End the (Educational) Fear of Wikipedia

by Cary L. Tyler

In part three of my look at “21 Things That will be Obsolete in 2009”, timing could not be perfect than examining the role of Wikipedia in education, especially as the website goes on blackout for a day (January 18th) in protest of anti-piracy legislation.

That is an issue for another day, but one of the common comments from educators has been the “do not use Wikipedia” crusade.

Shelly Blake-Plock said this about the online and free encyclopedia: “Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself”.

I used to be on the “Thou shalt not use Wikipedia”. Now, I actually still say it, but for a different reason. Wikipedia may be too much for some students without basic instruction.

Case in point: Our school’s physics teacher, who has a PhD in Physics and is a retired Intel employee, recently told his students to be careful of using Wikipedia, not because it is shallow, but because the depth of how it explained physics terminologies.

To paraphrase him: “It had better information than in their text”.  (For a sample, look at how Wikipedia handles the concept of “absolute zero”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_zero.)

For the English teacher in me, I looked up “metaphor” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphor) and found a pretty solid overview of the concept. Again, it is so technical that I would ask some of my students to take in only a chunk of the information on the page, but for my Advanced Placement students, it would not be a bad resource for them to attempt to deepen their knowledge of the concept of “metaphor”.

Of course Wikipedia cannot serve as a primary source, and should not. However, on well-constructed pages, there are a number of references and links to primary sources. I have taken some of these sources, gone to the university library online or Google Scholar, and found the primary information I need for a viable research paper. It often has been easier for me than wading through an initial Google search.

In light of rising costs of textbooks (and also, especially at the secondary level, textbooks that have been gutted or are too full of graphics instead of viable, at-level or above information), why not steer students in the direction of Wikipedia? With some basic instruction on how to use it, it could prove to be a valuable resource, especially considering that textbooks are not primary sources either.

Educators, students, for a little more on how to use Wikipedia in the classroom, visit this site: http://edudemic.com/2011/12/wikipedia-in-classroom/.

Also, visit this blog post from Macleans: http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2011/12/21/why-smart-profs-want-students-to-use-wikipedia/


Hey, what happened…?

Students, I have move all of my classes to Edmodo.com. If you have not signed up as yet (you should have by now), e-mail me at dothgrin.net.  If you need something from earlier in the semester, please go to http://dothgrinenglish10.wordpress.com/ (It is now called Doth Grin: The Archive).

I am moving my education technology blog back to this page permanently beginning January 15th, 2012.


21 Things that will be obsolete in education? Maybe..maybe not (Part II))


For decades the mere word has caused many a student to groan, roll their eyes, or cry out in frustration. However, it has been mostly a necessary evil (except when it is a waste of time and does not advance an educational goal).

Shelly Blake-Plock, in his 2009 article on “21 Things That will be Obsolete in 2009” in education, states that this very concept of homework will disappear…at least in its current setting. In Part II of my discussion over Blake-Plock’s list, I have to say that is already happening, but not fast enough.

First, some teachers are already doing what is called a “Flipped Classroom”, where lectures and concepts are provided outside of the classroom and homework per se is done in the class. Here is a video to explain this concept in more clarity:

There is plenty of debate around this and one that will be addressed later. However, I concur with Blake-Plock when he states that “we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more, we need them to ‘learn’ more.” Homework needs to continue to become simply academic engagement, whether is it at home and/or at school.

I have cut my lecturing back in half in the past couple of years, instead choosing to start assignments earlier but ask probing questions as the students begin their instruction. In the process, not only did my belief that study questions not cover nearly what students need to learn about a subject become even clearer, but I am finding where students are making mistakes much quicker and I am able to address them before they go home and shut down because they are struggling with the material.

One item I would love to see obsolete is the role of standardized tests in college admissions. Yes, I am an Advanced Placement English teacher, but it seems to me there is a growing emphasis on the test and it is stunting the abilities of teachers to provide a more rounded educational experience. Thanks to maturing social media and inexpensive costs of “cloud” storage, more emphasis needs to be placed on a digital portfolio. Colleges should set up admission folders for students to submit their best work. Yes, cheating is prevalent, which is why teachers should have access to those folders and be allowed to submit student work as well, and then admissions offices can compare that work to letters of recommendation, transcripts, community and volunteer service, other extracurricular activities and scores from AP, SAT, or ACT. It does not have to be hefty to be effective.

To make it even easier, establish a secured “Facebook” style site that is dedicated to adding admissions information, so that universities can pick and choose what they need to see from the potential student. I concede that there is some concern about privacy and how much should be made available on such a site, but there is really no need to put much on a secured cloud-based site that has not already been seen by teachers, friends, family, and other community members.

Coming soon: Differentiated Instruction and Wikipedia…why I feel the fear of Wikipedia has gone too far…


21 Things that will be obsolete in education? Maybe..maybe not (Part I)

Shelly Blake-Plock (a musician/educator who is particularly interested in the expansion of paperless classrooms) came up with a list of twenty-one things that will be obsolete in education in 2020. Since his blog came out in 2009, his ideas have been bouncing around educational cyberspace and raised some interesting conversations.

Some I agree with, some will be interesting to see if it transpires, and a few I hold suspect, even as get deeper and deeper into education technology.

I am going to address a few of these per blog, but for a quick review, here is Blake-Plock’s discourse via Mindshift.

The first three I am focusing on today are desks, language labs, and computers.

Desks would naturally be easy as more and more teachers shift to tables or specialized rows. Yet one thing Blake-Plock does not appear to address is the need, at least at times, for structure within a classroom environment, especially in the beginning or in particularly tough moments.

I vary on group instruction in a classroom:  It has worked wonders for my students who are already reasonably disciplined and also have some focus towards college. However, I have had particular groups of students who have had a particularly hard time with learning in general, and providing an open environment, at least in the early going, can prove more challenges than this teacher is willing to handle after all these years.

Thus, I have a mostly traditional row approach (that is adaptable for my seniors) to keep the theme of organization and order in place. Collaboration is nice, but when even today’s grad students still express frustration at working in group dynamics because there are too many “slackers” in them, it becomes important to not just jump on the collaboration bandwagon without a plan and an alternative.

Language Labs? Easy. They did not work well, at least in my experiences, when they were popular. For my generation, a big headset was only cool if I had my favorite music playing through them. Today, the concept is just as stifling in an era of You Tube and the improved vocal quality of educational audio.

Computers. Blake-Plock means PC’s, and she is half correct, especially with the proliferation of tablets. Quite frankly, computers, at least within the classroom setting, have been a hit or miss proposition ever since the Apple IIe. Teachers either had them or they didn’t, never had enough of them, or had problems knowing how to use them or did not have enough software or quality hardware to make them effective.  However, Blake-Plock is highly exuberant about the next wave of handheld hardware…yet the biggest question is who is going to pay for it and how much will be available. The haves will continue to get all the new stuff, grants will piecemeal them in some settings, while others will be on the outside looking in as long as the current method of providing money for education exists.

It also leaves out one other issue that teachers bring up time and time again: Lack of resource, time, and training…one of the issues things that, based on current situations, will not be obsolete by 2020.


To Tech or Not to Tech

Four classes into my education technology Master’s at Boise State University, I have realized how much is out there yet how much has not truly touched classrooms across America, except maybe at the collegiate level.

There are already two significant positions out there and one that is more important than both. One is to ignore much of the use of technology in the classroom, either because of educational funding issues, simple ignorance or fear, or because some educators believe it will do little to nothing to make a difference.

There are those who want everyone to jump off into the deep end whether or not it is 30 degrees or 110 degrees outside and fully embrace the technology, pump millions into getting the latest tablets and such into the classroom, and then sit with Christmas morning anticipation of what the day (translation educational success) will bring.

Yet the third is the one that is best examined, but it is also the one that requires the most time, patience, and methodical approaches: A well-thought out plan of action to incorporate technology into different environments instead of a “one-size” fits all concept that too many schools have embraced, much to their chagrin and at times epic failure.

To translate, using two cities I have formerly been a teacher: Albuquerque and the East Valley section of the Phoenix metro area. A “one-size” fits all mentality would not work in those areas, especially Albuquerque, which has strongly diverse population and diverse needs. Schools with more special education students need certain approaches. Schools with a large chunk of their population considering education after high school need others, such as more online training and preparation for such endeavors (I will elaborate more on these in the coming months as I write more deeply and intensely about education and educational technology).

In education, we call this differentiation. If it is important to offer different approaches to our students, then the same needs to be done when adding technology to the classroom.

Too many times in the last ten years, I have personally seen computers dumped into classrooms, and they end up just sitting there, collecting dust. Some teachers are not sure what to do with them, and the students who could or would use them look at what is in front of them and scoff at how much they actually can use them for (and I am talking about education…not because they are mad they can’t Facebook or do “mad gaming” on them).

Colleges are not immune to epic leaps before thinking: Portland Community College recently dove into using Google as part of its learning management system. Not a bad idea, except it did not appear they tested it well, resulting in two weeks of chaos at the beginning of the Fall 2011 semester as the system was instantly overloaded by the crush of students and instructors getting online at once.

Based on what I have learned and experienced the last few years, incorporating technology is not as easy at it looks.  However, when it is done well (not perfect, just well) and takes an education first approach instead of a “shiny new something” mentality, it can and will make a difference.

An iPad is nice, but simply giving students options to find information outside of the constructed time space can be even more important. Teachers need to know how to feel comfortable with the instruction, because if they feel good with they are using, students tend to feel good with it as well.

There are so many fun and solid educational tools out there (including plenty that are already on campuses across the country), but if the basics of instruction are missing, there is little that a SMART board, iPad, or Google Docs can do for a student.



Tech Use Plan Presentation

This is the second major tech plan I have been privy to putting together since I have been teaching, but this one is significantly different than the first.

My first was a one, three and five-year plan. Well, needless to say, even though I am no longer at that school, I am certain that plan is not the same. This is for two reasons: One, the recession, and two, what a change since 2007.

Tablets? Netbooks? Curriculum integration? Google Sites? Word Press? Social networking in the schools?

None of those were taken into consideration when we put the plan together in 2007.  The hardware was definitely purchased, thanks to a major bond issue, but there are several different approaches I would take today to refine that lesson plan than when we were simply happy to get as much on campus as we could and figure out how to use it later.

Those days are over. A specific plan must be called into play so that all stake holders understand what is being purchased and used. This not to say that my previous school’s plans were wrong: Getting wireless on campus and to every teacher and getting hardware was important. Teachers did put it to good use, but mostly on an individual basis, and among chaotic conditions (layoffs, budget cuts, and salary freezes often overshadow the ability to move ahead with integrating technology and curriculum).

I actually plan to present this plan to our school, since we do not have a formal one in place as yet. It is something that will need refinement and needs to be evaluated by a planning committee. But it is a start…and it is something that can be built upon.


Shifting to an Online Environment

Cary L. Tyler
Ed Tech 522/July 22nd, 2011

Upon completing my interview of a student who had taken a hybrid class, and conducting a little research behind it, it was interesting to see one of the nation’s largest universities not only taking an aggressive role in moving to a solid online presence, but expecting to profit well from it.

Arizona State University, which cracked 70,000 students and has more than 56,000 undergraduates, wants to have 30,000 students fully online by 2020. Anne Ryman, in an article for the Arizona Republic in June of this year, discussed how the university made $6.2 million in profit from online instruction this past year, and expects to make $200 million (or 7 percent of the university’s revenue) by 2020 (AZ Central).

Currently, only 3,000 students are utilizing some form of online instruction at the university, while Northern Arizona University, which is three hours north of Phoenix and had 25,000 students in 2010, had nearly 3,000 students online. Grand Canyon University, a for-profit institution in Phoenix, had more than 10,000 students enrolled online.

The question that has jumped into my mind is this? Will the proliferation of the online courses eventually establish the “super university” and doom some smaller universities?

It is clear that online is cheaper than brick-and-mortar.  It is simple semantics: classrooms require electricity, heating and air conditioning. Parking structures cost money, as do buildings and space for students and offices for teachers. If online instructors are given solid internet access, good hardware, and tools such as those utilized this semester within this course, their office can be anywhere (and living in the Pacific Northwest, I am good with that).

Jumping from this into the hybrid mode…another question I have is the viability of hybrid when universities such as ASU want a “fully online” experience for their students. It appears that the university expects older, more part-time students, but also may be thinking that the younger generation of students, especially college students, are tech savvy enough (and also becoming distant from their conceptualization of what the traditional classroom represented) to embrace a fully online experience as well.

It almost appears that the hybrid may be serving some colleges as a transition vessel to move more and more students to a fully online model.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this approach…if I had the opportunity, I would love to rekindle my undergraduate days and sit in a classroom, but with the chance to prop my laptop on the desk and frantically take notes. However, I am a full-time professional with a family, and I do not have time to fight Portland’s rush hours to get to a university, nor do I wish to move to Eugene or Corvallis, or even Boise, to get this experience.

I am perfectly content sending this via my blog and chatting via e-mail or Skype. My social experience in college was complete in 1987, so I do not feel like I am missing anything.  Somehow I highly doubt colleges are going to want their undergrads all taking classes from places other than the home campuses…especially when there are sports to be had, but that’s another argument for another time.


Zotero…a student researcher’s dream (Ed Tech 501)

Notecards are over, students.

For those of us who had to have the requisite 50 to 100 note cards, complete with footnotes, MLA or APA., well, say goodbye.

I was recently introduced to Zotero through my Ed Tech 501 class. Allow Zotero to describe itself:

Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help youcollect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.”

It does. It saves the articles collected, especially those from primary sources, and even (gasp) helps put the Works Cited list together in its proper format (give or take a few minor issues).

Zotero also allows students to take notes and collaborate materials for group assignments. The learning curve is no more daunting than fighting with APA, so it is well worth the effort (especially since it is free).

The only problem is that right now, the browser of choice for Zotero is Firefox. A stand alone is available, but I have not experimented with it as yet.

As I said, the MLA and APA formatting is actually pretty good and pretty accurate, something grad students appreciate as they grumble through the correct approach. However, I have not attempted Zotero outside of the academic library realm, so I am not certain how well it pulls it pulls together information for average materials found online.

There are other items students can use for research that might be easier for general consumption, including Diigo. Diigo is a little more user friendly for general research (see the left, do not get carried away with the evolution graphic) and can be used with tablets and various browsers. However, one might have to put a little more effort into the MLA/APA works cited page.

I stopped teaching the use of note cards with my students two years ago (I stopped using note cards when I was in college…which my former students may curse me for, but hey, Doth Grin exists for a reason).

Take time and play with Zotero and/or Diigo. It is a pleasant move from the now antiquated approach to note cards and also allows more freedom for solid internet research.


Stemming Digital Inequality: A Wish

It is not surprising that there are digital inequities running rampant in our world, nation, and even on down to the local level.

Even at the private Catholic school I currently teach at, it is a mad dash to try to even be close to the same page when it comes to recent technology, and that is within the last five to eight years. Thanks to some donors, we have been able to make great strides in some hardware for instruction, and our internet is improving. But more must be done.

Check out my digital inequality plan for Oregon (if $50 million or less was available: http://prezi.com/wbjf3ma3ftf8/digital-inequalitycary-l-tyler-ed-tech-501/)

I come from a school district where millions were spent on new computers and hardware, as well as networking capability (although the teachers who have had salary freezes for the past two to three years would love to have seen some of that go in other directions).

What I discovered in preparing this project is, thanks to technological innovations and the recent Chromebooks movement, some of the digital inequalities in rural and urban settings can be minimized without a huge outflow of cash.

However, based on my years of teaching, it is not surprising that there is a inequality. The mid to upper class districts will always have huge infusions of money. Older schools or tax-poor schools will have a hard time catching up simply because the spending $500 per iPad for 10,000 plus students is hard to stomach when teachers are fired, textbooks are ten or more years old, or buildings have holes in their roofs.

The Department of Education initiatives are interesting, but half the time I was watching that video, I kept wondering “where is the money going to come from?” The Race to the Top initiative has raised almost as many eyebrows as the No Child Left Behind controversy (hear one of these controversies from New Hampshire Public Radio in February of this year).

So, in an era of tight budgets, it is refreshing that the internet and the means to access it can be acquired for much lower costs than in previous years. Let’s hope that districts take these steps similar to what I proposed in my dream hat.


Online Instruction Quandaries

In the text, Teaching Online, a Practical Guide, a few questions fit in with the investigation my EdTech 522 class at Boise State University completed on online education sites. They may not be the obvious ones for those new to online instruction or have not had a variety of presentation methods for online instruction.

The questions queried here are “Who teaches them?” “Who put the courses together?” and “Is there any training in place for those who want to teach online? If so who offers it —faculty development, academic departments, academic technology, instructional design units” (Ko, Rosson Chapter 2). As one of my professors mentioned when I attended Grand Canyon University, simply being a veteran instructor does not mean one is able to dive into teaching an online course. Not only does the androgogy take deep precedence, but also, as Ko and Rosson state, “mastering new skills” and the “cycle of review, reflection and continual revision” that instructors must be involved in. In my analysis of my wife’s sociology class, a review of the professor’s “Rate My Professor” showed a solid rating for the instructor for her site-based courses, but the reviews began to drop off when related to her online courses. Several students in the class said they would be hard pressed to evaluate her well based on the lack of teacher-to-student interaction and feedback. Office hours are available, but for many who are taking instruction online, physical gatherings are often difficult, or in the case of many of us in the Boise State University program, impossible based on the distance learning many of us are undertaking.

In an article by Kyong-Jee Kim and Curtis J. Bonk in 2006, entitled “The Future of Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: The Survey Says…”, the second most common factor that would “most significantly affect the success of online programs” was the “pedagogical competency of online instructors” (the first, of course, was money).

The recession and the rush back to the classroom to reinforce or get a better education may have indeed created the “low readiness” or “middle readiness scenario” (Ko and Rosson) that some colleges have been dealing with lately (this reminds me of the same issue my undergraduate alma mater, New Mexico State University, dealt with in the 1980s as the personal computer exploded on college campuses and computer labs were filled, to coin the vernacular, “24-7” with students during peak learning times). During my two years at Grand Canyon University, there were at least three major course management server issues that came during (Murphy’s Law) bad times. The problem in at least one case: too many students but not enough server or bandwidth to handle the strong online presence Grand Canyon had established. To illustrate, GCU shifted to a powerful online presence in 2005, and blew up to between 12,000 and 15,000 students by 2010, according to Grand Canyon University’s web site (http://online.gcu.edu/index.php?page=faqs). To be fair, the university has found the funding it needed to reach the high readiness solution quickly, and the last semester (January 2010), the technical difficulties appeared to be resolved, with only the routine slow-downs and breakdowns that were handled fairly quickly.

Yet, even with a “high readiness solution” in place, the use of the solution still rests in the hands of the instructor. Jenny Hays, a former colleague of mine from Arizona, teaches both high school and at the University of Phoenix in Arizona. She told me recently that it is not uncommon for teachers to simply teach exactly what is presented them. In essence, they regurgitate the curriculum, which as several of my former high school students have told me, makes the course monotonous and “boring.” Even as a high school English teacher for seventeen years, whenever teachers were told they needed to jump into  a restrictive mold, it created a frustrating situation that even caused a few teachers to walk away from that school or district. It can be frustrating for an instructor, and also make the online experience difficult not only for the student, but for the teacher. It is evident, at least in the two Ed Tech courses I am taking right now, that although there is a solid template with the use of Moodle, instructors are, as coined in Ko and Rosson “encouraged to explore and experiment with new technology tools”.

Kim, Kyong-Lee, & Bonk, Curtis. (2006). The future of online teaching and learning in higher education: the       survey says…. Educause Quarterly29(4), Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterly