Moodle-ing Around

It’s time to start teaching online. The universities have been using online learning tools for quite a while now. Community schools are using online tools to provide an alternative to public education. Students are using online communication tools to keep in touch with their friends. The time has come to take advantage of these tools.

Moodle is an open source course management system for online learning. It’s very similar to programs like WebCT and Blackboard, except it’s free. It provides the ability to set up online classes, create assignments, facilitate online discussions, and even do online assessments. In our district, we have it installed and configured (at www.bbhcsd.org/moodle) so students and teachers can use their existing network accounts to get in. Once in, they can get select their courses and participate online from any Internet-connected computer.

English teachers Mark Fields and Ben Lesh have been using this with their American Literature classes. Using the discussions, they can have an ongoing topic each week that all of the students can weigh in on. They even combined their classes for one unit, so both groups could work together. Mark and Ben will be presenting a session on their experience with Moodle at the March 24 inservice.

Another teacher, Dianne Kruszynski, started an online discussion between her students and a group of students in England. The two groups were able to post messages online, and discuss the books they’re reading.

Other teachers are experimenting with the various tools. One is planning to use it to allow students to take tests online. Another is trying it out with middle school students.

If you’d like to play with Moodle, too, let me know and I’ll get you started.

How Optional is Technology?

Recently, Ryan Collins started a discussion about teachers wanting to opt-out of technology use in the classroom. He posed the following question to Ohio’s technology coordinators:

What does your district do with teachers who want to "opt out" of technology?  Since we are pushing technology integration, one of the things on my plate this month is to have this discussion with my superintendent and  assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction….

This is a big question, because it scratches the surface of a much larger one. My first reaction is that a teacher’s reluctance to use technology is fine, until it affects the ability of others to get their work done. For example, if an administrator "has to" print out copies of her weekly newsletter because some teachers don’t check their email, that’s a problem. If a student is missing questions on a test because he can’t read the teacher’s handwriting and doesn’t know what’s being asked, that’s a
problem.

If a teacher received computers as part of the Ohio SchoolNet Plus round one grants, she’s had computers in her classroom for ten years now. If she doesn’t
know this difference between save and save as, why are we still wasting our time?

But when talking about integration, is the low-tech teacher depriving the students of opportunities by not using technology? I know we’ve been focused on using technology to teach other things. Science teachers who are using technology can improve their science teaching. But a science teacher who is involuntarily forced to use technology will not improve the teaching and learning in her classroom by simply using the technology. While the students in that class would not gain all of the tech experience and skills that we want them to have, they could arguably have a better science experience in a low-tech environment. It depends a lot on the teacher and the situation.

As I was writing the draft of the TPT so I could file for e-rate funding, I ran into this problem a lot. How are we going to integrate technology
into the fine and performing arts? For the most part, we’re not. Insert overused hammer/nail reference here.

How will we know when we’re appropriately using technology? I think it’ll happen when we stop talking about it. "What strategies are you employing to integrate the use of technology in the social studies classroom" is an absurd question. We don’t ask that about TVs, or overhead projectors, or chalkboards. We use it when it’s appropriate. Appropriate use of technology becomes invisible. We stop talking about it and just do it.

The bottom line, for me, is one of opportunity. We need to keep providing opportunities for our teachers. Keep evangelizing the technology solutions. Keep listening to their needs, and looking for solutions. Ultimately, though, the teacher has to buy in, or we’re wasting our time.

Girls Use the Internet, Too

A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project challenges some of the conventional wisdom regarding gender roles and technology.

For the first time, the report finds that young women use the Internet more than young men. In the 18-29 year old age group, 86% of women are Internet users, compared to just 80% of men the same age. This is the only age group for which women outpace men in Internet use. Men typically use the Internet as an information resource, checking weather, sports scores, news, and looking for information. Women tend to use the Internet for more communication-oriented activities, including email and support for health and personal problems.

“If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections,” said Deborah Fallows, Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet Project.

Though the study did not specifically look at gender differences in Internet use among school-age students, the news is encouraging. The gender gap that has traditionally been seen appears to be closing.