Category Archives: educational technology

Top 5 Ways to Improve the Freshman Experience with Mobile Technologies

I’m currently teaching a First Year Odyssey at the University of Georgia.  I’m working with a small group of freshman as they learn more about using mobile technologies to improve their personal and academic lives.  So far, they’re doing a great job.  Both they and I are learning a lot about what life is like with mobile technology, and how to actively pursue ways to improve learning with mobile.

In a recent activity, we hammered out a ‘Top 5’ list about the top 5 ways mobile technologies can improve or have improved their lives.  Here’s our final list:

  1. Communicate.  Using tools like IM/Text, Facebook, and GroupMe, students can easily coordinate study sessions, share study guides, and talk about course topics.
  2. Organize.  This is where many students are focused right now.  Tools like iCal, iStudiez Pro, and Google Calendar offer lots of great tools for setting up reminders, color coding events, and organizing due dates. With iCloud and Google Drive, it’s easy to sync these across devices so that you have your information at all times.
  3. Study Aids.  Study Blue allows you to take notes, make flash cards, and pull flash cards all in the cloud.  There’s lots of Flash Card apps out there that pull from sites like Quizlet and Flashcard Exchange but also allow you to build your own. Great for those classes with lots of new content and language to master!
  4. Design/Performance Tasks.  Have to design something? Try searching Pintrest for ideas about decor, architecture, or other things. Use community sites like Diigo to see what others are tagging out there.  I personally love the Diigolet that installs quickly into my Safari browser – it makes tagging on the go very easy and simple!

Ok. #4 there actually counts as two things, but the idea is similar so I grouped them. Thus, we’ve got the Top 5 things these freshmen are doing with their mobile technology.

Remember, these come straight from the students – I did not make this up!  These students have got a lot more going on, but this brief summary provides a nice overview of our work to date.  Looking forward to seeing how this semester ends with these students.  It’s been fantastic so far!


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Why I don’t blog more (but really, really should)

Do you blog? When was your last blog post — Days? Weeks? Months?

I blog about instructional design and technology, so the points made in this post refer to that topic specifically. My last serious set of posts was nearly two years ago. That’s a long time; if I were a dog, that’d be over 10% of my life that I wasted on activities other than blogging. Why? I’ll list my top few excuses; I bet your excuses are similar if not identical.

  • I don’t have time.
  • I have nothing new to say.
  • I’m not a good writer.
  • Blogs are for narcissists who want to hear themselves talk and be some sanctimonious windbags.

Let me address each excuse, one by one, and explain why I’ve now come to realize that I really, really should be blogging more often (and perhaps you should too).

  1. I don’t have time. Time is about priorities. If I want something, I can make it happen. For example, let’s say I want to work out. Instead of sleeping until 7:30am each morning, I could get up an hour earlier and work out. Which won’t happen until I decide that working out is more important than sleep.Same here. You won’t blog until you decide it’s more important that something else. Which means it ought to get you something. If you can figure out how blogging helps you get something you value, then you’ll do it.For me, the practice of writing — organizing thoughts, articulating them, illustrating them with images — is value added to my life. I’m a professor, so I am rewarded for writing. If there is a reward for writing in your world, blogging is for you (some blogs, like Blogger, post ads and share profits with you; money is another great motivator and offsets the loss of time nicely).
  2. I have nothing new to say. Yes, you do. Especially if you are a technology specialist who is ‘in the trenches’. I want to know what you do, why, and how. I want to know how you use technology with K12 students. Because my life is dedicated to researching that. And your blogs help me figure out what questions you want answers to.I promise others want to know your thoughts and practices. So share them. Be brief; be direct; be great. Share. I and others like me want to know.
  3. I’m not a good writer. Neither were the good writers. Until, that is,  they wrote (and wrote, and wrote, and wrote). If you teach kids to write, then you’ll be modeling excellent skills by blogging. If you want to learn to write better, most research says you need to write more to get better.Plus, writing for public consumption is a whole new ballgame. You’ll be told if you suck (And you will bet told that. Often. And it will help you get better.)
  4. Blogs are for narcissists. Umm…well…I, ah…Ok, you got me. I’ve no argument there. I love seeing how many people visit my blog each day, why they are here, and what search terms got them here. But feeding my ( and your) ego is only a small percentage of the benefits of blogging. And it’s a healthier way to feed your ego than, say, belittling everyone you interact with. Keep in mind that the biggest contributing factor to the success of most blogs IS the personality that comes through them. So letting yourself — your true self — out to the world every so often this is not entirely a bad thing…

Yes, there are hundreds of blogs out there written by folks who think their own personal Existential Crisis (and emotions that go with it) are both unique and at the same time profoundly interesting to the rest of the world. Let’s not knock them — perhaps the catharsis that comes from blogging is healing for them, and I’m on board with helping anyone who wants heal do so. (In fact, I did just that, a few times. Then I learned how self-indulgence does not an engaging blog make and moved on. See it here:

I do know that when I follow bloggers who write about what I like, I’m a better person for it. I have more ideas, I see more perspectives, and I think more broadly about the things I’m interested in. If I can do the same for someone else through my own blog entry, then I’ve just found another great reason to blog.

sign language of the word 'blog'I hope you find a great reason soon, if you haven’t already.

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Putting the Point Back in Power Point: The Golden Rule

Dear Power Point Presenter:

Your slide should not be your cue card - if it is, it's for you, not your audience.

I’m the person in your audience who you just noticed yawning. Who is checking my IMs, Tweets, and my Google Reader while you talk. Who is about to walk away from your talk without the slightest chance of remembering you or anything you have said for the past 30 minutes.

Want to know why?

I’ll give you a hint – think about the Golden Rule. I seriously doubt you want done to you that which you are doing to others.

Powerpoint Law: Your power point slide show is NOT supposed to be for you. It’s supposed to be for your audience.

Let that sink in. Those slides that you are reading from, word-for-word? You built them for you. They are high-tech cue cards. Either that or all that dense text is about you trying to prove something to us — that you are smart; that you did your homework; that you are ‘the real deal’. Either way, we don’t like it. Stop doing it to us, it doesn’t work.

If the presenter reads what's written here, no one will remember a thing. Too much text, too many ideas, too many images.

We cannot retain anything when we simultaneously read the exact same words that we are listening to; it goes against how our brains work (more on the issues of split attention and cognitive load and split attention effect). How much do you think we’ll remember when you present your third slide in a row that contains two paragraphs of dense text that you expect us to read while listening to you while also thinking about what you are saying while also thinking about why you even bothered to put all this in a slide in the first place.

Present one idea at a time, visually, while saying those words you normally want to type out on your slide. Here, the idea is why we accept the new over the old.

Want to build your slide for the audience? Then stop splitting our attention. This is my golden rule. Here’s how:

  1. For each slide, boil your point/idea down to one brief statement.
  2. Present that statement in a text box.
  3. Support that idea with a relevant, powerful image or related images.
  4. When the time comes to present, simply talk over the slide (this is all the stuff you wanted to say from #1 above but didn’t because the rule was to use only one brief statement).

Here's the second idea presented in the earlier, text-dense slide. It's OK to have more slides if you spend less time per slide, especially if they have a strong visual component.

There are several great resources out there on making your slides more visual, and more focused on one idea at a time. I’ve included them here for your enjoyment.

I’m sure there are more out there, but these do a nice job of reinforcing my point. Be forewarned — moving to an audience-oriented presentation is not easy. But you will find the challenge interesting, and one you pursue for years to come.

And that will bring you one step closer to putting the point back in Powerpoint.

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World Of Warcraft as an educational tool may not be a good idea

World of Warcraft Logo

World of Warcraft Logo

A recent Time magazine article (June 2009) states that the future generation of workers can hone its knowledge of culture and teamwork skills by continuing to play World Of Warcraft…

But is this really the best thing for kids?

Haven’t heard of WOW yet? Here’s a link to a video trailer about World of Warcraft to show you.

WOW is a massively multi-player online gaming environment which Blizzard, who produces it, claims to be 10 million users strong. At about $15 a month to play, you do the math…that’s WOW indeed!

In WOW, players work in teams to complete quests and the game measures each team member’s contribution to the team. The one that contributes most get’s to be (or stay) the leader, and other rewards follow proportional to the team member’s level of contribution.

Yep, sounds like the job of the future alright — collaborate and problem solve with others from around the world, and get rewarded for your hard work. Nice.

But do a quick Google Search for World of Warcraft Addict* and you’ll see some alarming items. Divorce over gaming, a WOW detox center, and  parents suing Blizzard for addiction. A youth organization condemns WOW, calls WOW the “crack cocaine of the computer world”.

YouTube sports several videos on the topic — among the serious ones is the one below called World of Warcraft game addiction documentary – Game OVERdose

Is this really the best way for kids to learn teamwork, cooperation, and cultural differences? I’d think more than twice about choosing such environments as tools for learning. I’m thinking there are lots of less controversial ways that can still be meaningful and useful to our youth.

Maybe that should be the next Time magazine article…


Filed under 21st century skills, educational gaming, educational technology, Uncategorized, World of Warcraft addiction

Text boxes — are they the new bullet point?

I have it on good authority that the new thinking in presentation-making is, and I quote, that “Text boxes are the new bullet point”. I get the idea here — let’s stop inflicting ‘death by powerpoint‘ on each other and start making some really good presentations. Ok, I like it.

But liking it and making it happen are two different things, and I’m not sure that such a monumental shift in presentation culture is possible. Fine, I’m a skeptic and a cynic all rolled into one (what do call a room full of skeptics and cynics? A skeptic tank). The bottom line is that people make presentations they way they do for a reason — it’s a culture left over from the days of the overhead projector. And in those days, text was king. This is addressed, among other things, in the presentation below called Presenting with Visuals

I don’t think the world is ready (ok, maybe it’s just me who is not ready, but my ego demands I generalize this statement to all of humankind) for thinking about presentations as a series of text boxes. Besides, I really think rigidly adhering to presentation rules — no matter what the rules might be — has gotten folks into the mess they are in. Rules may not be the answer after all…

Stupid presentation rules

Stupid presentation rules

Perhaps the more generally-applied heuristic is in order here. This is where principles of instructional design can really help. Take Dual-Coding Theory [Paivio] — the idea that text and visuals combined make for stronger learning. Or instructional message design (link to an article), which suggests that using contrast, repetition, and chunking text can help the learner process an instructional message more effectively. These are not new ideas and the Internet is rife with advice related to them [see also 10 tips for more effective presentations or the Presenting with Visuals slideshow above].

While these ideas are not the catchy “THIS is the new THAT” slogan of the dissatisfied presentation-viewing public, they make mucho sense and are easy to apply immediately. “Mucho sense and easy to apply?”, you ask. Yes, I say. Mucho grande. And those elements are a recipe for making shift happen (in reference to presentation culture, of course!).

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If I’m a digital immigrant, will I get deported?

Ok, let me explain a little.

The local cable providers charge ridiculous amounts of $$ for digital cable, HD TV, high(est) speed internet, digital phone with the works, etc. Now, I love the works. I love the HD on my TV, I love the caller ID — love it all. I’m all about technology, but the fees were just getting crazy. So I dropped it all. Bare bones baby! Stripped phone, 33 local cable channels, and less-than-highest speed internet (ok, maybe it’s not exactly dropping in the case of the Internet, but for a guy who lives half his life in cyberspace it’s a real sacrifice!).

This led me to wonder…am I now a digital immigrant? Because I eschew the fancy-shmancy technology-geek level of technitus in my life, am I a pariah? A technology outcast? If the wrong people find out what I’ve done, will I get deported from my life in the circuitry of my computer-based self?

Probably not. But given the popularity of the digital native / immigrant terminology, one has to wonder…

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Jott’s no longer free

Well, good things cannot last forever, I guess. By Sept 12, 2008 the Jott service will be a service that we all pay for. I don’t think I’ll go that route. But it was fun to Jott while it lasted!

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