Report to Department head

Dear xxxxxxx,

You asked for History department members to explain how we used tech in the classroom in history class this year. I did seven such initiatives, and I’m going to try to explain both my successes and failures.

1. Use Keynote and Slideshare.net
Whenever I had material that I wanted to present in class, I made a slideshow using Keynote (which is like PowerPoint for Macintosh). I would then post my slideshow to a free account at http://www.slideshare.net/ABWatt, and embed the slideshows in our class wiki. Students then had access to the slideshows and notes both for review and for models for their own slideshows. I found this was really effective, and it gave me a library of future material to develop and work from for future lessons. I rate this 5 out of 5.

2. AppleWiki software
As you know, I made a big deal about having wiki software on our server at the beginning of the year. It has been a mixed bag. The software keeps track of who adds what, and when, so I often knew going into class who had and hadn’t done homework — and whether they’d done it at 6:30pm or 1:30am. But, it didn’t work reliably with every computer in the building. Mrs. Yyyyyyy reported to me that C. L. saved his homework to the wiki several times, only for it to vanish. And it didn’t always work well with PCs. And it doesn’t work with iPads or mobile devices at all. If someone wants to use wikis in the future, I would switch to MediaWiki, which is more widely supported across hardware types, and has a better range of features.

From a teaching perspective, wiki software was a good idea in some ways, bad in others. The seventeen kids in 9-2b and 9-3 were not a large enough user base to make a wiki work effectively. The kids were so overwhelmed by the mechanics of writing on a wiki that they rarely linked to each others’ work. It also needed a lot of monitoring for plagiarism, which often came from Wikipedia or other sources. I did find wikis to be useful in posting content to be viewed; it was less effective as a tool for teaching writing, though blogs may be better. It was also a great place to post curriculum materials, though hard to keep up with, and required a lot of maintenance from me the content-administrator. This was easy to do at the beginning of the year, and very difficult at the end when my time was repurposed. 2 of 5 for software, 4 of 5 for pedagogical technique,

3. Jing
I used Jing, a screen cast tool, for making short videos of student writing onscreen, and giving a running commentary as I edited student work. The videos could then be embedded in wiki pages next to student work, as a way of making commentary available to students. The kids who did work on the wiki liked this a lot, but it was time consuming; it worked when I had open time in my schedule to record the videos; it was a failure without time to make and correct the video. 5 out of 5 for pedagogy and software, but hard to do within our time constraints.

4. Skype
I used Skype exactly once in class, to try to talk to an expert in California. The timing of the meeting was off, he had an unexpected visitor and I couldn’t get the sound to work on external speakers. Great idea, could be amazing, couldn’t quite get it up and running. 4 of 5 status on functionality, 1 of 5 on fitting it into the schedule.

5. Benq Projector
For about eight weeks I had a small Benq projector. Including cables they cost about $500. While I had it, I had a slideshow in class almost every day. I was able to teach a lot more effectively on subjects like art and art history while having it. Students also used it when giving presentations to good effect. The portability was great; being able to show a presentation anywhere in school or on dorm was especially useful. 5 of 5.

6. Email
Our existing email service is clunky but serviceable. I regularly sent out assignments to students and received completed work back through email. The biggest change we could make regarding technology would be to cut student printing privileges in half, severely limit teacher printer capabilities, and require homework submitted by email. The difficulties are real but surmountable. 4 of 5.

7. Template for Online Research
With a lot of careful thought and input from some friends, I designed a nine-part process for online research. I’ll be emailing this checklist for creating an online bibliography to you both under a separate cover.

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