Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Video Questions in YouTube - increasing student engagement

A current piece of research by the Digital Literacy team is looking at how video tutorials can be created and then shared to students. These ideas fit with the UWCSEA Learning Principles and the idea of providing feedback to students through the learning process. It also links to the idea of the Flipped Classroom to provide students with time in class to apply, discuss and evaluate ideas.

Currently YouTube is the best option for teachers to share videos that they produce, both to students and to the wider community. Some of the educational features of YouTube are outlined below.
  • Single sign-in to YouTube using your Google Apps accounts
  • Unlimited storage capacity
  • Ability to create channels to curate material for students.
  • Ability to add annotations and comments to videos.
  • Build in multichoice, popup questions to a video to enhance student understanding.
The last feature is the newest education idea that YouTube has developed and is the feature that we see the most benefit in. The following example from Grade 11 Economics demonstrates how this works.

The first question appears at 1.10. When you click on the correct answer "true" the video will proceed. 

If you would like to try these ideas in your class or develop some tutorial videos, please be in touch with Andrew McCarthy who can provide some guidance and additional resources. 

To turn on multichoice questions you need to be signed into your account and then click on this link. Video Questions Beta. This will activate the beta testing of this product, which has not been realised to the public yet. 

Future posts will explain how to create channels and curate material for your students. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Notetaking with Evernote

Evernote is a great application for writing and collating notes and now it looks even better. Last week Evenote realised Version 5 of their popular product and have refined the layout to help you search and find your notes.

You can download Evernote from the App Store. If you already have a version installed on your mac you may need to delete the program from your application folder and then download and install the new file.

If you are someone who saves school work in separate word documents, Evernote is the tool for you. Once you sign up for a free account your notes are saved to the web. Your notes are also easily searchable by key words, tags and titles.

Some top tips to become an Evernote ninja

Left Hand Sidebar

The sidebar has been updated to help you navigate through your notes more easily. The most recent notes show up, plus any Notebooks you drag to the shortcut section at the top. Try drag notebooks from each of your subjects into this shortcut bar.


Tags are a way that you can label notes so that you can search them later. Much like tagging a friend in a photo in Facebook, tagging should be part of your routine when taking notes and researching. The new tab icon in the lefthand sidebar help you see an overview of your tags and work.


Within each note there are lots of features to support your writing. Think about using the check list icons, bullet points, table and different colours. You can use these ideas to collate ideas or summarise viewpoints. Also try the record button to save some audio or the teachers talk into the note.

Saving from the Web

Evernote Webclipper is a separate app you can download from within Evernote Preferences. This allows you to grab snippets from a website and save this research back into your Evernote notebook. 

Lastly... Evernote Clearly

Evernote Clearly is a greap app built into Chrome that allows you to save newspaper articles or blog posts. Once you click on the Clearly button in the menu, it will allow you to save the article back to your note book with all of your highlights. Very nice for those people who always lose and misplace research.

How do you use Evernote as a students... add your comments below :)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Kids, Concentration & Boredom
Photograph: John Slater/Getty Images

An article in the New York Times on this subject has brought this issue to the fore:

"Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say"

See also

"Technology Creating a Generation of Distracted Students"

The general gist of the arguments could be summarised thus:

Teachers (from middle and high schools) say today’s digital technologies “do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

"There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers..."

".. roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.

... nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”

... of the 685 teachers surveyed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span “somewhat” or “a lot.”

That said, these same Teachers remained somewhat optimistic about digital impact, with 77% saying Internet search tools have had a “mostly positive” impact on their students’ work.

Arguments abound, although ones like this strike me as quite strange:
"This could be because search engines and Wikipedia have created an entire generation of students who are used to one-click results and easy-to-Google answers."

You're saying that if you can get an answer to a question with one click, that is a bad thing? Sure, there will be times when you will have to do a lot more than one click, because you have not been able to get a satisfactory answer to the question. But... if I could get a good answer in one click, believe me I would. If anything, access to the treasure trove of information that is the Internet, makes it much easier to get a multiplicity of sources, rather than only one, much easier than I could with books - yes I said it.

If your students can get the answers to your questions with one click... You're asking the wrong kinds of questions.

Image credit: TRF_Mr_Hyde

So. To the hordes of disgruntled teachers who are so quick to blame technology for short attention spans, I have this to say.

Get better. Get creative.

If your kids are bored, that is because, you are boring them, you are allowing them to be bored. Face it, move on, build a bridge, get over it, and use this as impetus to improve. As Dylan Wiliam said last week, teaching is the hardest profession because you can always get better at it; and, "A complaint is a gift" (Although it won't feel like that at the time).

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." 
(Widely attributed to Dorothy Parker)

Here's another article from TIME that might help to put this in perspective:

"Why Long Lectures Are Ineffective" Salman Khan

It is unfair to blame technology for short attention spans… We (the human race, not just kids) have had short attention spans for many years, it's just that students are now less inclined to put up with it. Certainly the Time magazine article cites research from 1976, well before the advent of digital technology as we know it - I was a (bored) 6 year old.

Attention span for direct instruction via @twoguysde 

I know this may come as a huge shock to anyone who knows me, but I have always had a short attention span; and that predated computers by at least a decade... I am not the only one. Chances are many of them are in your class (and are also your students' parents).
In 1996, in a journal called the National Teaching & Learning Forum, two professors from Indiana University — Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish — described how research on human attention and retention speaks against the value of long lectures. They cited a 1976 study that detailed the ebbs and flows of students’ focus during a typical class period. Breaking the session down minute-by-minute, the study’s authors determined that students needed a three- to five-minute period of settling down, which would be followed by 10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. Then — no matter how good the teacher or how compelling the subject matter — there would come a lapse. In the vernacular, the students would “lose it.” Attention would eventually return, but in ever briefer packets, falling “to three- or four-minute [spurts] towards the end of a standard lecture,” according to the report. 
Just in case you didn't catch that. Let me just make that a little clearer:

10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. 

That's it.

Then what you need to do, instead of whinging, get creative.

Monday, 12 November 2012

GarageBand & SoundCloud

Got Grooves to get from GarageBand to share on the Web? Easy:

  1. Share the groove by going to the start screen, click My Songs, then click 'Edit' and choose a 'choon' while it's dancing (well, jiggling)

  2. Click the Share button
  3. Email it to yourself

  4. Now use a computer to download the track from your email
  5. Click on a link to a group you have created, or a widget like the ones below to upload your class files to Soundcloud for sharing:
Send us your sounds
Send us your sounds

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dealing with Digital Distractions in the Classroom

Whilst we all believe that technology and the iLearn initiative is improving our student's learning experience, we have to be proactive and look at the issue of digital distractions. In the absence of laptops, students will undoubtedly find some other means of distracting themselves during monotonous classes, but the temptation to send and email, open a chat in Skype or dip into YouTube is more tempting than ever.

Doonesbury, November 2011

How do we know that students are off task?

Body Language is always the first hint. The student's head position, eyes tracking quickly over the screen and rapid clicking are all signs of off task behaviour. Secondly, flicking and flashing screens are a second hint. In a Mac system students use multiple desktops and misson control to quickly switch between screens and hide functions. It is also difficult to see what activities students have running in the background. It could appear that they are working on a project, whilst also arranging YouTube playlists in the background.

Below are a collection of five hints, that can help manage the digital distractions. If you have other ideas or thoughts, please leave a comment at the end of this post. 

Consistency of Expectations

Setting expectations within a digital classroom is very important. At the beginning of a term you can have a short discussion to establish a social contract for the use of digital devices in the classroom. 

As a school we don't mandate any specific rules, but teachers are free to establish guidelines within their classes. Personally I prefer that students have laptops turned on and sitting on the desk, but not open to begin a lesson. When I am speaking or discussing something with student's, I ask them to lower their lids to 45 degrees with a a silly crocodile hand gesture and then wait for every student to follow. After a while students understand what is a appropriate in your class if you consistently reinforce these expectations. Posters around the room are a good idea or stickers and hints on the desks.

Visible Lesson Planning

A good lesson that keeps students involved, contains authentic learning experiences that are collaborative and interactive will obviously maintain student engagement. Lesson objectives can be listed on the whiteboard to highlight were the learning is heading, and what skills the teacher is looking for. Not every lesson will be action packed and full of excitement, but structure and purposeful activities will improve engagement.

Circulating around the Classroom 

Try teaching from different points in the class and avoid sitting at a desk at the front. You can use a laser pointer or clicker to teach from different parts of the room. This will let you see what the students are doing more easily. Be prepared to sit within and among the students when they are doing independent work. Sitting beside students in a casual fashion allows them to ask questions when they feel ready. Also think about the arrangement of the desks and the relative position of your desk. Manage the class by walking around, being visible and by rotating where students sit and grouping on a regular basis.

Use Timers to build focus

Students work better when they have some idea of the time expectations. Try interactive tools such as Triptico to set timers and keep kids focused. The free app has a range of cool activities to flash up on your projector. Ensuring a mixture of activities including group work, independent work and quick assessment are always a sure strategy to keep kids on their toes.

Pick your Battles

Obviously some indiscretions are worse than others. When a student is checking out a website and other students become distracted then most teachers would step in. Small warnings, and system of yellow and red cards could be appropriate. Laptops are a privilege so be prepared to remove the laptop for a period of time from a student who has ignored warnings and pass on this information to a Tutor and Head of Grade. Also rewarding students with good attitudes always works and letting them listen to music on occasions is also fine. 

If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment below.