning materials at the school are published in digital form, from textbooks to assignments to handouts to lecture notes and all downloaded to students' tablets so that they may consult them anywhere, anytime, anyplace. And because they all use the open-standards ePub format, they can take advantage of the interactive literacy tools offered by the mobile devices.

He uses Vital Signs to measure his own heart rate at rest, taking several measurements. He enters the results into the Numbers spreadsheet, and then proceeds to run up three flights of stairs. At the top, he labels the columns: name, before, after. In the first row he enters his name, then his heart rate before exercise (65), and after (83).

To gather more data for his experiment, he loans his iPod Touch to a fellow student, who uses Instant Heart Rate to measure heart rate through the camera, at rest, and then after exercise. From the results of this and several other students, he adds more rows to spreadsheet on his tablet.

To better understand the data he has gathered, he interviews his experimental subjects with the tablet's video Camera. He'll use excerpts from these interviews in his final report.

The collection of authentic real-world data is built into the curriculum at this school, with mobile and online tools that make that data-gathering possible in many settings, often far from the laboratory.

Curious to learn more about the physiological phenomenon he is measuring, our student connects to iTunes U to learn more about heart rate regulation. In the iTunes U Catalog, he searches for "Heart Rate,"  and finds a presentation from the Grand Rounds at the Arizona University School of Medicine, #27. This he expands to fill the screen, and browses the talk until it gets to a section relevant to his experiment.

High-quality learning resources from all over the world are available to students 24/7 as their mobile devices connect to serious academic presentations that go far beyond the textbook.

From the Arizona talk, he copies the email address of one of the presenters and enters it into his FaceTime contacts directory. The researcher agrees to answer his questions through this videoconferencing software built into his tablet. Our student uses Maps to locate and analyze the geography of his correspondent. Once they are connected he asks his questions: How does human organism regulate heart rate?

The researcher at the other end suggests he look up the concept of self-regulating systems. Our student uses Notes to enter what he learns from the expert contact. The researcher asks what other subjects our student is working on, and reminds him not to ignore those.

Videoconferencing opens up new channels of learning for students, making it possible for them to learn from and with many types of people, all over the world, quickly and easily.

Our student brings up his Calendar, and sees that his history course is scheduled to meet in 25 minutes. The entry for today's class meeting includes a direct link to his reading assignment on the U.S. Constitution. In this reading he finds a link to an iTunes U podcast called "The Miracle of the Constitution," from a professor in Chicago, that includes images, voices, quotations, and diagrams that help him understand how this venerable document was written.

He uses Safari to follow up on one of the quotations in the podcast, about how the Constitution was a "machine that would go of itself." He finds it came from James Russell Lowell. Following up further, he finds a review from the New York Times of a new book on the Constitution, which describes the document as a miracle of self-regulation. This makes our student think about the relationship between biological and governmental systems...

Cross-disciplinary connections and creative curiosity rise to the top with a tablet. With class assignments, reference works, and multimedia lectures all available with a tap, our student is more likely to search widely and make connections between the ideas he finds.

Back to iTunes U, our student searches for "self regulation," and finds many examples in the podcasts submitted by professors and teachers. He browses a few, and copies their links into Notes. He also saves some images into Photos. He takes some time to review and reflect on the ideas and materials he has collected.

He notices that many of the diagrams connected with the concept of self-regulation show some kind of up-and-down curve. Like the ones he has been working on in his math course. So he uses QuickGraph to experiment with variables and functions until he creates a sine curve, y=sin(x). He takes a screen shot. He zooms in. He is curious: Where does the plot first cross the x-axis?

Our student is ready to build his presentation. He opens up Keynote and adds a text box. He dictates with his voice the title of his presentation: Self-Regulating Systems. The words appear on the slide. He creates a new slide and adds a photo from what he's just collected. Then a diagram. Then another slide on which he dictates three bullet points. He's ready to present in the class meeting.


Unlike a book, our student's tablet contains content from more than one subject. In fact, there's room on it for 10,000 books. Unlike a sheet of paper, the tablet can organize what he writes, find it later, and move his written work from one app to another. The tablet can be for a student a camera, a television, a telephone, a library, and an atlas. A day in his life will never be the same.


Power to Learn - Education 3.0

Education 3.0
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/04/12

To understand education today, we must look back in history. 150 years ago, people worked on the land, outdoors, with hand tools, in small groups. They did not travel far. The work did not change much from generation to generation. Daughters did the same work as their mothers, and their grandmothers, and their mothers before them. With the same tools. They talked as they worked. Same for the sons and fathers and grandfathers. Work groups included both old and young. The technology of work changed slowly. When the tools broke, the people could fix them. We can call this Workplace 1.0.

Now let us look at the schools of those days. The students learned on the land outdoors, in small groups. They did not travel far. They used simple hand tools. Work groups included both old and young. Fathers and grandfathers went to the same school, and learned the same things. We can call this Education 1.0.

Education and the workplace matched exactly. The school produced the kinds of citizens needed by the world around it. Someone who could work well in a small group, with hand tools, performing a variety of tasks each day, with a clear view of the world outside, with a small circle of connections.

Fifty years later, the workplace changed. People went to work in factories, with mechanical tools. They worked in large groups. But they worked alone at their machine. Everybody did the same thing at the same time, all day long. They were not allowed to talk. They used paper and pencil and sat at desks. They were not very happy. And they were closely supervised. Let us call this Workplace 2.0.  This new workplace required a new set of skills, and a new kind of citizen.

And so the schools changed to match the needs of the new, industrial economy. Students were formed into large groups, all of the same age. They were closed inside, and worked according to the clock. They used mechanical tools, pencil and paper. They all did the same thing at the same time. They were closely supervised. Let us call this Education 2.0.

Again, education matched the workplace. In both places, people worked alone, but in large groups. They used mechanical tools, they did the same thing all day, and had little connection with the world outside.

Now let us look at the workplace of today, workplace 3 point zero, very different from the factory. Most people today work in small groups. They solve problems together. They use digital tools. They present new ideas to each other. Robots do the mechanical work. People with clean hands re-program the robots when things go wrong. They work on problems that no one has ever seen before. They must bring to bear chemistry, mathematics, biology, history and literature to solve the problem. They must gather information from many sources, most of it on the network, arriving in many different formats. They must be multi-taskers. They talk with each other. They use digital tools for communication. They work with a wide circle of people, all over the world. Let us call this Workplace 3.0.

Now, let us take our camera into the schools of today to see if education has changed to meet the new economy. What do we see? Students in large groups, using paper and pencil tools. They all do the same thing at the same time. They enjoy few connections with the world outside. They are closely supervised. They do the same thing all day long. They do not talk with each other. They are not happy. What is wrong?

Education has not changed to meet the needs of the world around it. Today's workplace demands people who can work in small groups to solve problems, using digital tools, prepared to perform many different tasks during the day, without close supervision, and with a large circle of connections. The schools are not doing this. They have not invented Education 3.0. They are still doing Education 2.0.

The question for us today is, "What should Education 3.0 look like?" in order to produce the kinds of citizens we need for today and tomorrow? What is your dream of Education three point "0"?

Power to Learn - Tablets for Schools

Tablets for Schools
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 09/20/12

These days, K-12 schools are buying twice the number of tablets as desktop and laptop computers put together. The tablet seems to be the technology of the future -- at least the not-too-distant classroom future. And no wonder: the tablets are less expensive, easier to support, less intrusive in the classroom, easier to use, and easy to take home so that the students' academic day can be extended. They are also, for the moment anyway, as students say, cool.

Like a young adolescent, the tablet market in schools is immature, growing quickly, and unpredictable. New tablets are announced weekly in the press. Operating systems come and go, even on the same device. Cameras, keyboards, and other accessories confuse the choices. Prices go up and down with the barometer. This week's article takes a moment-in-time snapshot of this volatile marketplace, with an eye to ferreting out the educational features of the various tablets that might make a difference in schools.

We'll review each tablet, in order of current market share.

Apple iPad

With 68% of the market, this tablet has led the move to a more mobile device to perform the creation and management and communication tasks previously accomplished by the computer. With a large display, solid operating system, and competitive price, it is no wonder that schools have bought more of these than all the other tablets combined. Add to this the availability of thousands of high-quality educational apps and textbooks, and you find it hard not to choose the iPad.

Samsung Galaxy

This is the best selling of the eight tablets that run the Android operating system - same size as an iPad, with camera and video output, and a similar price tag. But the collection of educational apps and books in the Android marketplace is only a fraction of what's available for the iPad, and of uneven quality. Samsung has just recently begun to sell the tablet directly to K-12 schools, while Apple has been at it since 1978.

Amazon Kindle Fire

This small tablet was designed first of all to read books, but it can also serve as a general-purpose tablet if outfitted with the right Android apps. Its price seems low, but there's a catch: the only way to get things on the Kindle is through Amazon. Amazon loses money on each Kindle it sells, in hopes that people will use the device to buy things from the Amazon store. This model does not work well for schools or students in an academic setting, where books and other content for the tablets are often created by teachers, and students themselves.

ASUS Transformer

This recent full-size Android tablet competes with the iPad and the Galaxy in price and power, but has yet to gain a foothold in the marketplace, especially in schools. It shares the Galaxy's lack of educational applications and books, as well as Samsung's lack of experience selling to schools.

Acer A700

One of three Acer Android tablets, this one is most comparable to the others in this list. Its market share is so small that you've probably never seen one. It shares the weaknesses of the Galaxy and Transformer with regard to the educational market.

Brainchild Kineo

Like the next two on this list, this brand-new tablet was built by a company that sells educational software to schools. The Kineo is sold as part of a package of curriculum software, assessment services, and teacher training, so its unit price may be deceiving. Small in size, it's not a general-purpose device like the iPad or the Galaxy.

CDI Unobook

Another small tablet tied to a proprietary curriculum software package, the Unobook is just beginning to appear in schools.

CurriculumLoft Kuno 3

The third curriculum-package-tablet in the marketplace, this one is full-size, but so new that we don't know how much it costs.

Google Nexus 7

Just announced, and so without any market share or price, this small, inexpensive tablet from the inventor of the Android operating system. Google's market intelligence and global reach could propel this newcomer to the head of the list.

Microsoft Surface

The only tablet on our list running the Windows operating system, this recently announced -- but not yet available -- device comes with an attachable rubber keyboard. Microsoft does not normally make its own hardware, so it will be interesting to see how this tablet fares in the marketplace. Wild speculation on how much it will cost ranges from $500 to $1000.

News Corp/AT&T

Just announced, this device will be able to get signals from AT&T wireless as well as the school's network, so students can work at home. Both the tablet and the curriculum content and the assessment will come as a unified package. News Corp has acquired recently the educational software developer Wireless generation, as well as former NYC education chancellor Joel Klein; this tablet is one of the first fruits of that marriage.

The table below summarizes the comparison of the eleven tablets in our review.



Operating System

School Price

Market Share

Apple iPad 2





Samsung Galaxy





Amazon Kindle Fire





ASUS Transformer





Acer A700





Brainchild Kineo





CDI Unobook





CurriculumLoft Kuno 3





Google Nexus 7




just announced

Microsoft Surface




just announced

News Corp/AT&T




just announced


Power to Learn - Technology Choices

Technology Choices
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 09/13/12

Suppose your school leadership gave you a choice: you could have a SmartBoard, a big interactive LCD-TV, 15 tablets, or 5 nice compact laptops for your classroom. What would you choose? Each choice would cost the school about $6300.

To be more specific, the choices are:

Last week's article, Letters on the Big Board, discussed the case of a third-grade teacher wrestling with the choice between the big board and the student devices, and pointed out how the decision hinges on the kind of teaching and learning you want to see happening in the classroom. This week's article delves deeper into the dilemma of technology choices for schools, with specific references and comparisons of six different products.

The table below summarizes the choices. For each choice, it looks at 18 aspects that are important to teaching and learning, as follows:





Galaxy Tablets (15)


Dell Laptops (5)

Mac Laptops (5)















Educ. Apps



































Life skills







Whole class







Small groups














Project teacher







Project students





















Create books







# sold







# to schools








*SmartBoard, projector, installation, computer

Sharp Aquos TV, installation, computer

15 Samsung Galaxy 2 tablets, projector

15 Apple iPad 2s, Apple TV, Projector

5 Dell XPS-13 Ultrabooks, projector

5 MacBook Airs, projector


As you can see, the tablets seem to harbor the most potential for student engagement and learning. That's because you can get more of them for the same price. The $6000 will get you one big board, 15 tablets, or five decent laptops. It is perhaps for this reason that in the last three months, tablets have outsold laptops two-to-one in the school marketplace. The smaller devices with a projector offer the same interactivity and whole-class involvement as the big board, while at the same time enabling small group and individual work by students.

What would you do, if offered these choices for your classroom? What would your fellow faculty choose? These are important discussions for your school as the technology moves forward.

Power to Learn - Letters on The Big Board

Letters on The Big Board
by James G. Lengel. Hunter College, CUNY, 09/06/12

I received a letter recently from a third-grade teacher.

Dear Jim --

My district's tech director has asked if I am interested in trying out one of two new "cutting edge" technologies.

One is a device that goes on sale today, called the Penveu. This is a gigantic fat pen with cameras, gyroscopes, and other goodies. You set the parameters for it on whatever surface you're projecting onto, hard or soft, and it can write, erase, and also act like a mouse on the projector screen. It can be used from up to 40 feet away - you don't have to use it at the board. I'm leery of this, as I doubt the ability to actually "air write" legibly.

The other is an interactive touch screen, the Sharp AQUOS TV. I told the tech director that my concern with this one is that is doesn't come with a software platform like Activ Inspire (Promethean Board) or SMART Notebook (SMART Board). This software is specifically geared towards teachers, providing tools to make files that you can create shapes, layers, texts, easily pull in text or images, and manipulate them. They also provide spinners, dice, times, ticker tape, etc. (by the way, this same concern applies for the Penveu - without it it's a glorified Powerpoint pointer)

- Kevin

And so I responded to him:

Dear Kevin -

Neither of these technologies is at the cutting edge, and neither will do much to empower students (or their teacher) to learn in new ways. These are old business and consumer technologies looking for an educational purpose.

When we look at a new technology, we should not ask,

"How can we find a way to apply this in the classroom?"

Instead, we should ask,

"Can this help us to implement the kind of teaching and learning we dream about?"

The Penvue projects your handwriting onto a projector. Think of it as a very expensive piece of digital chalk. It assumes a teacher-centric classroom with all the students sitting passively as the teacher writes on the board. This is in fact moving backwards pedagogically. It does not empower students. It provides few new capabilities for the teacher. And you could achieve exactly the same effect by adding a $60 pen-tablet to your computer (see For the same price as a Penvue ($700), you could buy two iPads for your classroom (which provide all the educational capabilities of the Penvue, plus many more) and support many new forms of teaching and learning.

Now to the touchscreen LCD. Nothing cutting edge here; these things have been sold in the business market for years. It's a flat screen TV with touch capabilities - not multi-touch like the iPad, but single touch, click and draw only. So you could put up a slide and draw circles on it. Again, this kind of technology promotes old-fashioned, teacher-centric, student-passive pedagogy; it offers little empowerment to either teacher or student; and it offers nothing that you can't do with a computer and a projector and a drawing tablet. For the price of the Sharp TV ($5400), you could get 15 iPads and an Apple TV for your classroom, with which you could not only do everything that the Sharp TV does, but let many students engage; and do many more things also.

Also, the sharp TV works only with Windows computers, not with Mac or iPad or anything else.

Your tech coordinator is sending you back to Education 2.0.

- Jim

And Kevin wrote back:

Jim -

I agree with what you're saying, neither of these devices offer anything more than a Promethean Board; in fact, with no software platform, both seem to offer much less.

What I'm hearing from your email, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that we're after student engagement here, and the interactive boards that we're seeing increasingly in classrooms are not engaging students - the time kids spend interacting with the technology is very little.

When I teach, I always have them in working in groups, or sharing their work, look how a neighbor did it differently, etc. - all the practices that I've been taught these past couple of years. I don't see how a Promethean, interactive touch, or Penveu (or Elmo or SMART Board etc.) lets me make this more seamless and engaging than what I'm doing now - in order for a kid to show their work, they still have to come up to the board and redo it, like they have to now with an overhead projector sheet.

- Kevin

This kind of discussion occurs more and more frequently these days. It raises an essential question: should we employ new technologies to move education forward, or deploy them to take us back to the good old days? It points out the need to develop a strong educational vision in the minds of the teachers and school leadership, a picture of what the classroom should look like and what the students would be doing if we had all the tools we need at our disposal. Without a strong educational vision, we will be taken in by the promises of the latest technology salesman we meet. And we will tend to use technology to go back to something familiar -- like teaching rote lessons from the board.

In the days before digital technology, 40 years ago, when I learned to teach, all I had was the chalkboard. Students sat, I wrote, they watched, I talked. I got dust on my hands. That's the way it was.

But we know better now. We have developed pedagogies that engage students with their work in many and varied ways and technologies that enable and encourage new ways of teaching and learning not possible 40 years ago.

To spend $5000 on a technology that takes teachers and students back where I started (albeit without the chalk dust) seems backwards to me. It also does to Kevin, who is just beginning his teaching career. We can do better.



Power to Learn - From Vision to Reality

From Vision to Reality
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College, 05/01/12

Many schools have developed their own compelling vision of what their school could look like if it took full advantage of digital technologies. Now they are facing the difficult task of turning that vision into reality. As you do this work, you might want to take some advice from other schools that have gone down the path before you. All of them agree that you need to consider four key areas as you build the school of your dreams to align with your vision:

1. Technology

This includes the network infrastructure, the network services, and the devices in the hands of students and teachers that enable them to do the work pictured in your vision.

2. Architecture

This includes the rooms, spaces, and facilities your students and teachers will need to carry out the activities pictured in your Day in the Life.

3. Curriculum Development

This includes the new objectives, assignments, content, instruction and assessment necessary to guide teachers and students in their learning according to your vision.

4. Teacher Development

This includes the new skills and attitudes necessary for teachers to lead the implementation of your vision into that day-to-day life of the school.

No school transformation project has succeeded without addressing all four of these areas simultaneously. Here are some examples that show how different schools have faced up to each of these challenges.


The Vista Peak School in Aurora, Colorado, a facility that includes students from preschool through college level, sent its Day in the Life and its System Requirements document to the local Cisco systems engineers, and asked them to design a network that would enable that vision to operate. The network and services that they designed -- very different from most schools in the state -- contained the capacity for high-bandwidth multimedia connections to twice the number of devices as the number of students in the school, recognizing the realities of multiple mobile devices called for in the vision. The design included no computer labs (these did not appear in the vision), but added increased wireless capacity as well as fiber-optic connections to areas of high bandwidth use, such as the music and video studios.


The kinds of educational work set forth in their vision demanded new kinds of spaces for the school: fewer closed 25-student classrooms, but more laboratory and small-group meeting spaces. They also needed to be able to see all over the school at once, to permit students to work independently without direct supervision, while preserving their health and safety. So the Education Ministry in Copenhagen announced a competition: a licensed architect could team up with a certified school principal and teacher to design a building that fit the vision. The winning design was built in 2005 as the Ørestad Gymnasium. It features a large central meeting place with round tables that serve as lunch tables as well as workstations. Above this is an open atrium with three stories of workspaces for teachers and students: a few traditional closed classrooms, but mostly spaces designed for specific purposes: engineering and science labs, art and music studios, small conference rooms, all with glass walls and sound-deadening acoustics.

Curriculum Development

At the iSchool in New York City, the faculty worked in groups of four over the spring and summer before the school opened, to design an all-new curriculum for the 9th grade. They designed a series of problem-solving challenges that included skills and competencies from all disciplines: math, science, social studies, literature, health and the arts. These projects formed the core of the students' work at the iSchool. Among them was the design of a new roof for the school -- it needed one desperately -- so students were formed into study groups, each one developing its own plans for a roof system that was environmentally kind and energy-efficient. None of the teachers had ever designed a curriculum like this, and it was not easy to fit in all of the key skills and competencies into the roof-design project. Nonetheless, they succeeded; the students presented their designed to the city Building Department, who chose the best one and built the roof.

Teacher Development

At Shenandoah University in Virginia, few faculty members had ever used the technologies featured in the school's vision: videoconferencing stations, tablets, smart classrooms, eTextbooks, and so forth. So the first step was to arm each faculty member with the devices he or she needed; and then to let them work with the technology in two stages:

            1. After a short introductory, hands-on training session in the spring, faculty was encouraged to take the devices home over the summer to work (and play) with them.

            2. In the fall, groups of faculty worked together with a consultant to revise their courses to fit the new technology and deliver the vision. They followed the SPA method:

                        S: Syllabus. Each faculty member reviewed his or her syllabus with the consultant, looking for digital opportunities: lectures, readings, and assignments that would benefit from a switch to digital format. They chose two or three such opportunities to develop.

                        P: Performance. Each also chose one academic presentation -- a lecture or discussion -- to re-think and re-develop as a digitally enhanced exercise, and develop it with the help of their colleagues and the consultant.

                        A: Assessment. Each faculty member chose two student assessments from the course's quizzes, exams, papers, and projects, to be re-designed to happen digitally.

The result of the summer exploration and fall workshop at Shenandoah was positive, and so the session was repeated again in each of the next three semesters, and today digital assignments are well woven into the fabric of the school.

Power to Learn - The Coolest & Fastest Searches

The Coolest & Fastest Searches
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 04/15/12

Are you tired of trying to teach your students how to do safe and efficient Web searches? Do you feel like screaming when your students put in a keyword, come up with millions of hits, and use whatever is on Google's first page?

Most likely, your students feel like screaming, too, when they have to sit through yet another put-kids-to-sleep lecture about searching. Maybe, they feel that what they are hearing is useless. Coming up with perfect keywords isn't that simple, and starting at "trusted sites" and linking out from them to find what they want seems like a waste of time when they can zip a keyword into Google and get something on their topic.

Why not try another approach? Go to Google's Search Education Website, where you'll find lesson ideas, activities, and cool search techniques. If you want, you can take part in live training with some of Google Search experts or browse archives of previous training sessions. You'll learn how to use Google search options and how to make searches more meaningful for your students.

If you want to investigate options on your own, go to Google Blog Search, put in a keyword, and explore the tools you'll see on the left.  You'll notice that the list of tools differs from the one you'll see if you simply go to You'll also find additional options within the Image, Video, News, and Maps options and when using Google Chrome.

Here are some of the cool tools to get your student started:

Search by Time

To find the latest news on a topic, students can search the past 24 hours, the past week, past month, past year, or set their own beginning and ending dates.  If they select Custom Search, they are entering their own dates. Time searches are especially helpful if they can't recall the name of an article, but know approximately when it was published.

Search by Image Color

Maybe they are doing a presentation about the different shades of blue used in Renoir's paintings? They click on Images on the left; type in their keywords- perhaps Renoir, paintings; and then select the color blue on the color list.  All of the artist's paintings with hues of blue in them will be displayed. In one of the videos featuring Google Search options that you can find on the WebPro News Page for Google, a student searches for a good image of a baseball field. He puts in the keyword "baseball", clicks green, and he has more green diamonds than he could possibly use.

Search by Image

Students can, of course, use search words to find an image, but what if they want to know more about a particular image or work of art?  They pick a photo from their computer, mobile device, or the Web.  They select Images, click on the camera icon, and upload their image or drop it into the search box.  This option works best with famous buildings, photos of famous people, and works of art. It can help students find the history of the object or person targeted in their search.

Search by Voice on Computer

Using the latest version of Google Chrome, students can go to, click on the microphone, and tell their computer what to find.

Search Faster

To get pages in searches to appear faster, remind your students to use Google Chrome.

These are just a few of the tools to help your students tune up their searches; if you want to introduce them to additional ideas, you'll find useful videos on Google's WebPro News Page.



Power to Learn - Podcasting for Beginners

Podcasting for Beginners
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 04/01/12

Two years ago in this space, we presented an article entitled 50 Ways to Make a Podcast, in which we suggested many different tools for creating this new form of presentation and education. Alas, many teachers have complained, looking instead for just one way to make a podcast. This week's article is a compromise: three ways to make a podcast, aimed especially at beginners, teachers just embarking on the podcast journey. Method #1 is for those teachers who use a computer running the Windows operating system; methods #2 and #3 are for Mac users. These suggestions are based on my work coaching many faculty members to make their first podcasts.

What is a podcast?

It's really a narrated slide show that's distributed over the World Wide Web and played on a variety of devices, such as the iPad, the iPod, computers, and smartphones. The podcasts most popular these days with students and teachers include visuals, voice, and perhaps music to get their educational points across.

Method #1: ProfCast for Windows

Got Windows? Then try ProfCast, developed by David Chmura, a former faculty tech support person who understands what teachers need. You can download a trial version before you buy it. (There's also a version of ProfCast for Macintosh.)

To make a simple podcast with ProfCast, follow these steps:

1. Build your visuals with PowerPoint, and save the file.

2. Launch ProfCast.

3. Drag the file icon of your PowerPoint into the grey box in the middle of the ProfCast window.

4. Click the red record button in the ProfCast window.

5. Watch PowerPoint display your visuals.

6. Speak your narration as you click through your slides.

7. Click once more after your last slide to get back to ProfCast.

8. Wait and watch as ProfCast completes the recording.

9. Click the Share button in the ProfCast window.

10. Enter a name, and other meta-data for your podcast.

11. Save your podcast.

The podcast you create will be in the standards-based MPEG-4 format, with the .m4a filename extension. On most devices, it will play with iTunes, or other applications that can play MPEG-4 files. Users will see the visuals and hear your voice.

Method #2: Keynote for Macintosh

Got a Mac? Then use Keynote -- Apple's version of PowerPoint -- to make a simple podcast. Follow these steps:

1. Build your visuals as slides in Keynote.

2. Play your slide show, rehearsing your narration as you click through the slides.

3. From the menubar, choose File --> Record Slideshow.

4. Narrate your slide show in a loud, clear voice as you click through the slides.

5. When you get to the end, click once more to end the recording.

6. Play your slide show again, listening to your narration.

7. If you are not happy with what you hear in step 6, then repeat steps 3-6.

8. From the menubar, choose File --> Export --> iPod.

9. Watch as Keynote compresses your slide show into a podcast.

The podcast you create will be in the standards-based MPEG-4 format, with the .m4v or .mov filename extension. On most devices, it will play with iTunes, or other applications that can play MPEG-4 files. Users will see the visuals and hear your voice.

Method #3: GarageBand for Macintosh

Most of the professional producers of podcasts use GarageBand to create their work. It takes some time to learn this powerful tool, but many teachers tell me it produces the best podcasts.

1. Open your slideshow with Keynote. (Keynote can open PowerPoint (.ppt) files directly.)

2. Shrink the Keynote window down so it fills about half the display, on the right.

3. Open GarageBand, and choose to make a new podcast.

4. Shrink the GarageBand window down as far as it will go, on the left.

5. You should be able to see both windows at once. At least parts of both.

6. Look at your first slide in Keynote. Think through your narration for this slide.

7. While you are thinking, drag the thumbnail icon of the first slide from the Keynote window to the podcast track of GarageBand. Drop it there.

8. Drag the image to the far left of the podcast track.

9. Move the playhead to the 5-second mark on the timeline.

10. Select the Male or Female Voice track as appropriate.

11. Click the red Record button at the bottom of the GarageBand window. Speak your narration of the first slide in a friendly but firm voice, a bit folksy, but not too informal. Try to sound like FDR doing a fireside chat, or Walter Cronkite describing the way it is.

12. When you are done narrating the first slide, click the play/stop button (or tap the spacebar).

13. See your narration appear as a blue sound wave in the voice track.

14. Slide the playhead back to the beginning, then play back your piece.

15. Edit or re-record as necessary.

16. Go over to the Keynote window and look at your second slide. Think about what you are going to say.

17. Drag the thumbnail icon of the second slide from the Keynote window to the podcast track in GarageBand. Drop it about one second after where your narration track ends.

18. Move the playhead to the beginning of the second slide.

19. Select the voice track and record the narration of the second slide.

20. Repeat this process for the rest of your slides.

21. Add a musical jingle at the beginning or at the end of your podcast if you like.

To review what you have created as you go along, open the Track Info window, rewind the timeline, and play. When your podcast is finished, choose Share --> Export podcast to disk. The podcast you create will be in the standards-based MPEG-4 format, with the .m4a filename extension. On most devices, it will play with iTunes, or other applications that can play MPEG-4 files. Users will see the visuals and hear your voice.

Power to Learn - Jefferson, Science, and the Importance of Public Schooling

Jefferson, Science, and the Importance of Public Schooling
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College , 03/15/12

Educators offer many reasons for investing in technology at school: it builds 21st-century skills; it prepares students for college and careers; it leads to higher test scores; it makes them creative and critical thinkers; it saves paper. I've heard all these many times as I help schools plan their futures. But, all of these miss the point. We can understand the issue better if we go back about 235 years, to the days of Thomas Jefferson.

Our third President was a scientist, and engineer, and a technologist. He understood the importance of human invention that enabled us to reach farther, communicate better, and produce more. He invented the pantograph, a way of writing two letters at once. He took a trip down the Canal du Midi to learn how the locks allowed boats to travel across France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. He invented new plows and clocks and furniture that made his farm more efficient. He did this not to make money, but to enlighten others, spread knowledge, and arm more citizens to succeed.

Ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition...the moment an idea is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

(Read Jefferson and Technology as well as his Letter to McPherson for an explanation of this concept.)

The enlightened, self-reliant citizen was seen by Jefferson and his fellow founding fathers as the goal of the American experiment. And the public schools were seen as the mechanism for creating such people in the new nation. Let's read back and consider the evidence.

The constitution of the State of Vermont in 1777 set forth clearly the rationale and requirement for public education:

...for the encouragement of virtue and prevention of vice and immorality... a competent number of schools ought to be maintained in each town ... for the convenient instruction of youth.

To implement this requirement, and explain it further, lawmakers in the Green Mountain state enacted a statute in the late 20th century that states,

education is fundamental for the success of Vermont's children in a rapidly-changing society and global marketplace as well as for the state's own economic and social prosperity. To keep Vermont's democracy competitive and thriving, Vermont students must be afforded substantially equal access to a quality basic education.

Most of the other 49 states harbor similar words in their founding documents and laws.

The eighteenth-century social engineers who wrote the first paragraph were dead serious about the obligation of government to nourish a virtuous and democratic society. Neither socialists nor utopians, they recognized that lack of education among the masses was an invitation to demagoguery and tyranny. They had studied history, learned from it, and acted to prevent its repetition. They were, at the same time, vehement free-market capitalists. In their founding documents, they selected a few essential items for government to handle -- schools, roads, post offices, and in some cases libraries and hospitals -- and left the rest to the people to manage for themselves in the commercial marketplace.

The twentieth-century legislators who wrote the second paragraph inherited happily the obligation of public education for all, rationalizing the same spirit in different words. For neither group is the goal of school limited to passing tests in reading and arithmetic. For neither group is the purpose of school limited to preparing students for a career or for college. The government establishes public schools, and requires students to attend them, in order to encourage virtue, prevent vice, and to keep democracy thriving.

The public obligation to develop an educated populace may be even more important today than it was in 1777. Read the front page of today's newspaper and count the examples of virtue, social prosperity, and thriving democracy that you encounter. Then, count the examples of vice, immorality, social poverty, and democratic ineffectiveness. And think of how much worse it would be if the general public were totally uneducated.

Public education rests as a core of our common beliefs about maintaining and building a virtuous society. So, when we develop a rational for incorporating technology into school, we should see those beliefs reflected clearly. Technology must be conceived and dedicated to help students deal directly with virtue, vice, immorality, prosperity, and social relations. Technology in school should prepare students to perform their roles as active, educated citizens, unsusceptible to demagoguery and propaganda.

One of the things I learned from studying Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in high school was to understand the difference between ambition and leadership. I learned this in my English class, through the technologies of reading, drama, and discussion. Every citizen needs to develop this same understanding if our democracy is to thrive, especially in an election year. This is important stuff. But, too often, our technology is aimed at lesser goals, such as vocabulary drills and spellchecking and drills on the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

What's more important to our Common Core:

Thomas Jefferson served as our ambassador to France from 1784 to 1789. It is there, while witnessing the disintegration of French society, that his belief in the value of public education turned urgent. He wrote back from Paris to his colleagues in the Virginia assembly about the need to establish public schools:

I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness. If any body thinks that kings, nobles or priests are good conservators of the public happiness, send them here. It is the best school in the universe to cure them of that folly. ...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

Today the kings, priests, and nobles have been replaced by Wall Street tycoons, talk show hosts, and media moguls. Jefferson's advice rings true. Let's listen to him as we set our goals for how technology should be used in school. Aim the digital tools at the higher goals of preparing competent citizens who will recognize when the present-day kings, priests, and nobles are pulling the wool over their eyes.

Power to Learn - The Kindergarten Achievement Gap

The Kindergarten Achievement Gap
by James G. Lengel. Hunter College CUNY, 02/09/12

A new study by Sean Reardon of Stanford University asks the question, how has the relationship between family socioeconomic characteristics and academic achievement changed during the last fifty years? His answer is unequivocal:

And his findings show that the gap, based much more on family income than race, opens much earlier these days:

Reardon illustrates his analysis by comparing the average math and reading skills of children from families with incomes at the ninetieth percentile of the family income distribution (about $160,000 in 2008) to those in families with incomes at the tenth percentile of the family income distribution (about $17,500 in 2008).

He calls this the 90/10 income achievement gap. Applying multiple measures of, for instance, reading skill, he traces the growth of the gap over time:

One might draw the conclusion from these data that the rich get rich and their children get smarter.

Why is this happening?

Let's look at where the children of the 90 and the 10 spend their time from birth until they enter school. The 90 -- with family incomes of $160K+ -- are most likely dual wage-earning families who send their children to a day care facility; they can afford the best, so the child is enrolled in a center accredited by the NAEYC, with highly-educated and numerous teachers, a rich array of equipment and technologies, and activities designed to promote social and cognitive development for her and her similarly-situated peers. The 10 -- with incomes less than $17K -- on the other hand most likely care for the child at home, or with a relative, or (if they are lucky) in a less-than-optimal day care facility, where learning technologies and activities are limited in many cases to watching television and playing with a few toys. The child of the 90 is guaranteed five years in a rich social and cognitive environment; the child of the 10 is relegated to five years - 15,000 hours -- of who-knows-what.

The shrinking middle class and the decrease in public support of day care over the last 20 years may be enough to explain the growth in the achievement gap that shows up at entry to school and persists throughout life. How a child spends those 15,000 hours between birth and kindergarten is what determines his future -- and the difference in how those hours are spent is widening.

The cognitive environments of the 90 and the 10 during this critical preschool period show striking differences:

In this corner...

Into the same kindergarten classroom walk children of the 90 and children of the 10. In one corner are children who pick up chapter books, read them aloud, talk about them, act out the stories on their own, and write short reflective pieces about them. In the other corner sit children who can hardly speak in sentences and seldom handle a book. Reardon's study observes that the gap has widened because those in the first corner have moved far ahead of their peers of two decades or three decades ago, while the second corner hasn't moved at all. The ceiling has risen farther above the floor.

It's not fair to the child of the 90, or to the child of the 10, or to the teacher, or to the public school system, to put them in the same classroom and teach them the same curriculum. That's asking for failure when we know that the gap in preparation is so wide. Perhaps we need to stop and provide 15,000 hours of extra help to these students as soon as we can reach them, and close the gap as quickly as we can. Treat them to a rich social and cognitive environment -- with the activities, technologies, and equipment that fit their developmental needs -- for 10 hours a day, six days a week, 300 days a year. That's 3,000 hours a year, a good start at compensating them for what they missed.

Singapore, Finland, Japan, France, and most of the high-performance, low-achievement-gap countries ensure that quality preschool is available to all children beginning at age three, and most provide parent education (it's required in many countries) beginning at the pre-natal stage. Because many of these countries enjoy a wide middle class and narrow cultural norms, the differences in child-rearing practices are smaller, and so the compensatory function of the preschool is less important. The 90/10 ratio in these places is far smaller than ours in the US. The result is a much smaller achievement gap upon entry to first grade. 

And what's the curriculum for the 15,000 hours of waking time from birth to age five? Here's what Singapore teaches:

At the end of pre-school education, children will:

This is also what my grandchildren learn at their day-care center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The role of technology

In a way, technology has helped to create the growing gap found in Reardon's study. In an unrelated study titled Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America, by Common Sense Media, found that:

Looking at the two studies together, one might conclude that the children of the 90 spend less time with technology each day (leaving more time for healthy play), and their technology includes less passive television and more interactive computers and iPads. But the real difference comes not in analyzing these screen-time technologies, but in considering the other technologies that young children employ for learning and development: books, games, puzzles, dress-up, climbers, trucks, dolls, and other children. We have no surveys of the differences in hours spent with each of these by the various gap-groups; my hypothesis points to a strong role for these kinds of tools and techniques as a cause of the widening kindergarten achievement gap.

Power to Learn - Create Your Dream Classroom

Create Your Dream Classroom
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 02/16/12

A Wheeling, West Virginia newspaper reported that at a meeting about local schools, a grandfather spoke up, "I'm tired of hearing about 21st-Century skills. It is the 21st century. Get on with it."  He's not the only one who feels that way.  Doesn't it seem rather silly to be getting ready for the 21st Century when we are over a decade into it?

The truth is that many teachers are already working with their students on what are considered 21st Century skills and are using 21st Century tools. Before the year 2000, didn't we have project -based learning, collaboration, creative and critical thinking, individualized learning, and use of technologies for learning, enrichment, remediation, and innovation?  Many teachers today are using the resources they have to design their own eTexts, are teaming their students with other students both in the classroom and around the world, and are putting to use the digital devices they have to enhance learning.

Maybe we aren't where we want to be with the equipment we have for our classrooms, but that doesn't mean the students in the United States are falling behind because there aren't enough electrical outlets in our classrooms or we don't have the latest in computer technologies. Master teachers find ways of challenging their students with what is available to them, but they also keep their eye on new ideas and products that will benefit their students. When the time comes for budget requests, they put in their requests immediately and lobby for what they need. Maybe they don't always get it, but those who know what they want and how they will use it are much more likely to have their wishes granted. You've probably heard teachers complain, "Why didn't I get . . . ?" Change in your classroom happens not only when funding is available but when educators champion effective learning ideas.

With President Obama's insistence that we improve education so that we can become more competitive in world markets, looking beyond the catch phrase "21st Century", is important. If we purchased our classroom computers in 2000 and are still using those twelve-year-old devices, do we consider them 21st Century tools? With possible changes coming and eventual improvement in the economy, we need to know what we want in order to give our students the best. One-size-fits-all doesn't always make sense when it comes to teachers and students because what methodology and equipment works for some teachers and students, doesn't always result in success with others.

Keeping up with the latest in methodology, equipment, and classroom environment is difficult, but here are some ideas that should help when the time comes for you to explain your classroom needs. Follow them, and you won't get stuck with what you don't want or find yourself saying, "Why didn't I get that for my students?"

While your dream classroom will offer the technologies and atmosphere to assist you in doing a better job in teaching your students, keep in mind that how you use your classroom and its resources will be what makes the difference. Think collaboration, creativity, innovation, projects, reasoning, analysis, critical thinking, inquiry, learning with a purpose, new ways of assessment.... And don't forget to throw away all those old tests you've been using for years. 


Power to Learn - How to Create Interactive Google Maps

How to Create Interactive Google Maps
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 02/02/12

When I was very young, I liked to stick pins in maps. Of where my friends lived in the neighborhood. Of the places in the world I'd like to visit. Pin the map to a corkboard, grab some multi-colored pushpins, and poke away. So when the Dean asked for a map showing the schools where we placed student teachers in East Harlem, I immediately volunteered for the job and started looking for some pins.

But wait. This is the digital age. We have beaten our pushpins into pixels, haven't we?

In less than an hour, the Dean and his staff had an online, interactive map with a "pin" for each school that, when clicked, showed everything they needed to know: school name, address, enrollment, grades, principal. And most of that hour was taken up not with building the map but in fixing the exact name and address and data for each school. New York City Schools go by different names: the same school might be called in one listing P.S. 18, in another School M018, in another East Harlem Scholars Academy, and in another the Jackie Robinson Educational Complex. Once that was done, I was ready to build the map. Here's what I did.

1. Sign in to Google. You need a (free) Google account.

2. Go to

3. In the upper left, click the My Places button.

4. Now click the red Create Map button.

5. Give the map a title, a short description, and a sharing setting, then click the Save button.

6. In the search field at the top of the page, enter the address of your first item.

7. Google Maps will place a pin at the location.

8. Click the pin to open its information panel.

9.  In the panel, click Save to Map.

10. From the list, choose the map you just created, and click Save.

11. Repeat steps 6-10 for your other items.

Once you have saved all the items to your map, go take a look at it:

1. Click the My Places button at the upper left.

2. Click the name of the map you just created.

3. See the pins all in their places.

4. Click a pin to see its information panel.

To edit the information in the map, or to move a pin:

1. Click the red Edit button on the left.

2. Select one of the items in the list on the left.

3. Watch its information panel open.

4. Replace or enter the new information right into the panel.

5. Note that the panel may contain text, pictures, or links to web pages.

6. To change the color or shape of the pin, click the pin in the upper right corner of the panel.

7. To change the pin's location on the map, click and drag the pin.

Think of all the things you or your students might map in this way:

You may view the map I made for the Dean, or of the presidents' birthplaces.

Power to Learn - Technology and the Proposed Standards for Literature

Technology and the Proposed Standards for Literature
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 01/23/12

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Or, to put it another way,

It's only words,
and words are all I have
to take your heart away. (Bee Gees 1968)

Words are important. Without words, our communication would be infantile. Without words, we'd be just another species of primate. Without words, we'd have no stories to tell. So it's no wonder that since anyone can remember, we've taught our children in school to read, write, and listen to words. We have invented other ways to communicate, for sure, that we also teach in school -- music, painting, dance, architecture -- but none as universal and comprehensive as words.

And we don't teach words for their own sake, except perhaps in the least effective schools. We teach words so that our students can learn stories. Words are important because they tell stories, stories that form the common cores of our cultures and civilizations. And so literature -- reading fiction and fact, following the story, and understanding its meaning -- have always been part of education.


When my grandchildren listen to me read The Tale of Peter Rabbit or The Three Little Pigs, they hear words. But more importantly they take in the story. We talk about what happens in the story, about how dangerous it is in the garden or with the wolf at the door, whether it's right or wrong to steal the lettuces or boil the wolf who jumped down the chimney. The words, and the story itself, are means to an end.

When students study with their English teachers Macbeth or To Kill a Mockingbird, they certainly learn new words, and new ways of putting them together. But more importantly they learn new stories, stories that deal with danger, hubris, greed, ambition, justice. The words, and the stories themselves, are means to an end.

Because in order to serve as an intelligent citizen, a student needs to understand these important ideas. In order to be interesting to himself and others, he needs to be able to think and talk about these ideas. In order to be ready for college and career, he needs to know how to wrestle with these ideas. And one of the best ways to do this is through literature.

The folks who have over two centuries planned the curriculum in American schools know this. They took it as their responsibility to develop these ideas in our youth, and they chose literature accordingly. Many people are involved in the decision of which stories to use to develop these ideas: teachers, principals, local school boards. They've been doing this since the turn of the last century, when we began providing public high school education. The works they choose change over time (see the appended table of the Top Ten from 1907, 1964, and 1990), but throughout the last century the choices all share certain characteristics:

We teach these kinds of stories because they serve the needs of young people in their intellectual and moral growth. We teach them because a citizenry not familiar with the ideas in these stories is not an adequate repository of democracy. We teach them because they are beautifully written or magnificently played.

The Proposed Standards

So, how does this play out in the proposed Common Core Standards for Literature in high school?

Not at all. In the proposal, there's no mention of any of the things we have just discussed. None. You can read the standards here.

Instead, we get standards like these:

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

The standards propose a technocratic analytic approach to literature, and make no mention of its traditional purposes. In fact my first impression of these items was that they were designed to be measured by a computer. This is where the technology comes in.

Technology and the Proposed Standards

The kind of narrow analytical skills that the standards propose are all of a type that is easily measured by the multiple choice tests that the psychometricians at McGraw-Hill and Pearson find easy to produce and sell. And of a type that can easily be taught by a computer program. My young nephew, the software engineer, could easily construct an app to teach and test these proposed standards.

But neither he nor I nor all the best English teachers in the country working together could design a computer program that teaches the kind of literature that our students and our democracy need. Or test in a single simple machine-scored cyber sitting whether or not the students have learned it.

Technology can for sure contribute to the learning of literature, by putting a wide library into the pocket of every student, by enabling infinite cross-referencing, by bringing other arts to reflect and coordinate with the written word, or by providing new channels for students to talk and write to each other and their teachers about the ideas in the works they read. But it cannot perform the most important teaching tasks of the language arts.

The proposed standards relegate literature to a limited role of textual analysis that leaves out the most important parts and purposes.

Where's the story?

It's gone. These standards propose a very different purpose for literature in our schools, one devoid of mind, soul, or spirit. Or truth or justice or beauty.

(To be honest, the standards do mention stories, but only once, in a standard that is written in a style which if I had submitted to my 11th-grade English teacher would have deserved a D-:

RL.11-12.10. By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

What would Strunk or White say about that sentence?)

The power of the story is replaced by the mechanics of a narrow subset of textual analysis techniques. The words are there, but the meaning has been left behind. The proposed standards embrace a narrow literary technology and avoid the essential ideas.

King James' Words

He didn't write the English bible that bears his name, but let us practice some etymological textual analysis with its words. In the beginning was the word came to the sixteenth-century authors through the Latin In principio erat verbum that the Church had translated from John's original Εν αρχη ην ο Λογος. In John's time, the word λüγος (logos) was used to denote not a word of text per se, but something more like our words reason or discourse or expectation, and it is from those roots that λüγος forms the root of our modern English word logic.

So it's not the mere words that matter, but the reason and ideas behind them. Or as the Bee Gees sang it,

This world has lost its glory;
Let's start a brand new story.

And bring mind, soul, and spirit back to literature and into our standards. And put technology in its proper place.


What do we read in secondary school?

Here are the ten most-assigned books from surveys of secondary schools and English teachers conducted in 1907, 1964, and 1990.


Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Silas Marner, Milton's Miser Poems, Burke's Speech on Conciliation, The Vision of Sir Launfal,  Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Ivanhoe, Macaulay's Addison, The deCoverley Papers.


Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Silas Marner, Our Town, Great Expectations, Hamlet, A Tale of Two Cities, Red Badge of Courage, The Scarlet Letter, The Odyssey


To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, Macbeth, The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace.

Why do we read these books and plays and poems?




Power to Learn - Video, Video, Everywhere

Video, Video, Everywhere
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 01/12/12

Video, video, every where,
Devices for you and me;
Video, video, every where,
But none that we can see.

Flip cameras. Cell phones. DVDs. iTunes. Netflix. YouTube. We get video from many sources these days. We shoot our own clips, we buy movies online, and we convert our videotapes into digital form. Video is everywhere. But it doesn't always work. We want the video to play on all of our devices: computers, tablets, and mobile phones; but it doesn't. We want to post it online for our students to view, but that seldom works universally.

Of all the types of materials destined for student learning, videos and podcasts present the toughest usability issues. We are frustrated when the video we get on one device won't play on another, or when we post it online for our students but only a few of them can see it. Or when we create an original video with our brand new camera and find that the file is so large that it won't fit on our computer. This week's article looks past the huge file sizes profusion of formats to make some concrete recommendations for making digital video useful for teaching and learning.


We want to make our videos and podcasts accessible, playable and usable for all of our students on all platforms: desktop, laptop, and mobile. We want the videos to arrive safely and swiftly to the users; we want them to play well on whatever device is in their hands; and we want the quality to be adequate to the educational purpose. After helping dozens of schools and colleges wrestle toward this goal, we have arrived at these five considerations for working with video online.


File Format

We should publish video and podcasts in the ISO open standard MPEG-4 format, unless it is impossible to do so. Using non-standard, proprietary formats is asking for trouble. Best results ensue by compressing your video into the format agreed to by the International Standards Organization and designed by the world's best video engineers. That standard is called MPEG-4, which stands for Motion Picture Experts Group, the aforementioned engineers recognized by the ISO. Any device can be made to display MPEG-4 videos. Any other format is proprietary, and should not be used: AVI, WMV, FLV, SWF, and so forth. Follow the MPEG standard, and use the H.264 codec for video, and AAC for audio.

Video Display Size

We should publish each video and podcast at a display size no bigger than it needs to be to convey the information. 320x240 pixels at a minimum; 800x600 maximum. Anything bigger won't fit onto the screens of most users, and will create enormous files. A Flip camera shoots video at 1920 by 1080 pixels, much more than necessary for educational work; the display size of a standard laptop computer, or an iPad, is 1024 by 768 pixels; of the best mobile phones 480 by 360. Most of the videos we use for educational purposes provide little additional benefit by adding more pixels than necessary. We need to compress our videos to a proper useful size before we post them.

Frame Rate

We should publish video materials at a frame rate no faster then necessary to convey the information. 12 frames per second is adequate for most educational material. Unless you are capturing fast-motion events, the normal 30 frames per second is unnecessary; your students will not notice the difference. And you will reduce the file size by more than half if you compress your videos to 12 fps.

Data Rate

We should keep the data rate of a multimedia file as low as possible to convey the necessary information. Most educational material can be compressed to a data rate of less than 500 kbps, which is suitable for delivery through the school network as well as to our students at home. Data rate is a function of display size, frame rate, and compression type; reducing all of these to their optimal values as described above should get your frame rate down to something useful online, with swift delivery over the network, and reasonable file size.

Streaming Method

We should publish our media files in the fast-start download format for files less than 50 Megabytes, and for anything that's copyable to mobile media. We should use the open-standard RTSP hinted streaming format for larger files or copyright material. Unless the material is copyright fair use, we should publish it in such a way as to allow students to download it onto a mobile device.

Compressing your videos

How do we get our videos into the optimal format for use online? Schools have produced good results with two software tools: QuickTime Pro, and MPEG Streamclip.

with QuickTime Pro

1. Download and install QuickTime 7, a $30 program for compressing video files, on WIndows or Mac. Get it from

2. Copy your video file from your camera to your computer.

3. In QuickTime, choose from the menubar File --> Open File.

4. Open your video file.

5. Choose File --> Export from the menubar.

6. Choose Export: Movie to QuickTime Movie.


7. Click the Options button.

8. In the dialog box, make the settings look like the picture below. They are:

  • Compression: H.264
  • Quality: High
  • Limit Data Rate: Automatic
  • Frame rate: 12
  • Sound: AAC
  • Frame Size: 320 x 240 up to 800x600
  • Fast Start: check
  • All other settings: defaults

9. Click the OK button on the lower right.

10. Save this compressed video file to a place on your computer that you will remember.

11. This will create a compressed file ready for uploading to the video server.

QuickTime        Pro

with MPEG Streamclip

1. Download and install MPEG Streamclip, a free program for compressing video files, on Windows or Mac. Get it from

2. Copy your video file from your camera to your computer.

3. In MPEG Streamclip, choose from the menubar File --> Open Files.

4. Open your video file.

5. Choose File --> Export to Quicktime from the menubar.

6. In the dialog box, make the settngs look like the picture below. They are:

  • Compression: H.264
  • Limit Data Rate: 400 Kbps
  • Sound: MPEG-4 AAC
  • Frame Size: 320 x 240
  • Fast Start: check
  • All other settings: defaults

7. Click the Make Movie button on the lower right.

8. Save this compressed video file to a place on your computer that you will remember.

9. This will create a compressed file ready for uploading to the video server.



From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.


Power to Learn - How to Create ePubs

How to Create ePubs
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 01/19/12

When the three largest educational publishers and the leading technology company (Apple) announced a new approach to distributing textbooks recently, it put all of us teachers on notice that the printed volumes we have used for 250 years are on their way out. Argue as we might about the wisdom of this digital direction, the shift will come fast, and we must prepare ourselves to deal with it. This week's article is not about whether print is better than digital, but about how best to take advantage of the electronic engines that we and our students will use to interact with learning materials.

In this article we look at how to create your own ePubs, digital texts that your students can work with on their various digital devices. It answers faculty's most common questions in light of the recent announcements from the industry leaders. I use the term ePubs to mean any publication designed to provide learning material to students (or to colleagues) -- articles, monographs, lecture notes, essays, pamphlets, and books -- that is destined to be distributed online and consumed on some kind of digital device -- computer, iPad, Kindle, Nook, smartphone, or whatever gets invented in the next few years.

Why should I publish ePubs?

Because that's the direction things are moving. And that's what your students want. The forces of the market have proven thus. Distributing learning materials on paper is expensive, inefficient, and inflexible. The digital approach is inexpensive, efficient, and flexible. And better for the environment, and less work for everybody in the long run.

A properly-formatted ePub can be read on a variety of devices, and read anywhere, from the subway to the beach, at anytime. The reader can adjust the size, style, and flow of the text to fit the device and the setting. The reader can move it from one device to another, and can get to it even if there's no Internet connection available. If their device permits it, they can click on a word to see its definition, find other instances of it in the ePub, highlight it, and take notes. Right in the book, without harming the original. With the right device readers can listen to the text read aloud, watch videos that explain key ideas, and interact with data and illustrations. The educational benefits of moving from paper to digital are many and diverse.

Which format should I use?

That depends on how flexible and powerful you want your publication to be. For the best combination of flexibility and power, publish in the open-standard ePub format. This will play on most any device. The ePub standard has been developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, and adopted by most international open-standards groups, as well as most educational publishers, and many technology companies including Apple. ePub is:

Materials published in ePub can be richer than the open formats .txt, .html, or .rtf, more flexible and less expensive than the proprietary formats .pdf and .doc, playable on more devices and platforms, and can be secured from unwanted distribution if desired.

For the most power, best appearance, and multi-media interactivity, the iBooks format from Apple - a variant of the ePub standard --  is your best choice. But the ePubs that you produce in this format will play only on the iPad, iPod, or iPhone.

For the most flexibility, the .html or .txt format is your best choice. Both are open standards, and so display on most any device. But they cannot take full advantage of the capabilities of today's best e-reading devices, and do not handle very well media other than text.

What tools should I use to create an ePub?

To create a generic ePub, playable most anywhere, the tool of choice depends on the platform you are using to create the ePub.

To create an ePub that takes full advantage of the iPad's capabilities, can be distributed (or sold) worldwide through the iBookstore, and includes interactive multimedia features, but cannot be played (at the moment) on other devices, use iBooks Author (free) from Apple.

How should I distribute my ePubs?

You have many choices for distribution.

...and any combination of the above.

What will my students or colleagues need to read my ePub?

The'll need a device with software capable of displaying the ePub format:




Power to Learn - Photo Learning Walkthrough

Photo Learning Walkthrough
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 11/17/11

In conducting two new workshops for school leaders called Assess Yourself, and  iPad for Assessment, we have discovered an interesting approach to ascertaining just how students are using technology in your school. It's called a Photo Learning Walkthrough. A previous article in this series, Assessing the Impact of Technology, explained how to use an iPad to quantify the results of a learning walkthrough of your school, using the online instrument Education 3.0 Walkthrough. This instrument provides a list of things to look for, with the familiar four-point Likert scale to measure the presence or absence of each item, like this:

Education  3.0  School  Walkthrough

This week's article describes a different mode of walkthrough assessment, using photographs rather than Likert scales. Here's how it works.

1. Set your goals

What do you want to accomplish this year at your school? How do you want things to be different? What do you want to see more of? Less of? What modes and styles of instruction do you want to encourage? Discourage? How do you want students to be using technology? How not? One school we worked with set forth these goals:

So you see that these are not summative goals, but process goals. A summative goal might be, 50% of our students get in to the college of their choice, or 50% of our students score above average on the state test. These kinds of summative goals can't be approached through a learning walkthrough. Nor can these kinds of goals be accomplished without careful attention to the kinds of process goals listed above. Our undue attention to a small subset of summative goals over the last few years has drawn our attention away from the day-to-day processes that really make a difference. So set some goals that you can see and hear in the hallways and classrooms and laboratories and libraries at your school. It's these goals that you will quantify and track with your Photo Learning Walkthrough, hereinafter referred to as PLW.

2. Adopt a protocol

The principal of the school in this case set a standard procedure for conducting the PLW on a weekly basis. Each week, she and her assistant principals would walk through the school, iPad in hand, and shoot a photo whenever she saw students at work. No exceptions -- three students seated on the floor in the hall talking with each other; snap. Open a classroom door, see 20 students filling out a worksheet, snap. In the library, see a student giving a presentation to a small group, snap a picture. The only students you don't shoot, according to this school's protocol, are those passing between classes. After 25 photos, she'd stop shooting.

As long as you follow your protocol consistently, shoot whatever you see, and leave out value judgments as you decide what to shoot, the PLW will work as an assessment device. The school in this case did their walkthrough's randomly, at various times of the day, and varied their routes through the school to cover every place where students were to be found, including on the athletic fields.

3. Walk through and shoot

Follow your protocol, grab your iPad (or your iPhone, or your digital camera) and shoot. Shoot students and teachers at work. Shoot everything, making no selective judgments. Shoot a consistent number of photos on each walkthrough.

4. Quantify

Sit down with your iPad. Make a little spreadsheet with Numbers, like this:

Now, open the Photos app, and find the 25 photos you just took. Consider the first goal, student engagement. Look closely at each photo. Does it provide clear and convincing evidence of the kind of student engagement you'd like to see at your school? If yes, give it a 1. If not, give it a 0. Enter the total points for student engagement into cell B2 of the spreadsheet.

Next, consider the second goal: integration of technology. Go through each photo in turn: does it show the integration of technology into the curriculum? Give each photo a one or a zero, and enter the total into cell B3. And so forth until today's column is filled.

Repeat the process next week, or whenever your protocol dictates. When you've amassed enough data for an analysis, your spreadsheet will look like this.

5. Analyze

Compute totals for your columns and rows, like this:

Now look, think, and learn. First of all, in the case at hand, fewer than half the photos provide evidence that the school's four goals are being met. So, we know there's work to be done. On the other hand, we'd want to know what was going on at this time last year on this same measurement; and we'll want to measure it again next year, or next month, in the very same way. Day by day and week by week fluctuations are not to be worried about; it's the accumulated totals that matter.

And while the photos provide substantial evidence of student engagement, the amount of collaborative learning seems low in comparison. On the other hand, the overall fluctuation of evidence on all four goals combined is relatively stable.

6. Discuss

Once you've gathered and analyzed a large sample of data, do the totals and email the spreadsheet to your leadership team. Project your iPad as a photo frame with the (now huge) collection of photos playing one after the other on the big screen. Ask each of the team to look at the combined spreadsheet on their iPad and talk about what they conclude. Close the meeting with a discussion of what we need to do next to move forward toward our four goals. Repeat this discussion at the next faculty meeting.

7. Repeat

Repeat steps 3 and 4 each week throughout the school year. Repeat step 5 monthly, and step 6 quarterly. The result will include an interesting assessment of your progress toward these goals, and a periodic reminder and discussion that should provoke continued growth.

(To practice steps four and five right now, with someone else's data, connect to iPad Photo Walkthrough.)


Power to Learn - Ending the Email Spiral

Ending the Email Spiral
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 10/27/11

You open your mailbox and up pop hundreds of notes. You've set up junk mail to be captured in another file, so these aren't junk mail, although some could definitely be considered junk. There are messages sent to Reply All, which are filled with information not meant for you. Someone's forwarded you a letter that tells you if you don't send it off immediately to 20 friends, you won't receive whatever it is that you are supposed to get if you follow the guidelines. There's an email that opens with a logo of the school's mascot and a message written without punctuation or capitalization. The message is from a student. One of your school's administrative assistants sent an email with an attachment. You open the attachment and see one sentence telling you to announce to your students that team practices are cancelled for today.  There's what looks like a three-page letter from a parent. Someone's sent a thank you for an email you sent.

Does this sound familiar?

Has it become almost impossible to keep up with your email? The problem is not just because of the volume of mail; it's also because of the way people use this communications tool. An email that simply thanks you for your email is nice, but perhaps it's not needed. Why didn't the administrative assistant simply type, "Practices Cancelled" in the subject line or put it in the body of her email? If people would think before clicking Reply All or forwarding messages, you'd have more time for your students.

You try to get through the parent's dissertation and remember last year when you sent a long reply to a parent about a test grade she questioned. Because you didn't appreciate what you interpreted as an accusation, you didn't take the time to think about your response or to realize that a telephone call or face-to-face conference was needed. In haste, you sent what might be considered a not-too-professional note.  The parent obviously didn't appreciate your reply and replied with something not very complimentary about your teaching. It was only then that you realized your mistake, apologized for your email, and asked the parent to come in for a conference. As it turned out, you completely misinterpreted the content in the parent's original email.

With a class full of students, you know you don't have time to digest long emails, so you put the lengthy letter aside to answer later, probably through a phone call.  You look at your mailbox; there are still so many more notes to check.

To control this upward spiral of email and downward spiral of time, think about adopting the EMAIL CHARTER and its list of rules for email. The Charter's rules deal with the fact that it's becoming more and more difficult for all of us to handle the email we receive. You can check all the information about the Charter on the site, but here's a summary for you:

1. Respect Recipients' Time. Think about the time it will take the recipient to open, read, and respond to your email.

2. Short or Slow is not Rude. Emails are not for detailed responses. Emails are for short, to-the-point messages. Notes to parents, colleagues, and students, for example, should be no more than five sentences and content should not be controversial, personal, or adversarial. Use email to parents to request a conference, request help with a class project, etc.

3. Celebrate Clarity. Make sure the subject reflects the topic. In the body of the email, "Use crisp, muddle-free sentences." Fancy fonts, colors, flashing animations, along with digital slang, poor spelling and grammar aren't often appreciated.

4. Quash Open-Ended Questions. If you ask questions in an email, make sure the answers can be brief and easy to answer. For more detail, you should think about conferencing or telephoning.

5. Slash Surplus cc's. Think about which people should get a copy. Don't Reply All unless you know all will appreciate the email.

6. Tighten the Thread. Going back and forth through emails usually isn't a good idea. More than 3 emails in a thread may be overdoing it.

7. Attack Attachments. If the text in an attachment is only a few sentences, put the text in the email, not in an attachment. Avoid "graphics as logos" and signatures as attachments. For other attachments, think first before sending.

8. Give the Gifts: EOM NNTR. If the message can fit in the subject line, type it there and follow it with EOM, which means end of message. Then the person won't have to take the time to open the email. If you don't need a response to your email, end it with NNTR, which means there's no need to respond.

9. Cut Countless Responses. Don't feel you have to reply or thank people for their email. Reply only as necessary. Here's an example from the Charter. "Thanks for your note. I'm in" does not need you to reply "Great."

10. Disconnect. Don't overuse email.

We need to find ways to help ourselves, colleagues, and students to begin to follow at least some of these rules. Introducing the rules of the Charter, however, must be done gently, for we don't want to hurt the feelings of those who have written long emails, sent unwanted attachments, felt it only polite to reply that a note was appreciated, or thought their colorful fonts were attractive.

(The EMAIL CHARTER rules deal specifically with time considerations, but other rules for any type of digital communication should be addressed with your students. We'll tackle those in our next column on email.)


Power to Learn - The Technology of Testing

The Technology of Testing
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 10/19/11

The psychometrics behind our current spate of standardized tests stem from the work of French psychologist Alfred Binet, who lived from 1857 until 1911. Binet was trying to find an easy way to identify students who needed special help in school. His first test involved practical tasks that the child would perform with an examiner, such as pointing to various body parts, or defining simple words. Binet's work was picked up after his death by Lewis Terman at Stanford University, who adapted Binet's methods to large-scale testing for the U.S. Army as it prepared soldiers for the World War I (WWI). The Army needed a way to quickly classify thousands of young men, sending the best to officer training school, and rejecting the very worst. Terman developed a multiple-choice, paper-and-pencil version of the Binet test that could be easily administered and scored. The questions on the test were crafted to produce a normal distribution of scores among young American men in the second decade of the 20th Century. Terman believed that his test was measuring IQ, an intelligence quotient, a mental characteristic that was inherited, unchangeable throughout life, and a strong predictor of success.

The questions on Terman's tests were selected in such a way as to produce a normal distribution of scores. It didn't really matter what the questions were about, only that they reliably divided the test-takers into a range of scores, and that they produced the same distribution over time, like this:

IQ    Normal    Curve

Here are some questions from the Army test used in WW I:

1. A company advanced 6 miles and retreated 2 miles. How far was it then from its first position?

2. A dealer bought some mules for $1,200. He sold them for $1,500, making $50 on each mule. How many mules were there?

3. Thermometers are useful because

They regulate temperature
They tell us how warm it is
They contain mercury

4. A machine gun is more deadly than a rifle, because it

Was invented more recently
Fires more rapidly
Can be used with less training

5. For these next two items, examinees first had to unscramble the words to form a sentence, and then indicate if the sentence was true or false.

happy is man sick always a
day it snow does every not

6. The next two items required examinees to determine the next two numbers in each sequence.

3 4 5 6 7 8
18 14 17 13 16 12

7. A portion of the Army Alpha required examinees to solve analogies.

shoe - foot. hat - kitten, head, knife, penny
eye - head. window - key, floor, room, door

8. In these next two examples, examinees were required to complete the sentence by selecting one of the four possible answers.

The apple grows on a shrub, vine, bush, tree
Denim is a dance, food, fabric, drink

As these kinds of tests proliferated in the U.S. and Europe, test administrators developed a shorthand for describing those who performed at the lowest end of the distribution, terms that found their way into the popular argot:

IQ Range        Classification
70-80               Borderline deficiency
50-69               Moron
20-49               Imbecile
below 20         Idiot

As long as one hundred years ago, we were looking for quick and easy ways to rank human beings.

The U.S. especially went on a rampage of testing. We administered these tests to military recruits, schoolchildren, factory workers, immigrants, and job applicants. They were easy to administer -- any idiot could score the tests -- and they produced a single number with which to classify everyone on the same scale.

The key to a reliable test was in the selection of questions. Some questions had to be easy, so that just about everyone would be able to answer them, such as #8 above. Other questions had to be difficult, such that only a few would get it right, such as #2 above. And the rest in between. Test-makers developed banks of questions that produced consistent results. They'd combine a selection of hard, easy, and medium questions into a test, then test the test with a sample of people to make sure it produced a normal distribution.

This is the technology of testing that's still used today. In the 1970's, I worked on a panel for the National Council for the Social Studies to help a test-maker develop a test for American history. Here is one of the questions they produced:

Who led American forces in a decisive naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812?

a. Perry Hazard Oliver
b. Oliver Hazard Perry
c. Commodore William Farragut
d. Matthew Perry

The test-makers liked this question because it reliably caused 75% of test-takers to get it wrong. (20% would get it right simply by guessing; 5% actually know the answer; and the rest got it wrong by choosing one of the other plausible answers.) The NCSS committee did not like this question because it did not assess the important aspects of this era in history, such as why the war was fought, or how its outcome shaped the economy and maritime influence of each side. Nonetheless, the question went on the test.

In that same year, I was teaching 5th grade in Vermont. Spring had sprung, and it was time for my students to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. As I walked around monitoring the classroom, I saw Ricky Bragg with his question book closed, happily coloring in the dots on the answer sheet with his #2 pencil according to a neat pattern: ABCDCBABCDCBA... and so forth, right down the page. I told him he could not do that. He persisted. I gave in. When the scores came back in the fall, Ricky placed at a grade level of 5.1 -- a bit down in the distribution, but not as bad as some. (We would have expected him to be at 5.8, fifth grade, eighth month.)

These experiences led me to learn more about the technology of testing. And not to trust the testing industry.

The good thing is that this century-old psychometric technology ensures that 50% of students score above average. And 50% below. And that if we repeat the test next year, we'll get exactly the same distribution. Perhaps this explains why, no matter how hard we try, we cannot get 80% of students to score above average as required by the No Child Left Behind act.

We need a new technology of testing, one that measures what's truly important to learn, and with which we can measure each student's progress toward well-defined, content-specific goals. Future articles in this series will propose some new approaches and technologies for this kind of assessment. (Commodore Perry, by the way, is buried in Newport, Rhode Island, near where I live. That's Oliver Hazard, by the way; his younger brother Matthew, also at the Battle of Lake Erie, later managed to find his way to East Asia where he and his well-armed fleet forced the opening of Japan to trade with the West.)


Power to Learn - Podcast to Blackboard

Podcast to Blackboard
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 09/15/11

Blackboard is today the most popular learning management system in schools and colleges. Many teachers have asked how to post the podcasts they make (see 50 Ways to Make a Podcast) to their courses in Blackboard.

No matter what kind of podcast you made (audio-only, enhanced audio with images, or video), you may post the podcast in two ways:

First of all, you need to export your video to one of the standard multimedia formats:

If your podcast is in some other format, go back and export it into one of these. For more information on creating such podcasts, see 50 Ways to Make a Podcast.)


This is the easiest and fastest method. Follow these steps:

1. Make and export your podcast in one of the open standards formats listed above.

2. In Blackboard, add a new item withItem.

3. Enter a name for the item, such as "Podcast on the Secrets of the Cerebellum."

4. In the text box just below, enter instructions for the student, such as "Watch and listen to this podcast as you massage your brain stem."

5. Under content, just below, click the Choose File button.

6. Navigate to and choose the podcast file.

7. Click Submit, follow the directions, and you are done.

Embedded on the Page

The best process to use here depends on what kind of podcast you have.

If it's in the .mov format, then follow these steps:

1. In Blackboard, add a new item withItem.

2. Enter a name for the item, such as "Podcast on the Secrets of the Cerebellum."

3. In the text box just below, enter instructions for the student, such as "Watch and listen to this podcast as you massage your brain stem."

4. Under content, just below, click the Choose File button.

5. Navigate to and choose the podcast file.

6. From the popup menu after Select Action, choose Display media file within the page.

7. Click Submit.

8. Enter the size, in pixels, of your podcast.

9. Click Submit, and you are done.

If it's an enhanced podcast, with pictures, made with Garage Band, then follow these steps  (This requires a bit of a workaround, because Blackboard Version 8 does not automatically recognize the .m4a format.):

1. Make and export your podcast with graphics at 600x600 pixels.

2. In Blackboard, add a new item withItem.

3. Enter a name for the item, such as "Podcast on the Secrets of the Cerebellum."

4. In the text box just below, enter instructions for the student, such as "Watch and listen to this podcast as you massage your brain stem."

5. In the same text box, just below the instructions, insert the podcast file, using the "Add Quicktime Content" button --just above the text box.

6. This will set up a dialog box like this:

Insert        QuickTime        File

7. Choose the file you want to upload.

8. Set the width to 600 and the height to 616.

9. Submit. Wait while the podcast file uploads to Blackboard. Be patient.

10. You will see the podcast, in miniature, in the dialog box. Don't worry, we'll scale it up later.

11. Scroll down and click Submit.

12. Now you will see a yellow square in the text box where the podcast should be.

13. Click the "Toggle HTML Source Mode" button -  - just above the text box.

14. You will see code that looks like this:

Add        Item

15. You need to add a bit of code to this: scale="tofit"  Enter this just after loop="false".

16. The code segment should now read,< embed name="AOIQTEmbed" alt="" autoplay="false" height="616" loop="false" scale="tofit" src="" mce_src="" type="video/quicktime" controller="true" width="600">

17. Scroll down, click Submit, and you are done.

Power to Learn - Copyright Case Studies

Copyright Case Studies
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 03/31/11

Copyright continues as a concern for those of us who consult and advise faculty in the area of technology in teaching. Every day it seems the confusion spreads as we counsel our colleagues as they consider incorporating copyright materials into their courses. This week's article takes five case studies -- all real and all recent from my work at the City University of New York -- and uses them to develop some guiding concepts on copyright in the new digital networked world of education.

We also introduce the Copyright Consideror, an online tool for you and your colleagues to use to think through the decisions they make on usage copyright materials at school.

Case Study #1: Prof. Marlowe, Romeo and Juliet

In his course English 210, The Literature of Drama, cross-listed as Theater 240, The Drama of Literature, and known affectionately by students as A Play a Day, Prof. Marlowe has for decades shown to his classes the scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which Mercutio is killed. It helps students understand the profound difference between the play as acted and the play as written. When he started teaching many years ago he showed it from 16mm film, then moved up to VHS tapes and nowadays to DVD. These days he's using Zeferelli's version, produced in the 1970's.

Case Study #2: Prof. Shearing, Passing Through

Among her many duties at the college, Prof. Shearing manages a recruitment and support program for underprivileged students. To encourage them to apply, and to show them how to navigate the various support systems that the college offers, she had one of her students create an entertaining cartoon animation of the process. Like the silent movies of old, the animation was accompanied by piano music, in this case a jazz piece, Passing Through, composed in 1956 and performed by Errol Garner, who died in 1977.  She shows this animation to potential students when she's out on the recruiting trail.

Case Study #3: Prof. Daguerre, Google Images

Each week, Prof. Daguerre prepares a podcast for his students that reviews the key concepts of the course. He voices over his PowerPoint slides and adds illustrations drawn from Google Images. Students love these concise, witty, and personal productions. They download them from Blackboard and play them on their various media devices. Daguerre's use of images is especially clever and creative.

Case Study #4: Prof. Piaget, readings and videos in child development

In his lectures, Prof. Piaget makes good use of the video clips from the compact disc that accompanies the textbook, Child Development: an Experimental Approach. The clips match exactly with the topics in the book. The book (required) costs his students $95, and the CD (optional) is $30 extra, all at the campus bookstore.

Now that you have wrestled with the four case studies, you probably want me to tell you the right answers. But if I did that I would be destroying a teachable moment. Better for you to learn enough to provide the answers yourself. Here's how.

1. Understand that each case represents a balance between the rights of an author to protect his or her works from unauthorized copying and distribution, and the rights of teachers and students to learn without restriction on what works they can consider. To develop this understanding you might...

2. Review the relevant laws on copyright protection, and fair use of copyright materials. Here are your sources:

            a. The founding phrase from the U.S Constitution: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

            b. Copyright Basics from the CUNY libraries.

            c. Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright, from the U.S Copyright office.

            d. The U.S. Copyright Law

            e. Overview of the TEACH Act

3. Try these cases with the Copyright Consideror. This online tool takes you through the process of thinking through the balance between the author's right to protect his work, and your right to teach with it.

Power to Learn - Building Your Class Site – Google Style

Building Your Class Site – Google Style
by Guest Columnist Molly Dubois, Burlington High School, Burlington, Vermont, 03/24/11

Not long ago, web design was limited to computer science professionals, using code and expensive software. A comprehensive class website for sharing work, communicating with families, and connecting students was far from reality.

Today, we, as teachers, have myriad web design tools at our fingertips, which are easy to use (commonly called WYSIWYG Editors - What You See is What You Get) and cheap, if not free. I'm sharing my experience with Google Sites, which is how I have built all of my class websites. Google Sites can be used by anyone, for no cost. All you need is an email address to use as your login. You will be able to access this tool even if your school does not use any of Google's services.

Google        Sites

You'll need a Google account to get started. You can make one with a current Gmail address, or with any email address. I use my school email address for my class websites, so I can keep my personal and work email accounts separate. Once you've logged in, get started with site design by choosing a template. The most simple is the blank template, which gives you blank slate to design, decorate, and organize in your own way. This is a great choice if you're looking for a no-frills, basic look.

Google also offers a Classroom site template, which has many options teachers might like. Whichever template you choose, remember that you can add or delete any features you'd like to personalize it. You can also choose a theme, which dictates the background patterns, fonts, and color scheme for your site. Again, these range from simple and basic to complex patterns and striking colors. In this initial registration, you'll also name your site. The name should be a general name for your site: Mrs. Smith's Class, Central School 5S, or Mrs. Smith's Superstars. Think of a name your students will recognize and is not specific to one particular project or event.

Google  Sites

Once you've gone through the initial setup, you can create the website that best serves your class. Start by thinking about what resources you want to provide in your website. You can add a calendar and include important dates, as well as sync it with the school-wide calendar. You can show pictures (check your school's policy on posting student photos) of your class, projects, or events. Use an announcement page to share upcoming events or describe projects. Upload worksheets, rubrics, or sample assignments so your students can access them in or out of class.

Don't let your hard work go to waste! Make sure students, families, and other contacts are accessing your class website. First, link your classroom page up to the school's home page (you might need to work with your technology or administration to set this up). Then, show your students the website in class. Use it as your home base when working on computers in school, providing links, assignments, or information for projects. Include the URL in your newsletters, on letters home, and at family events. Ask families to set up an RSS feed to subscribe to instant updates.

Power to Learn - Great Ways to Use iApps for Education

Great Ways to Use iApps for Education
by Guest Columnist Molly Dubois, Burlington High School, Burlington,Vermont, 03/17/11

In the years since my students and I started carrying mobile technology-- iPod, iPhone, iPad-- in our pockets, there have been major changes in how I teach and how they learn. In this article, I highlight six apps, standard on every iOS device, which have any number of classroom uses.

Camera Camera. For teachers, having a digital camera at the ready during every class enables you to capture a moment in time, even if it was unexpected. These moments can be the best tool to advocate for your program, share classroom news, or build a student's portfolio. Another great use of the Camera app is as a quick and easy name-learning tool. Take a headshot of each student on the first day of school, and use the collection to study their names. Students can use the camera for scavenger hunts, adding photos to a story, or creating a classroom newsletter.

ClockClock. Before my iPhone days, I used a stopwatch or timer in class several times a day. The timer is a great tool for pacing ("lets work on that problem for 5 minutes") and for necessary reminders. My aunt, a sixth grade teacher, has an alarm that goes off every Friday at 10:30 to remind her to send the band students to their lessons. Students love to use the stopwatch for speeding up skills. From math facts to major scales, students love to time their initial attempt and watch the seconds shaved off with practice. The stopwatch has many applications in math: "The hallway is 100 feet long. Use the stopwatch to see how long it takes you to walk the length of the hall. How long would it take you to walk a mile at the same speed?".

Voice                                                                                                                                MemosVoice Memos. As a middle and high school teacher who teaches as many as 70 students in one day, with only a few minutes in between, I use Voice Memos to leave myself a quick note on lesson plans, calls home, or student attendance in the time between classes. My students love using the app to record themselves playing or speaking. It is a very powerful tool in music, speech, and foreign language classes, enabling students and teachers to immediately self assess their performances. Final products can be emailed or saved.

YoutubeYouTube. Students and teachers alike can learn so much from the wealth of videos available on YouTube. See the same song performed by a dozen artists. Watch interviews of professionals in any field. See buildings built, planes landing, and flowers bloom. Please spend the time outside of class previewing any videos you plan to share with students.

iBooksiBooks. The main purpose of this app, reading books, has obvious implications for both students and teachers. However, many teachers have found even more ways to integrate iBooks into their classroom. You or your students can produce projects in the epub format on your desktop computer, which can be shared on any of these devices. You can also use iBooks to read, annotate, and mark up PDFs. Give your copier a break and let students use worksheets on their iPods.

iPodiPod. Along with iTunes (available on the devices, not just on your laptop or desktop!), iPod, the app, is not just for playing music. Take a few minutes to explore the variety of free podcasts in the iTunes store. From TED talks to German lessons, interviews to how-to's, you can find quality, professionally produced video or audio podcasts in any subject at any level. Use them to brush up, or share them with students who need an extra challenge. In addition to these apps, there are thousands more excellent apps for classroom use in the App Store. For just a few dollars, or free, you can find apps that will help you keep attendance, enter grades, drill concepts, connect with others, and so much more. Instead of banning these devices from your classroom, find ways for students to improve their learning by testing out these apps.


Power to Learn - Don’t Forget Public Library Resources

Don’t Forget Public Library Resources
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 03/03/11

When you assign papers, reports, projects and presentations, your students probably head right to Google to search for information. It's just too convenient. What they find, as you know, is not always the most reliable information and sometimes because of the number of sites that come up in their searches, their so-called "quick "searching can take forever.

Although your students probably like searching on their own, you should remind them that there are people out there-librarians-who are overflowing with knowledge about finding reliable information. Unlike Google and other search engines, they can direct your students to the best information available for their schoolwork.  There are also a number of online libraries, like the Internet Public Library, that may work better for your students than a Google search.

Perhaps a field trip to your local public library would be a good idea. Older students might moan about it considering it a waste of time, but at the library a reference librarian can introduce them to the library's collection of online and offline sources. Public and school libraries are usually connected to resources not only in their community, but also in the state, nation, and world. You want to get your students thinking that asking for help is okay, and that it's exactly what they should do in a library.

You should also introduce your students to public libraries online.  Many of the libraries have connections through sources like iTunes, Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, which students will appreciate. To use many of these libraries, they'll need to get a free membership. Some libraries allow students to browse resources and get help without a membership, but most require a membership especially when it comes to free tutoring, homework help, and eBooks.

Let's look at a few examples of what public libraries offer:

At the online New York Public Library, students can email, text questions, or contact the 24/7 chat line. They can even "Book a Librarian" to find more information about topics such as the Performing Arts, Black Culture, and science. Before they begin using the NYPL, direct them to Resources for Teens, which includes summer reading ideas, cookbooks and DVDs, eBooks, YouTube, recorded and Braille books by mail, homework apps, and TeenLive programs.

The New Jersey State Library offers free online tutoring from There, from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., your students will find tutors to help them with math, science, social studies and English.  

From the Brooklyn online library, students can get help writing a book report, making use of the library's databases and calculators, and they can take part in social networking.

At the Internet Public Library, they'll find School & Homework help, research paper guides, and answers to frequently asked questions. The Homework area includes 232 links to resources.

If they go to the site "Top 10 Best Free Online Libraries", they'll see a list of libraries such as Project Gutenberg, Bartleby, Bibliomania, Internet Archive, and others highly rated reference sources.

Younger students will want to zoom off to the Camden County Kids' World, New Jersey where they'll discover a Kids' Catalog, Suggested Reading, Kids' Program, Fun and Games, and Homework Help. The Homework Help section lets them find information on topics for reports and projects. There's also a place where they can ask a librarian for help by email, phone, or Q & A New Jersey, a chat service that's available all the time.

The best advice is to find out what's available for your students from your school and community libraries, for there's probably a treasure trove of resources and help waiting online and offline for your students.

Power to Learn - What About Rewiring Teaching?

What About Rewiring Teaching?
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 02/24/11

Not everyone agrees with what's in Larry Rosen's book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and The Way They Learn, but most will agree that today's students are often learning what they want, when they want with their digital devices. Maybe they aren't learning what we want them to learn, when we want them to learn, and how we want them to learn; but they are forging ahead on their own.

While Rosen doesn't present us with a digital curriculum or specific ideas about what should be taught to teachers in colleges of education or through in-service education or how we might go about making changes in our classrooms, in his writings he throws out ideas to stimulate thinking about how we teach and what we expect of our students. He recognizes that there are obstacles related to students' use of digital devices, social networks, digital slang, and Internet sites but feels these problems must be addressed, but shouldn't hold us back from "rewiring" our teaching.

In a nutshell, Rosen is saying to us, what you may already know about your students, but haven't been able to verbalize "Students in our schools are not wired like previous generations; they need to be taught differently."  "Differently" to Rosen doesn't mean using an interactive whiteboard, having students look up information online, or creating a PowerPoint presentation for a lesson.  Students don't want to sit in the classroom and watch teachers use whiteboards like overhead projectors and show presentations that have the allure of a 1960s filmstrip.

Some of Rosen's suggestions for "rewiring" our classrooms include use of social networking, texting, digital games, multitasking, sites like Second Life, and creating through technologies.  Let's consider each of these keeping Rosen's ideas in mind:

Social Networking: Social networking in a safe setting where pages are set up to help students investigate curricular content and to allow for student interaction can be an excellent teaching tool. It provides the opportunity for students to learn on their own, at their own pace. If they aren't able to cover what's needed in the classroom, they can review beyond school on their own or with classmates. Help is available not just from the teacher but also from peers. For those who are shy about interacting in a classroom, social networking provides a less stressful way to communicate.

Texting: Students text all the time, even in the classroom, when they can get away with it.  Some teachers have figured out ways to put texting to work in their courses. The idea is to get students involved in what they are learning. If they are learning about Shakespeare or AP Calculus or microorganisms and texting about the content-consider it a plus even if they aren't using perfect English in their texts. Does it matter if they use shortcuts as long as their ideas or questions are understood? They are communicating about the content, not writing an essay for English class or a thank you note to their grandmother.

Games: There's an abundance of evidence that video games are a powerful way to help students learn and there's no doubt that a good digital game motivates learning and holds students' attention. Marc Prensky's books such as Digital Game-Based Learning, Teaching Digital Natives, and Don't Bother Me Mom-I'm Learning, along with his site, offer excellent information about games in learning.

Multitasking: All of us multitask at one time or another, but when it comes to multitasking in school or while doing homework, it's a controversial subject. I remember sitting in front of the television doing my homework, which my mother suggested was not a good idea. Rosen's book tells us that multitasking isn't bad, and that although it may take students more time to finish their assignments when multitasking, it works for them. Think about when some of your adult friends telephone. They are often on speakerphone in their cars, driving and talking-multitasking. Students answering a text may be working on a report and waiting for Web site to appear. However, while listening to music and doing homework often works for students, playing a videogame and studying for a test, may not. It depends on the tasks. With students being eager to multitask, there's no doubt they'll try to text in your classroom. The ideal solution would be to have them texting about what you are teaching-what they are learning, perhaps while working with others on a report or project.

Second Life: I find Second Life a fascinating virtual world, and obviously Rosen does as well. If you haven't been there, take some time to get used to traveling through your avatar and visit places like the Sistine Chapel by Vassar College and ISTE Island from the International Society for Technology in Education. There are some wonderful resources in Second Life that will help your students learn about history, architecture, and health, and more; and also provide you with opportunities for professional development.

Creating Through Technologies: Rosen suggests that our students enjoy creating with technologies and whenever possible we should let them use different methods of presenting material. It's learning by doing, learning by teaching others, and learning by working together-excellent for higher level thinking skill development.

While all this sounds inviting, I know what you are thinking. Where will I ever get the time to find the resources I need to rewire my teaching? How can I make sure that my students are safe when they use these digital tools and sites? How do I teach my students what online content is worth exploring? If my students aren't allowed to have cell phones or iPods in school, and sites like Second Life and Facebook are blocked, how is it possible to get students texting and networking about course content? These are difficult questions. Rosen's book offers some answers, but it is up to us to find our own way to what is possible in our schools.


Power to Learn - Visualizing Data

Visualizing Data
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 02/17/11

Sometimes technology helps us do things faster, more efficiently, such as finding specific addresses on a map, or looking up quotations. I could have done both in the library; technology shortens the time necessary, and allows me to do it from my desktop.

At other times technology enables us to do things previously impossible. An example of this is shown in Prof. Hans Rosling's five-minute video 200 Countries, 200 Years. Prof. Hans draws on a database of 120,000 numbers to help us understand human history since 1800 in a new way, made possible through new software tools. Take a moment now and watch the video.

There's lots going on here. The story that Hans tells is familiar, but the visualization of the data that provoke the story is brand-new. And the software he uses is available to all of us, and our students, for free. So is his data set.

Could he have told this story as effectively using a spreadsheet of 200 rows and 400 columns? Even with the best formulas and wizards, the tabular presentation of data is not the best way to find meaning in the numbers. But take the same data set and look at it with the visualizer, and dozens of trends begin to appear, dozens of questions arise in your mind. The act of visualization makes us think in new ways about the facts.

Professor of statistics Bill Williams at Hunter College in New York explains that old technologies have kept us in the dark about data. Because the available data-working tools -- mostly mathematical, and concentrated on calculation -- do not permit the kind of broad-scale meaning-making that you see in Hans' video, our teaching of statistics, and our methods of working with quantitative information, have tended away from the descriptive and focused on the inferential. Rather than wonder about the larger trends and big ideas, we jump directly to the t-test. We miss the forest by concentrating on the tree. Or the t, as the case may be.

Prof. Hans' forest of data is a picnic for the curious, and a five-course meal for the serious student of modern world history. To play in the forest yourself, follow these steps:

  1. Connect your browser to
  2. Click the tab at the top, Gapminder World.
  3. Wait for the data to load.
  4. Slide the slider at the bottom, or click the play button, to see the progress over time.
  5. Click on a circle to see the different countries.
  6. Observe, think, question and wonder.
    • Watch China, the big red circle. What happened there in 1959-60?!!? Why?
    • Choose a country in the list at the right. Move the slider to trace its progress. What went on? Why?
    • Click on the outliers, and consider why they might be way out there.

You can do all this online from your browser. To get it all onto your own computer so that you can play in the subway or at the beach, download Gapminder Desktop and learn some more. 

Now comes the good part -- play with your own data with the same visualizing tool. Follow these steps.

  1. Connect your browser to GoogleDocs. Register for an account (free) if you don't already have one; sign in.

  2. Use the button on the upper left to create a new spreadsheet.

  3. Enter or paste your data into the spreadsheet. You must do this in a certain way:
    • Entities in the first column (countries, people, states, items, etc.)
    • Time - years or months or days or hours - in the second column.
    • Data for the first variable in the third column.
    • Data for the second variable in the fourth column.
    • No blank columns or rows or cells.

  4. Make sure your spreadsheet looks like this:
    Google                Docs

  5. Select the data you want to visualize.
    Google                Docs

  6. Insert a Gadget, using the Google Doc menu.
    Google                Docs

  7. Choose the Motion Chart gadget.

  8. Click the Play and Close button, and watch your data visualize.
  9. Slide the slider to animate the data over time.
  10. Adjust the size and color of the circles as you wish.
  11. Observe, think, and wonder.

Power to Learn - Is the book dead?

Is the book dead?
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 2/10/11

The morning news seemed to sound the knell for the paper book. Borders was closing 200 of its bookstores and declaring bankruptcy. Amazon again sold more electronic books than hardbacks. Students in Ohio cobbled together a free online psychology text that garnered better reviews than their $150 professional print version. And McGraw-Hill announced the availability of purely digital texts for college students, delivered through the online Blackboard system. Is the book dead?

Let's look more closely into what's going on. The price of school and college paper textbooks increases each semester, with some costing over $150 a copy. A student taking five courses might spend $750 per semester on such books, enough to buy both an Amazon Kindle and an Apple iPad. Wouldn't the money be better spent on a well-designed reading device that could contain all of the student's textbooks, for his or her entire school career? When will professors, students and publishers realize that the same digital revolution that has turned the world of trade books upside down will do the same for the world of textbooks?

The current offers of the publishers in this regard simply don't satisfy. They are willing to rent students a static PDF copy of a $100 textbook for a semester for $50. This ephemeral book is not downloadable -- they must have a live online connection to read it; it doesn't work on the iPad or Kindle, the two most popular eBook readers; students can't annotate the paragraphs or mark up the pages or copy quotations or pictures. And it offers nothing more than the paper book -- it can't take advantage of the capabilities of modern eReaders, such as animation, video, re-formatting, definitions, highlighting, text-to-speech, cross-referencing, and note-taking.* (Every book I read with the iPad's iBooks app can do all these things, and none cost more than $10, with most costing nothing.)

Why do high school and college textbooks cost so much? Many people are involved in developing the book and getting it into the hands of students, and all of them must be paid. Of a $100 textbook, the authors of the text and the owners of the pictures get about $15. The editors, designer, and layout artist share about $25. The printer gets $20, the shipper $5, the salesperson $5, and the bookstore $30.

Pie    Chart    of    Textbook    Costs

Of these folks, the only ones left out when we move to eTexts are the printer and shipper and the bookstore. So the digital version of the same text should cost about $45. Textbooks cost much more to author and produce than novels, so I doubt we will ever see the price of a quality eText fall to $10.

What would this quality eText look like? What do students and teachers want from the ideal eTextbook? A study conducted recently at Hunter College in New York by Charles Tien and his colleagues in the department of Political Science provides some clues. They tested carefully an electronic text with several groups of students, and collected their reactions. While they found it easy to buy the eText online, they were not satisfied with its limitations. Until the eText fully met their needs, they tended to prefer the old-fashioned paper textbook. The eText they wanted was**:

For this, they might be willing to pay $50, and they might find it more convenient than the paper textbook. But until the eTexts meet these criteria, the students are not interested.

Perhaps educational publishers could agree to use the industry-standard ePub format for their works, which meets all of these criteria, allows digital rights management, and plays on most devices. That would go a long way toward satisfying our professors and our students. And take full advantage of current technologies. For more on the ePub format, and how to publish your own works with it, see Publishing an eBook in this series.

*Editor's Note - If books come in PDF form, depending on the restrictions and if not strictly online versions, they can be downloaded to the iPad using an app like GoodReader or to a Kindle. Students can also use PDF versions to take notes using cut, copy and paste features on their computer.

**Editor's Note -Another useful feature could be the sharing of highlighted text. Currently, using eBook apps such as iBooks and the Kindle app, readers can not only highlight text for themselves and save those highlights, but they can also turn on a feature that allows them to see what others reading the same book have highlighted. If this shared highlighting could be captured by a teacher, it could change the way a book is read, reviewed and discussed in class giving students a new voice in the discussion. Students could be asked to highlight quotes in texts and works of fiction that they found compelling, confusing, important or some other criteria could be used.


Power to Learn - The Education Debate

The Education Debate
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College CUNY , 02/03/11

When I was very young, I visited Bobby down the street to play with his boxing toy. When you wound it up, the two fighters in the ring would move around and punch each other. They never fell down; no boxer won the match; we just sat and watched them swing at each other until the spring gave out.

The current national debate in K-12 education is like that. The two sides, well-defined now for a decade, slug it out in a very public and predictable match. One side complains about the poor performance of urban students, blames the teachers' unions, and calls for more multiple-choice tests to prove their point. The other side defends the status quo, blames the students, and calls for fewer tests and more money. Both sides call the others bad names, just as boxers are heard to curse in the ring. See, for instance, Idaho Schools Chief's Truck Vandalized Amid Reform Furor. Neither side wins.

Meanwhile, schools remain pretty much as they were before the debate started. The experience of a student has changed little, except for more multiple-choice tests. Graduation rates, international comparisons, and student satisfaction have actually fallen during the debate years.

Can technology help us rise above this scatological repartee?

How might technology help us move beyond today's spring-loaded debates about education?

Engage students

Students perform better when they are engaged in their studies, when they see the relevance of what they learn, and when they hold in their hands all the tools they need to learn efficiently. In many of the worst-performing schools, we see little of this engagement. The National Study of Student Engagement, and the USDE's annual High School Student Survey shows a steady decline in students' connection with their school. But when technology is deployed to empower students to search, collaborate, and create, they perform better and their attitudes improve. How to engage students?

Strengthen teaching

If we teach as we did 10 or 30 or 50 years ago, our students will not be prepared to compete with their peers in the rest of the world. We can take advantage of online resources, web conferencing, and digital classroom tools to enable teachers to learn new ways, and to employ them in school. We need not close school in order to renew our teachers' skills; but we do need to reorganize the use of space and time to permit them the flexibility for professional growth within their workday. How to strengthen teaching?

Connect learning

To succeed in today's academic and business environments, our students need to be able to use the digital information resources that grease the worlds of higher learning and commerce. To be prepared for an increasingly global economy, they need to learn to live and work with people from distinct cultures and unknown languages. To be competitive with their peers, they need to be able to use the World Wide Web as a library and learning center. How to connect learning?

Advance assessment

If we limit our measures of student performance to the multiple-choice tests of 50 years ago, we will have no idea whether or not they have learned what they need to succeed. What we measure, and how we measure it, must take full advantage of current networked digital information technologies. Ubiquitous technology in the hands of students will permit us to track their progress more frequently, embedding assessment into their day-to-day assignments; and more comprehensively, to measure the full gamut of skills necessary to success. How to advance assessment?

Transform process

The way we do things in school is based oftentimes on the technologies of the past: paper, pencil, book, and lecture-hall. Many of these procedures waste the time and energy of students and teachers that would better be spent in learning. Tasks such as taking attendance or handing out paper or administering bubble-tests or checking out books or listening to a lecture can be eliminated or reduced through the careful application of technology. Technology has transformed the day-to-day processes of the world outside of school; let's take advantage of these tools to do things more efficiently in school. How to transform process?

So let's stop fighting with each other, get out of the boxing ring, and channel the energy of our leadership towards the tasks of engaging students, strengthening teaching, connecting learning, advancing assessment, and transforming school processes. And take advantage of technology to help us.


Power to Learn - The SPA Treatment

The SPA Treatment
by James Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 01/27/11

Technology offers much more than a faster and easier way to teach and learn the same old things with the same old methods. Rather, today's digital networked information tools open up brand new approaches to our craft that have never been available before. A good way to consider the full potential of the new technologies is to take your teaching to the spa, to give your course or your curriculum the SPA treatment. SPA stands for syllabus, performance, and assessment.

Take the opportunities that technology offers to give your teaching a complete makeover, through the application of proven principles of learning, and the careful inclusion of digital technologies. This makeover -- think of it as This Old Course -- involves three steps:


Examine the structure of your course or curriculum, the objectives, the assignments, the readings, the nature of the class meetings, and all of the other elements of its syllabus, looking for opportunities to improve the course through the application of good learning design and new technology. Look to include a wider array of learning styles, more frequent assignments on the part of students, a richer collection of learning materials easily available to students anytime and anyplace, and more frequent assessment and monitoring. Review the article Digital Opportunities, in this series, for more ideas on this score.


A sure way to improve your teaching performance in the classroom is to look at yourself -- and get your colleagues to do the same.  Employ digital video technology to record your teaching, and your students' learning. Then subject these clips to a range of online analyses -- such as the faculty at Hunter College, which has been doing this now for five years. These include self-analysis, peer review, and expert consultation. Then compare your performance to the principles of good learning and teaching.


Technology can provide us with new ways to find out if our students have learned. So take a careful look at the nature of the assessments used in your course or curriculum -- quizzes, papers, tests, and projects -- with an eye to making them more frequent, adding self-assessment, putting them online, and ensuring they match well with course content, objectives, and materials. Online assessments allow you to allot less class-meeting time to test-taking and more to learning.

The role of technology

As your course or curriculum goes through the SPA treatment, look for opportunities to include technological tools that help students learn and help their teachers monitor their study and success. We know that certain applications of digital networked technologies can improve student success. These include interactive presentation and audience response systems; digital learning objects, such as podcasts and online tutorials; self-correcting quizzes; online lecture notes; multiple embodiment of course content (text, graphics, diagrams, audio, video); lecture transcripts; learner analytics (time spent with course materials, analysis of wrong answers, learner feedback); and so forth. Include these technologies, as appropriate, in the makeover of your course.

By subjecting your teaching to the SPA treatment, you can help students learn more, succeed in their coursework, and contribute to their rate of academic success.

Power to Learn - iPod in Preschool

iPod in Preschool
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 01/20/11

That's the last thing they need. The years from two to five are crucial to cognitive and social development. The more time spent with electronic devices, the less time spent in the play and social interaction that fosters healthy growth. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, as well as the White House Obesity Task Force recommend restricting the screen time for children at this age to little or nothing.

And yet many quality preschools and progressive parents are buying iPods for their little ones. What's going on here?

I called in as consultant to the preparation of this article, my four-year -old granddaughter, Henrietta. After sledding for an hour in sub-freezing temperatures one Sunday afternoon, we retired to the fire, hot chocolate, and the iPod. She immediately warmed to the latter, and very quickly developed into a critical consumer of the new digital media that appear on the device.

Right away, she learned to manage the icons and keyboard better than I -- her small fingers seemed more suited to the Lilliputian dimensions of the iPod Touch. I had loaded 25 apps, based on the top-ten recommendations of leading educational web sites, and let her try them all, spending as much time as she wanted with each one. Here is what I gleaned from my observations and our discussions.

Young children employ this hand-held device differently from their school-age siblings or us adults. They do not immediately check their email, connect to Facebook, or text their colleagues. Because they can't read (most of them), these commonplace activities do not interest them. What does draw them in is their new-found ability to watch, play, learn, explore and create, in ways that have not been available to them before.


It's like television, but a bit more interactive, and you can control the content. Henrietta liked to watch a story on the iPod, hear it read (or sung) to her, and click to go on to the next page. The Three Little Pigs from Kidzstory was her favorite, followed by Why Does the Sun Shine? from They Might be Giants, and A Story B4 Bed. Of these self-running apps, she liked the stories with a classic plot best; she found no interest in commercial videos that went nowhere, such as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Of the five types of activities described in this article, these watch-and-listen apps form the most passive level of interaction.

A step above, but requiring adult attention, were the iBooks such as Winnie-the-Pooh, where she could listen to the story as I read it aloud, watch the pictures, and talk about what was happening.


Add some interaction to the storybook or the song, and you move up to something that looks more like child's play. Henrietta continues to be fascinated by Wheels on the Bus, even though it's designed for younger folks. As the song plays (in several languages, as desired), she can spin the wheels to make the bus go forward, or open the doors with her fingers, or tap the drive to get a response. In the same vein, but in the form of a book, is Green Eggs and Ham, where she can click on characters to see their names, and on words to hear their sounds. But all in a spirit of open play; there's no direct instruction or testing.


Henrietta had more choices in this category than any other. The marketplace must be full of tiger mothers, judging from the plethora of iPod apps that purport to teach important skills to preschoolers. Most of these she rejected after a minute or so; the ones that she found most valuable were those that tested her memory, thinking, or reasoning, right at her level. Monkey Lunchbox was her favorite; this highly-produced, gamelike app offered a variety of short tasks, including counting fruits, matching letters to animals, and doing concentration games, all in the guise of preparing a lunch for a monkey (who smiles when you succeed).

Next in line were what Henrietta called the teacher apps, clearly aimed at teaching letters, numbers, shapes, and colors, with immediate self-correcting feedback. She likes Super Why because it let her play with the wrong answers, and Teach Me Toddler because the mouse who played the role of teacher was patient and direct. Less interesting were Intro to Math (unclear instructions), Preschool Adventure (too much show, not enough challenge), Cute Math (requires reading), and Write My Name (a unitask app).

Also in this category are the letter- and number -tracers. She liked best the ones that provided stroke-by-stroke feedback, such as ABC Tracer.


Once she figured out what these were, she enjoyed working with Google Earth and the built-in Maps app in satellite view. She took me on a trip deep into the ocean, over forests and deserts and cities. Her little fingers zoomed in and out faster than mine, and she understood that she was looking at the earth from an aerial perspective, with no explanation from her grandpa. She became an explorer.


We had less time, but found more potential, with these apps that let her create things from scratch. Glow Draw and Doodle Buddy let her draw with her finger. Mini Piano let her pick out songs on a one-octave keyboard. The built-in camera let her take pictures and video of her little sister and the big dogs. Dragon Dictate let her learn to speak slowly and clearly in order to turn her speech into written words. And Sonic Pics let her create her own illustrated and narrated podcast. (These last two, unlike most of the others, were not self-explanatory to a non-reader; they required a grown-up to show her how to do it the first time.)

Next time we work together, I'm going to help her make her own illustrated iBook that she can read on her iPod.  I'll do it with Pages on the Mac -- we'll create the pictures and large-print text, page-by-page, then export it to the ePub format that iBooks uses. We'll both be creators.

Power to Learn - Updated Web Searching

Updated Web Searching
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 01/13/11

When you talk to your students about searching the Web, you tell them about the importance of selecting the right keywords for their searches. The problem is-coming up with those perfect words or phrases to help them find what they want online isn't always easy. Even for experienced Web searchers, eliminating unwanted sites can be a problem. For students, it might be compared to being given a general topic for a research paper and having to come up with a specific topic.  (I know you can hear the whining now, "I don't know what to write about.")

Usually they don't know what to type into a search engine's search line either, but they'll be hesitant to admit it. Knowing they think they know everything there is to know about Web searching, why not approach the topic by telling them you've found a unique, new tool that you want them to test while doing their latest research project for you.

Before jumping into the research with your students, go to It's a search engine that provides keywords, called "Power Words" to assist with Web searches. Experiment with it, for that's what you are going to let your students do.

Your comments to your students might go something like this:

Go to and watch the demo. The demo is a cartoon video about searching for the perfect house pet. I know you might think it looks like this search engine is for little kids, but it's not. Watch the demo and be ready to tell me why this method of searching is different and how it might help you. You should know that it works with computers, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices.

After your students watch the demo, give them their assignment. Let's suppose you want them to write about literature. Assign a general topic and then explain:

Your assignment is to write a paper on a topic of your choice, but it has to relate to 18th Century poets. I want you to put the keywords "18th Century" and "poets" into the search line.  You'll see that SortFix comes up with 76,000 or so sites to choose from, but you'll also see some boxes, called baskets at the top of the page. In the first box on the left are "Power Words" for you to use in your search. Beside the "Power Words" basket, you'll see the baskets "Add to Search", "Remove", and "Dictionary".

The idea is to move the "Power Words" that fit what you want to research into the "Add to Search" basket and put the ones you definitely don't want into the "Remove" basket. You don't have to use all the "Power Words." The dictionary basket provides a quick way to look up the meaning of any "Power Words" you don't understand.

Let your students experiment with SortFix. They'll soon find that they can make phrases out of the "Power Words" and that as SortFix helps them drill down to the information they want, they'll be limiting their topic as well. They might, for example, put the "Power Words" women and romantic and British into the "Add to Search" basket" and anthologies and American into the "Remove" basket. If they do, they'll notice that the number of sites appearing is now about 75 and that they've limited their topic to 18th Century British women who write romantic poetry. They may want to drill down even farther.

Be warned that all the sites that come up in SortFix searches may not fit what your students want.  Encourage them to think about why these sites appeared.  Although the site is easy to use, it does take some getting used to and does take thinking about which "Power Words" to move where. The more they practice moving around the "Power Words", the easier their searching should become.

After the assignment is complete, have your students evaluate what they thought of SortFix. Do they think it's a better way to search? Do you?



Power to Learn - Campfires

by Jim Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 01/06/11

This article is about architecture -- to answer the important question, how should we design our school for the information age? In an era when books and teachers and libraries are not the sole sources of information and ideas, when we need to learn so much more to be competitive, when we have so much information at our disposal online -- in that new era, what should schools look like? I take as my text an article on the same topic written twenty years ago by David Thornburg, entitled "Campfires in Cyberspace."

In that article, he encouraged school designers to look backward into human history to help them think about the kinds of spaces that our species needs in order to raise its youth. Think first about the campfire, where we gathered for warmth, the heat of the fire and the inspiration of the stories that we heard.


For young and old, the campfire brings us together around a common hearth and a common core of ideas. We build many kinds of community around the campfire.

We've been doing this for tens of thousands of years.

The campfire is the place where ancestors pass ideas to the new generation, mostly through stories and narratives.

It's around the fire that we discuss the nature of right and wrong, of truth and justice, of life and death.

It's an open forum of ideas, and yet its proceedings are guided by traditions of civility and respect.

The stories we tell cross cultures: while the details may vary, the essential messages are the same, all around the world. Without the time and the place to tell our common stories, the next generation may be unprepared for its future.

From the monologues of Bill Cosby -- recited in a campfire lit by the television, to the modern-day shuo-shu comedians of China gesturing in the dining hall, the function remains the same: to provide a place where the group may listen to a common story, told by one of its members. So when you design a school, make sure you create a campfire, a place to assemble, present, listen, and absorb. The new campfire may exchange the burning embers for a computerized smartboard, but the purpose is the same: to tell the story to the community.


Even before there were humans, there were watering holes. Animals gather at these places to perform the essential duty of hydration. With our sapient wisdom, our species has designed many types of watering holes, spaces where the essential business of life and work is carried out.

We can't help but meet each other there, informally, dropping in for a quick chat as we do our work.

The watering hole may center on a river, a pond, a well, a hole in the ground,

or a matter, we seem to need such a space to keep our community together and to get our work done. What's the watering hole of the digital age? Is it Facebook? Instant messaging? The school blog? How do we design into our schools, whether physically or virtually, places for informal exchange and conversation?


The campfire and the watering-hole are both public spaces, where anyone can hear what we say and see what we do. But sometimes, the work we do needs a private place, where parents can meet with their family, where a teacher can withdraw with her students, to get things done without outside scrutiny or interruption. Early on, we used caves for this purpose.

Caves protected us from the weather and from the predations of wild beasts. In the cave we were safe and beyond distraction.

We could tell stories, or draw pictures, or write books, or construct tools. The cave served us well over the years, and has evolved into the home, the office, and the classroom. So plan some cave-like spaces in your school, virtual or real, on the network or in the building, spaces where people can work together in peace and quiet.


But throughout human history, we learned most of what we needed outside, at work, in the field or in the woods or in the factory, watching our elders do the work and then trying it ourselves under their watchful eye. Real life was our best teacher.

We hypothesized, experimented, tried, and failed. And tried again with a new idea until we got it right.

So provide spaces in your school that look like real life, where students can take the role of worker, get a chance to try things out, and to lead others along the way.

Architectural planning for technology is not as much about wires and cables and conduits as about campfires, watering holes, caves, and life.

Power to Learn - Assessing the Impact of Technology

Assessing the Impact of Technology
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 12/02/10

This article provides some advice on how best to measure the effects of your technology implementations.

The first question to ask yourself is what you expected the technology to change. What did you expect would happen as a result of all those computers or iPads or iPods that you bought and put into the hands of students and teachers? Your answers to this question will determine the nature of your assessment plan.

I worked with a group of leaders from a dozen schools this week, who asked themselves this very question. Here's what they answered:

They had high expectations for what technology could do for their school. How would they assess whether or not they met their expectations?

Assessment must be considered as an integrated component of a larger planning and implementation process. The process we use with schools takes you through seven steps:

Assessment comes in at two key junctures: when you scan the system at the outset to see where you are (Step 3); then again a year or two after implementation, too see what's changed (step 7). Same assessment, two takes. Here's a summary of the process:

        1.            Recognize the need for change

If you aren't interested in changing your school, don't go through this process. The entire school community must come to the realization that your school needs to change to fit the needs of the modern world, the capabilities of today's students, and the advantages of new information technologies. If you're happy with your school the way it is, then don't bother with steps 2-7.

        2.            Set the vision

Once you recognize the need for change, you must in your mind's eye cast a vision of what you'd like your school to be. Paint a picture of what school looks like, what people do, how they do it, and why.

        3.            Scan the system

Now that you have a vision, take an assessment of your school today, and see how well it achieves your vision. If your vision is powerful, this assessment will point out the gaps between what is and what ought to be. These are the gaps that you will close with your plan.

        4.            Plan for action

Make a two-year plan, including all aspects of the changes you propose to make: curriculum, scheduling, organization, policies, teacher development, network infrastructure, technology for students and teachers, fundraising, installation, and so forth. Assign a due date, responsibility, and a budget for each item in the plan.

        5.            Adopt the plan

Get your board, community, trustees, or benefactors to vote for your plan and allocate the money. (Without a powerful vision and a clear plan, they won't come up with the commitment or the money.)

        6.            Implement the plan

Take the money and run. Implement all aspects of the plan according to schedule.

        7.            Monitor and refresh

After a year or two, assess again. Use the same assessments as before, and look for the results to show significant change. Then develop another two-year plan.

So we see that assessment is a key component of educational improvement.

Successful schools include many components in their assessment. They assess how students have changed, how faculty have changed, and how the perceptions of parents and community have changed. And so for each audience, they design an array of assessment tools to measure the change.


To assess how students have changed, they use a variety of measures:

         - to measure what kinds of activities students are engaged in, they use an observational walkthrough, conducted by an administrator, quantifying the specific items listed in the vision.

         - to measure the perception of students, and how it changes over time, they conduct a student survey at regular intervals. The items on the student survey are drawn from the vision; they ask students how close the school is to implementing its vision.

         - these schools also measure other factors associated with student satisfaction with school, such as attendance and graduation rates, expecting these to increase as the school implements its vision.

         - and they also assess student achievement, the kind that is measured by standardized tests, as well as other kinds of learning mentioned in the vision.


To assess how the faculty is changing, these schools administer a faculty technology profile, assessing how technology is incorporated in each teacher's classroom. They also do a faculty survey, similar to the student survey, to assess the faculty's view of how the vision is progressing. And more and more schools are capturing video of teaching and learning in the classroom, and then analyzing it to measure the kinds of new schoolwork called for in their vision.


And many ask parents to report their perceptions of how close the school is to achieving its vision.


All of these assessments are conducted before the plan is implemented; and then repeated, with the same instruments, a year or two later. And what they find often looks like this:

Some things change quickly as the program is implemented; other things hardly move at all. Especially in schools that enjoyed high attendance, graduation, and achievement test scores when they started, they don't see a big shift -- they were close to the ceiling at the outset, and so the new technologies cannot be expected to move these measures much farther up. The assessments that show the biggest change are those that measure student and faculty behavior and perception.

So when you set your vision at the outset of your project, make sure you involve students, faculty, parents and the public in dreaming about what school should be like. And get them to envision what they want to see happening in their school when the project is complete. In very specific terms, like these:

Then, before you start implementing, assess yourself -- scan the system, so you have some baseline data. Conduct the array of assessments, of students, teachers, and parents. You need to assess all the items in your vision in this pre-scan. Here are some sample assessment instruments you can try.

Education 3.0 Walkthrough

Student Survey

Faculty Technology Profile

Teacher Survey

Student Survey

Video Analysis of Teaching

Power to Learn - Publishing an eBook

Publishing an eBook
by James Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 11/18/10

What is an ebook?

An eBook is a publication in digital form, a computer file, that contains the text (and perhaps also illustrations) of a book, article, or other piece of work. The magic of the eBook is that it can be read on a computer, an iPod, an iPad, even on a smartphone such as a Blackberry or iPhone. The rapid rise in eBook readers has made this format very popular over the last year. We hear that for many titles eBook sales outstrip paper copies; we see eBook readers on the train or the plane or at the beach staring silently at their strange little digital devices as they absorb the plot.

But what about your own book? Or your own lecture notes? Or your instructions to students? Or the article you've just written? Might these find a larger readership in the eBook format? Might this common format be the best way to distribute your work?

eBooks have come of age in part because of the development and acceptance of the EPUB format, a free and open standard developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum in 2007. Just about everyone in the digital publishing business -- except Amazon -- has adopted the EPUB format. Authors publish their works in this format, and device-makers ensure that their little machines can display EPUB.

Why should I publish in EPUB format?

EPUB is the easiest and most reliable way for your works to be widely distributed and widely readable, with full copyright protection if you want it. The files are efficiently tiny and easy to send over the Internet, post on a web site, or attach to an email. Your readers can choose how to read them: on their computer, on their iPad, on their Nook or Sony Reader or even on their Blackberry or iPhone. The Luddites among them can print them to paper if they need to. One format, many devices. You need not worry about fonts, formatting, layout, or any of the glitches that arise with proprietary file formats such as Microsoft Word or PDF. Your reader chooses the font, page layout, text size, and style that best fits the device he's using or the setting she's in.

With advanced devices like the iPad, the EPUB format allows your work to take advantage of certain educational features that can enhance the reading experience. Imagine your students being able to click on a word, any word in your text, to see its definition, or hear it pronounced, or look it up in the encyclopedia. Imagine your visually-impaired readers being able to listen to your book, all without doing any extra work. All you need to do is publish your work in the EPUB format; the device applies the extra features as the reader wishes.

How do I create eBooks?

First, write something worth publishing. Write it in any word-processor you want, but don't do any formatting -- use only plain text. Avoid repeated spaces, tabs, fonts, centering, tables, headers, footers, page numbers, and special effects. Keep it simple. On Windows, use Notepad; on Macintosh, use TextEdit or Pages. If you need images, insert them as inline images. Save your writing in plain text format. Next, convert your work to the EPUB format:



No matter which method you use, the result is a file with an .epub extension. These are compact, cross-platform files, easy to email to your correspondents, to post on your own web site or on Moodle or Blackboard, or to hand off on a USB disk.

How do I read eBooks?

Power to Learn - How to Deal with Emerging Bullies

How to Deal with Emerging Bullies
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 11/04/10

Let's consider your work with younger kids first. Many think that bullying and cyberbullying aren't a problem with elementary-age students. Certainly you don't hear much about it at this level, but it's there among some and developing in others. All primary school teachers know that little kids aren't always kind to each other. Think about Grade 1 girls who tell others what they should and should not wear and Grade 3 boys who intimidate less athletic students on the playground. Young children can be bullies, and they can, and already are, bullying others online.  Examples of cyberbullying include fourth graders sending threatening messages and children as young as second grade using digital communication to bully.

Elementary schools are already filled with lessons about being nice to classmates, but these lessons, even at the primary levels, should include how to act when communicating online, respect for others online, and consequences attached to inappropriate digital behavior. You don't have to create a whole new curriculum, for there are programs online you can use as a guide and modify to fit your students. Bridgewater College's Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center offers a free curriculum for K-5, Common Sense Media gives prevention ideas for Grades 2-5, TeachersFirst includes elementary-level cyberbullying prevention resources, IKeepSafe's Grade 5 curriculum includes a fun cartoon about Internet safety, Internet4Classroom offers resources on anger management, bullying and cyberbullying-there are lots more.

After the elementary years, you continue on the lookout for peer behaviors that are inappropriate. One of the problems when dealing with students of all ages is how to react when you see kids who are not being respectful to each other. Elizabeth Englander and Kristin Schank of the Massachusetts Aggression Center recommend that you keep "responding" and "reporting" separate in your mind. While you'll report threatening comments and aggressive behavior, you should never ignore situations in which other kids laugh about a bullying action. While you may not send the laughing students to the school office, you should spend time talking with them about their behavior and your expectations of them. Let them know that this type of behavior is totally unacceptable.

Your intuition may tell you whether students who side with a bully do so because they think the bully's actions are amusing, or if they feel compelled to laugh in order to go along with the peer group. Some teachers find that discussions about peer groups and peer pressure help because they give students the opportunity to talk freely about their feelings. Depending upon the clique group alignment among your students, you may want to initiate small-group and gender-specific group meetings. As was mentioned in the previous podcast, insist that the discussion be in general terms with no mention of names or situations others will recognize.  Try to get students to focus upon what it feels like to be teased or ignored. Discussions such as this may motivate student ideas about what they can do to thwart cyberbullying. After all, most bullying and cyberbullying wouldn't happen if the bullies didn't have an audience.

It's difficult to know what to do when students come to you with problems that seem, well, "silly". They may complain, for example, about how other kids look at them or about how someone brushed against them in the hallway. The tendency is to shrug it off telling the students that you are sure everything is fine. No matter what, you need to listen and take their comments seriously. Let them know you are there for them and you'll keep an eye out for the students they say are bothering them.  Try to get them to talk to you when other students are not around.

Sometimes bullying starts like that-with a stare or slight physical contact. If you see students engage in little actions designed to annoy or to get a reaction from others, move in to stop it.  Let the bullies know you are aware of what they are doing-that you've seen it. As Schank and Englander advise, "Focus on the small stuff" or "gateway" behaviors because it is these types of behaviors "that dominate victim reports." Let your students know that any type of rude behavior, no matter how small, is not allowed online or offline.

Online curricular resources targeting bullying and cyberbullying for Grades 6-12  can be found in Power to Learn's Internet Smarts. To access other resources mentioned in this Podcast, click on the print version of this Podcast in Power to Learn's Teaching with Technology.


Common Sense Media Bullying Package

Internet Smarts, Power to Learn

Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center

Reducing Bullying and Cyberbullying, eSchool News

TeachersFirst Cyberbullying Prevention Resources

Power to Learn - Thwarting Cyberbullies?

Thwarting Cyberbullies?
by Guest Editor Dr. Merle Marsh, 10/28/10

Chances are there are students in your classes who are cyberbullies. Perhaps they are not into extreme harassment or threatening messages, but what they do hurts others.

You know from experience that it's difficult to sort out peer problems that occur in the lunchroom, in the bathrooms, and other places where students can't be completely supervised. Moving the problem into cyberspace complicates matters, but many of the same methods you use for offline problems can be used when it comes to online.

Students who are picked upon often hide what's happening from parents and teachers because they are embarrassed and may feel that they've brought their problems on themselves. That's why it's important for your students to understand that you expect them to let you know when someone makes them feel uncomfortable. Even so, many will still be hesitant about coming to you.

Watch student interaction in the lunchroom, on the playground, and in other places where students interact freely. Notice those who are separate from groups of students. Do you see students who are rejected when they try to join in activities or groups? These are the students who may need your support. They may open up to you if you talk with them when others aren't around.

Sometimes it's a good idea in Grades 3-7 to have what I call Girl and Boy Talks. For these talks, you meet with the girls and boys separately. Discuss with them how things are going with the school year. Ask them how many of them have felt left out in the past month. Usually most hands will go up. Although we'd like all of them to feel included always, it doesn't happen. When students see that others feel as they do, they know they aren't alone—they aren't different. Discuss with them why they feel this way, making sure to set rules about not naming others or situations that can be recognized. Give them examples of how to generalize. Even though these talks can't solve everything, giving students a venue to talk is essential.

From your observations and discussions with students, you should be better able to learn who may be a victim of cyberbullying. You can work with these students and their parents on dealing with the problems. It always helps to share with parents a lists of warning signs—withdrawal from activities with other young people, avoiding computer use or being very secretive about their computer activities, not wanting to go to school, feeling that they don't fit in, complaining about other students, worrying about getting into a "cool" group, etc.—that their child may be a victim of cyberbulling.

Identifying cyberbullies is not easy, for some who cause problems for others may seem like perfect students—idea school citizens.  Sometimes you won't see warning signs at school, so it's important to make parents aware of possible signs that their child may be a cyberbully. Some of these signs include:

Besides your work with your students and their parents, add lessons on respect for others to your classroom activities. Have students role play different situations to help them learn to empathize with other students—to show them how it feels to be cyberbullied. Give your students the opportunity to discuss ways they might support and stand up against cyberbullies.  Get them involved in a project to thwart cyberbullying in their class, school and among peers.

Power to Learn - 50 Ways to Make a Podcast

50 Ways to Make a Podcast
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College, City University of New York, 09/30/10

There must be 50 ways to make a podcast:

Depending on what kind of podcast you want to make, what kind of content you have gathered, and how much time is available, you may choose from a small array of podcast-producing tools. Here's a review of the six most common ways of creating podcasts with the built-in software that comes with the Apple Macintosh computer. A future article will cover this topic for Windows.


Especially for those whose content is already in the form of a slide show, this may be the easiest approach. Simply open or create your slide show with Keynote, record your voice as you click through the slides, and export for the iPod. Here are the steps:

  1. Create a short slide show with Keynote. Use large, clear images on the slides; avoid text (your voice will carry the message.)
  2. Play your slide show a few times as you rehearse t he narration in your mind.
  3. When you're ready, choose from the menubar File --> Record Slideshow.
  4. Speak loudly in a clear voice as you click through the slides.
  5. Click one more time on the last side to end the recording.
  6. Save your work.
  7. From the menubar, choose File --> Export.
  8. From the icons at the top, choose iPod.
  9. Click the Next button, choose a place to export to, then click Export.

The resulting video file will play on all computers, Windows or Mac, as well as on the iPod or iPad.

QuickTime Screen Recording

Want to capture your computer display as you voice over a demonstration of how to do something, or comment orally on a document as you highlight the words? Then use QuickTime screen recording. Here's how:

  1. Get your document or demonstration set up, ready to go.
  2. Launch QuickTime Player X (free download from; requires the most recent operating system, 10.6)
  3. From the menubar, choose File --> New Screen Recording.
  4. Click the red button.
  5. Click Start Recording.
  6. Conduct your demonstration as you narrate. Speak up.
  7. When you're done, click the square black Stop button in the menubar (or press command+control+escape on the keyboard) to stop the recording.
  8. From the menubar, choose File --> Save As.
  9. From the Movie drop-down menu, choose iPod.
  10. Click Save.

The resulting video file will play on all computers, as well as on the iPod or iPad.

QuickTime Movie Recording

Suppose you want to record a short personal video greeting for the students in your online course. QuickTime Video recording makes this easy and quick. Here's what to do:

  1. Think through what you're going to say.
  2. Launch QuickTime Player X (free download from; requires the most recent operating system, 10.6)
  3. From the menubar, choose File --> New Movie Recording.
  4. Click the red button.
  5. Click Start Recording.
  6. Look right into he camera as you speak. Speak up.
  7. When you're done, click the square black Stop button in the menubar (or press command+control+escape on the keyboard) to stop the recording.
  8. From the menubar, choose File --> Save As.
  9. From the Movie drop-down menu, choose iPod.
  10. Click Save.

The resulting video file will play on all computers, as well as on the iPod or iPad.

GarageBand Podcast

This approach gives you the most control over the mixing editing of the audio portions -- it can produce a professional-sounding podcast with overlaid images. Follow these steps:

  1. Place any images you want to use in the podcast into your iPhoto Library.
  2. Place any music you want to use into your iTunes Library.
  3. Launch GarageBand.
  4. Choose Podcast from the project icons.
  5. Record your voice into one of the voice tracks. Record one sentence at a time. Speak up.
  6. Edit your voice, and re-record as necessary, to get it just right.
  7. Open the Media Browser (from the menubar Control --> Show Media Browser).
  8. Click the Audio tab at the top.
  9. Add music, if necessary, by dragging it from the Loop or Media Browser into the Jingles track.
  10. Slide items in the various tracks back and forth to get them synchronized properly.
  11. In the Media Browser, click the Photos tab at the top.
  12. Drag images from the Media Browser into the Podcast Track at the top of the window.
  13. Make sure you fill every square milliliter of the Podcast Track, leaving no space between the images.
  14. Rewind to the beginning of your podcast.
  15. Click the little image in the Podcast Track selector to open the preview window.
  16. Play your podcast, watching the images display as you listen.
  17. Tweak the horizontal position of the various elements to get everything synchronized as you wish.
  18. From the menubar, choose Share --> Save Podcast to Disk.

The resulting enhanced audio file will play on all computers, as well as on the iPod or iPad.


Use iMovie when the visual material for your podcast is from video sources. iMovie lets you record your own video, incorporate pre-recorded video, add visual effects, titles and transitions, add voice-over narration, sound effects, and music. Follow these steps:


  1. Drag photos and video clips from the bottom of the iMovie window up into the timeline.
  2. Drag them around into the proper order in the timeline.
  3. To change the length of a still image:
    a. Select the image in the timeline.
    b. From the menubar, choose Window --> Clip Adjustments.
    c. Change the duration in seconds, and click Done.
  4. To trim a video clip:
    a. Click and drag on the clip in the timeline to selct the portion you want to keep.
    b. From the menubar, choose Edit --> Trim to selection.
  5. Review your video from time to time by choosing from the menubar View --> Play full screen.



  1. Open the Title window by choosing Window --> Titles from the menubar.
  2. Drag a title from the Title Window into the timeline area, and drop it either:
    - on top of a video or still image (the title will be superimposed on the underlying visual); or
    - in between two visual elements in the timeline (the title will appear by itself on its own background).
  3. In the preview window (upper right) enter the text for the title (and subtitle if necessary).


  1. Open the Transitions window by choosing Window --> transitions from the menubar.
  2. Drag a transition from the Transitions Window into the timeline area, and drop it between two visual elements in the timeline.


Add narration

  1. Click the Voiceover button in the middle (looks like a microphone) to open the Voiceover window.
  2. Click in the timeline on the beginning of the clip where you want the narration to start.
  3. Countdown 1-2-3 and begin speaking as you watch the movie play.
  4. Click the spacebar to stop recording.

Add sound effects

  1. From the menubar, choose Window --> Music and Sound Effects.
  2. Use the drop-down menu at the top of the Music and Sound Effects window to browse the various folders full of audio clips.
  3. Drag the audio clip you want up to the timeline window and drop it on top of a visual clip.

Add background music

  1. From the menubar, choose Window --> Music and Sound Effects.
  2. Use the drop-down menu at the top of the Music and Sound Effects window to browse the various folders full of music (Jingles and iTunes will have the most background clips).
  3. Drag the music clip you want up to the timeline window and drop it onto the dark gray background.


  1. From the menubar, choose Share --> Export Movie.
  2. Choose a size that works on the iPod (Medium works best).
  3. Click the Export button in the lower right.
  4. The published movie will be saved in your iTunes library, under movies.

Podcast Producer

This can be as quick and easy as using Keynote (described above), but requires that your school has set up Podcast Producer on its server, and that you have an account on that server. Once that's done, follow these steps:

  1. On your Macintosh Computer, launch the Podcast Capture application.
    This is included with the latest operating system, 10.6. You'll find it in Applications --> Utilities.
  2. The Podcast Capture program will ask you for the name of the podcast sever. Enter the URL of the server.
  3. The Podcast Capture program will ask you for your username and password. Enter the username and password that the server administrator gave you. (One you've done this, you'll never have to do it again.)
  4. Choose a podcast type: Video only; Dual: video plus screen; Screen only; or Audio only. Most people are producing dual-mode podcasts, which record voice, video, and the contents of your screen all at once.
  5. Get ready. If you are going to show slides, get your Keynote or PowerPoint file ready to go (but don't play it just yet). If you are showing web sites or other items, get them all staged on the screen.
  6. Click the record button at the bottom of the Podcast Capture window.
  7. Start your slide show or bring up your other displays onto the screen.
  8. Look into the camera, speak up, and begin presenting.
  9. When you are finished, escape from your slide show or whatever you were doing.
  10. In the Podcast Capture window, click the pause button at the bottom.
  11. In the Podcast Capture window, click the Publish button at the bottom right.
  12. Choose Dual Source as the workflow; enter a name that communicates what the podcast is about; and enter a description that includes your name.
  13. Wait as your files are sent to the server. This may take several minutes.
  14. Now the server is working on your files, combining the video, audio, and screen capture into a podcast. This will take several more minutes. Go get a cup of coffee...
  15. To see your podcast, in Podcast Capture, choose from the menubar Podcast --> Browse My Episodes.
  16. If the server has finished with your project, you will see your podcast in the list.
  17. Click on the name of the podcast to see and hear it.

If you want to make your podcast available to students or colleagues, follow these steps:

Podcast Producer is the quickest way to get a podcast from your brain (or your student's) and onto the web. The resulting file will play on any computer, and on most mobile devices, including the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Its quality is high enough to display well on the big screen from the classroom projector.

That's six different ways to make a podcast.

Power to Learn - Podcast Producer

Podcast Producer
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 09/07/10

The popularity of the podcast as a medium of mass instruction grows steadily. We have covered in this space several different approaches to creating and employing these useful tidbits of technology: iPad Producer,  From PowerPoint to Podcast, Portability and Podcasts, Audio Homework 2).. Many schools have already set up Podcast Producer for their faculty to use; if your school has an Apple server, it's included and simply needs to be switched on.

Podcast Producer provides an additional way for non-technical faculty to create podcasts. The system enables you to sit at your desk (at school or at home), or stand in the classroom, and record voice, video, and screen images as you deliver your presentation. With one click, everything you did is compiled into a podcast and posted on the server. This podcast can then be made available to students or colleagues online. There's no new software to learn, no editing, no post-production, no FTP, no file compression.

What you need

You need a recent Macintosh computer running the latest operating system, 10.6. Most of these include a built-in camera and microphone, which are necessary to make a rich media podcast. And you need something worthwhile to present. Before you capture your hour-and-a-half lecture on Emperor Diocletion, you might want to first try out a short piece for fun, just to see how the system works.

How to use it

1. Ask your server administrator to set you up as a user on the Podcast Producer server. They will give you a username and password for the server. They'll also give you the URL of the server, something like

2. On your Macintosh Computer, launch the Podcast Capture application. This is included with the latest operating system, 10.6. You'll find it in Applications --> Utilities.

3. The Podcast Capture program will ask you for the name of the podcast server. Enter the URL of the server.

4. The Podcast Capture program will ask you for your username and password. Enter the username and password that the server administrator gave you. (One you've done this, you'll never have to do it again.)

5. Choose a podcast type: Video only; Dual: video plus screen; Screen only; or Audio only. Most people are producing dual-mode podcasts, which record voice, video, and the contents of your screen all at once.

6. Get ready. If you are going to show slides, get your Keynote or PowerPoint file ready to go (but don't play it just yet). If you are showing web sites or other items, get them all staged on the screen.

7. Click the record button at the bottom of the Podcast Capture window.

8. Start your slide show or bring up your other displays onto the screen.

9. Look into the camera, speak up, and begin presenting.

10. When you are finished, escape from your slide show or whatever you were doing.

11. In the Podcast Capture window, click the pause button at the bottom.

12. In the Podcast Capture window, click the Publish button at the bottom right.

13. Choose Dual Source as the workflow; enter a name that communicates what the podcast is about; and enter a description that includes your name.

14. Wait as your files are sent to the server. This may take several minutes.

15. Now the server is working on your files, combining the video, audio, and screen capture into a podcast. This will take several more minutes. Go get a cup of coffee...

16. To see your podcast, in Podcast Capture, choose from the menubar Podcast --> Browse My Episodes.

17. If the server has finished with your project, you will see your podcast in the list.

18. Click on the name of the podcast to see and hear it.

If you want to post your podcast your school's learning management system, follow these steps:

If you want to make your podcast available to students or colleagues, follow these steps:

Podcast Producer is the quickest way to get a podcast from your brain (or your student's) and onto the web. The resulting file will play on any computer, and on most mobile devices, including the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Its quality is high enough to display well on the big screen from the classroom projector.

Power to Learn - Google for Educators

Google for Educators
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 04/18/10

It makes me nervous to think that there's absolutely no time in my schedule to explore all the resources and tools that are available to empower my students and me. Realizing the impossibility of the situation, for me, a together place like Google for Educators, is the solution. It makes life easier, it's free, and it's packed with tools all educators can use.

Rebuilt Google Docs

If you've tried Google Docs in the past and liked them, but thought improvements were needed before you started using the Docs, it's a good idea to go back and take a look at the new document editor. As of second quarter this year, a preview is available to those who wish to try it. According to the Google team, "You'll notice a huge improvement in the import quality when uploading and importing documents from desktop word processors into Google Docs."

The new Google Docs have many of the improvements you've asked for in word processing and spreadsheets. There's real-time online collaboration, chatting while collaborating, increased speed, and the ability to move images and comments within documents, make tab stops, edit cells from the formula bar, use autofill, drag and drop columns, and scroll seamlessly. There's a standalone editor to add drawings to Google Docs and collaboration is also available while drawing. British teacher Oliver Quinlan reports that even though he's only used the new Docs for a short period of time with student, they "seem to be a triumph for personalisation and assessment for learning in writing."

With Google Docs (new and old editors) you won't download the applications to use on school computers, for the applications are online. What you and your students create is saved online, which makes it accessible anywhere where there's a computer connected to the Internet. The system makes online collaboration easy for you and your students, for classroom interaction, and for student group work. The programs automatically save student work and keep track of each time revisions are made. If you want to get started with Google Docs, check out the Handy Dandy Step-By-Step Guide.

So What Besides Google Docs Can You Do with Google for Educators?

Google Calendar you can organize your life and just about everyone else's, too. Think class calendars, school calendars, sports calendars-you can create whatever types of calendars you want, and you can make it so others can access them.

Geo Education is a place for you and your students to put Google Earth, Google Sky, Google Sketchup and Google Maps to use.  These are all WOW programs on their own, but when you put their tools together, the results are unbeatable. Classroom Ideas are available for you along with links to projects completed by other educators. Take your students on a 3D Tours to one of the cathedrals, historic sites, skyscrapers, or universities-amazing.

In the Book Search area, you'll zoom into the full text of the titles you select from a library of public domain books, out-of-print books, and many popular books, all of which you can search to find the exact pages you want to use. Here you and your students can choose from selections such as: Treasure Island, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Little Red Hen, Peter and the Wolf, The Canterbury Tales, Einstein, How Much Is a Million ....

You may want to sign up for the quarterly newsletter or take part in the discussion area, both of which will help you with ideas related to Google tools. Besides all this, there's Blogger for creating blogs, Groups for getting discussions going, Page Creator for making Web pages, Google Apps for communication, Picasso for editing and sharing photos, SketchUp for 3D modeling ....

Download Posters & Guidesheets

Google provides a series of posters filled with tips for using Google tools. You can download 8.5"*11" or 17"*22" PDF to use in your classroom. There are several to help students, and you, as well, with more effective Internet searching; one to bring history alive through Google Maps, and one specifically to use with younger students.

Why Google for Educators?

Why not? It makes sense.

Power to Learn - Blogs in the Classroom

Blogs in the Classroom
by Guest Columnist Molly DuBois, Chenery Middle School, Belmont, Massachusetts, 04/01/10

I began using a blog in my 6th grade general music class to solve some problems I was having in our Hip Hop unit: I did not have time for discussion in class, there were interesting issues I wasn't able to bring up, and a few students did all the speaking.

A blog (short for weblog) is a Web 2.0 technology where the owner or author posts news, statements, questions, or articles. Others are free to comment and discuss the post. Blogs are presented in reverse chronological order, with the newest post showing at the top of the page. Videos, text, audio, and photos can all be shared through a blog. For education, teachers can post with students commenting, or a teacher could have students post about unique researched topics, and have their classmates comment.

In researching this project, I looked at several different blog hosting services. Wordpress, popular in academia, offers a great interface, but is not as user friendly for a younger crowd. Class Blogmeister and Gaggle required the teacher to register emails and names for their class and required many steps for posting. Edublog required student emails. I ended up going with Blogger, Google's blog tool. It was free, not blocked at my school, provided a simple URL (, and allowed me to teach students to use it in three simple steps.

I found that the use of the blog supported my students' understanding of the topics. First, they worked as a group-the classroom became a community of learners. Second, it encouraged open dialogue, letting the students exchange opinions and ideas. In a popular unit like Hip Hop, students enjoyed sharing their thoughts. Third, students had a chance to write, forming and expressing their opinions. Fourth, it gave the girls in my class a chance to speak out. The boys in these classes, comprising of 60-75% of the population, are typically more involved in class discussion. The girls thrived in the online environment.

Although the blogging was the right answer for me, it might not be the best solution for your class. For example, if Blogger is blocked in your school or local library, that might inhibit your students' ability to post. Or, if your students are likely to use the blog to post inappropriate comments, postings, or links, you might want to find a more secure tool. Finally, if your students have limited access to a computer outside of school, you might have to find another way to let them post. Whatever you do, make sure you are adding a blog to a solid curriculum-without a strong unit plan, even the coolest technology won't solve your problems.

At the end of my evaluation period with the blog, I deemed it successful overall. In-class conversations and debates could be continued outside of class. Every student in the class participated, especially the students who were less likely to speak up in class discussion. I was able to introduce supplementary material that we couldn't get to in class. My students were writing, which is important in every subject area. Finally, my students were excited about using the technology, and loved being part of it.

Tips for Implementation

Model: On the first introduction of the blog, post an example comment so students can see and understand the process.
Scaffold: On the second reminder of the blog, have a student in the class post a comment while you project the process.

Pester: Provide the URL (and a simple instruction list, if your students need it) on every handout in the unit, and print it on slips of paper. On a daily or weekly basis, hand them out to every student who has not yet been involved.

Incentive: Either grade students on their blogging or give them extra credit for participating. In an incentive-based academic environment, students may not participate without being recognized for it.

Get Involved: Keep the posts fresh (at least one per class meeting). Every day or so, chime in on the discussions, asking questions or challenging students' answers.

For some ideas on your own classroom blogging, please visit my 6th grade music blog. In fact, feel free to add to our discussions at

Power to Learn - Technology and Music

Technology and Music
by Guest Author Molly DuBois, Music Teacher, Chenery Middle School, Belmont. Massachusetts, 03/25/10

I teach middle school music, and am always looking for ways to help my students learn more effectively. In this article, I describe how I revised a major project -- called The Cover Project -- required in one of my eighth grade classes. I chose to revise this particular project, because it was not meeting my expectations for student performance. The original cover project proved successful for only about 25% of my students; the other three-quarters did not learn as much as they could. This result did not match my hopes for the Music Lab course, designed for non-musician students who are not enrolled in band, chorus, or orchestra.

Music Lab is an elective class that can meet the music requirement for eighth graders. A few students in the class have piano playing and music reading experience, but most lack playing or music literacy experience. Each fall, these students struggled to read the music and become competent on the keyboard, and the lack of these skills continued to handicap them.

In the Cover Project, I ask students to learn to play a song previously recorded by a popular artist. They have about eight weeks to complete the project. The objective of this project is to give students the skills necessary to learn to play a song from a recording, lyrics, and pop chord symbols, all of which are readily available and free online.

To revise the project, I added four major elements, two of them based on digital technology.


I chose to add a blog to this project, because I thought it would solve one of the major problems I'd had in the past - students did not have a chance to hear each others' recordings before the final presentations, and I thought they could offer each other some helpful criticism. Also, I knew I could use the blog to share successful recordings from past projects.

Overall, the blog worked out well. Students were active in posting, and excited to hear the recordings. I began by posting examples from last year's classes, and then, as the projects got closer to completion, I added partial projects from this year. They were posting meaningful comments and most of them exceeded the three comments I required for the unit.

However, the blog was not the perfect tool for peer evaluation. The turnaround was too slow-by the time students got feedback on their project, it was too late to implement it. Even if I posted their recording right after class, it took at least 24 hours for feedback to arrive. And depending on when we had class, it could be a week or more before they could apply it.


After noticing the stalled progress of many of my students, I realized that they could be having executive functioning issues. This would explain their intimidation with the scope and size of this project. Therefore, I chose to implement some scaffolding -- breaking the project into smaller steps that would make it more manageable for all. I started this before the official project even began.

Months before we started the Cover Project, I gave them a similar assignment, using lyrics, chord symbols, and listening, but with one song for the whole class. This gave them some initial experience. Then, I added a lesson about choosing a good song for the project, using the acronym CSI to remind them to look out for Chords, Speed, and Instruments in their choice.

I had them figure out the chords for their song on paper, and write them out using their favorite notation. Some students used visual aids. One used colors to indicate each chord, which he could read and process faster than standard notation. These kinds of accommodations were especially helpful for the students with less music reading experience.


Although my dream had been a class set of iPod Touches, I ended up with a pile of used iPods, from Classics to Shuffles to original iPhones. I loaded the iPods up with their songs, and also invited students to bring their own iPods to class. This meant that every student in the room could be using an iPod, listening to their song while they worked.

Before the iPods, my students had few opportunities to listen to their songs. I have one desktop computer in the room, which allowed at most five or six students, total, to listen in one class period. It also meant that they were far from their keyboard when they listened. They weren't able to hear something and try it right away.

Now, students could listen and play simultaneously. They could also listen to small chunks of their song and perfect each piece. Listening at their keyboard allowed them to make better choices on instrument selection and tempo. The students with iTouches or old iPhones could get YouTube videos of performances or even lessons.


The most successful change I made in the Cover Project was the way I taught Music Theory. The goal of this project, again, was to give students the skills they needed to figure out chords themselves, without needing to read music. The traditional method of teaching this, beginning with scales, keys, and intervals, was out of the question. We simply didn't have the time to master it.

So, I taught them to count keys. They would start on the name of their chord-- C here-- and count every key-- black and white-- up to eight. 1, 5, and 8 make a major chord, 1, 4, and 8 make a minor chord.

Now, students were free from reading traditonal music notation. This put my less-experienced musicians on a level field with the piano prodigies. I allowed them to notate the chords in their favorite way-- note names, keyboard diagrams, or traditional notation. This allowed for faster processing and more accurate playing from every student.


Now, those 25% of students who were succeeding before-- the ones with more experience of course-- had no advantage over the rest of the class. With their newfound skills, every student could easily learn their chords, and had the tools necessary to figure out chords for any other song down the road.

With the implementation of Cover Project 2.0 I was now reaching 100% of the students. Yes, I still had students who had trouble meeting the deadline, but now, every student could do the work and was capable of finishing the project. These changes made the Cover Project more successful for all.

Power to Learn - iPad Producer

iPad Producer
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 03/18/10

Some describe Apple's new iPad as a media consumption device. Under the headline, Built for Watching, Not Working, the New York Times recently bemoaned the tablet's inability to produce. A blogger put it more directly, under the headline Consumer vs. Creator:

The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn't create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them.

This seems to fly in the face of what we advocate in this column, the importance of students as producers of their own media (Consumers or Producers?; Student Engagement; Basic Technology Competencies (Part 2).) A device that restricted students to the role of consumer of media -- no matter how serious or academic -- would not be something we'd like to see in school. But after a few days with the iPad, and a thorough exploration of how it works, and the tools available for it, I came to a different conclusion than the pundits mentioned above. So this week's article is a primer on how to produce educational works on the iPad.


Even the most creative of productions requires some research. Research is an exploratory and investigative activity, not a passive consumption of information. Armed with a provocative question or a sticky problem, a student can employ the iPad to gather and compare the ideas, facts, and artifacts needed for productive work. The most obvious app for this is the web browser, which on the iPad works just like it does on the computer, with the ability to search, find, and save what you need. (To save text from the Safari web browser, select it, copy it, and paste it into the Notes or Pages apps.) Other apps can help in the research: Wikipanion for encyclopedic introductions; National Geographic's World Atlas, or Google Earth for maps.


Even in the age of multimedia, the written word remains a most efficient form of communication and persuasion. As they say on Facebook and Twitter, What are you doing right now? And for writing, the iPad offers the producing student an array of tools: the built-in Notes app for short simple pieces organized into a collection, like the 3x5 note cards some of us old-timers remember from the days before digital (see Notecards in this series); the MySheet app that lets you create text documents into folders organized by subject; or the full-featured Pages app for longer essays with nice layout. All these use the same on-screen keyboard, which takes some getting used to but in many students' hands will become within a day or two an efficient producer of words. Saving, copying, cutting, pasting, are built in to all of these; fancy formatting is possible with Pages.


Alas, the first iteration of the iPad lacks a camera; nonetheless, the tidy tablet lets students work with online images (which form the majority of their productive academic work anyway). A student can find an image with the Safari web browser app -- Google's image search works like a charm on the iPad -- copy it by tapping, holding, and tapping the Copy button, or save it with the Save button. Saved images go into a permanent collection in the built-in Photos app. Once copied or saved, the pictures can be imported or pasted into the Pages or Keynote apps to be incorporated into a finished work. Or edited right on the iPad with the Masque photo-editing app.

Students may also create their own diagrams, charts, and graphs, with Keynote or Numbers; or draw from scratch with one of the many free-hand apps (SketchBook), and from there copy and save them for later use in their productions. Keynote, Pages, Numbers, and SonicPics, among other apps, will incorporate these images by copy and paste, or through the Photos app.

Need a screen shot from an app or web page? Just hold down the home button, and click the power button. The resultant image ends up in the Photos library, whence it can be incorporated in other production apps.


Students can record voice or music with their iPads, using the built-in microphone and speakers, with apps like Voice Memo. These can be sent to fellow students or to their teachers through the built-in email app.


Students can use the iPad's Keynote app to create presentations that combine text and images (but in the current version, no audio -- see Podcasts below for a work-around). Very much like using PowerPoint on a computer, Keynote on the iPad allows images, builds, simple animations, and transitions. Text and images can be copied and pasted onto a slide from another app on the iPad, or brought in from the Photos library. And when connected to a projector, the iPad can display the production to the entire class.


Want to communicate with voice and images? Want to make a quick narrated presentation from the images you've collected? Point your students to the SonicPics app. With this you drag in images from your Photos collection, put them in order, then record your narration as you flick the pix to tell the story. The result is saved in video podcast (.m4v) format, playable on everything from the iPad to the iPhone to the laptop to the desktop to your grandmother's PC.

Can the iPad produce many of the kinds of work we want students to do in school? The answer is a resounding yes. Can it produce everything we'd ever want? Not yet. There's no video capture or editing (yet), no WYSIWYG web-site editor (yet), no equivalent to GarageBand (yet). But there's plenty to keep our students meaningfully creating and publishing their own works.

Power to Learn - Boats and Cheese

Boats and Cheese
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 03/04/10

In previous articles in this space, we have discussed the changing nature of the workplace, and the role of technology in it (Home, School and Workplace; Working and Learning; Education 1-2-3; Nonroutine Cognitive/Analytic). Like many other writers on this topic, we have described an American economy that has shifted quickly from manufacturing to information, from making things to moving ideas. And warned the next generation not to prepare themselves for work in a factory that no longer exists.

But we still have factories, and they employ millions of workers. We don't make many refrigerators or computers or televisions any more; these are manufactured for the most part overseas. But we still make such high-tech articles as aircraft and automobiles. And low-tech items such as boats. And cheese. Last week I visited two plants that manufacture the last two items, to see the kinds of jobs and the kinds of technologies at work and to consider the implications for how we use technology in school.


The factory in Warren, Rhode Island has been making boats for more than 50 years. In the middle of the sprawling factory floor are hulls in various stages of assembly, some empty shells, others ready to roll out the door to the launch ramp. From a small sailboat that Stuart Little would find familiar, to larger cruisers being built for the US Navy, the array represented the range of current boat production.

A boat is assembled from hundreds of parts, each manufactured in one of the shops that surround the main factory floor. One shop makes the hull, another the deck, others construct the floors, walls, and teak trim pieces. All are highly automated. What struck me was the lack of people, and the lack of noise. No banging, no yelling, no muscle work. The few workers in the plant wore blue button-down shirts and ID tags. Their hands rested on computer keyboards more than on wrenches or screwdrivers. The soft hum of machinery and exhaust fans seemed to quiet the place down.

Today's boat is a precision instrument, crafted for speed, strength, durability, and lightweight. Its parts are created not by people at lathes but by computer-controlled robots. Here's how the robots work.

Where's the worker? He's standing several feet away, safely monitoring the action. His hands are folded, his shirt spotless, his mind focused on how he might speed up or improve the manufacturing process.

What skills does he need to succeed at this work? Will he learn them at your school?


We import very little cheese from China. It's one of the things that we still make at home. At the Cabot Farmer's Cooperative factory in the hills of rural Vermont, millions of pounds of cheddar go out the door each year aboard trucks bound for every state in the union. At the other end of the plant, huge pipes funnel in millions of gallons of milk from New England cows. In between we can see the cheese-making process, a natural organic transformation that we have employed for thousands of years: expose the milk to the air, add a little acid, watch the temperature, and wait for the curds to form. Then compress the solids, let it age, and slice it onto your sandwich.


On the factory floor, you'd expect to see a team of wrinkled codgers in plaid shirts and overalls stirring the pots, turning the valves, and tasting the samples. But they were nowhere to be found. Instead, I saw scientists in white lab coats armed with test tubes and computers.


While she monitors the process in the lab, the machines that make the cheese are run by computers.


Not too many jobs in this factory for unskilled workers, or for those limited to carrying out routine tasks. The routine tasks are done by the machines. The workers are there to program the machines, monitor them with precision, solve problems when they go wrong, and design new machines that make the cheese better. Are the students at your school learning what they need to carry out these kinds of tasks?

The skills we need

Boats and cheese are real, substantive physical entities that are still manufactured by Americans. They are neither digital, informational, nor service products. They are part of the old economy. But today they are made in new ways that call for a set of skills that were not so important in the old economy. The kind of skills described in the article Nonroutine Cognitive/Analytic : problem-solving; numerical analysis; engineering design; applied chemistry; statistics; close observation. And these are the lowest-level workers in the system; their supervisors must possess all these and more.

If basic products like boats and cheese require this level of technical skill and intellectual understanding, imagine what is required to manufacture more complex items. The expectations and standards of yesterday will not suffice for the world our students will move into.


Power to Learn - A Day on the iPad

A Day on the iPad
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 03/11/10

Apple's new iPad is out, and the big question for us is how it might help teaching and learning in school. So to test it's metal, I'm writing this article on an iPad. Writing is first in line of the things students do most with their computers in school, so this should be a good test. But how about the other things at students need to do in a typical day? That's the real test. So we'll go back a few weeks to an article called A Day in the Life, and see how many of the things that Sally needed her computer for could be done with the iPad.

(I am quickly getting used to the keyboard. Which is right on the screen. I can use all my fingers. And the correction assistance is superb -- if I spell a word wrong, it fixes it as I go along. And capitalizes automatically the first word in each new sentence.)

A Day in the Life Revisited

• Sally Student wakes to the ping of an instant message arriving on her laptop. It’s from another student who is working with her on an environmental chemistry project.

The iPad includes a built-in calendar with an alarm function, as well as an application for instant messaging. So the machine or your correspondent can wake you in time for school.

• She researches, from her laptop, the various laws and guidelines on allowable concentrations of PCBs in drinking water. She finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the Maximum Contaminant Level at 0.5 parts per billion.

The iPad includes a standard browser that works the same as it does on a normal computer. Searching, finding, scrolling, copying, pasting, and saving of pictures and text and data all work the same way. So does bookmarking.

• Sally checks the readings from the probe at the city drinking water monitoring station, which has recently been connected to a web server, so that she can see the readings in real time. She sends an instant message to the members of her project group, explaining that she saw concentrations of PCBs of 0.7 and 0.8 ppb at times over the last 24 hours. She attaches a graph of the ups and downs that she constructed with the spreadsheet program on her laptop.

Data gathered from online sources can be copied and pasted into the iPad's spreadsheet, whence is can be totaled, averaged, sorted and graphed. And the graphical results can be included in documents, just as I am including this graph:

PCB level

She sends a short report of her findings, with attached data, sources, and graph, to her personal online academic portfolio on the school’s web server.

Authoring multimedia reports is easy on the iPad with the Keynote application that works very much like PowerPoint. Text, images, tables, charts and graphs can be combined very much as they are on a normal computer.

• On the subway on the way to school she listens to a podcast of last week’s debate in the state senate on the Clean Water Bill, that she downloaded from the school server.

These work just as they do on an iPod, but with a bigger screen.  You can listen directly from the speakers, or use headphones for privacy. Video, audio, and enhanced podcasts all work.

• The subway is delayed, so she has time to read, from the same iPod, the next chapter of Thoreau’s Walden for English class. She downloaded this and many other readings from the school server.

You have never seen anything like books on an iPad. Crisp text, full-color illustrations on full-size pages, natural page-turning. Don't know a word? Click it for a definition, or to get cross-references online. So far, I have found 27,000 free books, including many read in school.

• At the school library, she meets with two other members of her project group to discuss what they’ve found over the last two days, and what they need to do next. She learns that the PCB limit in the Senate bill is set at 0.7 ppb.

Want to show your graph or your pictures or your text to a small group? Just turn the iPad toward them. Or pass it around. It's small, about the size of a bluebook (you remember those from college don’t you?). Weighs about the same as an orange, even though it's from Apple. No need to plug in to power -- it looks like it will last all day. (I have been writing for an hour and a half, and my iPad still has 85% of its battery life left.)

Reviewing the entire Day in the Life, we find little or nothing that Sally could not accomplish with the iPad. For the teaching and learning activities we commonly carry out in school and college, the iPad seems at least sufficient and in a few cases superior to the normal computer.

In a few advanced functions, the iPad cannot compete, at least not in it's current version: video editing, musical composition, and authoring animation. But these were not part of our typical student's day.

Using the iPad for a day in my life, I noticed some interesting differences that will be very relevant top its use in school:

All in all, a students’ day of learning would be enhanced by an iPad. And schools considering the transformation to Education 3.0 should consider these as the standard information and communication device for teaching and learning.

Power to Learn - Throw Out the Textbooks?

Throw Out the Textbooks?
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 02/18/10

My dissertation (circa 1980) took on the challenge of whether teachers should create their own software programs—programs to fit the exact needs of their students. The idea was to offer targeted digital learning in classrooms. Software in those days was rather primitive, but even then it was obvious that teachers would not have the time or resources to create software on a par with the evolving commercial software market.

Now thirty years later, teachers are taking on that challenge again—not to build software, but to build courses using the abundance of resources that can be found online. It’s targeted digital learning, but at this time, it’s possible. Some teachers have already developed their own exciting digital courses—courses without traditional texts.

Let’s explore what it would take for you (on your own) to throw out your textbooks and jump into digital learning. Ask yourself:

Sometimes it’s not an individual teacher, but school or a district administrators who decide to go with online learning rather than textbooks. Committees of curriculum developers and teachers may get together to write their own courses of study; educators in a district may work with a company that provides resources and organization for online learning; or a district may purchase online learning software to be used in place of textbooks.

A pilot program in twelve schools in the Indianapolis School District uses Discovery Education materials, curriculum alignment, and professional development services. Featuring more than 5,000 videos and 41,000 video clips, the program includes pacing guides for teachers with embedded resources such as video chapters, images, writing prompts, games and interactives.  Pearson’s Middle School online curriculum,, features write-in texts, which integrate with online real-world content, videos, virtual labs, games, and blogs. I wonder if in the future the write-in texts will also be available online.

As we move forward to courses without traditional textbooks, I wonder if individual teacher-developed courses will survive when commercial courses have the potential to offer access to just about everything at the click of a mouse? In this tough economic time, it may depend upon the cost of commercial programs and upon how many teachers are willing and able to create their own courses without assistance.

Those master teachers who know what’s best for their students and for their methods of teaching will continue to provide excellence in the classroom, for they will adapt, individualize, and create whether they are using commercial programs, district-developed materials, their own courses, or textbooks.  Isn’t that, after all, what they’ve always done?

Power to Learn - Copyright and Education 3.0

Copyright and Education 3.0
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 02/11/10

Editor’s Note: You may also find other resources on the Power To Learn relating to this topic at Fair Use: Beg, Borrow or Steal and Internet Smarts : A Quick Guide to Fair Use and School Projects

Though I am neither qualified nor paid to serve as legal adviser to the schools and colleges I work with, I am nonetheless asked often to help faculty and administrators figure out how copyright laws apply to the digital content that they put online for their students. Unfortunately, some are under the impression that these laws and policies prevent them from moving forward toward the kind of resource-rich teaching and learning called for by Education 3.0. Here's an example of a question from one of these schools:

We have been told that if we post more then one-fifth of an article, or a two minutes of a video clip on our eLearning site, even though we cite the source fully, that we have a copyright issue. Is this true?

And here is how I answered them:

The education-use provision of the U.S. copyright law appended below seems to allow you to use most of the materials you are putting into your online courses, as long as you stay within its requirements. The only type of material I would worry about using is a piece of a textbook or made-for-education video that the publisher markets and licenses to schools and students for instructional purposes. As far as I know, you have not used any of that type of material. (If you did, you'd want to license it from the publisher.) See Copy, Right? from the Teaching with Technology collection at

Below I include the US copyright statute that's most relevant to your question. To summarize, it specifically allows use of copyright works by instructors at non-profit accredited schools and colleges as long as:

For instance, if you purchase a legitimate copy of Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet on iTunes or DVD, and use one scene in your English course (whether online or offline, makes no difference), for strictly educational purposes, and stream the online version so that students can't easily distribute it to others, and your school has a decent copyright-respect policy, then you have not infringed on the copyright of the owner of the work.

But the law does not permit you to...

Here is the section of the law most relevant to what you are doing:

§ 110. Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(1) performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction, unless, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, the performance, or the display of individual images, is given by means of a copy that was not lawfully made under this title, and that the person responsible for the performance knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made;

(2) except with respect to a work produced or marketed primarily for performance or display as part of mediated instructional activities transmitted via digital networks, or a performance or display that is given by means of a copy or phonorecord that is not lawfully made and acquired under this title, and the transmitting government body or accredited nonprofit educational institution knew or had reason to believe was not lawfully made and acquired, the performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or reasonable and limited portions of any other work, or display of a work in an amount comparable to that which is typically displayed in the course of a live classroom session, by or in the course of a transmission, if

(A) the performance or display is made by, at the direction of, or under the actual supervision of an instructor as an integral part of a class session offered as a regular part of the systematic mediated instructional activities of a governmental body or an accredited nonprofit educational institution;

(B) the performance or display is directly related and of material assistance to the teaching content of the transmission;

(C) the transmission is made solely for, and, to the extent technologically feasible, the reception of such transmission is limited to

(i) students officially enrolled in the course for which the transmission is made; or

(ii) officers or employees of governmental bodies as a part of their official duties or employment; and

(D) the transmitting body or institution

(i) institutes policies regarding copyright, provides informational materials to faculty, students, and relevant staff members that accurately describe, and promote compliance with, the laws of the United States relating to copyright, and provides notice to students that materials used in connection with the course may be subject to copyright protection; and

(ii) in the case of digital transmissions

(I) applies technological measures that reasonably prevent

(aa) retention of the work in accessible form by recipients of the transmission from the transmitting body or institution for longer than the class session; and

(bb) unauthorized further dissemination of the work in accessible form by such recipients to others; and

(II) does not engage in conduct that could reasonably be expected to interfere with technological measures used by copyright owners to prevent such retention or unauthorized further dissemination;

Power to Learn - Who Needs a Computer?

Who Needs a Computer?
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/28/10

With all these new handheld and laptop devices, who needs a computer? Are the days of the desktop machine with its monitor, cables, hard drives and power cords over? Can we do everything we need to do with the iPod, the iPad, the Blackberry and the tablet?

We presented this challenge to a group of middle school teachers in Texas last week. Each of their seventh and eighth grade students is about to receive an iPod Touch that will be all their own, in school, at home, on the playground and on the bus. These are for the most part working-class students who have never before owned a computer, neither at school nor at home. How much digital work could be accomplished with a tiny device that looks nothing like the computers we are used to? More importantly, how much learning could take place with this diminutive device?

The teachers rose to the challenge. New themselves to the iPod, they worked with it for a few days and learned its possibilities. They created their own podcasts and browsed the podcasts at the iTunes Store. They explored apps galore at the App Store. They downloaded and played with many a new software tool for the iPod, on the lookout for educational purpose and effect. And the health teacher even took off his shoes in the middle of it all, which you will find out about later.

On its face, the iPod seems like a foolish device for education -- it's forté is playing popular music and silly games on a tiny screen. Many schools ban them because they distract students from teaching and learning, turning them into anti-social automatons sporting white earbuds. But this group of teachers saw beyond this stereotype. In a day of work they designed lessons that enhanced learning in ways they'd never seen. Here are some examples.

Texas History

While Texas was under Spanish rule, missions and presidios were established. Keep in mind the three major reasons that the Spanish had for coming to North America--wealth and land acquisition, power, and to spread Catholicism. It was for these primary reasons that New Spain was established in North America. Also, bear in mind the obstacles that the Spanish encountered in Texas--primarily border disputes, rapid expansion of the newly formed United States, and Native American Indians. In this lesson you will take a closer look at the missions and presidios of Texas and discuss the role they played in our state at that time.

Mathematical Careers

Many careers involve the everyday use of mathematics. Your task is to search for a specific career that involves math and is appealing to you, and research it.

You will use your iPod to search the Internet for career choices involving mathematics, and choose one. Focusing on your chosen career, research the following:

You will use this information to take notes and give a presentation to the class about the career you chose.

You will use the following apps on your iPod to complete this assignment:

Make sure you document the websites where you find your information, you will need to include this in your presentation. You may do this by copying and pasting the web address into your notepad with any information you save. Once you have all the information you need, write a paper, at least one page in length, about what you found. Create a slideshow using the pictures and podcast(s) you found that will accompany your paper. The presentation should be approximately 3-5 minutes in length.

Your Beating Heart

Resting Heart Rate Compared to Active Heart Heart Rate.

Find your resting heart rate and your heart rate after activities, and calculate and graph the difference between the two.

You will use your iPod to find the data required. As you proceed, you will use the following applications, and resources.

Your objective is to deliver a report of your findings.
Proceed as follows. You'll need to be connected to the Internet with the iPod's wireless for this to work.

  1. Find your resting heart rate. Record your data on the iPod
  2. Put the Nike iPod sensor in your shoe. Walk around the room. Then use the Nike + iPod app and get your distance traveled, pace per mile, and calories burned.
  3. Now do a vigorous activity (run in place, jump up and down) and get your active heart rate along with calories burned. Do this vigorous activity for one minute.
  4. Compare your data to three other people in the class and from the data you collected and determine if your health is better than, less than, or equal to that of the people whose data you collected.

Fraction, Decimal, Percent

One of the Texas state objectives for seventh and eighth grade math is:

The student will demonstrate an understanding of numbers, operations, and quantitative reasoning. The student represents and uses numbers in a variety of equivalent forms. The student is expected to:

·         Compare and order integers and positive rational numbers.

·         Convert between fractions, decimals, whole numbers and percents mentally, on paper, (or with a calculator).

You will use your iPod to practice the skills that meet this objective. You will be using the following apps on your iPod touch:
• The iPod Number Line as a source of practice problems.
• The iPod Calculator application (to compute differences decimal values of fractions)
• The iPod Notes application (to record your findings)
You will e-mail me report of your findings.

Proceed as follows: You'll need to be connected to the Internet with the iPod's wireless.

  1. Work in your assigned groups of three:
    - One person will operate the Number Line app.
    - the second person will do calculations with the Calculator app.
    - the third will record the problem and answer in the Notes app.
  2. Do fifteen "problems". Change jobs after each five problems.
    Record the problem, the Number Line answer and the answer all in decimal values for each problem
  3. Open Number Line on your iPod. Review the instructions if you like
    Select "play". Level 1 is the first problem, level 2 the second etc. Notice the difficulty increases between each level. When you have completed 15 "levels" answer the following:

a. What does an improper fraction look like as a decimal?

b. What does an improper fraction look like as a percent?

Buzzing the Brownings

An Exploratory Investigation of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

As we study British authors, our attention is turned to the poets, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. What can we learn about the Brownings? What did they contribute to literature? What can we learn from them? Where can we see a collection of their works?

You will use your iPod to answer this question. As you proceed, you will be using the following resources:

Your objective is to deliver a short presentation of your findings.
Proceed as follows. You'll need to be connected to the Internet with the iPod's wireless for this to work.

  1. You may use the Safari web browser application on your iPod to connect to the Baylor University website to visit the library. Search Google for Baylor University and locate the library.
  2. From the Baylor University website and other web sites, find the answers to these questions:
    • Who are Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? (And where are they from--share background information on each of them)
    • Show some examples of their work.
    • Give us as much information about the Brownings, as succinctly as possible.
  3. Take notes as you go along, using the Notes application on your iPod. (To copy text, tap and hold until you see the Copy button, then drag the blue dots to expand the selection. To paste text, tap and hold until you see the Paste button.)
  4. Gather an image for each fact, by tapping and holding the image until you see the Save Image button. (The images you save go into the Photos application on your iPod.)

Be prepared to deliver a brief Keynote presentation of your findings, illustrated with images from your photo collection.

(Thanks to the teachers in Hubbard and Dawson for permission to share these activities with you.)

This is serious learning, accomplished with a tiny device, and extending the reach of these students to new areas of study and new methods of learning. So who needs a computer?

Power to Learn - Blended Learning

Blended Learning
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 02/25/10

No, it's not a margarita or a fruit smoothie. It's a way of combining with online study. Students seem to like it, they learn well from it, and teachers find it interesting. You've read in this space several articles about online learning (Posting Materials Online with Blackboard; Mobile Learning: Getting Started; The Online Experience); the question for today is how best to combine TLFFC.

We can look to history for a metaphor.

Ships and Schools

America was the fastest ship in the world in the middle of the 19th century. Challenged by the British Royal Yacht Squadron to a race in 1851, it crossed the finish line well ahead of all the contenders. The American schooner was the envy of the world in those days, able to deliver cargoes to distant ports faster, with fewer crew members, and more reliability than its competitors.

The American classroom was the envy of the world in the middle of the 20th century. In 1981, the USA boasted the highest proportion of high school graduates, the largest number going on to college, and the most productive workforce in the world. Just as the sailors and navigators and captains of the American schooner became adept at operating their ship, and mastered its various technologies, teachers and principals learned to get the most from the 25-student, teacher-led classroom, with the pages of the textbook serving as sails to power the enterprise. The schooner and the classroom succeeded in delivering the goods and serving the society.

But on a windless day, the schooner was useless, dead in the water. And in many of the world's harbors, the ship could not maneuver -- it needed a tow to move through the narrow passages against the wind. In the same way, the American classroom did not serve all students perfectly, leaving some behind and others bored to distraction. And so both systems began to experiment with new technologies.

Shippers added to their sailing craft a small steam engine amidships, to provide propulsion on calm days and to enter narrow harbors. They blended the tradition of sail with the new technology of steam to produce a more competitive craft. At first, this was easy, squeezing in a small engine, a smokestack and a propeller, along with a new crew member who could work the machine.

The American classroom blended audio-visual and computer technologies in an attempt to better meet the needs of all its students. The blend was small at first, not enough to alter the basic operation of the system. Just a few new machines, and a part-time technician to keep them working.

Throughout the last half of the 19th century, the blend of sail and steam to power in oceangoing ships shifted quickly. As the steam engine took up more space, it began to change the shape of the ship, and demand a new class of crew member, the engineer as well as a mate to shovel the coal or carry the wood for the boiler. Shippers experimented with paddlewheels, propellers, and other means to supplement the sails in pushing the boat through the water. Captains and officers adapted to the new duties, the new possibilities, and the new complications brought on by the steam power.

In the last two decades of the 20th century, teachers experimented with different ways to blend online technologies in the classroom, investing heavily in desktop machines and special furniture. As they did this, teachers adapted to students staring at screens instead of at them. Technical support for computers loomed larger in the school budget. Schools depended more and more on the technology to deliver instruction...

...just as the U.S. Navy invested in more and larger steam engines. At a certain point in this development, the sails became the secondary motive power, used occasionally to supplement the steam power. By now the crew has been transformed: more engineers than sail-handlers, more fuel in the hold than ropes and sails. Mechanical knowledge replaced navigational knowledge in the preparation of captains and officers.

In a few classrooms, the online curriculum just about completely replaced the teacher, pushing the blend to the far end of the continuum. Students studied without the close supervision of a teacher. Teacher preparation called for more technology competence, and a new kind of classroom management. The leaders of these schools needed to understand as much about network design as they did about curriculum planning. It was a radical transformation, if taken to the extreme.

By the end of the 19th century, the sails had disappeared. The vestigial masts supported a few flags and radio antennas; gone were the halyards, the sheets, and the beefy sailors who raised them. 100% of the power came from the steam engine. A few old salts longed for the good old days, but the working navy had been totally transformed.

Few schools today have blended in so much technology that the computers handle 100% of the instruction. Many schools continue to experiment with different blends, looking for the balance that works best for students and gets better results. As these schools craft the best blend, they consider several trade-offs, and place themselves carefully on each continuum.

Blended Learning Continua

Who motivates?

Teacher ..................... Online materials ....................... Social network ........................ Student

In the TLFFC, the teacher is expected to motivate the students to learn. As you blend online learning into the mix, you enable other possible motivators: the active nature of the online materials themselves; the impetus of an online work group of fellow students; and in the most developed scenario, the self-motivation of the student to work through the materials on his own. But these new forms of motivation are not familiar to all students, and they may not work with some. Schools have found that you can't jump directly from the personal motivation of the TLFFC directly to online self-motivation; the leap is too broad for most students to make.


Classroom ................... Library .................. School Bus ...............Coffee Shop .................Home

The more you blend online learning into the mix, the more the student is free to study in different places. The possible settings for learning expand beyond the classroom to include the school library, common rooms and hallways, the local coffee shop, the school bus or subway car, and the student's home. This expansion of place opens up an increase in time -- you effectively lengthen the learning day by blending in networked instructional resources. But most schools aren't set up for this -- they will need to build spaces conducive to effective online learning, with appropriate furniture and power.


Solitary ........................... Pair .............................. Small Group .............................. Large Group

When we think of online learning, we picture in our minds a solitary student sitting alone with a computer. But this is only part of the story. Well-designed online courses call for small group work, outside data-gathering, discussion, and research that necessitates the presence of other people. And a well-designed program blends online and classroom settings, thus providing a full range of groupings in the course of a day. Planning and managing these groupings calls for new thinking that goes beyond the considerations necessary to operate the TLFFC.

What's the teacher's role?

Blended learning demands new roles for the teacher, and the nature of this role depends on how two balances are struck: content and monitoring. School leaders tell us that managing the change in the teacher's role is critical to setting the blend. These two continua show the widest possible ranges of all those mentioned in this article.

Teacher and content

Create all content.................. Manage progress ............Get them started ............... No role

In some schools, the online content that's blended in is created by the faculty from scratch, or through selection of readings, illustrations, and assignments. This keeps the teacher at the center of things, but takes much of their time and effort. In many schools, the teachers choose the online content provider, then manage students through it. Others simply point the students to the online sources and answer questions as they arise. At the far end of the continuum, the teacher has no role in the content -- it's done completely by the online provider.

Teacher and monitoring

Full responsibility ......................... Shared responsibility ............................ No responsibility

No matter who creates the content, guiding students through it is a task essential to the success of the blended learning program. In many schools, the faculty takes responsibility for this, setting due dates for online assignments, evaluating the work, pointing students to the resources they need, and supporting those whose progress is wanting. At the other end of the spectrum, all monitoring is handled by the online curriculum machine, or by a teacher provided by the online course publisher. The local teacher takes no responsibility at all. Between these extremes, many schools craft a system of shared responsibility for the progress of students.

Which content?

Most blended learning programs in K-12 schools involve content that's purchased from a publisher or provider. Here the choice of content is critical to success. The table below shows some of the attributes of online curricula that schools need to consider.





Curriculum match




Skill Development




Student Engagement







Fully Integrated




Fully Mobile





Authority: the qualifications, experience, and reputation of the person or the team who authored the course. A weak online program will list no author, or an unknown. A solid curriculum will draw from experienced teachers of the subject who have published their work in other forms, such as textbooks.

Curriculum match: If you're choosing an online biology course in New York, you'd better be sure it matches the content of the State Regents' exam, as well as the state and local curriculum standards and your own school's policies. The only way to assure this match is to go through the materials chapter by chapter, as you would with a book.

Skill development: What kinds of skills does the online course develop best? The traditional skills of memorization and regurgitation? Or the analytical skills that pace higher on Bloom's taxonomy? Or the 21st-century skills of problem-solving and collaboration? This may be an important consideration for you.

Student engagement: Let your students work through a few sample sections of the online course candidate, and then solicit their feedback. Watch them as they learn. The level of engagement created by an online course is directly associated with its effectiveness.

Assessment: Are frequent quizzes, projects, and tests built in to the online course? Or does it simply present the content, leaving you to apply your own assessments afterwards? Online courses differ in how well assessment is integrated into the course materials. And who does the testing: your teachers, or the computer?

Portability: This aspect of an online course plays a more and more important role as the quantity and quality of mobile devices increases. Can the materials be downloaded to an iPod for use on the subway or at home? Will they work on the iPad or the Netbook? The more portable the materials, the more you can take advantage of flexibility of time and setting.

Which platforms?

How flexible is the online curriculum? Will it work on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux? Will it play on the desktop, the laptop, the netbook, the iPad, and the iPod Touch? If it adheres to modern open standards, it will. If you want students to be able to carry the curriculum in their pockets, as well as access at school, this is an important consideration.

Blended learning 2010

The America's Cup race was won in 2010 by the boat from the USA, sponsored by Oracle and BMW. This fastest boat is a blended model: it combines high-tech sails to harness the power of the wind, as well as a diesel engine to run the hydraulics that trim the foils. Blended sailing gets results, even today. Just as the evolution of sea travel has maintained the mix of sail and steam, so the evolution of learning will most likely combine the classroom and the computer, the teacher you face up to as well as the online curriculum interface.

Power to Learn - A Day in the Life: Elementary School

A Day in the Life: Elementary School
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 02/04/10

This article is about E.S. 21+, an imaginary school that employs technology throughout the student’s day. It follows one student through the beginning of a day of schoolwork, to illustrate the key ideas of what it could look like if they took full advantage of technology. E.S. 21+ is not a real school -- it’s a hypothetical school, invented for the purposes of this article, but nonetheless within the realm of possibility, existing within the scope of current technologies and educational regulations. Nothing imagined in this article is impossible in today’s environment.

A few months ago, I reviewed a day in the life of a similarly-empowered high school student. This week, guest columnist and former elementary-school principal Kathi Lengel takes up the case of a younger student, Max..

6:30 AM
Good Morning, Max! His iPod repeats the greeting until Max turns it off. He's waking himself up a half hour early today to video chat with his e-pal in Scotland while she's still at school.

Schoolwork starts early for our hypothetical student, as it must if we are to achieve our objectives. The 180 days times six hours per day that’s allowed in most states is simply not sufficient to develop the skills and talents of youth necessary to success in the 21st century.
And new communication technologies, such as instant messaging, allow students to be connected with their schoolwork and their colleagues all day, every day.

6:35 AM
Max checks the temperature outside his window and converts the reading to Celsius on his iPod.

Our student has learned, from his teachers and friends, how to use a variety of applications on his handheld device. It's part of his tool set for school and he uses it all day long. In this instance, he's getting ready to share temperature data with his e-Pal in Scotland.

6:40 AM
Max checks the local paper online for sunrise and sunset data for his town. Now, he's ready for his conversation with Kate in which he'll share the week's data.

Max has learned how to navigate to resources online, how to use applications to analyze data and how to tell stories using data. As more and more information is linked to the web, school curricula need to be adjusted to take advantage of it, and to develop student skill in using it. Despite his severe learning disability that prevents him from decoding words, he is able to participate in this science activity, with the help of a mobile device.

6:45 AM
Max wanders down to the kitchen where his dad is preparing the family breakfast. Max logs onto the family computer in the kitchen and sees Kate online already. He starts up his video chat with Kate, his 10-year-old e-Pal on Sanday, one of the Orkney Islands, and exchanges weather and sunrise and sunset data for the week. He finds out that it's only 8 degrees Celsius today on Sanday. Using a spreadsheet program, he adds her data and creates an updated daylight graph, which he emails to his teacher and to Kate. He notices that Kate's daylight hours are much shorter than they were last week and he records a memo on his iPod to ask his teacher about this.

Max tells Kate about the Abel's Island Take Two project and that he's hoping that his group will choose Sanday Island for their project. She asks him to send her the video they'll make. She tells him about an upcoming school trip to Edinburgh and about the seals she saw on the beach that day. She tells him that she got elected to the pupil council at her school.

The world is much more connected for students at ES 21+ . Students are encouraged to be curious and to ask questions. Max is willing to get up early to make up for the difference in time zones. In fact, Max is willing to do a lot of work before and after school because his projects interest him.

7:00 AM
Max sends his data and graph to his teacher and to his folder on the school’s web server.

Student work at E.S. 21+ is seldom handed in on paper. Rather it’s kept by each student in online folders and a portfolio, a collection of work that provides evidence of learning to their teachers and their parents.

7:15 AM
After practicing his noiseless MIDI drums with SmartMusic for five minutes, he breakfasts with his mom and dad. At breakfast, his mother asks about his upcoming day at school - she knows what's coming up from the teacher's website and an email reminding her to go over Max's spelling words with him. This week's words are all on a survival theme, connected to the reading of the online Abel's Island project.

Breakfast together and conversations over meals are important in Max's house. Because he has a number of learning challenges, these times are especially important to him. His parents help him process what he's learned as well as foreshadow what the day will bring. At meals, they often discuss the ideas Max encounters at school. In
fact, the school provides on its web site family discussion questions that tie in to the curriculum. The family has learned to intervene with Max's learning disability through an online parent training course, listed in his IEP.

7:30 AM
Max takes some pictures of his home, focused on those items he would most miss if he, like the main character of Abel's Island, got stranded on an island. He puts the SIM card into his card reader to take to school, and packs his bag for the day - iPod, headphones, flash drive, lunch, snack - his bag weighs about 2 pounds.

All of Max's text books are online. While there are hard copies available in the classroom, he doesn't carry them back and forth. E.S. 21+ takes advantage of the information devices that students carry in their pockets, adding applications and books online so students are ready for learning at any time, in any place.

7:45 AM
On the bus, Max reads a chapter of Abel's Island on his iPod, while listening to his teacher read along with him. He stops and repeats, clicks on unknown words, and hears their definition and pronunciation. When he's finished reading, he records his response to the chapter on his iPod. It will be uploaded to the teacher once he reaches school.

In addition to providing the full,  illustrated textbook for each subject online, the school provides an extensive library of electronic texts that can be downloaded to students’ laptops or to their iPods, formatted for ease of reading on these ubiquitous portable devices.

Max's teacher knows that Max learns best by listening, but he does need to practice his reading. So the teacher provides podcasts and recorded books to supplement Max's learning in school. These are automatically downloaded as they are needed in the syllabus. When Max clicks a word he doesn't know, his iPod records which words he's selected. These will be available later to his teacher.

8:15 AM
When Max gets to school, he logs onto the network from his classroom laptop, registers his attendance and lunch request, uploads his pictures to his folder, greets his teacher, and adds his weather data points to the class chart.

Students themselves carry out many of the day-to-day administrative tasks of the school. Beginning in first grade, before they can read their own names, they learn to click on their picture to register their attendance and lunch preferences. The teachers at ES21+ expect students to contribute to small group and class projects, carrying out these tasks without being reminded.

8:30 AM
Max joins his small group in the media center. His group's task today is to brainstorm characters and plot for their upcoming skit on Abel's Island, Take Two. The assignment includes shipwrecking them on the shore of an environment very different from their own. Max's group votes to land on Sanday Island, and asks Max lots of questions about it.

At ES21+ students are used to taking charge of their own projects. They are encouraged to become experts on their own particular slice of a project. Even students with learning challenges can inform the group and extend its learning. The skit they are planning is part of a carefully planned integrated unit, incorporating language arts, geography, science, art,  and math skills.

8:45 AM
The group goes online and spends a few minutes learning about Sanday Island and looking at pictures of Kate's school and at some of the migratory birds and seals now in residence. Max uses the online dictionary to read and define words he doesn't know.

Students at ES21+ know how to locate information on the Internet, find a variety of sources and discuss what they are learning - all independently. And they know how to employ mobile technologies to overcome their learning disabilities.

9:00 AM
Their group advisor (who floats from group to group throughout the period) shows them how to get started planning their project by developing a storyboard with Inspiration software. She quickly shows them how to use Inspiration to map their ideas. They sketch out their skit and send it to their teacher for feedback. One member of the group records voice notes as they go along. They divide up the characters so that each student is responsible to create a clay character in art class and describe its identity in writing.

While the teacher is present, the students are used to getting technology instruction on an as-needed, just in time basis. They don't visit technology on a weekly basis - they use it daily as needed.

9:45 AM
The students return to their home base room for snack and conversation. The teacher asks who was able to reach their e-Pals that day and they share their experiences.

It's assumed at ES21+ that students will be responsible for doing their homework, which often consists of reaching out beyond the school and community via the Internet. They can do this independently and don't need a special time during the school day to carry out these tasks.

And it's only 9:45 in the morning!

How does E.S 21+ compare with your school?

How does Max' day compare with a day in your students' lives?

And what would need to be done at your school to make this kind of work possible?

And what's stopping you from making these changes happen?


Power to Learn - More Technology Trends for 2010

More Technology Trends for 2010
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/21/10

From a conservative and reliable source, Deloitte Canada, a respected business consulting firm, come this week several predictions for technology in 2010. I've picked out those that seem most relevant to the work of teachers, and provided a bit of analysis, and recommendations for schools. A copy of the original report can be found at The Toronto Globe and Mail..


• e-Readers are an interim technology and sales growth will not meet expectations, as competition from alternative devices will likely slow their growth.


Already, more books are being read (and listened to) on iPods than on Kindles, simply because so many more people own the smaller devices. A recent survey of 18-year olds found that 76% of them owned an iPod or similar device. If I were publishing a new book, I'd format it to be read on laptops and iPods rather than on the Kindle or the Sony eReader. Students in school are far more likely to own iPods than Kindles.


Don't fight the iPods in the school. Instead, make sure that as many as possible of the books and assignments you expect students to read are available to them on their iPods. Many of the books you assign for literature are already available online -- in a format readable on the iPod or the laptop -- for free. Show your students how to download them. Post all your assignments on the web, in a plain and simple format that can be read by your students' laptops or iPods.

• Net tablets will fill the gap between the smartphone and the netbook, generating more than $1-billion in global sales in 2010.

The iPod is in effect a very small net tablet; we'll see larger ones hit the market this year from several manufacturers. They connect directly to the Internet via wi-fi, cost less than laptops, and can do much of what a laptop can and all of what an iPod can. Smaller than a textbook, they seem to be a perfect match for students in school.

Don't lock yourself or your school into a single technology platform: encourage and support the use of the variety of information devices that will come to the market; be flexible so that your curriculum content works on all of them. Laptops, netbooks, iPods, tablets, maybe even the two-way wrist computer -- all of these can be useful in school if we make sure that our curriculum plays on all of them, and our systems follow the open standards that embrace the new devices.

• More and more IT departments will buy smartphones and computers based on employee demands rather than corporate policies.

In many schools, progress in using technology has been thwarted by backward-looking IT departments that dictate what teachers and students can purchase and use. As more users complain, IT departments lose their stranglehold, and technology policy-making shifts from technicians to educators.

Work with your principal, your department chair, your teachers' association and your school board to wrest control of your school's technology decisions from the technicians. Scan the marketplace for new technologies that have educational value for your classroom, and ask that they be considered for use in the school. Technology was invented to serve the educational mission of the school, not vice-versa

• Cloud computing will grow faster than almost all other tech sectors, but it is not taking over the world because of concerns over reliability and security.

There are two kinds of cloud computing: one in which all your information and applications are stored in the cloud, and your personal device is simply a receptor; and the second where the cloud is used to back up your data, coordinate between devices, and share it with others. The second is growing faster than the first, and is more in tune with the needs of schools.

Encourage your school to provide a cloud into which students and teachers can backup their data, coordinate all their devices at home and at school, and share information among colleagues. New server software makes this easy to do: automatic backups over the wireless network (Time Machine), cooperative calendaring (iCal server), shared documents. Just make sure to preserve the independent use and power of your own devices, outside the network -- avoid what the technicians call virtual desktops or thin-client netbooks.

2010 will see the invention of technologies not mentioned here, and heretofore unheard of. Our best strategy as educators is to be prepared to adopt and adapt those that can help us accomplish our mission.

Power to Learn - Nonroutine Cognitive/Analytic

Nonroutine Cognitive/Analytic
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/14/10

I encountered a new phrase in my reading this week: Nonroutine Cognitive/Analytic. Sounds like an over-the-counter cold remedy, or one of the newly-minted neurological disorders. But it's apparently a new type of skill, one that has a lot to do with the way we use technology in school. This week's article looks at why it's so important that we examine what we are using the technology for, rather than at how much of it we have.

The phrase in question comes from an article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 118, Number 4. The authors of THE SKILL CONTENT OF RECENT TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE: AN EMPIRICAL EXPLORATION define nonroutine cognitive as "Tasks demanding flexibility, creativity, generalized problem-solving and complex communications." The three economists who conducted the research studied the kinds of tasks that workers faced in the workplace, starting in the 1950's, and running right up through the 21st century. They found that indeed the kinds of tasks have been shifting, away from routine manual tasks (down steadily since 1960) and routine cognitive tasks (up until 1970, then down ever since) and toward nonroutine analytic (steeply rising since 1980) and nonroutine interactive tasks (rising even steeper since 1990). Their data are gathered from U.S. Department of Labor surveys.


The authors explain that the routine tasks have left the human workplace, and are now being done by computers. They point to several occupations that have disappeared or changed radically during this period:

To provide one example, the 1976 edition of the Department of Labor’s Occupation Outlook Handbook described the job of Secretary as:
“…Secretaries relieve their employers of routine duties so they can work on more important matters. Although most secretaries type, take shorthand, and deal with callers, the time spent on these duties varies in different types of organizations.” [U.S. Department of Labor 1976, p. 94]

In 2000, the entry for Secretary reads:
“As technology continues to expand in offices across the Nation, the role of the secretary has greatly evolved. Office automation and organizational restructuring have led secretaries to assume a wide range of new responsibilities once reserved for managerial and professional staff. Many secretaries now provide training and orientation to new staff, conduct research on the Internet, and learn to operate new office technologies.” [U.S. Department of Labor 2000, p.324]

What does this have to do with technology in school?

To follow up from the example above, it means we shouldn't use computers simply to teach the times tables or home row keys more efficiently. Not much future there. If we use our new technology to teach routine cognitive skills, we are not preparing our students for the workplace, or for college. Instead, we should use the technology to teach the skills that will be in high demand: what the researchers call nonroutine cognitive, analytic, and interactive skills, the skills needed for the rising tide of tasks in the workplace. (By interactive skills, they mean those calling for communication and interaction with other people.) What do these skills look like?

A recent white paper on education from Cisco Systems answers this question very directly. Here's an excerpt:

A New Set of Skills
The citizens of the 21st century need a new set of skills that are in much higher demand than before.
There is much debate about these “21st century skills”, but though the exact categories may differ,
these eight groupings are consistently identified:

How can technology contribute to the learning of these skills? Here are two sources of ideas:

The demand for higher-level skills is rising rapidly; for routine skills the demand is falling fast. Aim your technology at the rising star and you'll be doing your students a favor.

Power to Learn - Posting Materials Online with Blackboard: Hints and Tips

Posting Materials Online with Blackboard: Hints and Tips
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, 01/07/10

Many teachers have asked me for help in posting course materials online for their students. As I assist them, I have found that by far the most popular platform for doing this is Blackboard, a learning management system licensed by the school and made available to faculty and students. It's used both for posting materials for students in face-to-face courses, as well for organizing online courses. And everything in between. This week's article shows you how to:

It includes these topics:

- Organizing your Blackboard course by topic or week by week to match your syllabus.

- Incorporating video clips and other media into Blackboard.

- Adding student response assignments.

- Setting up discussions, chats, blogs, and wikis in Blackboard.

- Finding online versions of printed articles and resources, and posting them on Blackboard.

These are the topics most in demand by Blackboard-using teachers. If online learning is new to you, read first the articles in this series, The Online Experience, Getting Ready for Online Learning, and Building an Online Course.

Included are step-by-step instructions for each topic.

Organizing your Blackboard course by topic or week

Most of us organize our courses by topic or by week. That's also the way students think about most courses. But Blackboard in its native format organizes by type of item:  documents, assignments, communication, etc. You can change this, easily, and turn the Blackboard course page into something resembling a logical array of the work in your course. Here's how:

1.      Go to the Control Panel.

2.      In the lower left, under Course Options, click Manage Course Menu.

3.      See the menu as it is now. We are going to add the items we want, and later remove those we don't.

4.      From the bar near to top, click Add Content Area.

5.      Enter the name for your first content area. It might be the syllabus, or it might be your first topic. Keep it short -- things will be easiest to use if the name is 18 characters or less.

6.      Click the Submit button at the bottom right.

7.      This new item will show up at the bottom of the menu. Leave it there for now.

8.      Repeat steps 4 to 7 with the remainder of your course topics.

9.      Remove all the extraneous items in the menu, by clicking the Remove button to the right of each item you don't want.

10.    To change the order of topics, just change the number in the little box.

Incorporating video clips and other media

You have two ways of incorporating a video into your Blackboard course:

To link to a video or other media on a web page:

1.      Go to the web page that contains the video.

2.      Copy its URL from the top of the browser window.

3.      Go to the Blackboard Control Panel.

4.      Go to the topic or week where you want to add the video.

5.      From the bar near the top, click Add External Link.

6.      Paste the URL into the field labeled URL.

7.      Enter the name of this assignment into the field labeled Name.

8.      Enter your instructions to students about this video in the field labeled Text.

9.      Scroll down and click the Submit button at the lower right.

To add a video of your own:

1.      Look at the file size of the video. If it is more than 25 megabytes, you will have to compress it.

2.      Use QuickTime Pro to compress the video. Best results are obtained by compressing the video to 320x240 pixels, 15 frames per second, H.264 compression, monophonic sound, medium quality.

3.      Look again at the file size of the video. If it's still over 25 megabytes, ask your system administrator to put it on your school's web server for you, and give you a URL,which you can use as a link as described above.

4.      Go to the Blackboard Control Panel.

5.      Go to the topic or week where you want to add the video.

6.      From the bar near the top, click + Item.

7.      Enter a name for this assignment.

8.      Enter instructions for students in the Text field.

9.      Under 2- Content, click the button next to Attach local file.

10.    Navigate to the video you just compressed.

11.    Let it upload.

12.    Under Special Action, choose Display media file within the page from the pop-up menu.

13.    Scroll down and click the Submit button.

Adding student response assignments

With these kind of assignments, students type their work directly into Blackboard, instead of preparing it in Word and then emailing it to you. This makes reading, commenting, and grading, and managing the work much more efficient.

1.      Go to the Control Panel.

2.      Under Course Documents, click the topic you want to add the assignment to.

3.      Over on the far right side of the top bar, after + Select, choose Assignment from the pop-up menu. Then click the little Go button next to it.

4.      Enter a name for the assignment, then enter the instructions for the students.

5.      Scroll down and click the Submit button at the bottom right.

Students will see the instructions, then a box for them to enter their work.

And when you go to the Grading Center, you see a list of all your students, with an indication of which ones have done the assignment. Click on the indicator, and you can read, comment on, and grade their work.

Setting up discussions, chats, blogs, and wikis in Blackboard

You don't need an outside service to set one of these up for your course. They are all possible within Blackboard.


A blog is a sequential online asynchronous written discussion. More readable than a threaded discussion. To set up a blog in your course:

1.      Go to the Control Panel.

2.      Under Course Documents, click the topic you want to add the blog to.

3.      Over on the far right side of the top bar, after + Select, choose Blog from the pop-up menu. Then click the little Go button next to it.

4.      Enter a name for the blog, then enter a description of its purpose.

5.      Scroll down and click the Submit button at the bottom right.

6.      Exit the Control Panel, go back to the course, find the blog, and enter some ideas to start the discussion.


1.      A wiki is a contributory online document organized by topics. Each topic is a page in the wiki. Normally you set up the topics and ask the students to contribute to explaining each one. Your own online private encyclopedia.

2.      Go to the Control Panel.

3.      Under Course Documents, click the topic you want to add the wiki to.

4.      Over on the far right side of the top bar, after + Select, choose Wiki from the pop-up menu. Then click the little Go button next to it.

5.      Enter a name for the wiki, then enter a description of its purpose.

6.      Scroll down and click the Submit button at the bottom right.

7.      Exit the Control Panel, go back to the course, find the wiki, and add some topic pages (on the right).

8.      On the main page of the wiki, enter instructions for what you want your students to do with it.

Live Chat

This is a synchronous written discussion -- you and your students are all online at the same time (but from different places) and can read what each other writes. Like a chat room on AIM, or a group instant message session. Here's how to set one up:

1.      Go to the Control Panel.

2.      Under Course Documents, click the topic you want to add the chat to.

3.      Over on the far right side of the top bar, after + Select, choose Chat from the pop-up menu. Then click the little Go button next to it.

4.      Click the Create new session button in the middle of the page.

5.      Enter a name for the chat, then schedule its time.

6.      Scroll down and click the Submit button at the bottom right.

7.      Select your chat from the popup menu, and click the Next button at the far right.

8.      Exit the Control Panel, go back to the course, find the blog, and enter some ideas to start the discussion.

9.      Enter the requisite information and instructions for the chat.

10.    Set the date and time for the chat. Add 30 minutes before and after to allow people to connect and test.

11.    Click the Submit button at the lower right.

12.    Go back to the course (not the Control Panel) and see that the chat has been added.

13.    To join the chat, click the Join button at the far right.

Finding online versions of printed articles and resources

You can use Blackboard to rid yourself and your students of the expense and inconvenience of duplicating research articles or printing course packets. Instead, locate online versions of your favorite articles and link to them from Blackboard. Here's how to begin:

First of all, try Google Scholar.

1.      Go to Google Scholar.

2.      Enter into the search box the full title of the research article you are looking for.

3.      Look for your article in the list.

4.      Read it to make sure it's the right one.

5.      Copy its URL from the top of the browser.

6.      Go to your course's Blackboard Control Panel.

7.      Go to the topic or week where you want to add the article.

8.      From the bar near the top, click Add External Link.

9.      Paste the URL into the field labeled URL.

10.    Enter the name of this assignment into the field labeled Name.

11.    Enter your instructions to students about this article in the field labeled Text.

12.    Scroll down and click the Submit button at the lower right.

Can't find it on Google Scholar? Ask your librarian to use the school's online journal database. Most work something like this

1.      Connect to the URL the librarian gives you.

2.      Enter the name of the journal (not the article) in the box.

3.      Click the name of the database that contains the journal.

4.      Authenticate yourself with your school username and password.

5.      Find the article you are looking for in the publisher's database, usually by drilling down by year and volume number.

6.      Copy the article's URL from the top of the browser.

7.      Go to your course's Blackboard Control Panel.

8.      Go to the topic or week where you want to add the article.

9.      From the bar near the top, click Add External Link.

10.    Paste the URL into the field labeled URL.

11.    Enter the name of this assignment into the field labeled Name.

12.    Enter your instructions to students about this article in the field labeled Text.

13.    Scroll down and click the Submit button at the lower right.

Your students will need to go through the authentication process when they link to this article.

Adding a course splash page with title and illustration

Give some definition to your course's home on Blackboard. Add an illustration, a title, and whatever else you want your students to see every time that connect. Blackboard calls this a course banner. (You can't judge a book by its cover, but it's hard to read it without one.) Here's how to develop an attractive entry point to your course.

1.      Locate or prepare a suitable illustration, and save the image on your computer.

2.      Open PowerPoint if you're on Windows, Keynote on Macintosh.

3.      Set the slide size to 600 pixels wide and 250 pixels high.

4.      Insert or paste this image into a blank slide in PowerPoint or Keynote.

5.      Shrink the image to fit.

6.      Add text, shapes, or other necessary visual material.

7.      Export this slide as a JPEG image.

8.      Go to your course's Blackboard Control Panel.

9.      Under Course Options, click Course Design.

10.    Click Course Banner.

11.    Click the button next to New banner image.

12.    Navigate to the slide you just exported.

13.    Click OK, then click Submit.

14.    See your new entry page on the course.

Power to Learn - Digital Life From the Kids' Point of View

Digital Life From the Kids' Point of View
by Dr. Merle Marsh, 12/03/09

We know that our students, particularly teens and preteens, don’t always see things our way, but we do hope that when we tell them something, they understand what we are saying. But do they? We need to be prepared for the idea that they might understand things in their own way. We need to remember that they are so focused upon the “here and now” that our words and warnings sometimes just float off into space. It’s not that kids don’t hear us and don’t want to do what’s right, it is just that they see the world in a different way and we as adults sometimes miss that disconnect.

We also need continuously to come to grips that something else in their lives is simply more compelling that we are. With the exception of a small percentage of wonderfully independent young people, what’s more compelling is the peer group. As students begin to mature, they start the process of separating themselves from the adults in their lives in order to rely more on the opinions of those their age.

Those realities sunk in once again for me recently at a conference in Baltimore, where I attended two sessions about Internet safety. At first I thought there wasn’t much new—the same safety rules and sites mentioned. But then Librarian Terry Darr from Loyola Blakefield, an all-boys independent school, told about Internet discussions she’s started with classes of high school students. Her anecdotal stories made me sit up and pay attention. She showed the boys photos that had been posted on the Internet and talked with them about these photos. She wasn’t just telling the boys about what they should be doing, she was involving them and helping them to think about their decisions and alternative options.

One photo showed an obviously underage girl who was slumped over and holding an alcoholic beverage. The librarian asked the students whether they’d have been willing to take the photo. About 90% said yes if a friend asked them, for it was the friend’s responsibility as to what to do with the photo. Notice that the point of view here is that if a friend asks, it’s okay and that if they aren’t posting it, it isn’t their problem. You can imagine that interesting discussion followed on this topic.

When asked what they’d do if a girl they knew sent them a nude photo of herself, most agreed it shouldn’t be forwarded. The librarian said the boys seemed confused about why girls send out photos like this and what to do with the photos. Probably like the girls’ parents, they didn’t understand why girls thought this was a good idea.

In a case like this, even the boys couldn’t understand the girls’ point of view. Certainly parents and teachers wouldn’t understand it. But it would make a good discussion topic with a girls’ group, wouldn’t it?

In another session, a presenter mentioned that it’s very difficult for students to comprehend why user names must be selected carefully. Her students didn’t seem to realize that “laxgirl6” could tell someone that she played lacrosse and that her number was 6. It was the same with types of photos kids post online. The students didn’t think adults would actually check for Internet photos and content and even if they did, the students felt the adults wouldn’t take what they’d posted seriously. The presenter mentioned a student whose parent worked in college admissions. Even though the parent told the child that the admission reps check all online references, social networks, etc., that student didn’t believe it.

Many young people will tell you that their online information is protected—secure and that no one can get to it. I had a high school sophomore tell me that once, and within a few minutes I’d downloaded one of her “secure” photos. This student truly believed no one except her friends, could get into her private places on the Web. Sure, she’d heard that nothing online can be considered private, but she didn’t believe it.

Kids’ point of view is often centered on the thinking of their peer group. The need to be part of a group and to have the right friends can be overpowering. So overpowering, in fact, that students will bully others to impress and to try to make themselves look better. Most cyber problems are kid-to-kid problems, not problems with online predators. They are caused by kids trying in the wrong ways to be accepted. The thinking is if you put someone else down, you’ll look cool. I’ve often told students who are “clique want-to-bes” and think they are completely left out of social interaction, to look around their classes. The truth is that most kids are not in the sought-after groups, but that most of those who consider themselves left out, don’t want to be in a group with all the rest. The point of view is something like this: “There’s this one group I want to be in and that’s it.” These students may complain to you and their parents that no one will be friends with them, but by “no one” they mean the few kids in the ‘in-group”.

From the viewpoint of preteens and teens, acceptance drives much of what we see as online problems —kids posting provocative photos and selecting sexy and macho usernames to the nastiness that comes with cyberbullying. Like the students who were willing to take a photo that makes a friend look like a drunk, the need to belong is a driving force in their lives. Friendship is uppermost on their agenda. Thoughts of consequences for inappropriate action may not seem important when compared with thoughts of being a real part of a group. Decisions are made with the “here and now” in mind.

That’s why, rather than trying to put barriers on what kids can do with technology, we need to keep up the discussions with our preteens and teens. We need to give them, like the librarian from Loyola did, the time to think about their decisions and how they use technologies. We need for them to discuss possible problems and consequences with their peers and with adults who will encourage positive behavior. They need to explore alternative paths when confronted with problems, and somehow we need to get them looking beyond the “here and now”. It’s not the barriers that are important, it’s instilling in our children the values of digital citizenship and the appreciation of others that will make a difference.

No matter what we do, students won’t always agree with us, but we have to keep up the discussion and the reminders that there is a future for them for which they need to prepare. We have to give them encouragement to think for themselves.

Power to Learn - Mobile Devices for Learning

Mobile Devices for Learning
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 11/26/09

If we wrote it as an equation, this idea would be

M + W = 24/7

Miniaturization plus Wireless equals 24-hour access 7 days a week.

From anywhere:

As the tools shrink smaller, the intellectual resources available to them grow broader.

Next to the iPod on the table in front of me is a projector of the same size. I connect the two with a short cable and I can present slides to my seminar anywhere. And show student work. With one miniature device in each pocket, the portable professor can be quick on the draw, ready to shoot ideas onto the nearest wall.

The same iPod houses hundreds of books, from The Odyssey to Paradise Lost to Programming with PHP/SQL. As well as video of Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, music of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, and dozens of podcast lessons in learning Chinese. Oh yes, and tagging along is an animated school bus for beginning readers, along with an interactive number line for learning fractions.

What's on the iPods of your students right now? If you had your druthers, what would you want to see on there?

What are they?
They are devices smaller than a breadbox that let students learn. The list includes laptop computers, iPods, Kindles, SONY Readers, small digital cameras, data probes, and some smart cell phones. The world is full of mobile digital devices, that's for sure; but few of them are used for learning. Most are used for entertainment and personal communication. But they harbor the potential to be used for serious academic purposes.

Why do we need them?
These devices enable students to learn in new places, at new times, and in new ways. Students can carry materials for the entire curriculum in their pocket, and work with them in school at home, on the bus, and in the park. Teachers can publish lessons in new formats, such as the podcast, which seem well-suited to how today's students learn. Properly configured, some these devices can add a new channel for teacher-student communication. And with some of these devices, students can more easily collect data and information and documentation from the field and bring it to school for analysis.

What do they do?
They can store and display academic information in many formats: text, images, video, voice, music, graphics, maps. They can present exercises, quizzes, and tests that develop students' understanding. They can connect to the Internet for access to research. They can record text, voice, images, video, music, and real-world data. They can be turned into a graphing calculator, a geographic information display, or a response clicker. They can manage a student's schedule, contacts, classes, and assignments. They can communicate through email or instant messaging. In fact, the best of today's mobile devices can do anything that a personal computer can do except for advanced video and image editing or complex database programming.

How much do they cost?
The least-expensive iPods and video cameras cost about $100; the most expensive smartphones cost $300. The most popular mobile device, the iPod Touch -- really an iPhone without the phone -- costs about $200. Only the Blackberry and the smartphones require a monthly fee; the others are free to use on the Internet.

What are the system requirements?
To use these devices in school you need a robust, standards-based wireless network. Even more important (and sorely lacking in most schools), you need a robust, standards-based online curriculum that can be displayed on the mobile devices and takes full advantage of their possibilities.

Who are the market leaders?
Among young people, Apple's iPod and iPhone products have captured the bulk of the market share. In some communities, upwards of 80% of high school and college-age people own one of these devices. Among working adults, the Blackberry is the market leader among smartphones, with Palm in second place. Single-purpose devices such as the Kindle or the Sony Reader have yet to penetrate the student market.

Why are mobile learning devices controversial in school?
Read these articles pro and con to find out.

Quick Comparison

Mobile Device Chart

Power to Learn - The Online Experience

The Online Experience
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College of Education, 11/19/09

Overheard in the hallways of academe:

Next week's class will take place online. You'll find all the materials you need posted on Blackboard. The objective for next week is to understand the leading psychological theories of children's moral development, and be able to apply them to what goes on in your classroom. First, you'll read a concise introduction to the three main theories, then a short classroom-based research study based on one of the theories recently published in Child Development. You'll take a short quiz to ensure you've understood what you've read, then you'll enjoy my ten-minute illustrated podcast that relates these theories and research to daily life in the classroom. After that you'll watch video clips of moral discussions in two classrooms, and be asked to identify which students show which stages of development. Finally, you'll record a short moral discussion that you conducted in your own classroom, analyze your own students' stages of moral reasoning, and send me the results.

No class meeting next week. Since the Yankees are playing the Mets in the World Series on Wednesday, all the subways will be crowded and it will take you forever to get here. So instead you'll do some work online. Read the next chapter in the textbook, then post your comments to the discussion board on Blackboard. If you have any questions, send them to me on email. Write a one-page summary of the chapter and bring it to class two weeks from now.

The magic of technology enabled us to record last semester every lecture in this course. The lectures are all posted online, with synchronized PowerPoint slides and lots of graphics. Go to the Blackboard site and you'll see all 14 of them. We also recorded a different section meeting each week, and these too are all online in living color. So next week go and watch those videos, then you'll find a 50-question multiple choice test on Blackboard that will test your knowledge of the subject matter. This will substitute for our regular class meeting next week.

Next week your goal is to learn about the different economic systems in British overseas colonies in the second half of the 18th century, and to understand how they contributed to varying forms of political organization. Each group of three students has been assigned one colony; what you need to do is to complete the first draft of your illustrated analysis, and send it to me by Friday. I expect that your group will meet together face-to-face at least once during the week, and have another meeting as an online chat. Your final report must include references to at least four of the readings that I have posted on Blackboard; it must also include information from at least two original sources that you locate on your own. Your illustrations should include at least two contemporary images such as paintings, etchings, artifacts, or maps. I'll assess your work based on the rubric posted on Blackboard that includes concepts from both political science and economics.

All of these examples include online learning. How would you rank these four in terms of quality? Why?

As more and more teachers move to include online learning in their courses, we need to look closely at what works and what doesn't, what's acceptable and what's not, what's a best practice and what is to be avoided. The University of Phoenix, a recent and fast growing institution of higher education, has been called on the carpet recently for shoddy practices in online education, for lowering academic standards for the sake of convenience. Faculties all over the world are asked to determine the quality of online courses compared with traditional classroom-based instruction. This article looks at some criteria that might help distinguish the gold from the dross.


We have for centuries described our courses in terms of credits and time: a three-credit course meets three hours a week for fifteen weeks. So 45 hours of class time is worth three credits; and we expect that class time is complemented by the student with independent reading and writing and lab time. To follow this tradition, we would analyze online learning in terms of how many hours students devote to it: a three-credit online course should consume perhaps 75 hours of a student's time (45 class hours + 30 hours for homework). As we look at an online course, we can estimate how much time it would take a student to complete each assignment, and use that to judge its quality. So we'd expect a three-credit online course to include 75 assignments, each taking an hour to complete. And for typical online weekly session, we might expect five hours of work by the student. We can even set up our learning management system to track how long each student spends with each online assignment, if we want to be sticklers about it.


But time may not be the best measure. What we want to see is student work: the amount of work they accomplish in an online course should equal or exceed what they do in a classroom-based course. Following this approach, we would look for students to absorb the material presented in the weekly lecture, read the 50 or so pages of text normally assigned in that week, plus complete the assigned lab work. Some will get this work done in three hours; for others it might take six. Of course, they need to turn the work in each week so we know they've done it. So we measure the quality of an online course by how much work is involved on the student's part, and make sure it's equivalent to the work required in classroom-based courses.


But it's not what they do that matters, it's what they learn. So perhaps the best way to evaluate an online course is to point the students to all the materials they need to cover, and then give them a test or paper to write that shows whether or not they learned it. With this approach, we need not concern ourselves with the means of education, only the ends. We would make sure that the amount of learning that occurs in the online course meets or exceeds what's learned in the face-to-face version. So we don't concern ourselves much with the hours or the activity, but concentrate on the assessment. As long as they pass the test, they get credit, whether it's online or off. We need only look at the quality of the assessment, and its evaluation rubric, to judge the online course.

All of these approaches have merit; most of us combine all three as we examine the new digital offerings that come across our display screens. All share the weakness of comparison with a suspect standard: are we sure that our current classroom-based practices represent the most effective forms of learning? Perhaps it would be better to go back and take Pedagogy 101, and apply an absolute standard of quality education. If we did, what would be its components?

When I look at an online course or session, I look for four things: objectives, exploration, wrestling, and production. If any of these are missing, or weak, the course does not pass muster.


You'd be surprised at what's offered up as objectives on the syllabi of faculty members I work with in online education:

And you'd be surprised at how many online courses and sessions make no mention at all of what is to be learned: they state neither goals nor objectives nor expectations. They simply post a collection of readings or activities. To be acceptable, an online course needs, as any course, a set of objectives, stated in terms of what the student is expected to learn. Here are some samples:

This second set of objectives is more useful because it explains what the student will be able to do when they finish the online session. And these kinds of objectives make the form of assessment of student learning self-evident, the importance of which we will soon see.


Unless the student thinks some new thoughts in the course of his or her online experience, then there's no education. So every online session or course must cause the student to explore new materials, confront new ideas, develop new concepts, or practice new skills. A summary of the familiar, or a re-hash of the obvious, no matter how slickly it's presented, does not suffice. And the more that this exploration involves different forms of communication: reading, writing, images, video, case study, simulation, and so forth, the more likely it is to provoke thinking. An online session or course that lets students stay in their own intellectual country, and does not require foreign exploration, doesn't make the grade.


Without dissonance, the resolution does not satisfy. The new ideas that students explore in the online course must be carefully crafted to provoke questions in the student's mind, engender cognitive conflict, or afflict the comfortable prejudice. The student must wrestle with the new ideas or new skills in order to understand them. So we should look for online assignments that call for comparison, contrast, taking the wrong side of an issue, practicing a technique that you've never tried before. An online session that simply expects students to remember and repeat, or skim and summarize, would not meet this criterion.


In many of the online courses that I have seen, the student is asked to produce nothing; he or she needs simply to read, watch, listen, and perhaps discuss. But unless a student produces something that proves that he or she has mastered the objectives, how will we know it worked? So for each objective, there must be a production, a piece of work that the student creates that provides evidence of learning. It can be as simple as a multiple-choice test, as familiar as a two-page paper, or as complex as a group podcast. To qualify for approval, an online course or session must call for an assessment of its objectives, produced by each student.

Go back and look at the four examples printed at the beginning of this article, and apply the seven-part rubric. Which of them pass the test?









Example 1








Example 2








Example 3








Example 4










Power to Learn - The Network

The Network
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 11/05/09

The lives we lead and the work we do in a 21st-century school or business or home would not be possible without the network. You've seen the ads on TV: The guru to Katmandu by half-past two, surviving collaboration, the shortest international commute, the opening of China(, or soccer around the world. The network is the great enabler, the deliverer of possibilities, the basic infrastructure that lets us and our ideas flow across the planet.

We can't see the network, though we use it every day. We can imagine it, though. It's a rabbit warren of paths and tunnels under us all leading everywhere. It's a lattice or a matrix or a mesh or a grid putting the whole world on a coordinate plane. When it doesn't work for us it's a disorderly tangle, a complex, or a maze. Some think it grows naturally like a nexus or a plexus or a web. Digital networks didn't exist when I went to school, but today no school could survive long without one.

But not all networks are created equal. The network that enabled the guru to be in many places at once, or the global soccer players to exchange moves on their iPods, required some careful planning and execution.

Not just any network

The networks that enabled the people pictured in the videos to get their work done shared some key characteristics. They were robust, reliable, flexible, open and secure. They followed commonly accepted open standards, and they allowed many types of devices to connect, using wires or not. Let's take a closer look at each of these traits.


The network needs to be strong enough to support what its users want to do. And these days, that means video, teleconferencing, and live meetings. A traditional network designed to pass spreadsheets from one desk to another will not suffice or survive in the world pictured in those clips. The new network provides plenty of bandwidth, fast and unobtrusive routing of information to the right places, and a solid connection to the global backbone that connects us all. This essential strength provides the foundation for the services that follow.


A network that goes down does not help its users move up. A useful network is designed with redundancies, backups, and alarms that prevent down time. Competent people take responsibility to keep things running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are on call when users experience difficulty. The organization monitors response time, down time, and network performance, and reports these frequently to its leadership and to its users. The digital information network is as important to the school as running water or electric power.


The network mangers seek out information on new network protocols, devices, and services that might be of use to its users, and frequently modify the network to enable their use. The network allows devices, protocols, and services from a wide array of vendors and manufacturers to be connected and use its services. Like a successful species in a changing environment, the network adapts to the new developments in the world of information technologies. And it follows the basic Internet design principle of decentralization, so that a fault in one node or device does not bring the entire system to its knees.


The network is designed to serve many purposes, traditional, present-day, and futuristic. It does not restrict the way its people use the network, except where safety or security is at risk. Network policies are set not to reduce the work of the network administrators, but to enhance the work of the teachers and students who use it. A useful network is a big tent, and welcomes all kinds of camels to nose around under it.


A useful network follows common standards agreed to by respected international organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the International Organization for Standardization, the Moving Picture Experts Group, the World-Wide Web Consortium. The Internet is a world-wide resource, designed by its users through democratic deliberation; the standards for information exchange developed by these non-profit, collaborative groups -- public and open to all users -- enable more useful networks than those built on secret proprietary protocols closed to other vendors.


Openness aside, evil exists in our world. A useful network is set up to prevent evildoers from disabling the network or stealing the private information of its users. Interestingly, the least secure networks are often those based on proprietary systems: most of the viruses and hackers that we hear so much about exploit flaws in those secret schemes. Standards-based networks enjoy a wider array of security tools and experience far fewer evil disruptions.

Wired and -less

At least half the devices you saw in the video vignettes connected to the network by radio, not by cables. The smaller and more useful the device, the more likely it uses a wireless connection. The mobility that teachers and students need as they go about their work demands full open wireless access for all kinds of devices, as well as secure connections to the school network from home, such as that provided by a Virtual Private Network.


You may not need to be in Katmandu by 2, and you may not have shared a video clip with a colleague in China in quite a while. But you do need a solid, reliable, flexible and open network in order to get your work done. And so do your students. How does your school's network stack up against the characteristics described above? How would you place it along these continua?



















Wired and -less







Power to Learn - Create and Publish

Create and Publish
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/29/09

In the days before the printing press, the only way for a teacher to disseminate ideas was the lecture: teacher talked, students listened, and perhaps some of them learned. With the invention of moveable type and cheap paper came the added possibility of spreading one's word as an article or book. This new technology sparked many teachers to learn to write so that they could take advantage of the new medium. Five hundred years later came the ability to record sound, and an additional means of reaching new audiences. A short while later, video arrived on the scene. Then PowerPoint, then the web site, then the podcast, all in relatively rapid succession. Each new technology provided the teacher with a new channel to reach students. And a new skill to learn.

So today the conscientious teacher might prepare a lecture on the topic of the day, then publish it as an article, and record it as an audio file. Next, create some PowerPoint slides to support the lecture, then create a web site full of information and hyperlinked cross references. And to please the mobile learners, prepare a podcast, preferably with explanatory images.

Each of these formats, of course, requires the teacher to purchase a new set of equipment, learn a new authoring technique, and publish through a different network. Lectern, microphone, keyboard, computer, PowerPoint, video camera, data projector, iMovie, GarageBand, iPod, CD, and DVD take over the faculty offices. Cables, connectors and adaptors snake their way down the corridors of academe.

In preparing my own lectures and publications, including this weekly article, I have learned to consolidate and combine these efforts and technologies in such a way as to allow me to create once, and yet publish in many forms. This article describes a workflow that allows you to take a single idea and develop it simultaneously as a lecture, as a slide show, as an enhanced podcast (which can also play as a video), as plain text, and as illustrated booklet.

Follow these steps.


The best candidates for this workflow are presentations of single ideas or concepts, that might take 15 minutes to deliver as a lecture. If your talks are organized into hour-long pieces, it's wise to break these up into shorter chunks that are easier for your students to work with. The shorter pieces can be sequenced into a longer series if necessary.

If you have not done so already, think through your idea, teach it a few times in the classroom, and discuss it with colleagues. Try a variety of examples and metaphors to see which ones work best. Because you are going to publish as a slide show and as an illustrated podcast, consider visual images and examples for each step, which work well in these formats.


Now that you have developed your idea, and delivered it a few times, write it down. In prose, with complete sentences. This will add some discipline to your talk, and help you economize your words and examples. And also tighten up your organization. Write in the style of a conversation or informal lecture, rather than for a print journal or essay. The same phrases you used in your best oral delivery, with a bit of editing, will work well here.

Write in chunks if you can, a paragraph at a time, with a subhead for each. This works better for the type of multi-mode communication that you are creating. It also helps to provide chapter titles for your podcast, an essential feature for its ease-of-use by students. Edit your writing for style and flow; consult Strunk and White for guidance, rather than the AP, MLA, or APA. Ask a colleague to read it and suggest improvements; a student as well. Read it aloud and make sure it flows in that mode, and can be spoken in 15 minutes or less.

Slide show.

Next you will prepare a slide for each paragraph of the piece you have just written. And as you do this, you will take into consideration the other publishing formats, and prepare your slides accordingly. Here's how to do it:

  1. Set the slide show for plain white background, 600 pixels wide by 600 pixels high. This is big enough for projection in the lecture hall, yet small and square enough to display well as a podcast on a tiny mobile device. (If you are working on Macintosh, use Keynote instead of PowerPoint; it eases the conversion to other formats later.)
  2. Set the slide show software to display the notes for each slide. Copy and paste the first paragraph from your writing into the notes area of the first slide; insert a new slide and paste the second paragraph into the notes; and so forth. For now, leave the slides blank.
  3. Find an image to place on each slide. This should be easy, if you have been thinking visually all along. If you need help with this, read The Power of Images in this series. If you need two images for a contrast or comparison, duplicate the slide with its notes and place the second image on the new slide.
  4. Don't use builds, animation, or text unless absolutely necessary. These make the conversion to other formats difficult, and often violate the principles of healthy instruction. See PowerPoint Playwright and Power Pointless in this series.

Now deliver this slide show, with oral narration, in the classroom a few times. Print your text and read from it if necessary (but by now you should have it pretty much in memory). Revise as necessary as you learn from this experience.


From the slide show, it's easy to develop your work into a podcast. If your slide-lecture is short, and you want to publish it quickly, Use Method 1, and simply record your narration into the slide show and save it as a podcast; if it's longer, and you want to spend more time making a professional podcast, use Method 2, and make a GarageBand podcast instead.

Method 1: Quick recording. Follow these steps, using Keynote:

  1. Play the slide show you just created, rehearsing aloud your narration as you go along.
  2. Get beck into editing mode. From the menubar, choose Record Slideshow.
  3. Speak your narration in a strong voice, clicking through the slide as as you go along. (You'll see a voice-level meter in the upper left -- keep it at the 75% level for a good recording.)
  4. At the last slide, click once more and the recording session will end.
  5. Play your slideshow again, and listen to your narration.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 as necessary, until you are satisfied.
  7. From the menubar, choose Share --> Export, then click the iPod icon.
  8. Choose Recorded timing. Click the Next button.
  9. Save your podcast (it will be in QuickTime movie, .mov format).

Now double-click your podcast file to see and hear it. This file can be:

...and played on your students' computers, iPods, and other devices.

Method 2: Professional Editing with GarageBand. Follow these steps:

  1. Launch GarageBand, and choose to create a new podcast.
  2. Move the playhead to the 5 second line.
  3. Click the red record button at the bottom of the screen, and introduce the podcast: "This is Professor Thomas Hunter from the City University of New York. This podcast is about the influence of Mayan culture on the Inuit tribes of north-eastern Siberia in the 10th century."
  4. Touch the spacebar to stop the recording. Go back and listen to what you have recorded. Move closer to the microphone and re-record if your voice was too soft.
  5. Record your narration, one paragraph at a time. Speak with expression, as if you were in conversation with a small group. Delete and re-record each paragraph as necessary.
  6. Record a short conclusion, so your listeners will know they've reached the end.
  7. Drag a musical jingle into the beginning of the podcast, at time 0:00. (To see the list of jingles, choose from the menubar Control --> Show Loop Browser, then click Jingles in the list at the upper right.)
  8. Drag the same jingle into the conclusion. Place it to begin just a few seconds before you say your narrated conclusion.

Now you've got the audio elements completed. Listen to what you've got: an audio podcast. The next step is to enhance it with illustrations.

  1. Drag the lower-right corner of your GarageBand window to make it as small as possible.
  2. Open your slide show in Keynote. Make the window as narrow as possible, and drag it to the far right of your display. Like this:


  1. Drag the thumbnail of your first slide from the Keynote window into the Podcast Track of GarageBand, and place it at time 0:00.
  2. Drag the thumbnail of your second slide from the Keynote window into the Podcast Track of GarageBand, and place it where it belongs. You may need to listen to your narration, and take note of the time, in order to synchronize the picture with the narration.
  3. Repeat the step above for all of your slides.

Now you have all your illustrations loaded. Leave no space between your images in the podcast track. To review the synchronization, follow these steps:

  1. Click the icon in the podcast track selector to open the Podcast Preview window.
  2. Play the podcast, and watch the images change as it rolls along.
  3. Adjust the timing of the images by dragging the ends of the images in the podcast track, until you've got it right.
  4. Optional: You may add chapter titles to your podcast by selecting the podcast track, then choosing from the menubar Control --> Show editor. Enter your chapter titles -- the paragraph subheads from your text -- into the spaces next to each image icon (each new image represents a chapter). These chapter titles show in iTunes, in QuickTime, and on the iPod.

Now you are ready to publish your GarageBand project as a podcast.

  1. Choose from the menubar Share --> Send podcast to iTunes.
  2. Watch and wait as it compresses and converts the information. When it's done, it will start playing all by itself in iTunes.
  3. Optional: In iTunes, you may add a text track to your podcast by choosing from the menubar File --> Get Info --> Lyrics, and then pasting the text you composed earlier into the box. This text will show on the iPod when the user clicks once on the display as the podcast is playing.

Illustrated booklet

Not everyone learns best through lectures and podcasts. You can help them by publishing your work as an illustrated booklet, in PDF form that travels easily over the web. It's a two-step process:

  1. In Keynote, choose from the menubar Share --> Export --> PDF.
  2. Choose Slides with notes. Click the Next button to save this to your disk.

This file contains the illustrations and text, page by page, a format that for many students makes learning and review easier. It's a small file, plays on all computers, without special software, and can easily be added to your course on Blackboard, Moodle, or iTunesU.

Online Companion

Want to take it a step further? Publish an online companion to your work, something that students can follow along in the classroom as you speak, or use for review. See Student Companion in this series for ideas and instructions.


Follow this workflow to prepare your presentation once, and publish it in many forms.

Power to Learn - Assess It

Assess It
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/22/09

If you don't test for it, why do you teach it?

If it's not on the exam, why should I learn it?

If we're not held accountable for it, why do we waste our time on it?

Last week's article looked at the nature of educational assessment and its effect on the learning of 21st-century skills and the use of technology. See A Grain of Salt. This week we take this concept a step further, and

Though many schools today claim to develop 21st-century technology-using skills in their students, few assess them with any regularity. Instead, they administer the tests they always have: the state mastery test, the CTBS or the Iowa Test, the PSAT and SAT, and the Regents. Upon the scores from these tests they measure their success. And as we learned last week, these assessments measure but a small subset of what students needed to know in the 20th century, and little or nothing of what they need to know today. Or tomorrow.

If we want to test tomorrow's skills, we need to start today. First, we need to define what those skills are; second we need to teach those skills to the students; and third, we need to see if they've learned them.

Define the Skills

You may spend several weeks or years coming up with your own list of 21st-century skills or technology competencies; or you may piggy-back on the work of colleagues who have already done this. For a good list of 21st-century skills, look to the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills; for a list of technology competencies, check out what the faculty of Hunter College has done. Either way, you need a compact, pithy list, one that students and teachers can understand easily.

Teach the Skills

There's no sense in measuring these new skills if you haven't first taught them. And given students a chance to learn them. You will find that you have been teaching many of these 21st-century skills all along -- it's just that you weren't testing them in any formal way. So somehow you must make sure that the new skills and new technologies are embedded into every course in every classroom. Before you start assessing, give the faculty a chance to adjust the curriculum to focus on the new skills.

Assess the Skills

Don't fall into the salt mine as you do this. Don't look for a single, 15-minute test that gives you a nice, neat score on 21st-century skills. Many vendors would like to sell this to you. Don't bite. One such company touts an online test of technology competency, complete with quartiles, statistics, and graphic district-wide reports. Let's look more closely at how it works. Here's one of the questions:

(I am not making this up. See for yourself. ) This is probably not what you had in mind when you considered 21st-century skills.

But without such a standardized test, how will we know if are students are learning the new skills? How will we know if we're doing better than last year, or better than our neighbors?

Consider a three-prong approach to assessment:

Day to day, in the classroom

As you work to make sure that every course and every teacher in every classroom teaches of 21st-century skills and technologies, make sure also that they assess them. Include them in required assignments. Award grades based on their performance. So that a B+ in English represents not only knowledge of Shakespeare but ability to collaborate with a diverse group of peers.

This is not an easy task. Approach it from two angles:

1. Take your list of 21st-century skills, and make sure each one is taught somewhere. At least once, preferably several times. Fill out a form like this:

Think Creatively

5th-grade science; English 9; U.S. History

Work Creatively with Others


Implement Innovations


Reason Effectively

7th-grade math; 10th-grade health; Economics

Use Systems Thinking


Make Judgments and Decisions

American Literature; 4th-grade social studies

Solve Problems

6th-grade math; Practical Mathematics

Communicate Clearly

10th-grade English; Chemistry

...and so forth


Let the faculty determine when and where the skills being taught and assessed already. This will fill in many of the blanks. For the ones that remain blank let the faculty figure out new ways to include them.

At the same time, you should take each course, and make a list of where the skills are currently being taught and assessed, getting right down to the specific assignment in the syllabus:

English 10


Think Creatively

Poetry composition assignment

Work Creatively with Others

Drama production task

Implement Innovations


Reason Effectively


Use Systems Thinking


Make Judgments and Decisions

Moral dilemma discussion

Solve Problems


Communicate Clearly

Oral presentation assignment

...and so forth


This will uncover the skills that need more attention; the faculty will need time to develop new assignments and assessments to ensure that all the skills are included across the curriculum. The important thing is that the 21st-century skills are assessed every day, and that they count in a student's grade.

Combining these two approaches will increase the probability that all students learn some of the new skills, and that some learn all of them. And that everyone pays more attention to them. But it's not a guarantee. A student could get a passing grade in all of his courses, and yet not be fully ready for the 21st century. We need something more to ensure that every student can demonstrate all the skills.

Structured Online Portfolio

Many of the 21st-century skills cannot be measured by paper-and-pencil assignments or multiple choice tests. The ability to work collaboratively with a diverse group for instance, or to communicate clearly through a narrated slide show. These kinds of skills are best assessed though video clips, or multimedia projects, submitted by students, and evaluated by standard rubrics. How do we implement something like this?

  1. Go back to your list of skills.
  2. Choose those that are best evaluated through the portfolio method.
  3. Publish a rubric for each one that details what is expected for mastery.
  4. Require that every student submit a digital document online -- a video clip, a multimedia report, a statistical analysis -- that proves his or her mastery of the skill.
  5. Assign faculty members to evaluate the submissions anonymously. And online.
  6. Make a complete portfolio from each student a graduation requirement.

Because the students' work products are clearly defined, and judged by teachers who did not have them in class, they become more independent measures of performance than classroom-based assessments. And because they include multimedia documentation, they can more accurately measure the social aspects of many of the 21st-century skills. And research has found that concrete rubrics can make these kinds of assessments just as statistically reliable and valid as the bubble tests we are all used to.

Not everything goes into the portfolio; only those items that are best assessed through documentary evidence. And the completion of a useful portfolio -- one that's aimed at a public audience -- can serve as a motivating force for students as they move through their school careers.

Comparable standard tests

As a complement to the previous two approaches to assessment, consider administering a summative, standardized test that includes many of the 21st-century skills. This can provide information that the classroom-based and portfolio systems cannot: to compare your school with others; and to compare your school's performance year to year.

The available tests in this genre do not cover all the skills; they sample just a few. And their limited testing formats do not enable a full assessment of some of the social and performance-based aspects of the skills. But as a complement to the others, these tests can be very useful. The good tests are not inexpensive, and go far beyond the simplistic multiple-choice style in the example shown above. Here are some approaches to consider:

College and Work and Readiness Assessment. This test was designed by The Council for Aid to Education, a national nonprofit organization established in 1952 to advance corporate support of education and to conduct policy research on higher education. It measures how students perform on constructed response tasks that require an integrated set of critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and written communication skills. The CWRA is delivered entirely online in a setting proctored by your own faculty. It costs $40 per student, and included a complete set of statistical reports. Here's a sample of an item from the CWRA:

Introductory Material:
You advise Pat Williams, the president of DynaTech, a company that makes precision electronic instruments
and navigational equipment. Sally Evans, a member of DynaTech’s sales force, recommended that DynaTech buy a small private plane (a SwiftAir 235) that she and other members of the sales force could use to visit customers. Pat was about to approve the purchase when there was an accident involving a SwiftAir 235. Your document library contains the following materials:
(the test manual contains the actual documents listed below)
1. Newspaper article about the accident
2. Federal Accident Report on in-flight breakups in single-engine planes
3. Internal Correspondence (Pat's e-mail to you & Sally’s e-mail to Pat)
4. Charts relating to SwiftAir’s performance characteristics
5. Excerpt from magazine article comparing SwiftAir 235 to similar planes
6. Pictures and descriptions of SwiftAir Models 80 and 235

Do the available data tend to support or refute the claim that the type of wing on the SwiftAir 235 leads
to more in-flight breakups?
What is the basis for your conclusion?
What other factors might have contributed to the accident and should be taken into account?
What is your preliminary recommendation about whether or not DynaTech should buy the plane and what is the basis for this recommendation?

Which of our 21st-century skills is this measuring? How does the situation in the sample question compare with what happens in the world outside of school? Enough schools are using the CWRA that national comparisons are possible, and change over time can be measured.

The California Critical Thinking Skills Test is an old-fashioned multiple-choice test widely used in business to measure thinking skills, one of the elements on everyone's list of 21st-century skills. It was developed by qualified psychometricians, and has been used for many years. Here's a sample question:

Using the phone at her desk, Sylvia in Corporate Sales consistently generates a very steady $1500 per hour in gross revenue for her firm. After all of her firm's costs have been subtracted, Sylvia's sales amount to $100 in bottom line (net) profits every 15 minutes. At 10:00 a.m. one day the desk phone Sylvia uses to make her sales calls breaks. Without the phone Sylvia cannot make any sales. Assume that Sylvia's regular schedule is to begin making sales calls at 8:00 a.m. Assume she works the phone for four hours, takes a one hour lunch exactly at noon, and then returns promptly to her desk for four more hours of afternoon sales. Sylvia loves her work and the broken phone is keeping her from it. If necessary she will try to repair the phone herself. Which of the following options would be in the best interest of Sylvia's firm to remedy the broken phone problem?

A = Use Ed's Phone Repair Shop down the street. Ed can replace Sylvia's phone by
10:30 a.m. Ed will charge the firm $500.
B = Assign Sylvia to a different project until her phone can be replaced with one from
the firm's current inventory. Replacing the phone is handled by the night shift.
C = Authorize Sylvia to buy a new phone during her lunch hour for $75 knowing she
can plug it in and have it working within a few minutes after she gets back to
her desk at 1:00 p.m.
D = Ask Sylvia to try to repair her phone herself. She will probably complete the
repair by 2:00 p.m.; or maybe later.

As you can see, the format reminds you of the bubble-tests described in last week's article. But the content is quite different. The focus is on a subset of thinking skills, an area often included in 21st-century lists, but not often measured by the tests most of us use today. The CCTST is certainly not a comprehensive measure of what we are looking for, but it could serve as a statistically comparable sample.

The Programme for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, has since 2000 been gathering information on the relative performance of 15-year olds in more than 60 countries. It's run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a respected inter-governmental agency. The skills and content they focus on, though not inclusive of all the 21st-century skills, certainly come closer than most of the tests in common use today. And their methodology seems to be closer to what we are looking for. Here's a sample question:

Mathematics Unit 44 : Decreasing CO2 levels
Many scientists fear that the increasing level of CO2 gas in our atmosphere is causing climate change.
The diagram below shows the CO2 emission levels in 1990 (the light bars) for several countries (or regions),
the emission levels in 1998 (the dark bars), and the percentage change in emission levels between 1990
and 1998 (the arrows with percentages).

Question 44.1
In the diagram you can read that in the USA, the increase in CO2 emission level from 1990 to 1998 was 11%.
Show the calculation to demonstrate how the 11% is obtained.

Question 44.2
Mandy analyzed the diagram and claimed she discovered a mistake in the percentage change in emission
levels: “The percentage decrease in Germany (16%) is bigger than the percentage decrease in the whole
European Union (EU total, 4%). This is not possible, since Germany is part of the EU.”
Do you agree with Mandy when she says this is not possible? Give an explanation to support your

Question 44.3
Mandy and Niels discussed which country (or region) had the largest increase of CO2 emissions.
Each came up with a different conclusion based on the diagram.
Give two possible ‘correct’ answers to this question, and explain how you can obtain each of these

Makes you think, doesn't it? Compare the nature of this question with those from the state mastery test we looked at last week. Which is closer to what we are looking for? Notice that the content of the question relates to one of the 21st-century themes from the Partnership, and the skills necessary to complete the question draw from at least three from the same list.

Unfortunately, PISA is not available for purchase by schools. It uses a sophisticated sampling procedure, so that not every student takes every test; and the scoring of the open-ended questions requires time and training that most of us are not willing to invest in. But a school that wanted to compare itself, over time and across countries, could administer the PISA questions, samples of which are available online, do its own scoring, and gather some very useful information.


When you're sailing along the coast, you need the bearings to at least three landmarks to determine where you are. With a modern GPS, you still need the information from at least three satellites to figure out your position. So when you want to measure 21st-century skills, it may be best to assess from three points of view: in the classroom, day to day; through structured student portfolios; and with relevant standardized instruments. The combination of information from all three may help you know where you are, and guide you toward your destination.

For further reading:

21st-Century Skills Assessment, from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Power to Learn - A Grain of Salt

A Grain of Salt
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/15/09

A better title for this article might be Technology and Testing. It's about how we measure the performance of our schools, the skills we need for the 21st century, and the role of technology in all of the above. It begins with a school district, which fired its technology integration teacher and hired a remedial reading teacher in her place. "If it's not on the State Mastery Test, we don't consider it important," was the explanation. Technology is not on the test; neither for that matter is history or literature. Or science or citizenship. Or music, or the arts.

And yet this same school district spouts on its web site that it's "Leading the way toward 21st-century skills." Seems like a contradiction to me. So let's take a look at those 21st-century skills, and at the state mastery test, and see how well they match. And then think about the role of technology in moving students forward.

21st-century skills

Probably the most useful list of 21st-century skills is the one published by the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills, a consortium of business and education groups that includes Apple, Cisco, Ford, the NEA, Pearson, and ASCD, among many others. Here is what they say is important for every student to learn:

Mastery of core subjects

English language arts

World languages







Government and Civics

Mastery of 21st century themes

Global Awareness

Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy

Civic Literacy

Health Literacy

Creativity and Innovation

Think Creatively

Work Creatively with Others

Implement Innovations

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Reason Effectively

Use Systems Thinking

Make Judgments and Decisions

Solve Problems

Communication and Collaboration

Communicate Clearly

Collaborate with Others

Information, Media and technology Skills

Access and Evaluate Information

Use and Manage Information

Analyze Media

Create Media Products

Apply Technology Effectively

Life and Career Skills

Adapt to Change

Be Flexible

Manage Goals and Time

Work Independently

Be Self-directed Learners

Interact Effectively with Others

Work Effectively in Diverse Teams

Manage Projects

Produce Results

Guide and Lead Others

Be Responsible to Others

Many of these skills were also important in the 20th, and maybe even the 19th centuries -- this is really a list of what you ought to learn in school these days. Now, let's use this list as a scorecard to analyze the items on the state mastery test.

Test Items

We'll start with the 8th-grade math test from a northeastern state with a large and diverse population of city-dwellers, rural folk, and suburbanites. Here's the first item:

Which of the 21st-century skills does this measure? You might say it relates to several of them: reason effectively; solve problems; mastery of mathematics. But most of us would agree that the chief purpose of this question is to measure the students’ mastery of math. So put a check next to that skill.

Now let's look at the next item on this test:

This one seems to require some relational thinking -- more than just remembering a formula. You need to know some algebra, and be able to relate algebra to a real-life problem. But talk about a trick question! The answers are designed to confuse you, all containing the right values but with a slightly different syntax. So maybe it's measuring reading ability more than math. Or it's measuring test-taking ability. Do you ever confront questions like this outside of multiple-choice tests? Which (if any) of the 21st-century skills does this question measure? Is it a good measure of that skill?

On to question 3:

I'll bet you are trying to figure out if this is a trick question. Answer B, 72 degrees, seems too easy for it to be true. Even if you didn't know a thing about geometry, you might get this one right -- none of the other answers seem even close. So which skill from the list above is this measuring? It seems to be measuring my test-taking skill, but that's not on the list. Math? Critical thinking?

For some variety, let's look at the reading test. First item:

Seems familiar, no? We all grew up with these kinds of fill-in-the-bubble, multiple choice test, and number 2 pencils. The style and norms for these tests were developed in the 40's and 50's, and have been used ever since, over and over again. Which of our 21st-century skills is this question measuring? Could we have used this same question in 1910? 1810?

Which century?

What's your response so far as to whether or not these tests measure 21st-century skills? From what you've seen so far, would passing this test indicate a student's readiness to survive and thrive in the 21st century?

Do modern information technologies play any role in doing better on these tests? Do the questions take into account in any way the advances in digital information that have taken place in the last 50 years?

If you continue through these tests, checking off the boxes in the table above you'll find that 90% of your marks are in two of the 38 boxes: mastery of mathematics, and mastery of English language arts. With a few ticks in critical thinking or problem solving. But no ticks for the other 34 skills. Try it your self; these tests can be found online.

The results of these tests determine whether a student moves to the next grade; whether the school receives federal and state funds; and soon, whether its teachers are considered effective or defective. Because of the high stakes wagered on these numbers, educators have no choice but to take them seriously. And to spend less time developing the skills that the tests don't measure.

Measuring the other 36 skills

We are pretty good at measuring a certain subset of math and reading skills -- those that are easy to measure with bubble-tests. And we spend inordinate amounts of time and money teaching and testing them. But they account for less than 5% of the things students ought to learn in school.

If we wanted to evaluate a restaurant, we would send a sensitive gourmet to eat a full meal and write up the entire experience; if we wanted to be more thorough, we would send a second critic with different tastes. The critics would describe the atmosphere, the smells, the presentation of the food, its taste, texture, and color; the service, the harmonization of the wines; the quality of the silverware, napkins, salt and pepper. Readers would have a good holistic sense of the quality of the place.

If we applied the current educational assessment logic to this problem, we wouldn't do it this way. Instead, we'd look for a subset of the whole that's easy and quick to measure, such as the quality of the salt. We'd develop a rubric to describe the various degrees of salt quality, and perhaps even develop a special magnifying glass so we can see the individual grains, and a picture-card to match the grains to a 5-point standard range. We'd send a minimum-wage inspector out to the restaurant, and get results for dozens of them each day. Very inexpensive, yet reliable, accurate results, that no one could argue with. Significant to the .05 level if you want.

My grandmother used to tell me, concerning my grandfather, who was wont to exaggerate, "Take everything he says with a grain of salt." When I was very young, I wondered what she meant -- should I grab the salt shaker whenever he started telling one of his stories? It took me a while, but I figured out her figure of speech. (My grandmother didn't know it, but this phrase has its origins in the Latin cum grano salis.)

A 21st-century feast

There's more to this meal than meets the eye. If we allow a few grains of salt to determine the quality, we'll soon be disappointed in our eating. Restaurants will learn to game the system, focusing on the condiments at the expense of the main dish; getting good reviews but serving mediocre food.

Let's stop looking only at the salt, and consider the entire panoply of skills as we assess our students and our schools. We need to pay more attention to the other 36 essential skills that aren't on the tests. And teach them seriously. Are be held accountable for our students learning them.

So next time someone touts their "high-performing school," take their claim with a grain of salt.

If we moved beyond the salt in our assessment, how would we do it? And if we spent more time with the other 36 skills, what would be the role of digital technology in teaching them and in assessing them? Those are questions we'll explore in upcoming articles.

Power to Learn - Trends for 2010

Trends for 2010
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/08/09

As the 2009-2010 school year moves through its fall semester, my visits to schools and colleges reveal many common questions and concerns about the role of technology in teaching and learning. These fall into three main topics:

This article looks at these trends for 2010, and their implications for the work of teachers.

The classroom

The place that we have known so well is getting ready to change. Teachers tell me that they know that the new digital technologies allow for new kinds of activity and new ways to learn in the classroom, and they are beginning to do some serious experimentation. They are letting laptops in as well as other devices that enable students to reach out to new ideas and to reach in to interact with the folks around them. They are preparing their presentations more carefully, adding rich media and interactive questioning. They are authoring online companions to each of their lectures, to keep the students gainfully occupied while they're on their laptops. They are realizing that they do not need always to be the center of attention in the room -- that they can use technology to help the students focus on ideas and content rather than the teacher himself.

At Hunter College in New York, this is the first semester ever that every teaching space -- auditoriums, classrooms, conference rooms -- is equipped with projector and internet access. At Killingly High School and and at the University of Missouri every student carries a laptop to every class. Middle schools in New York City all sport Smart Boards in all their classrooms. That's the mainstream. At the cutting edge, schools outfit selected classrooms for one-button webcasting, and others for interactive access by distant guests. They build group-polling and online brainstorming software into the classroom repertoire. They arrange their video assets into well-indexed online libraries, available digitally to every classroom through the network at the click of a button.

How about your classroom? Which technologies would help you to improve your teaching?

The question, of course, is how teachers will take advantage of these classrooms. How will they teach differently, now that they are armed with these technologies? What difference will all these classroom improvements make to the learning experience of the students?


If we wrote it as an equation, this idea would be

M + W = 24/7

Miniaturization plus Wireless equals 24-hour access 7 days a week. From anywhere.

We see students in the library, but not using the books -- they are instead working with their project group to research a new idea from sources available only online. Working adults use their laptops to learn at a distance, enjoying full human interaction with the rest of the class. Young students go home with a bookshelf of new stories and texts on their iPod or Kindle or whatever. College students review illustrated podcasts from their professors as they commute to campus. As the tools shrink smaller, the intellectual resources available to them grow broader.

Next to the iPod on the table in front of me is a projector of the same size . I connect the two with a short cable and I can present slides to my seminar anywhere. And show student work. With one miniature device in each pocket, the portable professor can be quick on the draw, ready to shoot ideas onto the nearest wall.

The same iPod houses hundreds of books, from The Odyssey to Paradise Lost to Programming with PHP/SQL. As well as Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, and dozens of lessons in learning Chinese. And an animated school bus for beginning readers, along with an interactive number line for learning fractions is also available at a touch.

What's on the iPods of your students right now? If you had your druthers, what would you want to see on there?

Online learning

Google will soon have the text of all the world's books online, searchable by keyword and readable by everyone. On whatever device they have on their desktop or hold in their hand. MIT has posted most of its courses online for the world to see. The Perseus project has posted most of the classic Greek and Latin texts online, with full translation, cross-reference, and cultural contexts. The Internet is become an enormous academic archive that can be used for teaching and learning.

And schools are taking advantage of it. Teachers are organizing the content of their courses into platforms for learning. The School of Education at Hunter College in New York has posted its required course in child development as a rich series of interactive lessons, with podcasts for every topic, active discussions among students, and assignments that delve deeply into the issues. The iSchool in New York City is making the entire high school curriculum available online to its students. And granting them credit when they complete it.

While a few fly-by-night outfits have given online learning a bad name (see the dog who earned his MBA online), many legitimate institutions are taking full and respectable advantage of the possibility of reaching out to more students in more ways by building their own Internet archives. Many good examples can be found at iTunes U. Couple the intellectual archive with the mobile device and you open up many new possibilities for learning.

What kind of archive are you building for your students? What new aspect of your own professional development might you explore through an online course?

Power to Learn - Education 1-2-3

Education 1-2-3
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 09/24/09

Winslow Homer learned early in life how to draw
and paint, first as an illustrator of sheet music covers, later as a lithographer, and famously as a watercolorist.

Born in 1836, he rendered faithfully the life of the times: the sailors, farmers, the war, the storms,
the children, the schools.

We see common themes reflected in his work: people in small groups going about their daily routines; their closeness to nature; their spirit manifest in their hands and faces. Don't you wish sometimes you could live back then? Everything was simpler. You walked to the local school, taught by your neighbor's daughter, worked in the fields or at the shore, and enjoyed the company of a few friends. We see in Homer's works:

Let's take a closer look at the school of those halcyon days. What do we see?

Life in school, and life outside, were pretty much the same. The school reflected the society it served. Children in school learned what they needed to survive and succeed in the world outside. The way you worked at school, the tools you used, the schedule you kept, fit well into the agricultural and artisanal economy of the day.

Education 1.0

Winslow Homer painted in the era of Education 1.0, when schools were designed to prepare farmers and craftsmen and weavers and cooks, who worked with simple hand tools in an economic and social environment that remained static for four and five decades at a time. In this first phase of American school history, schools settled into a comfortable pattern of preparing young people for pastoral prosperity.

Education 2.0

But by the year of Homer's death, 1910, society had changed. More and more people worked in the factory, in the office, on the line, rather than on the farm, in the kitchen, and in the field.

Let's take a look at these photos of the workplaces of the early 20th century.

What do we see?

Now let's take a look at the school of the same era.

What do we see?

As the 20th century began, our schools were no longer so sleepy and sylvan. They woke to the challenge of industrialization, and the nature of the school changed. They shifted their paradigm to prepare people to survive and succeed in the industrial workplace. They entered the era of Education 2.0.

Let's review the story so far:

Education 1.0:

Education 2.0:

Education 3.0 ?

Now we'll jump ahead a century. One hundred years later -- that's today -- let's see what the world of work looks like.

What do we see?

These pictures represent Workplace 3.0, the information age doing its business in this 21st century of ours.

Now, if the schools have been keeping up with the changes in society, we would expect them to reflect this new world of work. We would expect Education 3.0 to prepare people for this new workplace. So let's take our camera into the schools of 2009.

What do we see?

Will these students be prepared to survive and succeed in the modern workplace? Will they know how to use the information tools necessary to compete in a knowledge-based economy? Aside from the color in the photographs, how different are they from the pictures of Education 2.0?

The questions for us as educators today are:

If you could hire Winslow Homer today to paint a picture of your ideal school, to illustrate Education 3.0, what would be in the picture?

Power to Learn - A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 09/10/09

Writers and critics wax eloquently about the need to reform schools to reflect the capabilities of 21st-century technologies and economies. But few of them spell out in detail exactly what should be happening in this reformed school -- what the students do from hour to hour, from minute to minute, and how that's different from schools as we have known them. This article sketches the first few hours of a day in the life of a student in such a school.

As you read it, consider these questions:

6:30 AM
• Sally Student wakes to the ping of an instant message arriving on her laptop. It’s from another student who is working with her on an environmental chemistry project.

Schoolwork starts early for our hypothetical student, because 180 days times six hours per day is not sufficient to develop the skills and talents of youth necessary to success in the 21st century. And new communication technologies, such as instant messaging, allow students to be connected with their schoolwork and their colleagues all day, every day.

6:35 AM
• She researches, from her laptop, the various laws and guidelines on allowable concentrations of PCBs in drinking water. She finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the Maximum Contaminant Level at 0.5 parts per billion.

From her teachers and librarians, our student has learned how to search effectively the online sources that are increasingly available to her, how to determine the authority and reliability of a source, and how to skim the search results to find the germ of truth that she seeks.

6:40 AM
• Sally checks the readings from the probe at the city drinking water monitoring station, which has recently been connected to a web server, so that she can see the readings in real time.

Real- time data from all over the world is increasingly available to anyone who can connect to the right web page. The curriculum at Sally's school is designed to take advantage of this, and to develop student skill in using it.

6:50 AM
• She sends an instant message to the members of her project group, explaining that she saw concentrations of PCBs of 0.7 and 0.8 ppb at times over the last 24 hours. She attaches a graph of the ups and downs that she constructed with the spreadsheet program on her laptop.

Sally is a member of a collaborative project group, assigned by her teachers to come up with a solution to an issue of public interest as well as academic importance. The kinds of problems they get, and the ways they work on them, are similar to those in the 21st century world of work.

6:55 AM
• She sends a short report of her findings, with attached data, sources, and graph, to her personal online academic portfolio on the school’s web server.

Student work at Sally's school is seldom handed in on paper. Rather its kept by each student in an online portfolio, a collection of work that provides evidence of learning to their teachers and might later be used for admission to college or interview for a job.

7:00 AM
• After practicing her violin for five minutes, she breakfasts with her mom and dad. She is careful not to drink any water from the tap.

At meals, the family often discusses the ideas Sally encounters at school. In fact, the school provides on its web site family discussion questions that tie in to the curriculum.

7:20 AM
• On the subway on the way to school she listens to a podcast of last week’s debate in the state senate on the Clean Water bill, that she downloaded from the school server.

Sally's school takes advantage of the information devices that students carry in their pockets, by developing and collecting educational podcasts that provide background and extension to the core curriculum materials.

7:30 AM
• The subway is delayed, so she has time to read, from the same iPod, the next chapter of Thoreau’s Walden for English class. She downloaded this and many other readings from the school server.

The school provides an extensive library of electronic texts that can be downloaded to students’ laptops or to their iPods.

7:55 AM
• At the school library, she meets with two other members of her project group to discuss what they’ve found over the last two days, and what hey need to do next. She learns that the PCB limit in the Senate bill is set at 0.7 ppb.

The library at Sally's school is no longer just a place to store books -- it’s become the hub of the school, with spaces designed especially to facilitate the small-group project meetings that have become an important mode of learning at the school.

8:10 AM
• In a large-group math class in the small auditorium, Sally learns about statistical sampling techniques in environmental analysis, from a scientist at the EPA in Washington who appears through WebEx connection.

Desktop videoconferencing capabilities turn any computer at Sally's school into a distance-learning station. Subject-matter experts, guest speakers, and remote teachers make regular appearances in classrooms and at worktables, extending the human resources available to students as they learn.

8:20 AM
• She realizes that her data-gathering from the online probe might not be accurate, because of the small number of sample readings she collected. She questions the scientist in real time over the WebEx connection.

The statistics concepts she learns in the math class are especially designed to coordinate with the topics and assignments of the science curriculum: it’s not by happenstance that Sally’s small-group project task requires data-sampling and conclusion-making that calls for certain mathematical understandings, that coalesce in a single day.

And it's only twenty after eight!

Please respond to this posting with your thoughts on these questions:

Jim Lengel
Voice: 508 904 0749
Skype: jimlengel

Power to Learn - Four Statues

Four Statues
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 06/01/09

One of the world's oldest libraries is in Ephesus, on the Aegean coast of Turkey. Its 200,000 scrolls were in its time the largest collection of ideas and information, gathered by the Greek scholars who built a thriving metropolis based on agriculture and trade. All that's left is a classical stone facade surrounding four stately statues.

We still put statues in our libraries today. My elementary school library sported a bust of George Washington; in the high school stood plaster casts of Thomas Edison and John F. Kennedy; in college a wing-footed marble Mercury balanced on his plinth. The purpose of the ancient and modern sculpture is the same: to inspire patrons to worthy endeavors as they emulate the heroes.

Each school statue for me indicated a key idea. Washington was honesty and stoicism; Edison was technology and risk; Kennedy was leadership and courage; Mercury was communication and speed. A truly American pantheon of ideals. Constant exposure to those looming likenesses shaped my character in ways that I'll never understand.

What did the Greeks of old Ephesus wish us to emulate? What aspects of character were they looking to develop? Let's see if we can find a clue in the four statues.

Sophia Arete Ennoia Episteme

Interestingly, the Greek statues are all women; my American statues were all men. Gender issues aside, what were the Greeks after? As I contemplated the four females in the afternoon sunlight, I tried to put them in order: Knowledge comes first, mastery of facts and fundamentals; then through the act of Thinking you turn that knowledge into Wisdom; and the wise person may then go on to live a life of Virtue. This library at Ephesus, then, had a curriculum plan, a scope and sequence, a path toward learning and life, carved into its walls.

What does this all have to do with technology?

She's missing. Techné, the goddess of craft and technique, the artist of method and materials, of making and doing, finds no place to stand on these walls. The Greeks considered technicians, those masters of the mechanical arts, the sculptors who crafted the statues and the scribes who sorted the scrolls and the architects who erected the edifices, to be lesser men. Techné, wrote Plato in The Republic, in and of itself represented a threat to peace and good order. The rulers of the republic must be drawn from the philosophers, the thinkers, the people whose lives were devoted to ideas and virtue alone.

So too do some educators today see technology as a lower form of learning, a mechanical contrivance good only for keeping track of accounts and cataloging the books in the library. If they had their way they'd remove the statue of Edison, the practical technician, from the library. And Shakespeare's bust as well, since he was a mere actor and playwright, the master of theater technique; and while we're at it let's remove Beethoven and Mozart, mere manipulators of the emotions through the medium of music.

The Greeks who carved the statues at Ephesus 2500 years ago -- mechanics, artisans, craftsmen, perhaps slaves -- still speak to me today. It's their work that remains; it's the result of their mastery of the technology that inspired the ancient patrons and withstood the assaults of the ages to reach us today. Without the scribes and monks and printing presses to preserve them over the centuries, the ideas of Plato would have been lost. They may pooh-pooh it, but without solid technology the statues haven't got a leg to stand on.

And today, very little epistemé is accomplished without the aid of digital technology; new modes of ennoia enabled by technology underlie most of the sciences and many of the arts; sophia is incomplete without an understanding of the impact of digital information and communication tools on the human psyche; and arété is pointless without a consideration of the mechanical advantages and mesmerizing dangers offered by modern technology. For most of us teachers, technology is a means to an end: a valuable and necessary assistant in leading and guiding our students toward the goals represented by the four statues. Techné is there, embodied in the walls, plinths, supports and stonework that form the library and hold up the standing statues for the world to still admire.

Power to Learn - PowerPoint Playwright

PowerPoint Playwright
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 05/20/09

When asked which digital technology was most in evidence in their classroom, today's high school and college students report that it's PowerPoint: a slide show that their teacher projects on the screen, a progression of bullet-points parading from the projector. When I query college professors on which programs they use the most in the classroom, most hands rise at the mention of PowerPoint.

The ubiquity of this technology in our classrooms demands a closer look. Why do we use it so much? What effect does it have on our teaching? On the nature of the classroom? How might we use it better? This week's article attempts to respond to these questions.

"The projector broke, and there was no way to fix it. So I had to run my class without PowerPoint. I was worried that it wouldn't go well. But it turned out to be a godsend. I found myself digressing from the script, engaging my students in conversation, wrestling with important ideas. We looked each other in the eye. It was like the good old days. I was surprised. The students hung on after the bell, we talked, we never came to a conclusion."

"This made me think. What was teaching like before PowerPoint? What has PowerPoint done to my classroom? How has it affected my teaching?"

"For the next class meeting, the projector was fixed, but we hesitated. 'Do you want the slides, or do you want to talk?' I asked. They wanted to talk. About PowerPoint. Without benefit of bullet-points or backgrounds, we talked about what PowerPoint has done to us. We concluded that we have let it change the nature of teaching and learning in the classroom. With PowerPoint, my task has become to get through the slides. The students' task has become to write down what's on the slides. Before PowerPoint, our tasks were different: mine was to explain the topic at hand; theirs was to understand it. PowerPoint effected a subtle change in the nature of my classroom."

I've heard a story like this from many teachers. At first, PowerPoint seemed helpful, enervating, an organizing force, a new way to hold students' attention, a modern way to keep track of the topics. But over the years it almost imperceptibly moved teaching in a different direction. The medium modified the message. "We shape our tools," wrote Marshall McLuhan in 1964, "and then our tools shape us."

Into what shape does PowerPoint mold our classrooms? Teachers and students alike claim that as most often deployed, these slide shows send us toward linearity, exposition, and transmission, and away from interactivity, spontaneity, and discussion. The way that PowerPoint comes out of the box, with its default titles and bullet points, encourages us to organize our teaching into a series of similar slides full of text. And the big screen in the classroom on which it is displayed becomes the center of attention, stealing the limelight from the students and the teacher. We're all looking at the screen instead of each other.

Think of the classroom as a theater. In the old days, you were on the stage, the audience in their seats, the interaction between the two direct and simple. Then one day a new actor appeared with you, eight feet wide, six feet high, stage-center, colorful and well-lit. You wrote the script for this actor. But did you take the time to outline his character, define his role, or craft his interaction with you and the audience? Had you done so, you might have written a very different play.

PowerPoint Playwright

Picture Hamlet and Ophelia on the stage in scene 5 where they confront each other with accusations of love and madness. But instead of the complementary back-and-forth repartee that makes this masterful drama, Ophelia instead holds up a cue card that repeats in bullet points everything that Hamlet says. That's what we are doing most of the time when we lecture with PowerPoint. We use the new actor on the big screen repeat in text what we say with our voices, hardly a creative use of the setting or of the technology, hardly fun for the audience.

Good actors complement each other, one providing the quid as the other provides the quo, one making a point as the other reacts to it, the protagonist and his foil, both aimed as much at the audience as each other. Let the PowerPoint on the big screen complement your words and actions. let it provide the things you cannot. Let it play against you now, in harmony with you later. Treat it as a fellow actor on your classroom stage that you can work with to provoke your audience and get them involved in the action. Don't fall into the trap of always programming him to parrot your lines or to summarize your soliloquies.

In most classroom situations, our strength as a teacher is the spoken word. The key strength of the big screen is the image. A good way to play both actors to their strengths is to ban text from your slides. Use only images. rewrite the role of your PowerPoint personage to provide images that complement, illustrate, illuminate or oppose the words you are speaking. As your students listen to you, they watch pictures on the big screen that if carefully chosen can amplify and deepen your voice. PowerPoint has his lines, you've got yours, and when both mesh well the audience thrives.

For ideas on how to use images in this interactive way, see The Power of Images in this series.

Power to Learn - Downloadable eTexts!

Downloadable eTexts!
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 05/13/09

Even I have to admit that a textbook always works and technology can be unreliable. Nevertheless, the thought of online course material is inviting to me, especially when I consider the price of books. Books for Advanced Placement courses, for instance, run over $100; the average book price is said to be about $75. When you think of supplementary materials to go with texts like teachers' editions, DVDs, CDs, videos, masters, tests—well…no wonder schools don't have any money.

Over the years I've watched educational publishers gobble each other up and do away with what were some of my favorite texts. I remember when all I had to do was to mention that I might be interested in updating a textbook series, and viola´, more packages of texts and materials than I ever wanted arrived in my office. Teachers' editions, as many as I wanted, were free.

Those days, for the most part, are gone. There are not as many textbooks to choose from, not as many freebies for our teachers, prices are shocking, it's almost impossible to replace books that were purchased a few years ago, and just about nobody is satisfied with the books they select. What hasn't changed is that there are sections in textbooks that teachers never use, and there are students who can get by without opening a textbook.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for textbook companies to submit electronic books and materials that could be used in the teaching of high school mathematics and science. The texts and material submitted must be equivalent to a full course of study and should be downloadable.

Downloadable—to what, where? Maybe that's the question that needs to be answered before we can think of saving money with etexts, improving learning with online resources, keeping kids from carrying those back-breaking book-filled backpacks, and saving trees as we do.

We know that schools don't have computers available all the time for all students and not all students have Internet access at home. While it may sound like a great idea to download to computers, maybe it isn't. Random House is beginning to make its books available for iPods and iPhones. There's talk of a larger screen device similar to the iPod Touch and the iPhone that would make educational content easier to see. Then there are the ebook readers, like Amazon's Kindle that some say is the "greenest" way to go with etexts. Let's just hope downloadable doesn't mean downloading and printing worksheets and chapters.

Does talking about etexts limit our ideas of what online learning might be? It's not just traditional book content that we want our students to access, it’s course content with all those supplementary and enrichment materials—videos, educational games, audio segments, panoramic scenes, teaming projects, 3D animations, and immersion into online environments with students throughout the world—content and ideas that could whisk our students off into their own learning place. Master teachers are doing this on their own today with the resources they find online, but gathering dynamic course-related resources and making connections for interactive learning is a daunting task 180 days a year for five different class sections and in many cases, several different courses.

My ideal online book company or whatever we might call it, would not only have what teachers and students need in easy-to-access format, it would allow teachers, together with their students, to select what will work for their learning in their courses, therefore eliminating what they would not use. Teachers and students would be creating their own "learning centers,"centers students would want to and need to enter. I can see it now, and I know it will come. We just need to figure out how to get there.


Power to Learn - Getting Ready for Online Learning

Getting Ready for Online Learning
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 04/30/09

It seems a lot easier to learn in a classroom than online. In the classroom, you simply sit while the teacher talks and you learn. There's not much to worry about. Occasionally they ask you a question, but for the most part your responsibility is to take a test at the end of the term. It's comfortable, we've been learning this way for years, everyone knows how it's done.

In contrast, online learning seems uncomfortable. You sit alone on the line, not sure what you're supposed to do, with no one expecting you to show up, no one standing there telling you what to do. You're on your own. This week's article looks at what's happening with online learning, and how you can prepare yourself to succeed at it.

In the workplace

The biggest growth in online learning is occurring in offices and factories and laboratories across the globe, as corporations move their training and development programs from the classroom to the computer. Companies such as Cisco Systems have developed a university-sized array of online courses and updates for its employees, which they are expected to draw on to learn new things.

On campus

The number of college students taking their coursework online rather than in the classroom has doubled in the last five years. From Stanford to Yale to Duke to Rappahannock Community College and MIT, professors are learning to teach, and students are learning to learn in a new environment that's quite different from the lecture hall.

At home

Baking the bread for the evening meal became my responsibility one day. I had not a clue how to do it. So I went online and found a course Bread-Baking for Four-Year-Olds. In words and pictures, it led me through the process of mixing the dry ingredients, adding the water, rising, rising again, and baking. And they liked it! The proof is in the pudding, you might say.

So it's all around us, and growing quickly, as the Internet reaches more desktops and laptops and iPhones with multimedia materials and illuminating lessons. A recent report by the Sloane Foundation documents this growth, who's leading it, and the reasons for it.


Why this tremendous growth in online learning in so short a time? We can find several reasons.

More opportunities to learn

Even though my school is not large enough to offer Calculus or Chinese or Computer Science, I can take these courses anyway and get credit for them by studying online. An online connection allows me to learn with an expert in Alberta of with my fellow-students in Albania, without leaving the classroom.

More learning styles

People learn in different ways. Sometimes I learn best by reading the text, skimming for the main idea or working slowly through a dense argument. At other times (like when I am driving the car) I learn best while listening to someone explain it to me in a calm and patient voice. And there are some concepts, especially in science, which I can learn only if I can see them in action. Online learning allows me to choose which method is best for me.

More learning modes

Sometimes I learn best all by myself. At other times I need to bounce my ideas off a small group of trusted peers. And some ideas are best learned in a large group where we're all online and can help each other work our way through the material. Online courses let me choose the mode that's best for me.


Sometimes, when I'm in a state of flow, I plow right through the subject, learning deeply and quickly whatever is put in front of me. At other times I need to work slowly, going back and forth over the same idea many times before I get it. Online courses let me learn at my own pace.


After studying for a while, I like to test myself to see if I've learned anything. Online courses often include frequent self-correcting quizzes that let me assess my progress, and even guide me along when I get the wrong answer. This is much more effective than waiting for the midterm to see if I'm learning anything.


When I'm in the classroom, it's hard to delve deeper or check out alternative views. But online I am connected to a world-wide web of cross-references, details, original sources, illustrations and examples that range far beyond what's available in the school library. So my learning can be enriched by a wide array of resources.

When I went to school...

...most of the time we sat in class, led by the teacher. Once in a while we did independent research in the library, and a few minutes of homework in the evening. Nonetheless, the bulk of the time was spent sitting and listening.

But the world has changed. In the workplace today, people spend very little time sitting and listening. They are online communicating with their customers, or taking an online course to improve themselves, or working with a small group of co-workers to solve a problem. If we want school to prepare people for this new workplace, we need to better match the learning modes to the real world.

And if we want school to prepare our students for college, we need to understand that college students spend only about 12 hours a week in a classroom -- about 15% of their waking hours. The rest is spent learning online, or working independently in the library, or studying with fellow-students. The more that high schools can match this style, the better prepared they'll be for college.

Does it work?

Not for everybody. While online learning has enabled millions of people to excel who are not good classroom learners, a few folks are frustrated. They can't seem to concentrate on what they need to do unless someone is right there giving them directions. People who have succeeded online say that the experience helped them build self-reliance and self-confidence: they were better able to figure things out for themselves.

Others extol the flexibility of online learning, letting them study whenever and wherever they want, moving as slowly or as quickly as they need to, and assessing their own progress. All agree that the online approach helped them develop time-management skills, the ability to discipline yourself to set time aside to get up and do what needs to be done.

They explain that they have taken over their own learning plan -- they don't wait for someone to tell them what do learn and when, and they don't learn merely to please the teacher -- the learn to improve themselves. This can only help them in their future lives.

Conditions for success

How can we set things up so that we succeed at learning online?

First of all, we need to work in an environment that makes it easy to work online. A good computer with a solid Internet connection is essential. It helps to have people nearby who can assist you through the tough parts.

What we need to remove from this environment is the television. This ubiquitous appliance is anathema to learning. It cries for attention, it flashes visual drivel designed to interrupt your train of thought, and has proven itself to be a detriment to academic achievement. Turn it off. Better yet, put it in the closet.

Music is another matter. Certain types of music have been shown to provide a calming background for study that drowns out the interruptions of the world around us and enables us to concentrate on our learning. Music without lyrics works best. For me, the predictable repetitions of Bach or the soft strings of Sibelius help me get my work done.

No matter where I am or what I am listening to, it's time that matters. Time is of the essence. Unless I learn to manage my own time, I will not succeed at online learning (or anything else important in this world.) At birth we are granted by our creator three score and ten years; it's how we spend that gift that determines our worth and our success. Set a time for learning, start promptly, and stick to it until the task is complete.

Finally, when you've worked through a set of online materials, find someone to talk with about what you have learned. A parent, a spouse, a good friend, or a fellow student can help you reflect on what you have uncovered. This consolidates your learning and puts it into a social context.

Oops, there's the bell oven timer. I must stop writing and check the loaf of online-learned bread...

Power to Learn - The Classics

The Classics
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education , 04/23/09

My nephew has begun his professional career as a teacher of Latin in a suburban high school. Surely, the teaching of the classics is the one area of the curriculum immune from infection with technology. Surely, there's no connection between the wisdom of the ancients and the ubiquity of the laptop.

So it's interesting to imagine what our classical precursors might think of today's technologies in school. Consider Ovid, whose poetry forms a fair portion of the classics curriculum more than 2000 years after his death. Ovid would have been happy to be asked back to the future. In his poem Metamorphoses, Ovid has his hero Ulysses say mihi cura futuri, "I take care of the future." Classical heroes spent a lot of time worrying about the next generation, and the next. Ulysses especially argues urges us to apply more human intelligence to the care of the future.

So, given that concern for us, what if Ovid stopped by your school one day as the faculty were discussing the role of technology in the curriculum -- what might he say?

First of all he'd be in familiar territory. For him the curriculum was a familiar place, the track around which the chariots raced. He'd have been amused perhaps at how we use the word today in education. In his old age Ovid reached for a similar metaphor when he worried that the chariot he had driven over life's curriculum was about to be wrecked before it reached the finish line. (Tristia, Book IV, Chapter 8, Verse 36).

He'd also be comfortable with discussions of technology, an idea with strong Greek linguistic roots and relevance to the Roman culture of tools and building that surrounded him.

After listening to the faculty discussion for a while, he might ask,

Ovid: "So you care for the curriculum, do you? You set the course, you establish the finish line? You cheer your students along as they run the race? And you do all you can to make sure they reach the finish?"

Faculty: "Certainly we do. "

Ovid: "Have you considered the chariots your students ride? Back in my day, a swift currus was essential to a successful finish. No matter how intelligent the driver, or how clearly marked the course, or how smooth the track, if the chariot was not up to the task the driver suffered."

"Our chariot-makers innovated constantly to produce currus better suited to the curriculum. Starting with the simplest of machines, crafted of rustic wood, the drivers soon found that by applying a few new technologies, they could run a better race and so each year they refined their chariots to make them faster and easier to handle."

Faculty: "What does this all have to do with us?"

Ovid: "Do you think it's fair to expect your students to run the curriculum of study without benefit of a swift and solid chariot? Would it have been fair or us in ancient Rome to have built a track that's designed only to be run on foot, or only with the old wooden-wheeled models?"

Faculty: "I think you are reasoning through metaphor here."

Ovid: "You bet I am. If you care about the future, make sure your track is set up to be optimal for smooth running by the latest models of chariots. Find ways to ensure that every driver stands in a decent vehicle and knows how to operate it."

Faculty: "We are beginning to catch your drift. Tell us, what do you think of our current track, or curriculum?"

Ovid: "I see that in 2009 you've come a long way from stone tablets and parchment scrolls. Though you still read my poems, which is a pleasant surprise. But I notice that outside of the academy the metamorphoses of information technologies continues apace. "

Faculty: "That's not our problem, is it?"

Ovid: "Surely, the academy that you direct will transform itself to take full advantage of those advances. Back in my day, we made quick use of whatever new ideas and tools arrived in Rome from its far-flung colonies. Here in 2009, you've got whole mess of new information and communication tools that can enhance study and thought. I wish I were alive to write a poem about it."

Faculty Faction A: "We sing your praises in this regard. These iPods and laptops and inverted indexes and global networks offer the possibility of empowering us and our students to stand taller on the shoulders of giants like yourself."

Faculty Faction B: "Not. Our proper role is to emulate the architects of the curriculum in ancient Rome: stick to designing a solid track, leave the chariot-making to others, and let the drivers worry about their own wheels. It's safer that way"

Ovid: "Back in Rome, the nature of the races evolved along with the technological development of the currus, and sooner or later the design of the curriculum needed to be altered to take these metamorphoses into account."

Faculty: "How many of us will now gladly leap up into the driver's platform of one of the newest chariots, to get a feel for how it works and to see where it could take us?"

Ovid: "Exactly."

Faculty: " How should we carry out our responsibility to care for the future? Should we make sure the races are fair and even, by seeing to it that all of the drivers know how to pilot a modern chariot? Should we go so far as to alter the nature of track itself, as necessary to accommodate the possibilities of these empowered drivers? How should we apply our intelligence to the opportunities afforded by the chariots of own day?"

Ovid: "Pure poetry."

Power to Learn - Video Cameras

Video Cameras
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College, 04/16/09

Each week more educators ask me about video cameras. Why all the interest all of a sudden? After all, video cameras have been around for a long time, and they are not uncommon in the school setting. What's new that's caused all the questions?

Four forces focus on video in education today:

1. Price. Usable video cameras cost less than ever before, some down to $100. Just a few years ago, the average price of a video camera for everyday school use was close to $500; now the average is under $200.

2. Digitization. Video used to live in its own world of television, tape, cables and contraptions that made it difficult to store. That's all gone now, because video has gone digital, and requires only a camera and a computer to make it work.

3. The Web. YouTube and iTunes have shown us that video can be passed over the web and displayed on a computer just as easily as text and pictures. With decent quality and fast interaction. And no rewinding.

4. Applications. We have invented new ways to edit video, and new uses to put it to: electronic portfolios, the documentation of student work, teacher professional development, curriculum materials, student performances.

These forces seem to have unleashed a horde of camera-buyers, who, when they approach the camera counter at Best Buy or the pages of the audio-visual catalog, haven't a clue as to what they are buying. The range and variety of cameras is bigger than it's ever been, and so it’s easier than ever to buy the wrong type of camera. This week's article intends to steer the horde to the right video camera for their educational needs. In this analysis, we will assume that you are looking for a camera for classroom use, and that the video you produce is aimed at publication on the web, as a podcast, on CD, or on DVD.

Types of cameras

At the counter or the catalog you will confront four basic types of cameras, defined by the way they store their video information. For ease of reading I'll call them by their initials: DV, DVD, HD, SD. Here's the scoop on each type.

DV. This stands for Digital Video, and describes a camera that saves the information on a small magnetic tape cartridge about 2.5 inches wide, 1.5 inches high, and a half-inch thick. These are the oldest type still on the shelves; video quality is high, and they sell for about $350, from all the major brands. To get the video onto your computer, you need to play the tape in real time as you capture it, using a USB or FireWire cable. Then you must edit it with video editing software, then compress it into a format that will work on the web or on the iPod. That's because the video information is stored in the only-slightly-compressed DV format, which makes very large files.

DVD. This is a bit newer type, and stores the video onto 3.5 inch recordable Digital Video Disc. They capture the same quality, and sell for about the same price as DV cameras. But each brand seems to use its own proprietary format to store the video information, and the little discs can't be read by most computers. In most cases you need to install special software from the camera company to copy the video onto your computer, and most often this copy can't be read by your video editing programs. Like the DV files, they are relatively uncompressed and can't be used online without re-compression.

HD. Same price range, same quality, same problems as the DVD cameras; this type saves the video information on a tiny hard disc drive hiding inside the camera. The video file formats used in these cameras are not usable directly on most computers, and can't be read by the editing software (or by web browsers or by iPods) that most of us use. You need to go through a time-consuming, convoluted process to edit or publish this video online.

SD. Stands for the Standard Density memory card on which the camera stored the video data. This is the same postage-stamp size memory card used in most digital still cameras. The best of these cameras compress their video into MPEG-4 format before it's saved onto the memory card, so the files are nice and small (though of slightly lower quality than the cameras described above.) And best of all the files play directly on all computers, no capturing and no editing required. Just click on the video.mp4 file and it plays. Some of the cameras can be set to capture the video at various levels of compression, so you can shoot web-ready video in one shot. These cameras range from $100 to $600 depending on quality.

High Definition or Standard Definition?

All of the types of cameras described above can be purchased in HD or SD formats. High Definition is the big wide high-detail video you see on your big-screen TV. This kind of video does not work well on most student and teacher computers (its files are humungous), and its high resolution is not necessary for most classroom uses. HD models cost twice as much as SD models, their video is hard to edit, and it's too big to be sent across the web or played on an iPod or burned to a DVD. Every educator that I know who bought an HD video camera has learned their lesson, and sets it now to shoot in standard definition.


Video quality. If you are looking for video quality suitable for classroom use, any of these camera types will do.

Ease of Use. The SD cameras tend to have fewer controls, fewer moving parts, and less to go wrong.

Editability. The modern standards-based MPEG-4 format is easiest to edit, highly-compressed, and works on all the common editing platforms.

Web-ready. Only the MPEG-4 SD cameras can shoot web-ready video directly.

KISS. When in doubt, buy the simplest camera. Keep It Simple, Schoolteacher.

(For our teacher-preparation project at Hunter College in New York, with 500 teachers videoing themselves each semester, we have found the Sanyo Xacti line of SD cameras to work the best. After four semesters with 100 cameras in and out of classrooms each day, we have yet to lose or break one.)


Power to Learn - The Mobile Curriculum

The Mobile Curriculum
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 03/29/09

Whether we like it or not, the digital revolution has put into the hands of our students and citizens a rich collection of information and ideas that arrive in the form of music, voice, images, and video. They all connect to the Internet, download what they need, and transfer it to whatever device works best: laptop, desktop, iPod, mobile phone. The music industry has already made the shift, movies are close behind, and more people now get their news from the web than from the daily paper. They connect from the bedroom, the kitchen, the car and the office; they carry a notebook computer in their backpack, an iPod in their pocket, and a mobile phone in their purse all day every day. Many of our fellow educators bemoan this trend, since it takes attention away from the traditional academic media of book, library, and professor. They try to block these devices on campus.

Teachers will not be able to stem the tide of telecommunication technology that is energizing our economy and capturing our culture. As Walter Cronkite used to say, "And that's the way it is..." Instead, teachers should be figuring out ways to take advantage of these new tools and new habits.  This week's article is about a set of technology tools called iTunes U that Apple Computer provides to educators who want to move in this direction.

Let's begin where the rubber meets the road, in the hands of one of our students. She juggles classwork, a sport, a job and a life with a laptop in one hand and an iPod in the other. You have seen her in the subway, in the car, on a bike, on the street, in the library and in your classroom. She's the one with the little white wires and earplugs who's not listening to you.

What she needs to do a better job in your course is to hear your voice in through those wires. She needs help this weekend understanding the concepts you taught last week -- she needs a diagram, an explanation, some examples, a little animation of how the process works. She would like it if it were as easy to get these things as it was to get the music and movies and news and information that she uses every day. Like most of the other people in her age bracket, she uses iTunes to receive and manage all these items on her computer. She buys music and movies through iTunes, she listens to the radio with it, she watches films with it and she subscribes to the news. When she plugs her iPod or her iPhone into her computer, all these things download to it automatically, so she has them in her purse wherever she goes.

iTunes U is designed for a college or university ( as well as high schools) to use iTunes and the web and the computer and the iPod to do the same for academic content. Mozart instead of Madonna, physics instead of Facebook, trigonometry instead of trash. So far more than 400 schools have taken advantage of iTunes U, and used it in many different ways. It works like this:

  1. A professor (or a dean of admissions or an athletic director) creates a morsel of information, in whatever form works best: voice, video, text, slides, pictures.

  2. He uploads it from his computer to the school's iTunes U site.

  3. Whenever the student connects to the site, the morsel (if it's destined for her) downloads automatically to her computer and ends up in her iTunes library -- and eventually on her iPod.

So it's a three-step process:

Not only current students, but prospects, alums, faculty members, parents and philanthropists -- they can all connect, since iTunes U provides, Janus-like, both a public and a private face. So a podcast on Assyrian agriculture appears on the password-protected internal iTunes U site, available only to anthropology majors enrolled in AN 345, while a video of Saturday's hockey victory is available to anyone on the open public side of the school's iTunes U site. The iTunes U software running on an Apple server manages the distribution; the iTunes software (already running on most of our students' computers) manages the access for the individual.

And to create the content, Apple provides software tools that make it easy to produce podcasts, video clips, slide shows, pictures, and text in a format that travels easily over the web and plays on mobile devices as well as on the computer -- on any computer, Windows or Macintosh. These are grouped into two suites of products: iLife (for creating music, video, photos, websites), and iWork (slide shows, spreadsheets, and documents).

Some specific examples:

All of these were created with iLife and iWork tools, distributed through iTunes U, and managed with the iTunes application. (iTunes U, and the iTunes application, are provided free by Apple; iLife comes with every new Apple computer at no cost; and iWork costs less than $100.)

How might your educational mission be furthered by the iTunes U setup?

More information is available at the iTunes U page on the Apple web site.

Power to Learn - Producing Information Online - Part Three of The Online Teacher's Toolkit

Producing Information Online - Part Three of The Online Teacher's Toolkit
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/22/09

When you teach a course online, you do not enjoy the benefit of meeting with your students in a classroom for three hours each week. That very essential element of the educational experience is missing. What to replace it with? What tools are available to substitute for the various learning functions that take place in the classroom?

This series of three articles describes an online teacher's toolkit -- a set of ideas for helping students learn online. We divide the toolkit into three bins: one contains tools that help you present ideas and information to students; another with devices helps them wrestle with the concepts they need; and a third with instruments for them to produce works that prove that they have learned something. This week's article covers the third binful of tools, for helping students produce online works that show what they have learned.

Not teaching online? Read on nonetheless -- the toolkit we describe in this article can be employed just as well by the teacher whose craft is confined to the classroom.

Produce. How will you know if they've learned anything from all their independent work? This aspect of the online course closes the circle of learning: students have read and listened to presentations of ideas; they have wrestled with their implications and meanings; now they must produce something to prove to you what they have learned.

Test. If you use a multiple-choice, short-answer, or essay test in your classroom-based course, you may use it also in your online course. The online version may in fact be easier to correct, and easy to create with the new software test-making tools.

Paper. If the best way to evaluate learning is by writing a paper on the topic of your course, then require the same paper of your online students. Just skip the actual printing on paper -- let them turn it in through the network.

Work sample. More appropriate to professional courses, a work sample requires a student to produce a document of a type, content, and style used in the profession they are preparing for: a brief, a lesson plan, a diagnosis report, a drawing, a marketing plan. Oftentimes, these are not presented on paper, but in the digital format currently used in the profession.

Video. The best way to prove their learning might be through a video clip, of a student interviewing a child for a psychology course, for instance, or making a presentation in a business course, or singing for a music course. New tapeless digital cameras shoot the video in a format designed especially for submission over the web.

Podcast. If you can produce a podcast, so can your students. Provide a clear purpose for the podcast, and a rubric for evaluating it, and let your students show what they've learned through voice and images.

In some ways, the online professor has more tools in the teaching kit than the classroom-based prof. The art is in matching the tool to the purpose at hand, and to varying the learning experiences throughout the course. Here's a handy table for you to use as you plan the activities for your next online course, listing all of the learning tools described above.








Books and articles




Web resources




Your own words



Narrated Slides





























Analytic exercise























Voice, video







Group project






Post & Comment











Work sample












Power to Learn - Wrestling with Information Online - Part Two of The Online Teacher's Toolkit

Wrestling with Information Online - Part Two of The Online Teacher's Toolkit
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/15/09

When you teach a course online, you do not enjoy the benefit of meeting with your students in a classroom for three hours each week. That very essential element of the educational experience is missing. What to replace it with? What tools are available to substitute for the various learning functions that take place in the classroom?

This series of three articles describes an online teacher's toolkit -- a set of ideas for helping students learn online. We divide the toolkit into three bins: one contains tools that help you present ideas and information to students; another with devices helps them wrestle with the concepts they need; and a third with instruments for them to produce works that prove that they have learned something. This week's article covers the second binful of tools, for helping students wrestle with ideas online. The next article will cover students' producing online works.

Not teaching online? Read on nonetheless -- the toolkit we describe in this article can be employed just as well by the teacher whose craft is confined to the classroom.

Wrestle. Seeing and hearing ideas is only the beginning of the online experience for students, and should consume less than one-third of their weekly time allotment. It's in wrestling with the ideas that the real work gets done -- by the student, not by you. Your job here is to design interesting and creative assignments for students that get them to engage with the key concepts of your course. The big difference is that you're not there with them as they wrestle. You've got a good choice of tools to build these assignments with:

Analytic exercise. Using a conceptual framework that you provide, students analyze a reading, a case study, a video, or any other evidence you assign. They fill in the fields with their explanation of how the evidence fits with each element of the framework. An education student might analyze a classroom video, for instance, on the basis of teacher talk time vs. student response time.

Simulation. A microeconomics course provides an online simulation of a bakery to help students wrestle with the balance between costs, prices, supply, and demand. Students buy flour, hire bakers, set prices, monitor sales, and computer profits online. A physics course lets students vary wavelength and see its effect on frequency, with visual and auditory feedback. See Spreadsheet Simulation in this series for a working example.

Webquest. Here you make students search online to confront, explore, and collect evidence related to a key idea in your course. Students in a literature course might be sent off to find three different interpretations of an important passage, and to compare and contrast them. For more information on this approach, read Building a Web Assignment in this series.

Discussion. You have many tools for conducting a discussion among your students online, using text alone (the easiest, technically, and most flexible), or with voice, and also video. Your discussion can take place with everyone present at the same time, or serially over time.

Synchronous. Here you set up an online chat room, and require all of the students to sign in at a pre-arranged time, perhaps once a week. You lead the discussion as you would in the classroom, posing questions and waiting for students to respond, to you and to each other. Seasoned online educators have found that the effective class size limit for such a discussion is about 15. A synchronous discussion can be set up as a:

Text chat, where participants type their comments into a window on their computer, and see the comments of others as they are typed. A text chat is similar to instant messaging, with which most of are students are familiar, and requires little technical support. The discussion scrolls up as the minutes pass, and all can be archived as part of the course.

Voice or video chat, where everyone connects to the discussion with microphone or camera. This requires more technical support, and the audio is difficult to manage with more than a half-dozen participants. But it comes the closest to mimicking the in-the-classroom experience.

Note: Many experienced online educators prefer the text chat to the voice or video chat, because the act of putting your ideas into writing seems to improve their quality. In fact, one of the biggest differences between classroom-based and online courses is the shift from oral to written interchange: a typical classroom course might be 90% spoken and 10% written; a typical online course reverses this proportion. For more thoughts on this shift, see Working and Learning in this series.

Asynchronous. In this type of discussion, you pose the question that gets things started, and the students contribute their thoughts whenever they want. They go to the discussion board at their leisure, read what's there, and then add their comments. As with the text chat, all comments are labeled with the name of the contributor. Online teachers have found that unless students are required to make a contribution, and graded on its quality, they seldom participate. And while it is possible to use voice or video in an asynchronous discussion, text seems the best medium for this type.

Group project. In most online courses, students seldom get to see or communicate with one another, so assigning a group project takes advantage of the social aspect of learning. You form students into small groups (two to four seems to work best), give them a clearly-defined task that force them to wrestle with the key ideas of the course, and require from them a product at the end. Depending on where your students live and work, they may be able to meet together with their mates face-to-face; otherwise they can meet online through text or video chat to get their work done.

Quiz. A self-correcting online quiz, if designed well, can force students to grapple with the content of your course, especially when you provide explanations for each right and wrong answer, and allow multiple tries. We are not using this quiz to evaluate students’ performance, but to form their thinking about the topic, so it might best be called a formative quiz.

Post & comment. Very similar to an asynchronous discussion, this common assignment asks students to respond in writing to a prompt or question that you pose, then to read the postings of three or four other students, and comment individually on those. It imposes a structure on a discussion, and seems to result in longer and more thoughtful contributions. But unless it’s required and evaluated, such an assignment may not receive the attention it deserves from your students.

Power to Learn - Presenting Information Online - Part One of The Online Teacher's Toolkit

Presenting Information Online - Part One of The Online Teacher's Toolkit
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/08/09

When you teach a course online, you do not enjoy the benefit of meeting with your students in a classroom for three hours each week. That very essential element of the educational experience is missing. What to replace it with? What tools are available to substitute for the various learning functions that take place in the classroom?

This series of three articles describes an online teacher's toolkit -- a set of ideas for helping students learn online. We divide the toolkit into three bins: one contains tools that help you present ideas and information to students; another with devices helps them wrestle with the concepts they need; and a third with instruments for them to produce works that prove that they have learned something. The next two articles will cover wrestling and producing.

Not teaching online? Read on nonetheless -- the toolkit we describe in this article can be employed just as well by the teacher whose craft is confined to the classroom.


Most teachers spend at least some of the class period presenting information and ideas to students. Lectures, slide shows, demonstrations, readings, recitations, all are designed to call out concepts, illustrate ideas, and focus facts for learning. How do you do this online, when there's no class in front of you? You've got an array of options:

Readings. This is the most efficient way to convey information and ideas. Most students can read twice as fast as they can listen. Despite the lure of multimedia, text remains a fine way to present your content, even online. And you've got many ways to incorporate text into an online course:

Books and articles. If you require a textbook for your classroom-based course, require it also for your online course. Students, beyond walking distance of the bookstore, can order the book online and have it in their hands in a few days. Same goes for other readings most efficiently acquired and consumed in book form. Just tell them in the online course which pages to read for each assignment.

Web resources. Most of the journal articles you might require your students to read for the online course are probably available online. You may need your librarian's help in finding them and in authorizing your students to read them, but most colleges have arranged such permission. And depending on your content, the web offers an array of non-scholarly resources that may include excellent sources of content for your students. See Online Research in this series for some guidance in uncovering these materials.

Your own words. Now is a good time to write up those lecture notes into prose. Students would rather have your gems of wisdom in written form -- it's faster to work through, easier to review, searchable, and compact. Just write it up in your word processor and post it online. As you write, consider the nature of the medium, and adjust your style to online delivery. See Writing for the Web in this series for some advice on online writing style.

Narrated Slides. Many of us have accompanied our lectures and presentations with slides. We have learned how images can provoke thought and illustrate concepts in the classroom. (See The Power of Image s in this series.) An easy way to move this type of presentation online is to narrate your slide show as you go through it, recording your voice, and posting this online as a resource for students. New software tools such as Keynote let you record your narration as you click through your existing slides, and then to compress the result into a form that travels well over the web. See From PowerPoint to Podcast in this series for some other ways to narrate your slides for online delivery.

Podcast. Here you're using a traditional communication medium -- your voice -- through a modern digital device -- the iPod -- to get your points across. For most teachers, the podcast seems unfamiliar. But it's really just another form of the traditional lecture or slide show, a form in which you are corporeally absent but intellectually present. In fact, most of the interchange in a classroom-based course occurs through voice, so the podcast is in some ways the easiest tool in the kit to employ. And since a podcast can contain images and text as well as your voice, it can carry your slide shows as well as your talks. And students don't need an iPod to hear or see your podcasts -- they'll play on any computer as well. For more ideas on podcasts, read Portability and Podcasts, Podcast, Audio Homework, and Audio Homework 2 in this series.

Video. New digital cameras and video-equipped computers make it easier than ever to present ideas to your online students through moving images with sound. Videos can be live or recorded; you can make them yourself or use videos created by others:

Live video . You could if you wanted schedule a live video broadcast to your students once each week for three hours and require them to watch it. Technically, this is very easy to do: you just sit down in front of your computer, look into the camera, and speak into the microphone. Your students can talk back through text, voice, or video. The synchronicity of live video can help to keep the class together as a group, but it may not match the work style and schedule of your students.

Recorded video. Short video clips can be very useful in communicating certain ideas. You can record yourself speaking directly and personally to your students, or provide clips of evidence, recorded by others, that you might your students to wrestle with.

Personal video. "Welcome to the online version of Child Development 101. I'm Professor Piaget and I'll be your teacher for this semester..." might be a good way to introduce yourself to your students. Or to explain a key concept. Or to stress the importance of a certain idea. Students like knowing there's a real teacher behind their online course, and a personal video helps to make this point. See Video Podcasts for instructions on how to prepare a video like this.

Evidentiary video. "Your first assignment is to watch these three video clips of infants playing with blocks, looking for differences in their stage of development..." The video clips you may already be using in the classroom can be posted easily to the web and be made part of your online course. Online video annotation and analysis tools can turn these clips into opportunities for students to wrestle with the ideas they illustrate.

Power to Learn - Integrating Technology

Integrating Technology
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College CUNY, 12/04/08

A recent survey of American college students and faculty finds that the overwhelming majority feel that technology is critical to their ability to study -- from 100% of the engineering majors, down to 73% of the liberal arts majors report they simply can't succeed without it. And yet fewer than one-third report that these technologies are sufficiently integrated into their academic work. A complete report of the study is available at the web site of CDW-G, a company that provides computers to schools.

The basic message of the report is the lack of academic applications of the new technologies in college courses. While the students enjoy, almost universally, access to laptops, mobile devices, powerful media-creation software, and high-speed network access, and have learned how to use these for personal and social purposes, they seldom find them applied to their studies. Here are some facts and figures from the survey.

New media

The survey looked at four new-media applications that are familiar to students, and considered to be useful in academic settings: wikis, podcasts, web conferencing, and video conferencing. Few students report using these in college for academic work:

While the majority of students report using new technologies on their own to prepare for their courses, only 24% report actually using any technology at all in class.

Online chat

When asked what technologies might improve their education, students reported that they "want more than a lecture-hall atmosphere from their college experience –they want regular and immediate communication with faculty. Students rated online chat with professors the tech capability that would be most useful in their studies." Yet the survey found that few campuses offer this simple capability, called by many instant messaging or IM, and many actually block its use from their networks.

Faculty role

You might think the recalcitrant, old-fashioned faculty is to blame for this lack of technology in the classroom. Think again. The survey found that 91% of faculty say technology is essential to student and faculty success, and that they are encouraged to use it in their classes. But only 33% say technology is fully integrated into the academic program on their campus. What's preventing them from doing what they'd like?

When asked, "What's the biggest impediment to classroom technology on your campus?", the survey finds the following:

   Students  Faculty  IT Staff
 Professors don’t know how to use it   25 44 55
 Classrooms are not outfitted with technology   31  25  17
 Professors won’t use it  12   13  17
  Technology is outdated  14  16  10
  Technology isn’t useful to the courses of study on my campus  17   2 0


When students were asked, "What recommendation would you give to your teachers to better use technology in the classroom?," they responded: “

When faculty were asked, "What would you like to be able to do with technology in the classroom that you currently cannot?," they responded:


There are few surprises in this report. Rather, we see a confirmation of what we see each day on our campuses: fully-connected students, with all the hardware and software they need, looking for their professors to take advantage of it for teaching and learning. In this column we have provided many suggestions for moving forward in the areas covered by the recent survey. Take a look at the following for some concrete, hands-on ideas:

Power to Learn - Distance Learning, Revisited

Distance Learning, Revisited
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College, CUNY, 11/20/08

In this space five years ago, we examined the then-emerging field of distance learning -- using the Internet and other telecommunication channels to help students learn. Since that time, distance learning has blossomed, with just about every college, and many high schools, offering some form of this online educational possibility.

Distance learning is a loose phrase that is used to describe anything from a teacher posting online a single assignment in a regular classroom course, to a completely self-paced and self-correcting online correspondence degree program. And it's growing quickly in education, at all points along this continuum. Other terms used to describe this trend include online learning, Internet courses, computer-based training, and web learning. As a teacher, I have designed and taught many distance-learning courses, of all sorts, and as a consultant I have helped a variety of schools and teachers to design and build their online education systems and courses.

I have learned through this experience that defining distance learning is like the five blind men describing an elephant as they reached out and touched its various parts. The one holding the tail described the elephant as "like a rope, long, supple, and twisted," while the fellow grasping the leg said it was "like a tree, solid, cylindrical, and rough-textured," and so forth. It all depends on what part of the beast you concentrate your attention.

A good way to think about the myriad of educational activity that the phrase comprehends is to consider distance learning programs across five continua:

From Supplemental to Self-contained

At many schools, almost every course these days includes an online component. It might be a single assignment, a collection of original sources, a collaborative task, or a video recording of a lecture that students use to meet the objectives of the course. The course continues to meet three hours a week in the classroom, face-to-face with the teacher; the online elements complement or supplement this activity. That's one end of the continuum. In the middle are hybrid courses that meet every other week in the classroom, and meet online during alternate weeks, perhaps through an asynchronous discussion group or a live video chat. This approach is especially useful for part-time master's programs whose participants work a full-time job and reside far from campus.

At the far end of this continuum is the completely self-contained online course, in which the students never meet face-to-face with the professor, and are often separated by oceans and continents. All materials and activities of the course are posted online; all work is done by students in their own homes or workplaces, and evaluated by professors at home or in their offices. All three approaches use Internet technologies to enhance an existing course, or to extend the reach of the college to new cohorts of students far from campus, and all three are growing, all over the world.

From Teacher-led to Self-paced

Some distance learning programs work just like the traditional college course, with the teacher setting the syllabus, leading the sessions, meeting regularly with students, and evaluating their work. These sometimes substitute a live video connection for the weekly meeting in the classroom. The teacher sets the pace and remains at the center of the activity, even with students far away.

At the other end of the continuum are courses in which the student works his way through the course materials on his own, at his own pace, often with many self-correcting exercises, and no regular interaction with a teacher or a class of students. The former offers few economies of scale and little change in the teacher's workload or schedule; the latter holds the promise of infinite scalability and flexibility and in some cases, profit.

From Social to Independent

Many distance-learning programs aim to capture the social aspects of learning: discussions, group projects, large lectures, common readings. They use two-way video, synchronous chats, collaborative software, and other technologies to preserve rich interaction with the professor and with other students. At the other end of this continuum are programs that cater to individuals working alone, with no interest in working with others, and no opportunity to banter the concepts of the course with a group of fellow students..

From Synchronous to Asynchronous

Courses that preserve the traditional weekly schedule of lecture, discussion, and assignment, where all students work through the material at the same pace form one end of this continuum. Most teacher-led and socially-oriented courses are synchronous. At the other end of the continuum, the self-paced, independent approaches tend to be asynchronous: everything is online, available from day one, and you may do it whenever you wish, earning your three credits in a week's time or over an entire year.

From Media-Rich to Media-Lite

Students in some online courses confront animations, simulations, video clips, image collections, musical files, and other media that make the concepts of the course richer and more understandable. These are all provided online, right in the curriculum, and playable on the students computer (or on his iPod). That's one end of the media continuum.

At the other end are courses that restrict themselves to text: online readings, email exchange with the teacher, and perhaps a text discussion group or blog. The former require far more preparation and work in their production than the latter, and are better rated by students.

Diploma Mill - Legitimate College

While most of the growth in distance learning stems from the efforts of public institutions aiming to make it easier for part-time and nontraditional students to earn a degree, the most widely advertised programs emanate from for-profit companies marketing college degrees to working adults. They make it easy to earn a degree, often waiving the time and credit requirements of legitimate colleges, and many have learned how to earn a quick profit. These schools pay their instructors about $1500 to teach a 3-credit online course, consisting of answering student questions on textbook readings and grading their papers over email. Neither student nor professor needs to do much work to earn the degree.

(Here's your assignment: If each of the 20 students in the class pays the college $1000 per credit, compute the gross margin on this course. Email your computations to me at .)

Depending on how you look at it, distance learning can be a boon -- to a working adult with no time to travel to class, or to students in isolated rural areas, or to a school looking to reach out to non-traditional students. It can also be a boondoggle. Either way, it's growing quickly, and like the elephant, subject to varied interpretations.

Power to Learn - Troubleshooting Tech 101

Troubleshooting Tech 101
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 11/13/08

It's not often in school that you can get tech help exactly when you need it. Think of all those times you've planned lessons, only to find that your classroom computers or your school network isn't working. You call for help, but whoever provides tech assistance is probably busy in some other classroom or even some other school.

In today's world it saves loads of frustration if you know how to solve basic tech problems on your own. It's been said that 90% of the problems with hardware and software go away by restarting. Even if the percentage isn't that high, it's amazing what a restart or a shut down and start can do. If your computer is so stuck that it won't restart or shut down, pull out the electric plug, wait a minute or so, replace it in the socket, and then restart. I remember a Vice Principal telling me years ago, "I don't know anything about computers, but I know you can cure lots of them by turning off the electricity."

Another ace troubleshooting solution is to make sure all cables are plugged in securely in the correct places. Sometimes you'll have to crawl under your desk or climb on top of your desk to check your cables and figure out which wires go to which device and if they are all pushed completely into their connections. If you have one or more of those little USB or FireWire hubs, which give you more places to plug in your gadgets (such as iPods, smart phones, scanners, printers, keyboards, cameras and mice), make sure the hubs are connected to your computer. It's possible to get so confused by the mass of cables that you might connect the hubs back to themselves, which I do admit I've done.

USB and FireWire hubs are handy, but they can be devious. For some unknown reason, there are times when digital devices work through the hubs and times when they don't. And sometimes they work fine when connected to a hub for a while and then stop working. The good news is that most of the time when the connection doesn't work, switching the cable to a different port on the hub usually works. If that doesn’t work, try connecting directly to your computer in order to make sure the hub is the problem and not the device. If you continue to have hub horrors, maybe it's time to upgrade to a new one? Make sure it's one with an electric power source.

Let's suppose you've tried restarting and checking your cables, but the problem hasn't been solved. Think back to whether you (or someone else) have recently changed settings or added software to your computer. If so, that's most likely the problem. Maybe you need software updates to make everything work smoothly? Maybe you need to change the settings back to the way they were? To get updates, just go to the manufacturer's site and check for downloads for the specific product. Then install following the directions. If you don't know what the settings were before they were changed, you'll have to wait for tech support.

You don't need to wait for tech support when your printer needs ink. Request the cartridges or toners for your printer model, read the directions (often diagrams) on the ink package, and install. It's usually very easy.

It's not just computers and printers, but networks that can cause you to grind your teeth. It feels like disaster when you can't go online, you can't get your email, and worst of all, your students can't get to their work on one of the network servers or can't go online to do their research projects Before screaming, check with others in your building to see if the Internet is working on their computers. If the problem seems to be in your room, restart and see what happens. If that doesn't work, check the cables before calling for outside help.

Now we get to the tricky part—restarting your school network. It's not tricky because it's difficult. If you can press a button or flip a circuit breaker, you can usually restart the network, but you need to know what buttons to press. Unless your tech people are always readily available to restart your network, administrators and at least one teacher in every section of a school building should know how to do basic troubleshooting of network problems. It's a good idea to suggest that your tech people prepare your school for network emergencies by showing some of those in your school just where devices like Routers (which route information to computers), backup batteries, and circuit breakers are, and how to activate them if they've shut down. Often problems like this arise after the electricity goes off. In such a case, it doesn't take a tech expert to restart a network, but if you learn how, you'll look like one.

Of course, there are times when you put your best basic troubleshooting techniques to use, but the problems continue. That's when to call for help.

Power to Learn - How to Become a Software Expert

How to Become a Software Expert
by Dr. Merle Marsh, Guest Columnist, 11/06/08

When it comes to software, why wait until someone shows you how to use it? Why put off learning to use a program because you haven't had training? That's too easy an excuse. If you find software that will help you with your teaching, go ahead and try it.

Let's think about those you consider tech experts, and remember that it's impossible for them to know everything about every program. If they haven't used the program you are interested in a while or have never used it, you probably know more about what it can do than they. Even if they are familiar with the program, they might not know the parts of it you want to use, and besides, it may take them forever to help you. They're so busy keeping networks and hardware going that helping faculty members with software often has to be put on hold.

If you come across a software program that fits what you want to do, load it onto your computer and jump right into it. Most programs have "help" files you can check when needed, and many have demos or tutorials to get you started. Don't worry if you make mistakes or if it all seems impossible at first. Just practice. Explore the options in the menubar. Become familiar with what the program can do and how it can work for you and your students.

I'm not saying you won't face problems—we all do—but experimenting with a program is the best way to learn. That's what your tech experts would do. Teachers and administrators who have taken the time to learn software programs that fit their needs often know more about them than those they consider tech experts. The best way to learn how to use software is to practice with it. You are not going to learn it any other way even if you attend a training workshop. Sure, the workshop will help, and so will the people connections you make while you are there. Those people connections are often more valuable than the workshop itself, for a great deal of content is covered in a short time in a workshop. You need practice beyond the workshop to let the content sink in. When problems arise, you can turn to your people connections and they to you.

Keep in mind that unless the software is extremely complicated like school or district-wide student management systems, scheduling programs and such, you shouldn't need a workshop or course to learn it. For most programs, with some practice, it's not difficult to learn on your own. There are, however, programs such as PhotoShop, which you can use at basic or much higher levels. If you are one who wants to learn all you can about what's possible with PhotoShop, for example, a workshop, a course, or online tutorials are definitely the way to go. You are probably aware that professional programs like PhotoShop often come in an easier, less expensive versions such as PhotoShop Elements, a program that usually fits people's needs for photo editing.

If you have trouble with your self-teaching, go online and search for help. It's amazing how much free help there is online—some in the form of Podcast videos and instant online courses. Often you'll find just what you need, but sometimes by searching through files of answers that aren't exactly on target with what you want, you'll gain a better understanding of your software in order to solve problems on your own.

Many of the "experts" in educational technology are not those with degrees or courses in hardware or software. They've mastered much of what they need on their own. You can do the same. Get started learning that software program you have in mind, and you will be the expert.

Power to Learn - Research Strategies - Technology Competency #4

Research Strategies - Technology Competency #4
by Jim Lengel, 10/30/08

In a previous article, we listed the technology skills that every teacher should possess. The 15 competencies ranged from using common productivity tools to produce learning documents, to the development of multimedia projects by students, and are based on standards composed by ISTE and other authoritative sources. They are also based on the realities of today's classrooms and students. They have been adopted by the faculty of the School of Education at Hunter College -- the largest producer of teachers for the New York City public schools. This article looks in more detail at the fourth competency on the list, why it's important, and how to master it. It's full of practical advice on how to find information online, employing efficient search strategies that can help you find the needle of wisdom in a haystack of data.

Here's the competency:

For professional work, as well as classroom assignments, chooses the most appropriate online research tools and databases. Applies effective search techniques to produce useful and safe online resources in the classroom

Why does a teacher need to know this? Teachers taught successfully long before Google grabbed the attention of the public and keywords and Boolean operators permeated our conversations. What's changed?

Everything's changed. The world of information, from libraries to law books, from museums to academic journals, has migrated online. See the article, What Library? in this series for more ideas on this topic. To keep up with his or her content field, a teacher must know how to find what's new from the online sources. And to prepare students for a world where a larger and larger proportion of information is published exclusively online, the teacher must learn how to teach these skills as well as use them personally. The print resources of even the biggest school library are no longer adequate to the breadth and depth of learning expected on our students. And the online research world is more fun, and opens up more teachable moments, than the offline world.

Where do you stand?

When is the last time you conducted some online research and discovered something you didn't know? When you search, how much of what you find is irrelevant and worthless? How adept are you at using databases and search engines beyond the familiar Google? In the realm of research strategies, are you a novice, are you competent, or are you an expert?

 Novice Competent  Expert
 You can use a simple keyword search to produce a list of relevant resources for teaching or learning. You can deploy generic search engines as well as specialized databases to locate learning resources appropriate to the interest and level of students. You can use advanced searching tools and a wide variety of specialized databases to produce original and provocative learning resources


Let's take a look at some examples of searches conducted by teachers, and analyze the strategies they used. What level of online research skill do we expect from teachers? This first example (left) shows the result of a simple Google search on a typical curriculum search (Click the image for a larger view.) There is nothing wrong with the search strategy evidenced by this document; it did find some useful resources. But it also uncovered much irrelevant information about diabetes, oil, frogs, and the cremation of pets. It used multiple keywords, much better than the beginner-level search such as discover America, which results in an even larger proportion of irrelevance.

But we can expect more of today's teachers. Take a look at the second example (below). sample doc(Click the image for a larger view.) Here the strategic searcher has chosen the search words carefully, and gone to both a generic search engine and a specialized collection. He or she has also taken the time to explain the objective of the search, layout the strategy in advance, and indicate which of the results are most relevant to the learning task at hand.

How to do it

Follow these steps to produce a set of search results like the one on the right:

  1. Launch your word processor. Enter a title and your name.
  2. Describe the topic of study and the grade level that this research relates to.
  3. Consider search terms for your first step, which is a generic search on an engine such as Google or Yahoo. Select terms that are as concrete and specific as possible, and use the root of the each term, without prefixes, suffixes, or plurals.
  4. Conduct your search.
  5. Inspect the list of results for relevance. (If many of the items seem not to be useful, revise your search terms.)
  6. When you get a good list of items, copy and paste them into your word-processing document.
  7. Consider a second search, in a database or collection targeted to your purpose. If you don't know how to do this, ask your school librarian for help.
  8. Copy and paste the results of this search also into the word-processing document.
  9. Examine the list of items in your document. Visit each one. Asterisk those that seem most relevant to the learning objective and to the level of your studentgoogle searchs.

For more ideas on conducting effective searches, see these articles:

Power to Learn - Building an Online Course

Building an Online Course
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College , 12/01/08

As more and more teachers at all levels put their course materials online, as we gain more experience with what works and what doesn't in this environment, it's a good time to share some suggestions and guidelines for building an online course, or for posting study materials online for a face-to-face course. No matter whether it's a course in high-school geometry or college-level art history, whether it's on Blackboard or Moodle or iTunesU or your own web site, here are some ideas gleaned from the leaders in the field.

1. Optimize the size of a unit of study.
I reviewed a single online unit from a high school course that was quite long, consisting of three sections and dozens of activities, amounting to about three weeks of work. For most students, this is too big a chunk to manage, and results in a long list of activities scrolling way down the page. Better to keep your units short, so that the entire list of assignment fits on one page, above the scroll, and that the work can be accomplished in a fathomable time, such as a week. Most folks in this business have settled on a week's worth of work in each section or unit, with 8-10 assignments to be done. Following this rubric for chunking the content, a semester-long course would have about 20 units, and a quarter-course would have 10. Whatever unit size you settle on, try to make it consistent across courses and subjects so that students know what to expect.

2. Always provide reasonable instructions.
Don't just list a provide a link to an assignment, and don't just tell students to "go and read this chapter." Each assignment in an online course should provide a short rationale and clear instructions, such as, "Read this passage from Orwell's 1984, and as you do ask yourself how the scene might be different if today's technologies were brought into play. This will prepare you to answer the questions in the next assignment." Tell them what to do, provide a little guidance, and tell them why they're doing it.

3. Balance self-correcting and teacher-evaluated assignments in each unit.
Frequent student responses to content, and frequent evaluation, are keys to successful online learning. Each unit should contain both self-correcting activities such as quizzes, as well as teacher-evaluated assignments such as essay questions. If a student must do at least one responsive assignment in each unit each day, and if the teacher checks this each day, the student is more likely to stick with the program.

4. Let them do the work right on the screen.
Wherever possible and feasible, have students provide their responses right in a text field on the web page. Avoid displaying questions in Blackboard or Moodle, and asking them to go off and write their responses in a word processor. Better to pose the question, and place a text field right under it for their response. This makes it much more likely that they will actually do the assignment. And it makes it easier for the teacher to use the learning management system, see who has done it, to view their writing, and assign a grade to their results. It avoids sending files back and forth by email, and avoids printing on paper.

5. Use advance organizers.
Rather then sending students off to do some readings, then afterwards assigning them with questions about the reading, consider giving them the questions first, and then send them off to the readings with the questions in mind.

6. Put the due dates right on the assignment.
Don't make them go off to a calendar or schedule page for guidance on how to pace themselves. List the target date for each assignment right in the instructions. This is easiest to do if you build week-long units, and you can use days of the week as the pacing: "Read this passage from Orwell's 1984, and as you do ask yourself how the scene might be different if today's technologies were brought into play. This will prepare you to answer the questions in the next assignment. (Tuesday)." If you follow this method you'll never have to change calendar dates when you teach the course again next semester.

7. Consider including creative assignments.
Balance the quizzes and essays with assignments that require students to draw diagrams, write screenplays, record podcasts, construct slide shows, create photo essays, and produce short videos. All of these can be created on a computer and turned in online through the learning management system. One creative assignment in each unit might be a reasonable goal and would go a long way toward increased student interaction and 21st-century learning. Call it the Project Assignment.

8. Consider some simple labels for each type of assignment.
Avoid unnecessary wordiness by settling on single-word descriptors for each of your item-types. The pages would be easier to use and visually cleaner if long-winded titles such as "What are my goals for this Medieval Civilizations unit?" became "Goals", and "What do I already know?" became "Pretest" and "What do I need to do in this section on Muslim Civilizations?" became "Assignments." In this way, the structure of the unit becomes clear: Goals, Pretest, Assignments, Learnmore, Project, Posttest. If everyone used these same labels consistently, the students would find it easier to follow the work.

Online assignments can extend learning beyond the classroom, make it easier for teachers and students to work together, and provide more flexibility in the time and place for learning. As we use this method with our students, we will continue to learn how to improve it.

For more ideas on the topic of online learning, see:


Power to Learn - Organizing Information

Organizing Information
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education , 11/14/08

In a previous article, we listed the technology skills that every teacher should possess. The 15 competencies ranged from using common productivity tools to produce learning documents, to the development of multimedia projects by students, and are based on standards composed by ISTE and other authoritative sources. They are also based on the realities of today's classrooms and students. They have been adopted by the faculty of the School of Education at Hunter College -- the largest producer of teachers for the New York City public schools. This week's article looks in more detail at the third competency on the list, why it's important, and how to master it. It's full of practical advice on how to organize information graphically, and prepare documents that you can use in teaching and learning.

Here's the competency:
Organize information graphically. Uses specialized graphic organizers, as well as word processors or presentation programs, to create digital representations of educational information. Includes these tasks regularly in assignments for students.

Why does a teacher need to be able to create graphical representations of information on a computer? First, because it's a proven way to learn. Ever since Pythagoras sketched in the sand the triangular diagrams that illustrated his theories, teachers have been drawing diagrams, showing slides, presenting pictures, and making maps that help their students understand important concepts. From sand to chalkboard to computer and SmartBoard, the development of new technologies has assisted them along the way, making it easier to create and present ideas in graphical form. Second, most students learn better when information is available in graphical formats, as a complement to the voice and text that's so common in classrooms. And for some students, the illustrative format is the only way they can learn. And finally, the construction of graphics and diagrams has become a new basic skill for the world of work, one that we need to teach our students throughout their school careers.

Where do you stand?
When is the last time you constructed a diagram or illustration for your students? How adept are you at using the software tools already on your computer to create graphical learning materials for your classroom?

You can can produce a simple curriculum-related diagram with two levels of detailYou can produce curriculum-related diagrams and other graphic representations with at least three levels of detail.You can produce multi-level diagrams and other graphical forms with links to outside resources and examples.

Let's take a look at some examples of graphically-organized educational documents. What level of production do we expect from teachers?

The first example is a novice-level diagram to illustrate a process, something that might be used in a middle-school science lesson. A diagram like this can be created in Microsoft Word, in PowerPoint, or in a specialized program such as Inspiration. For many students, this diagram is better than text alone in explaining the process of photosynthesis.

But consider how much more useful might be the second example. Here the various active elements are illustrated with realistic images, and the order of the process is shown through a simple step-by-step animation. This example took a little longer to produce, but provides more educational value for the student. Such an example can be produced with PowerPoint or Keynote, or with a more advanced program such as Flash.

How to do it
Follow these steps to produce a diagram like the second example:photo of a diagram

  1. Collect the images you need for the diagram. They might come from the web (try a search on Google Images) or from your own collection of images on your computer.
  2. Launch your slide show program , such as PowerPoint or Keynote or OpenOffice Presentation.
  3. On the first slide, place the first item in the sequence (here it is the title at the top, "Photosynthesis").
  4. Duplicate the first slide to create a second slide, and on it place the second item in the sequence (here it's the green leaf).
  5. Repeat this process until the diagram is complete.
  6. Save your slide show as an animated sequence.
    • In PowerPoint, use File --> Save As --> PowerPoint Movie.

    • In Keynote, use File --> Export --> Quicktime.

    • In OpenOffice, use File --> Export.

You can display this diagram on the projector or on the SmartBoard; you may also embed it in a web page (as you see here), attach it to an email, or post it to a Moodle or Blackboard server where students can access it. And once they do, they'll be able to play it on their computer, or on their iPod. And once you have learned to create these kinds of documents, put your students to work. Assign them to explain a process, or illustrate and event, or tell a story, with a similar type of document.

photo of diagram


Power to Learn - Quantitative Analysis

Quantitative Analysis
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/31/08

In a previous article, we listed the technology skills that every teacher should possess. The 15 competencies ranged from using common productivity tools to produce learning documents, to the development of multimedia projects by students, and are based on standards composed by ISTE and other authoritative sources. They are also based on the realities of today's classrooms and students. They have been adopted by the faculty of the School of Education at Hunter College -- the largest producer of teachers for the New York City public schools. This week's article looks in more detail at the second competency on the list, why it's important, and how to master it. It's full of practical advice on how to do simple quantitative analysis with a spreadsheet, and prepare documents that you can use in teaching and learning.

Here's the competency:

Analyze quantitative data. This includes administrative work such as putting student test scores into a spreadsheet and analyzing them, as well as preparing curriculum materials with digital tables and graphs of curriculum content.

Why does a teacher need to be able to analyze quantitative data on a computer? First, because it's a practical and useful skill for keeping track of students, grades, borrowed books, addresses, phone numbers, and all the other details that make up the daily life of a classroom. Doing all of this on a spreadsheet saves time and energy (and paper.) Second, the curriculum is full of numbers: the diameters of the planets, the votes for mayor, the daily growth of the bean plant on the windowsill. Working with these data on a spreadsheet opens up many new ways of teaching and understanding a wide variety of subjects. Third, it's almost the only way to make sense of the data generated by the education reforms of the past few years: standardized test scores, aggregated and disaggregate results, state standards and so forth. Without spreadsheet skills, the teacher cannot participate fully in this environment.

Where do you stand?

Most of us can use a spreadsheet to create columns of numbers and labels. Where do your skills stand on this continuum from novice to expert in dealing with quantitative data?

 Novice Competent Expert

You can produce a simple spreadsheet of several dozen data points, with computed totals and averages.

You can include formulas, construct charts, and sort data. And include them in academic assignments for students.

You can construct workbooks combining several sheets, and use statistical formulas to analyze complex data.

And what kinds of spreadsheets do we expect teachers to be able to produce? Here is an example of what a novice might produce, as a class handout for a geography lesson:sample


There is nothing inaccurate about the data in this table (except perhaps for the two letters at the end of New Hampshire that seem to have been squeezed out of the column). Click the sample for a larger view . It shows formulas being used to compute appropriate totals and averages. But it is not as easy to use as it might be. The headings over the columns for Area and Population, for instance, do not line up with the data they describe.

A teacher with more spreadsheet skills might produce a document that looks like this:

Here we see the addition of a graph to aid in understanding the relative areas of the states, labels formatted for easy reading, and colored to distinguish original values from computed ones. The result is a more readable and useful document for learning. Click the sample for a larger view. sample graph

How to do it

The teacher who prepared the more useful document followed these steps:

  1. Launch your spreadsheet program (Excel, OpenOffice, Numbers...)
  2. Enter labels (in this case the names of the states) in the leftmost column, beginning in row 2.
  3. Enter data for area and population in the next two columns. Just the numbers, no commas, no dollar signs.
  4. Enter the column headers for Area and Population in the first row.
  5. Enter the row headers for Average and Total in the first column.
  6. Enter the formula to compute the average area in the second column: =average(B2:B7)
  7. Enter the formula to compute the total area in the second column: =sum(B2:B7)
  8. Copy these two formulas, and paste them into the third column so that they compute the average and total for population.
  9. Adjust the width of the columns, and the formatting of the text and numbers, to be easy to read, as in the example above.

That's how to construct and display the basic information in the table. Next we'll construct the graph.

  1. Select the data you want to graph. In this case, it's the names of the states and their areas, so we select the range of cells from A2 to B7. And we re careful not to include any other cells, such as the averages and totals -- just the raw data themselves.
  2. From the menu bar, choose Insert --> Chart.
  3. Click on the type of graph you want. In this case, it's a pie graph.
  4. Move the graph on the page so that it does not cover up the table of data.

The last task is to add the title at the top.

  1. From the menubar, choose View --> Header and Footer.
  2. Into the header box enter the title of the document, and format it as necessary to math the other headings in the spreadsheet.
  3. Click OK.

Creating a useful and easy-to-use quantitative document takes a bit of time, but the results are well worth the effort.

Power to Learn - Learning Documents

Learning Documents
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 10/10/08

In a previous article, we listed the technology skills that every teacher should possess. The 15 competencies ranged from using common productivity tools to produce learning documents, to the development of multimedia projects by students, and are based on standards composed by ISTE and other authoritative sources. They are also based on the realities of today's classrooms and students. They have been adopted by the faculty of the School of Education at Hunter College -- the largest producer of teachers for the New York City public schools. This week's article looks in more detail at the first competency on the list, why it's important, and how to master it. It's full of practical advice on how to produce documents for your classroom -- online or on paper -- that are readable, effective, and easy to use by students.

Here's the competency:

Produce and manage learning documents. This includes composing standard educational publications such as parent newsletters and handouts for students and class lists; it also includes teaching students how to prepare their own documents on a computer so that they are readable and useful.

Sounds pretty simple on the face of it. Most of us can use our word processor to bang out all the documents we need. Most of us have stopped using the mimeograph machine and the photocopier in favor of electronic documents, and we all know how to add fancy fonts and cute clip art to our handouts and newsletters. But our communicants expect more than this -- they deserve documents that are easy to work with. The key words in the competency description above are readable and useful.

Where do you stand?

How readable and useful are the documents that you produce? Where would you fall on the continuum described in the table below, from novice to expert?




You can produce simple, straightforward learning documents with a word processor.

You can lay out tables, add images, and format multi-column documents that follow accepted principles of usability and design.

You and your students can lay out tables, add images, and format multi-column documents that follow accepted principles of usability and design.

And what quality of document should we expect a teacher to produce? Take a look at this typical science handout from middle school:

sample document-the solar system nine planets

You may click the image on the left to enlarge it to full size. There is nothing wrong with this document, but it is not as clear and useful as it could be. For instance, the numbers in the columns are aligned to the left, so that they are hard to compare at a glance. It lacks images that might provide a visual referent to information which compares the visual concepts of distance and size. This learning document is an example of the novice level in the continuum described above.

sample document

Compare that document with the one on the right. You may click to enlarge it to full size . This one is more readable and useful. The numbers line up to the right so they are easily compared. An image helps the student visualize the key concepts involved in the assignment. And it follows commonly-accepted principles of document design and usability, which you can learn more about at Principles of Document Design.

How to do it

How did the technically-competent teacher produce the document on the right? He or she followed these steps:

  1. Open your word processor (Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Text, Text Edit, Pages...)
  2. Insert a text box across the top for the title.
  3. Enter the title from the keyboard. Set the title to a legible sans-serif font such as Verdana, with white as the text color.
  4. Adjust the fill of the text box to dark gray to provide contrast with the white text.
  5. Enter from the keyboard the body text of the document. Set it in a readable serif font, such as Georgia.
  6. Set the subheads in the same font as the title, and make them larger, at least 1.5 times the size of the body text.
  7. Locate a useful image and insert it into the document as a picture.
  8. Drag the picture to the right, and resize it as necessary.
  9. Correct any highlighted spelling or grammar errors.

It's not as difficult as it looks. And think about how students might find it easier to understand and complete your assignments if they were all presented in this way. And think about how you might find it easier to read your students papers if they were all turned in at this level of readability.

For more ideas on producing useful learning documents, see ....

Creating Classroom Newsletters, Looking Good Online, and Displaying Text.

Power to Learn - Learning Online

Learning Online
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College and Boston University, 09/22/2008

A new, startup high school in New York City was putting its curriculum together over the summer. As in most states, biology is a required course for all students. The favored biology textbook, published by Holt and well-aligned with the Regent's exam, is listed by the publisher at $105 per copy. That's one hundred five dollars and no cents - for a book for a ninth-grader, one of many necessary to float him through the curriculum. (Or sink him with a backpack full of weighty tomes.)

It's no wonder the school decided to provide the biology course, as well as the rest of the curriculum, online. You want to learn biology? Connect to the school's Moodle server, click your biology course, and see the assignments from your teacher. Click on the introductory reading, and you're connected to the appropriate chapter in the Holt textbook. You can connect from school, from home, from the library, from your iPhone. Do the same for World Civilization, Math, and English -- though physical, hold-in-the-hand books, in the form of novels, are allowed in the latter, the school has weaned itself from textbooks, and also from much paper and pencil.

Providing learning materials online is growing at the high school level, a reflection of what's already happened at many colleges - not just textbooks, but assignments, quizzes, exercises, problem sets, articles, discussions, presentations and podcasts. In most cases it's the same content made available more efficiently; in some cases it allows new forms of learning to take place. In the new high school, each faculty member has put all of the necessary learning materials for each course online. From there, students can work on it whenever and wherever they have the opportunity.

What does this mean for the teacher? As we plan an online course, how should we think differently about learning? After helping educators at a variety of schools and colleges and companies to build and improve online learning experiences, I share in this article some of the key discoveries about this mode of learning.

Quality content

Generally, what you put online must be more carefully crafted than what you say in the lecture hall, and more precise than what you hand out in the classroom. Students expect readings, assignments, and quizzes they see on the computer to be better thought out than what they see in the classroom. The diagram quickly sketched on the chalkboard will not suffice for an online illustration; it should be re-drawn on the computer so that its concepts are immediately clear. Remember: when students confront your teaching material online, you are not there in person to explain it, or provide further details: the document they see must cover all bases. Each piece of content posted online must be self-contained and self-explanatory, so that students know exactly what they are supposed to do and have all the support they need to do it.

Think of it like a can of soup. If you are at home, in your own kitchen, you can put a bowl of soup on the table for your guests, and if it's not exactly right you can fix it: add some salt, warm it up, thicken it a bit, put a dollop of butter in it, suggest they try it with crackers, and explain how good it is for them. But if you need to prepare and preserve that soup for someone going on a trip, you've got to make sure it's just right, so when they open it and eat it all by themselves far away, it tastes just right, with no explanation needed.

Small chunks

Today's students do not spend hours at a time with a single activity on the computer. And the act of reading on the computer (or iPod) is different from reading from a book or paper. The setting, the technology, the habits of mind, all tend toward short increments of time, multiple distractions, and multimedia expectations. You can't simply post your hour-and-a-half lecture to the web site, or paste the 20-page full-text article to Blackboard, and expect it to have the same impact as in the classroom or in the journal. It's better to divide your content into manageable chunks, pieces of information that can be confronted and understood in 15 or 20 minutes rather then 50 or 80.

So find within that long lecture five or six key concepts, and develop a five-minute podcast for each one. Use subheads more liberally in your writing. Read a bit, then ask a question that requires an answer to be submitted online. Better to build the students' work around six short assignments rather then two long ones.

Active assignments

It's not what you do, it's what they do. In the classroom the teacher is at the center; students focus on the professor; it's what the faculty member does that makes the difference. Not so with online work. The only thing you get to do is prepare the content and pose the assignments; from then on, learning is dependent on what the students do. So the key to successful online courses is to craft a set of activities for the students to do: read this, look at that, ask yourself this, write that, discuss all of it together with your classmates. The clearer and more active the assignments, the more likely your students are to follow the course of study.

Think of your online course as a series of verbs; begin each item with an action word that directs the student to do something. Read. Consider. Compare. Discuss. Browse. Defend. Explain. Think. Find. Comment. Reflect. And for each assignment, make them produce something: a short answer, a contribution to a discussion, a response to a quiz question, a well-founded essay.


Whenever possible, illustrate the ideas from the course with media that go beyond the written word. Think of the many ways your academic ideas can appeal to the eye and the ear, the two great gateways to the mind. It's much easier to do this online than on paper, so take advantage of maps, diagrams, images, illustrations, paintings, photos, animations, graphics, drawings, sounds, music, voice, and visuals. Socrates and Plato used all of these in their academy. So can you. You can make them yourself, license them from the textbook publisher, or find them freely on the Web. Or ask your students to help you construct them. The software tools for finding, gathering, organizing, creating and editing multimedia learning materials are more powerful and easier to use than ever.

Multimedia works. It helps students understand ideas. It provokes new kinds of thinking about old concepts. Not just multimedia presentations of the teacher's ideas, but multimedia reports from students. Consider assigning projects that require students to express their ideas in several media at once.

Frequent evaluation

Research on student engagement finds that many small evaluations work better than a few big exams. Students learn more this way, remember it longer, and find it more useful. The more opportunities your online course provides for students to turn something in, and have it evaluated (by you or by the computer), the better. So add some self-correcting quizzes to your course. Require a weekly (if not daily) response to a course assignment from every student. This keeps them connected, and notifies you of students who are falling by the wayside.

Most of the systems used to manage online learning, such as Blackboard and Moodle, make it easy to construct these kinds of evaluations, and to organize the results for you online so that feedback and grading is easy accomplished.

The learning sequence

The teachers in the new start-up high school are learning to structure their courses for an online environment. They are now thinking of each course as a sequence of activities that students go through as they learn the material. For instance, the biology teacher has divided his course into weekly sections. In each section students follow a carefully-crafted sequence of online activities:

As online learning grows, we will all learn more about what works best. But by following the guidelines above, you have a better chance to develop an effective course of study.

For more ideas about online learning, take a look at Online Learning: What's the Buzz?, Distance Learning, Learning Objects, and Supply and Demand.

Power to Learn - Educating Parents

Educating Parents
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 09/18/2008

When I walk around educational technology conventions or any kind of education convention, I see all sorts of programs for keeping track of students and their progress, helping teachers with lessons and grading, and keeping parents informed about their children's academic progress and behavior in school. There are conference schedulers, standards trackers, learning packages, safety nets-you name it.

But where are the programs that help teachers and parents communicate effectively with each other? Sure posting grades is communicating, but sometimes it can be disastrous communication of epic proportions. Learning is more than grades, and communication is more than a number posted online or a quick, probably well-meant, email. If that posted number isn't one that parents are expecting and if that note is misunderstood, the parent-teacher-student relationship suffers.

Just because teachers have the ability to communicate through technology doesn't mean that's always the best way. When using digital communication, we can't read faces. We can't see sadness in parents' eyes or tension that's growing in their expression. I can't tell you how many times I've changed my approach in discussing a topic with a parent because of what I see in the parent's face. Body language and facial expressions warn me that there must be a better way to handle the topic. I know I need this parent on my team working to help his or her child, and if I say what I want to say in some kind of matter-of-fact way, the relationship may be destroyed. I'm not going to avoid the issue; I just need to find a less-threatening way to deal with it.

Digital communication can be very effective, but I suggest that serious matters or matters that have any chance of being misinterpreted not be communicated digitally.  Keep in mind that you are working with what is most precious to parents.

There will be times when not-so-pleasant information must be communicated to parents.  Knowing that, establishing a trusting relationship with parents at the beginning of the school year is essential. When school starts, all your students have perfect averages, and they probably haven't had a chance to get into trouble. Everyone is happy. That's the perfect time to meet with parents to let them know your expectations and how excited you are about teaching their child. Explain that you'll keep them informed so that there will never be any surprises. Get the parents on your team in the education of their children.

Good communication can't be one-sided; it can't just rest on us educators. The other side has to buy in, and we can help by leading parents in the right direction. We all know parents who don't respond to notes or show up for conferences. This article doesn't target the no-shows. It targets all those wonderful parents who are there for their children through thick and thin.

Maybe you're thinking that you don't have time for getting to know all parents at the beginning of the school year. If you are a middle or high school teacher with many different classes, it may be impossible to meet them individually, but you can establish good rapport in a back-to-school meeting, and you can make sure you are sending home (digitally and non-digitally) positive information about what's going on in your classroom. Digital communication (notes, video, slideshows, photos) is ideal for showing how proud you are of your students, giving parents glimpses of your mastery of teaching, and sharing great projects and wonderful learning experiences. A brief email to parents about how much you liked their child's report or what good manners their child has helps parents to understand how much you care. If you are an elementary teacher with one class, have a back-to-school meeting, get that positive digital communication going, and start getting to know each of your students' parents.

Robert Heiny in his article When Parents Ask Teachers in the Technology Questions Blog advises parents to meet with teachers early in the school year.  He's giving the same advice, but it's to parents. Get to know the teacher. Leave your contact information so that the teacher can get in touch. Let the teacher know you want to hear about your child. Ask questions about when to expect what during the school year.  Heiny offers parents ideas about what types of answers they should expect. There are 5-Star answers, and well, other teacher answers that didn't make the grade.

Parents reading Heiny's blog are being educated in how to partner with teachers in the education of their children. You can educate the parents of your students. Introduce them to what school information can be accessed online. Let them know when they can expect to hear from you and that you expect to hear from them if anything about their child's school experience is bothering them. Make it clear that they need to let you know about problems they've noticed with their child's schoolwork or relationships with other students. Help parents learn how to complain constructively.

You'll also want to talk with parents about digital communication letting them know that some topics are best discussed by telephone or better yet, a parent conference. Engage parents in a discussion about how email and text messages can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. You'll want them to understand that sensitive topics call for face-to-face conferencing, not a quickly fired-off email written when they aren't in the best of moods.

Most important, let parents know that you care about their child and that they should not hesitate to contact you.

If you've done your homework educating parents about parent/teacher communication and using digital communication to let them in on the wonders of your classroom, you'll find that when problems arise, you'll be working as a team to solve them.

Power to Learn - Free Speech vs. Privacy: A Battle Online and Offline

Free Speech vs. Privacy: A Battle Online and Offline
by Guest Columnist Dr. Merle Marsh, 09/12/2008

Ask elementary and middle school kids to write an essay on what is great about America, and somewhere in that essay will be something like this, "This is a free country, and I am free to do what I want." When questioned about the statement, they'll concede that they can't go out and rob banks and hurt people. Most understand they shouldn't copy other people's words to put in their reports. When middle schoolers are asked if they have the right to free speech, they agree that they do. Most high school students qualify the answer by saying that it depends upon what they said.

No slander. No lies. We know that. But what about what we say online? What about telling someone's secrets-telling about their private life? Maybe it's like our classrooms where kids and teachers have to watch what they say? Maybe it's like the media, which also has rules about how it says what and what it can say? Is it? Or is it a whole new ballgame?

Let's brainstorm. Suppose you are teaching American history, Civics, or Contemporary Issues and want to enliven your lessons on the 1st Amendment, and perhaps, the 9th Amendment.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ....

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Just what is free speech? What is freedom of the press? What is privacy? It certainly isn't saying or printing anything you feel like saying or printing about others. Or is it? How does freedom of speech and the press work online, where an item might only appear for a short time and then disappear and be difficult to trace? Does freedom of speech cover what is on a social networking site, and how does freedom of press cover a blog? The legal precedents certainly are not clear on either subject yet.

What about what people place online that's removed - like a comment on a company's web site about how a product doesn't work well? Are people's rights violated when a company wipes out content they've published online? What about what people put online that gets changed. Sure, people understand when they use a site like Wikipedia or take part in Wiki writing that things can be changed. -But what about changes by companies, political parties, and special interest groups who monitor these sites editing out anything that isn't positive?

High school students, always ready for a good conflagration over what's happening in our nation and world today, can dive right into this topic-Free Speech vs. Privacy: A Battle Online and Offline.

When it comes to free speech online, start with a topic your students all probably know quite a bit about - social networking sites. They can probably tell you tales of profiles that have vanished or been mysteriously modified. When people become members of social networking sites, they have to click on a box agreeing that they will abide by the site policies. These "Terms of Service", are not usually read by those clicking for membership. There it is stated that if you don't follow the rules, your content can go and you can, too, It's private. It's legal. Of course the question is always the interpretation of the rules and who is doing the enforcing.

It is not just social networking sites, but also Internet Service providers who enforce guidelines to protect their sites and keep them safe for users, especially children. They don't want their products to be known as ones that support unpopular and/or controversial groups.

Ask your students how social networking sites and IPs could possibly keep track of everything that's posted. When there's a complaint, they'll look into it, and many have service representatives who not only listen to complaints, but also search for content that doesn't fit their rules. Most have rules about dealing with disputes over content, but some people don't feel they are getting a fair hearing from company representatives. Maybe, they'd like the courts and government to step in?

Introduce your students to the Anick Jesdanun article Free Speech on the Web: Murky Rules, Personal Agendas (eCommerce Times, 07/13/08), which gives examples of companies and individuals trying to make sense of these issues.  Your students may want to discuss why online companies set terms for use of their products, if companies should set rules, can the rules be enforced consistently, and what would happen if the government did step in?

Have your students consider recent revelations about Congressional staffers and Wikipedia. It has come to light recently that Congressional staff are being used to search and edit Wikipedia the online encyclopedia. Ask students what they think of politicians and companies paying staff to change unfavorable words and opinions that are published online? Is it fair for those of us who don't have a staff?  Is our money being used to do this? What does this kind of interference do to the recording of history or even how certain controversial topics are explained online - like abortion, civil rights, or stem cell research?

Another resource to take a look at is Daniel J. Solove's  Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet. Although the entire text is available online, you want to read Chapter 6 Free Speech Anonymity and Accountability. It takes on problems that have evolved concerning the Internet, free speech, anonymity, and accountability, along with conflicts between the right to privacy and the right to free speech.  Solove details how individuals have been hurt by online postings, which are often anonymous. He also talks about how our lives are intertwined with so many others today, which makes privacy even more difficult to understand and sort out. 

Have your students consider blogs and what can show up in them. Talk about unattractive photos that may be sent by cell phone. Ask them if their privacy has been violated by what friends put online or send through telephones about them. How does all this relate to the 1st amendment? To privacy?

Solicit situations that have happened to students or their friends involving their Facebook/MySpace pages. What do they think of employers and college admissions counselors going on their sites and looking at and making judgements about them based on what they find. Where do they think privacy begins and ends online?

These indeed are not black and white issues, for it's difficult to tell right from wrong here. But there are problems that need to be solved and it certainly will breathe life into any discussion about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Maybe your students can lead the way?

Power to Learn - Digital Opportunities

Digital Opportunities
by Jim Lengel, Hunter College and Boston University, 06/30/2008

A large university in the northeast two years ago required all of the students in a certain major to purchase a laptop computer. The idea was to take advantage of the new information technologies to enable better teaching and learning, and also to prepare them for a world of work in which the computer is a ubiquitous tool of the trade. This spring, just after graduation, the Dean received a petition from a respectable cohort of recent graduates of the program, suggesting he rescind the laptop requirement. "We all bought the laptops, but we never used them in class. They weren't part of the program. Unless use of the computers is integrated into teaching and learning, they make no difference."

The Dean's dilemma

What's a dean to do? Forward-looking, he realizes that his school must embrace the information revolution that is sweeping business and academia. But realistically, he must face the fact that most of his faculty have never taught (or learned) with the kinds of digital technologies the students carry in their backpacks and connect wirelessly to the world. So a brave initiative into technology is thwarted by lack of application.

What's a dean to do? The key seems to be faculty development: students in his program will not experience the kinds of digital learning he envisions unless the faculty changes the way they teach and the assignments they give to students. But in most schools, the dean cannot order such behavior by the faculty. Or if he did, the academic traditions of most schools would leave it up to each faculty member to decide whether or not to follow it.

Faculty desire

At the same time, most faculty members are eager to learn how to do what their dean wants. They understand the potential of these new technologies to make the classroom experience more effective and to enable students to do higher level work. They want to get those laptops out of the backpack and integrate them into the lecture hall. They want to craft assignments that send students off to online investigations and back into the classrooms with cogent presentations of their own research.

These desires on the part of teachers were manifest when the President of Hunter College solicited proposals recently from faculty interested in re-tooling their courses with technology. Faculty crawled out of the woodwork to apply for the Faculty Initiative with Technology, proposing all sorts of applications of digital technology to teaching and learning, from diseased digital-mechanical manikins hooked up to computers for simulating medical emergencies, to a writing process for the classics using online ancient images, Greek texts and student response forms. Their ideas for applying technology to their academic work surprised the President, the technical staff, and the rest of the faculty. They had no idea that the faculty harbored such creative notions.

Many faculty are eager but unprepared to make these things happen in their classrooms and in the hands and minds of their students. But they don't know how to do it. Technology integration was not included in their academic preparation, and it seldom appears on the agenda of their faculty meetings. Faculty want to develop their skills with the technology, and their ability to embed digital assignments into their courses. But they know not where to start.

Faculty development

Some say that their learning should begin with the technologies they want to use: training in how to employ the new hardware, demonstrations of the features and benefits of the latest software, lessons in linking to the campus network and its long list of resources, and so forth. Show them the technologies, and they will figure out how to use them.

Others would prefer to start with success stories: demonstrations and discussions by fellow faculty who have employed technology into their teaching, lectures by leading lights listing the myriad of methods they have found to make computing a part of the curriculum. Show them some good examples, and they'll see what they need to do.

But neither of these approaches seems to result in much success. Knowledge of hardware and software has little connection to what goes on in most classrooms; show-and-tell seldom provides what you need, unless its from another faculty member teaching exactly the same course. A better way is to start with the syllabus.

Start with the syllabus

Every course has a syllabus, an outline of the topics, ideas, readings, lectures, and assignments that make up the standard 15-week, 45-hour, 3-credit experience. It's a staple of college life, the first thing handed out in class and the last archive of the content of the curriculum. It's also a good place to begin the process of integrating technology into the curriculum.

Sit down with your syllabus and look for opportunities to employ technology to increase student engagement. Most syllabi share a common format: course description, readings, lecture topics, discussion questions, quiz dates, and student assignments. Each of these offers possibilities for digital enhancement. The first task in faculty technology development is to identify these digital opportunities in one's own syllabus. Here's a transcript of a syllabus consulting session with a typical faculty member. (The faculty developer's words appear in italics.)


Well, this is certainly a concise and economical course description. Do you think it captures the essence and extent of your teaching?

Hardly. Somebody else wrote that years ago. The course is actually much different now: I wish I had time to explain how exciting and deep it really is.

Have you considered developing a podcast to describe your course? With your own voice, and maybe some pictures to illustrate some of the key ideas. Or a video podcast, where you can explain it personally.

Could I post that to the department web site, so that prospective students could better understand the course?

Yes, and you might also place it on your Blackboard site, and make it available in iTunes format so that students can listen to it on their iPods.


I see that many of these readings are on the reserve shelf in Sterling Library. How convenient is that for your commuter students?

Oh, they never do the readings anyway. And the resident students complain that the pages have been Xeroxed so many times they are hard to read. And there's never enough to go around.

(Pointing to the syllabus) I think I saw this article on the effects of moonlight on marigold molting the other day while I was browsing through Google Scholar. Perhaps you could see if any other of your readings are available online, and let your students link to them instead.

How do I do that?

The librarians can help. They have a special desk just to help faculty find these kinds of resources, and make them available to students.


So, tell me, how do you deliver this lecture on the sex life of the petunia?

Well, I have my notes, and I describe the process of cross-fertilization as best I can, and tell them to refer to the diagrams and photographs in their textbooks.

Do they all bring their textbooks to class?

You've got to be kidding. I'm lucky if they bring a pencil and paper. But they always have their iPods...

Didn't they put a new projector into the botany lecture hall last year?

That thing on the ceiling with wires on it?

Yes. We could help you put those key images onto slides, in resolution high enough that the students could see the intimate details of the flower's anatomy, as you describe it in words. Your textbook publisher provides all those pictures in computer-ready format, at no extra cost. And some video clips as well.

Could they download the diagrams to their iPods? And watch the videos on their laptops?


There's no way for computers to help with a class discussion. So let's skip this next part of the syllabus...

Not so fast. What are you trying to accomplish in this discussion?

I try to get them to debate the pros and cons of pesticide use in developing agricultural economies. Petunias, you see, are particularly perturbed by pesticides. I'd like to see them debate this in small groups, so more of them get a chance to talk, but that's not easy to do in the classroom where the chairs are bolted to the floor.

Let me show you something in Blackboard. See how you can divide the class into groups of six students each, just by sliding their names across the screen? Go ahead, you try it.

Like this? Okay, now how do they discuss?

You assign three of the students to develop one side of the argument, and post it on the site. The other three read it and rebut. And so forth, for three rounds. Then you can log in, comment if you like, and have a permanent record of their discussion.

Can they do this from home? So we have more time in class for other things?


I see here in the syllabus that you have scheduled a quiz every other week.

Yes, that's the only way to get them to do the readings and to listen in class. But handing out the quiz papers, and then taking it, handing them back, and grading them is a real pain in the pistil.

How about a short online quiz after each reading? They do the reading, and then immediately take a short quiz online to see if they got the basic ideas.

How do I get the quiz papers back to grade them?

There's no paper involved. The quiz corrects itself; the students see their results right away, and the system keeps a record for you online.


I see that 30% of their grade hinges on this paper on eggplant evolution.

Yes, the eggplant is a fascinating fruit, a prodigious plant. Well worth studying.

I am sure it is, Prof. Aubergine. How do you find the quality of their work?

Boring. They all go to the same sources, year after year, and report the same results in stultifying prose. I've gotten used to reading them while watching The Hidden Life of Plants series on the Oxygen network.

Would you consider letting them report their results as an enhanced podcast?

What's that? Some kind of new-fangled germ dissemination technique?

In a way, it is. Students write the script of their podcast, explaining the essence of eggplant evolution in their own words. Then they record their voice speaking the script. And finally they add diagrams and pictures to explain the key concepts. The final product can be disseminated online to computers, iPods, and even some mobile telephones.

Where do they learn to do that?

Most of them already know. The laptops they were required to buy come with a built-in podcast production program that they all know how to use. Some even add mood music to the mix.


Until faculty development gets down to this nitty-gritty level, technology will not have much effect on everyday teaching and learning. Start with the syllabus, look for digital opportunities, and then find the software and hardware to enable their integration into the course.

Power to Learn - Wikis at Work in Education

Wikis at Work in Education
by Guest Columnist Molly Dubois, Music Teacher, Chenery Middle School, Belmont, Massachusetts, 06/23/2008

What's A Wiki? 

A wiki is "the simplest online database that could possibly work," according to Ward Cunningham, creator of the first wiki. He coined the term from the Hawaiian word for fast. His goal was to offer an online database that could be updated and edited by any number of contributors. Today, the most well known wiki is Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia. Anyone who opens Wikipedia can edit articles, add citations, and list references. While its credibility as a reference is diminished by the public's ability to add or delete, Wikipedia remains an enormous resource for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit each day.

Along with its use as a database, a simple wiki can be a priceless tool for an educator. A wiki is a great way for teachers and administrators to collaborate on curriculum documents, for students to put together group projects, and for large classes or groups to create compositions. This article will be dealing with wikis used as collaborative documents in education.

Large-Scale Productions

During a storytelling activity in my fifth- and sixth-grade theatre workshop, the students fell in love with the story we were telling, The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs. They grew to know the characters and saw the opportunity for humor in many scenes. Following their interests, I decided to make this story the basis for our annual student-written production. This year, we will write a narrated play, a comedy, and a musical, stemming from the same Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

We began the writing process in a very traditional way: during our one-hour weekly meeting, I turned on the projector, sat down at the computer, and the students dictated sections of the story. During our first hour like this, I realized it would not work out. Of the 35 students in attendance, five or six were doing the majority of the writing. The rest were quiet (and probably bored) for the entire hour. All 35 of them, writers and non-writers alike, were sitting still in a dark room for 60 minutes, which is never good for ten- to twelve-year-old actors.

I was able to solve all of these problems with our CMS Theatre wiki. On this free wiki, hosted by, I posted the writing they had completed in our in-school writing session. This will be the script for the narrated version of our story. For the comedy and musical versions, I provided a basic outline of the scenes in the story. In their own time at home or in the school library, students are able to edit and add to the three plays. Within a day of its introduction, the students had accomplished more than we had in two meetings. Additionally, more than a dozen students were active on the wiki, including many who don't normally speak out in the group.

A wiki was the perfect tool to use having many students contribute to these plays. The entire process is more student-centered and reflects the fifth and sixth grade writing style. As I expected, "...wikis provide an exceptional way to foster student collaboration and consensus building-two critical higher order learning skills-and therefore lend themselves to group projects, online or in-class" (Reo, 2006).

Curriculum Tool

Every year, teachers and administrators spend hundreds of hours writing curriculum, developing units, and creating lesson plans. Within a school or department, it is crucial to hold students to common objectives and expectations. When curriculum is planned collaboratively, everyone benefits, especially the students. Using a wiki to plan and collect curriculum documents allows teachers and administrators to access, revise, and create the plans at any time.

A curriculum wiki contains benchmarks, units and lesson plans. Teachers can collaborate with colleagues by viewing other teachers' lessons and posting their own. This way, for example, two elementary art teachers from the same district can teach the same material to their students. Administrators can also use the wiki to observe the planning and progress of the teachers he supervises. Through this observation, he might see gaps in the curriculum or redundancies between classes. A curriculum wiki saves hours of meeting time and improves communication amongst educators.

Group Projects

Every March, Mrs. Johnson's third grade classroom prepares a state project. Students, in groups of four, research a state, write a three-page paper, and prepare a presentation for their class. They spend time in the library and online researching their state's history, economy, population, and other fun facts. The hardest step is the paper. The four students must compile their research, write the paper, and work through several revisions. This step has always been difficult.

Ten years ago, the students would spend several afternoons together in the library. They would organize index cards with important research and put together an outline. Then, the students would write the various sections of the paper, either taking turns or advising one student who would write.

Five years ago, the process was made slightly easier. Students could spend a short time together, putting together their outline. Then, they could write their individual sections on their home computer. When each student finished, they could e-mail their work to the group. One student could take the various documents and copy them into their paper. That student could then send the larger document back to his classmates, who could each edit and revise the paper on their own. Once the revisions were sent back to the first student, he could apply them to the final paper. This process was faster than the original but still flawed. The one lead student did much more work than his classmates. The process of compiling four different revisions into one paper is difficult and time consuming.

Today, the process is completely streamlined. Mrs. J