Monday, December 1, 2014

Female and Technology

After my social media was bombarded with the story of Engineer Barbie and her helplessness in computer programming, USA Article, I began to think about the lack of representation of females in the tech industry. According to the following article about Google Investing $50 Million to Close the Gender Gap, Google-Girls in Tech only 17% of Google tech employees are women and only 12% of computer science degrees go to women. There are many reasons for this disparity, including lack of encouragement and role models. And then once women get the job Silicon Valley companies offer money for women to  freeze their eggs so that reproducing doesn't get in the way of work. NPR-Egg Freezing.What kind of message is this sending to girls and young women about how they are valued and perceived? I don’t see how women would feel welcomed and inspired in this industry. I recently spoke with a few male friends in the technology field. They not only confirmed the lack of female presence at their workplaces but also gave examples of biases that some tech programmers and developers feel about women in similar positions. Apparently, women have to continually prove themselves just as capable as men in these situations despite skill set and experience.

As a women getting into teaching technology I am concerned about chauvinism for myself and the students I teach. As an educator I would love to see more learning games, online activities and experiences geared towards school age girls. I have found two programs geared for girls and technology, Techbridge and Girls Who Code . I think this is an excellent step in the right direction for equality in the technology field. I also, think that perceptions of who, what, and how the tech industry operates needs to change in order for girls and women to become a part of the tech culture. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Aesthetically Challenged

I am designing a hybrid online course while also deciding which color to have my kitchen cabinets painted. In both regard I am feeling inadequate in my abilities to create things that are attractive and pleasing to the eye. Luckily, the painting company I hired has offered a consultation with an interior designer. As for the online course I am referring to Interface Design for Learning by Dorian Peters and The Online Teaching Survival Guide by Boettcher and Conrad. Since aesthetics isn't always a strength of mine I will take all the help I can get.

They way information is presented and the design/ layout of online learning influences me as a learner so I can only assume it affects my students. Peters in Interface Design for Learning has a whole chapter devoted to the aesthetics. (Pg. 75-115) He even states, “The relationship between interface attractiveness and improved usability is known as the aesthetics-usability effect” (pg. 77) Yes, there is a term for what I am trying to achieve!

I am designing an online course for 4th grade students. I am trying to keep each screen simple enough for the students to focus on the core content but interesting enough to stay engaged. I am trying to employ color as it, “has shown to help learners understand and remember, to increase engagement, and enhance effectiveness of visuals” but it also can, “depress learning when overused” (Peters, pg. 82) I am also trying to organize the material on the page so that there is a hierarchy to the learning and the students don’t get distracted by superfluous information, while giving credit to the correct sources. This is more of a delicate balance then what I have previously thought.

While looking for various games to add to my online course I have found quite a few educational game sites that have felt aesthetically overwhelming. Some sites presented a great quantity of information about how to play the game and others had so many visuals that I had a hard time distinguishing a course of action. I am wondering if this is the way gaming sites are constructed or do I feel this way because I am not 10 years old. Are kids able to take in a rapid amount of visuals these days that I am not accustomed to? Is this a strategy I am not understanding that I should be incorporating into my course? 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Colorado State Standards

I have been working on an online learning project involving four modules about fourth grade social studies. I have based my lessons in these modules on the Colorado State standards for 4th grade. The state standards for K-12 curriculum are published by the Colorado Department of Education or CDE. They can be easily found on the CDE website. The fact that I would use state standards to guide my teaching and lessons is a given since every public school and district requires teachers to use them. Documentation from the CDE about state standards first introduces the standards in a straightforward way, i.e. “4th grade history”. Under each standard is the outcome and skills a student needs to master, i.e. “organize and sequence events to understand the concepts of chronology and cause and effect in the history of Colorado”. Then under this outcome and skills are four evidence of outcomes; inquiry questions, relevance and application, and nature of history. There are bullet points under bullet points. And this is only one state standard. Analyzing the state standards got me thinking. Who makes these standards? Why are they written as they are? How do they relate to other state’s standards? I have always assumed the state government somehow created these standards to make sure students learn at their potential and to organize the educational system, even if some of the learning points seemed a bit high for target and a little random. I wasn't too far off on the first part. The CDE website shows the history of the state standards, created in 1993, by a house bill. Then committees were developed and meetings happened to compose the state standard documents in comparison to national and international benchmarks. There is even a Standards and Assessment Task-force and evidence of education-related action taken by the Colorado General Assembly. am glad to know that our tax dollars are hard at work and that the standards I agonize over are not dealt out arbitrarily. Thanks department of education! 

Monday, September 29, 2014

We All Love Feedback

I was recently reading The Online Survival Guide by Boettcher and Conrad (pg. 173) about the rules of feedback for online learning. There seems to be some general rules, i.e. give feedback early and often, be prompt when you set a time frame for feedback and make sure the feedback is personal and formative. Leaving the academic aspects about feedback aside I began to realize that the emotional part of feedback reminds me a lot of a discipline program called Love and Logic. . Almost every principal I’ve worked for has required training or reading created by the Love and Logic program for classroom management and discipline. Love and Logic has many great techniques. One technique that has worked well for me in the classroom (and at home) is that of acknowledging the child. Every child wants to be seen. Some will behave in negative ways for attention and some will act like angels in the hopes to get noticed. But once a child is acknowledged in some way, not even necessarily in a positive or negative way, that child becomes more engaged, helpful, and more comfortable in the environment. I don’t need to praise or admonish but simply state that I recognize a student’s presence. Sometimes I would simply say to a student, “I see you got new shoes” or “I saw that you put the pencils away” and suddenly I saw that child have much more positive energy.

Applying this acknowledgment technique to online learning seems very similar to classroom management. Even I, as a graduate student, want to be seen and acknowledged with the work I am doing online. There is something exciting and satisfying about knowing my thoughts have been read and processed. Both peer and instructor feedback creates a desire to do a better job. When designing online courses for my elementary students I will remember just how important this acknowledgement will be to keep children motivated and on task. Children could easily feel disconnected to others and their work while working online. Peer and instructor feedback is crucial for successful learning. This feedback could occur in discussion groups, online evaluations, badges, or with traditional grades. Hopefully recognition in the online world will do it’s magic.  

Monday, September 15, 2014


Recently I have been developing my PLN, Personal Learning Network. According to Sue Waters, "Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are all about using web tools... to create connects with others which extend our learning, increases our reflection while enabling us to learn together as part of a global community.”  And so I created an account on LinkedIn. This being a professional networking site I never thought I would subscribe. As an elementary school teacher it isn’t a resource that is used often at my level. I think I considered it a bit mysterious, as something someone in the corporate world, which I know only a little about, would use. I was hoping to avoid it all together. But then as I thought of networks to include in my PLN and I thought I would give it a try. My first mistake was that I accidently invited every single contact in my Gmail account to be connected with me on the site. I have received phone calls, emails and texts from people telling me they got my invitation to LinkedIn. I have also been stopped by acquaintances in real life who have received something from me for LinkedIn. I am a bit embarrassed. Some of these acquaintances I feel it’s inappropriate to have connected with them on LinkedIn, such as the director of my son’s school. Others are people I haven’t talked to in a very long time and feel bad for neglecting friendships or old colleagues I had forgotten to keep in touch.

Second, I am not sure that the information I have on my Linked in page is what is expected or detailed enough. I feel a bit embarrassed about anyone viewing it, especially someone I might not know very well. As with all the online networks and sites I have participated I feel a bit vulnerable about having my information, thoughts and opinions out there in the cyber world for analysis.

I also included Facebook in my PLN. Before this Facebook has always been a very personal site for me, which I communicated with friends and family in other parts of the country and world. It felt a bit uncomfortable to cross over this network to include information for my educational and professional world. It reminded me of an anecdote in Interface Design for Learning (Peters pg. 123) when a focus group asked undergraduate students if their university should use Facebook for communication. They were also uncomfortable. I am sure my Facebook page is much more banal than the undergraduate student's but I still felt protective of it and its contents. As information continues to become more and more accessible I wonder how much more will our worlds collide? Will anything on the web be private? Should be expect what we put on the internet to be public domain?   

Monday, September 8, 2014

Is it magic?

Absurdly, there are certain things I think are magic no matter how many times someone explains them to me. The stock market, (seriously- where does all that money go?), the inner working of the human body, (what do you mean the heart just beats on its own?), and technology. Yes, I understand that someone has written code and it causes things to happen but sometimes it really feels like magic. Somehow a touch screen responds to touch, the curser from my mouse can travel across multiple monitors and clicking icons on a website takes you to places you might never dream of on your own. I know that if I really researched these and a million other technological feats I would find answers but something fundamentally, way down to the basics feels like magic. I wonder if my elementary school students feel this way or just take it for granted about the way things work.
My son could figure out how to use a touch screen when he was 2 years old. Don’t ask me why I gave my son a touch screen at 2 years old unless you have taken a toddler out to eat at a restaurant recently. He could recognize the cause and effect of the interface of my iPhone without stopping to consider the why or how. Is it important that children, somewhere along the line, understand why things work the way they do in technology? And I don’t necessarily mean coding, though there would be value in that knowledge, but the why and how of the internet and the gadgets they use? Likewise should children know the history of technology, what computers used to look like, how far we have come in the digital age? Is this important now that technology has been so immersed in our everyday lives or just par for the course?

I own a Kindle, and the Kindle App on my iPad, iPhone and laptop. With the Whispersync feature from Amazon I can pick up any device and start reading from the exact place I left off of on another device. Now that has to be some kind of magic!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Which browser?

Recently we were assigned to present an education concept with any tool or media of our choosing. First, I decided to create an actual old fashioned video of myself with posters and my daughter as a physical example of the concept. After about ten video takes with a GoPro and the video software that came with my computer I realized that this idea was not going over well. The audio on the GoPro was terrible and the video software wasn’t doing what I wanted. I threw the GoPro back into my husband’s office.

Next I tried making a PowerPoint. It has been a few years since I used this program but it’s pervasive so I didn’t think it would be that difficult. Apparently, the program has changed quite a bit since I last used it and I was a bit lost. I managed to make the most uninteresting and characterless PowerPoint presentation in history. My husband even told me that it was terrible. I was getting frustrated.

Then, I investigated a number of animation websites. I watched demonstration videos of how to use the websites’ interface and discovered that even though most were free to make a basic video it would be better to have a paid subscription. I narrowed down the websites to two choices- and Moovly’s editing features seemed a bit more complicated so I chose to pursue Powtoon. I managed to create the content I desired and even added a bit of animation. It was the timing of each slide and manipulation of the duration bar that was the most challenging. Also, a few animations ended up floating around the video when I played it from the beginning. I was getting impatient and frustrated again. I decided to email Powtoon’s tech support to help me with the floating image problem.

The next day I received an email indicating that Powtoon’s website functions best on a Chrome browser. I had just realized that Canvas actually works better on the Internet Explorer browser. I am just now understanding that different websites and software work differently on different browsers. This is valuable information for someone such as myself who gets impatient easily with technology. Once I opened Powtoon in Chrome it was clear how much easier the websites interface was in this browser. I completed my assignment and my computer is still intact despite my temper.