Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Redesigning Classes for Success

By Sean Scarpiello

As a society, America is moving extremely quickly. Technology is moving at such a fast rate that it seems as if there is a new cell phone or laptop with the latest innovations released every month. We are now able to bring more advanced technology to even more people at cheaper costs, all due to these redesigns in technology. This idea does not apply only to technology. Modern science and medicine is also subject to these fast paced changes. As scientists discover better and more efficient ways to do things like save energy, create new compounds, and cure disease, the rest of society is rushing to catch up and implement these latest and greatest innovations. Since fields like technology and science are moving at an extremely fast pace, it is often difficult to keep up. One area where this is highly visible is in education.

For many educational institutions, especially in primary and secondary education, teachers can often times get into the habit of teaching the curriculum in the same style each year. The individual curriculums do not change much over the years, so there is often times little motivation to change. This is not due to laziness, but rather the comfort all humans have with familiarity. The problem with this small degree of change is that although the curriculum changes little, technology and the rest of society is changing a lot. So by missing out on making these changes, educators are missing out on new ways to teach their classes. In fact, these changes may make learning easier or more fun for the students and more efficient or cost effective for administrators.

One area I have experienced this first hand is in my education. In high school, my sister is taking the same English course that all high school seniors are required to take. In this class, they are currently reading the same books and discussing the same topics in a similar manner that I had when I was in high school. In three years, there has been little change made to the teaching of the course and even less integration of innovations like technology. On the other hand, many of my college professors are struggling to keep up with the almost daily updates in technology. Last year, I had asked a few students a year ahead of me what to expect in a genetics class. The idea that they had conveyed was much different than what I had later experienced. The updated course had implemented things like online discussion forums and webinars over the internet where students could ask the professor questions. These new applications in class ended up increasing class average when compared to those of previous years. In many cases, professors implementing similar ideas not only found that students succeeded more, but it also decreased costs.

Many schools are looking into programs that help educators redesign their classes. In fact, there are several organizations whose purpose is merely that – to redesign class structures. One such organization is the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT). This is a non-profit organization that offers conferences and free webinars to education professionals interested in redesigning their courses. In many of their past cases, they have been found to not only improve the success of students, but lower costs for the schools. These kinds of redesign programs are offered at low to no costs for schools and can greatly affect the ways classes are taught in schools. They also encourage teachers to take on new perspectives and ways of thinking, so classes are taught differently.

Overall, the low to no cost programs offered by organizations like NCAT provide new and innovative ways to increase academic success and lower costs, often times by implementing technology. These kinds of “nothing-to-lose” programs will allow teachers to look at their class and curriculum in new ways so they can change it for the better. In all, educators could all learn a thing or two to help improve class time and student success.

Source: http://www.thencat.org/index.html

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Implementing iPads and Notability in Science Class

By Sean Scarpiello

Earlier this week, my classmates and I were sitting in our organic chemistry lab when our professor entered the lab with a large cardboard box with the Apple logo on it. He then told us that our lab section was going to a part of an experimental project. Our small group out of the large class was given iPads to see if it is possible to succeed in a class as rigorous as an organic chemistry class using these devices. The purpose of the experiment was to see if it is possible to go completely paperless in an upper level class which typically requires a lot of paperwork. Organic chemistry is one of the few classes notoriously hated on campuses across the country for its tendency to ruin GPAs and its large workload. The material is largely visual so the idea of using an iPad which makes the information interactive can be a plus. But will this experiment with the iPads prove to be beneficial, or far from it?

Before we each received our iPads, we signed a waiver that stated if anything were to happen to our iPads, we were held responsible. It was at this point where reality set in. We were happy we would each have our own iPad, but what if these iPads are more trouble than they are worth? We are college kids which are always dropping, spilling, and breaking things. In addition, we will be using these in a lab full of dangerous chemicals and materials which could easily ruin the iPads. Most of all, we were wondering: we have enough work keeping up with the class on paper and now we have to adapt to using iPads for all of our assignments. How would we make this work?

When we each received our iPads, we discovered that they came in protective cases. The cases did not make the iPads indestructible, but they provided a bit of relief. Also, we were given styluses which we could use on the screens. These make it possible for us to have more precision when writing down notes and also keep the harmful chemicals on our gloves off of the screens. Next, we were instructed that templates for all of our assignments were available on the college’s website. This allowed us to all log on and download these templates to use during our lab experiments. Once downloaded, we had the ability to write notes onto the iPad which we could pull up as a PDF file later to email to our professor.

Each iPad had an application called Notability which was already pre-downloaded. Using this application, we were able to take pictures of the lab apparatuses and other results. We were then able to add these pictures to our final lab report. Another nice feature of this application was a dictation function. We are able to speak into the microphone and the application translates this into words on the spreadsheet. Each of these functions allows the lab reports and other assignments to be done more efficiently and quickly.

In all, when implementing iPads in a classroom setting, we found that we were originally apprehensive about the new technology. However, we discovered that we quickly adapted to the technology and now we can complete assignments with more details in an efficient manner. Using applications such as Notability, we were able to increase our clarity in assignment due to its extra functions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bringing Blog Articles into the Classroom

By Sean Scarpiello

As more and more forms of media are being created by the internet, schools are trying to keep up with fast paced changes taking place in the media. Many school administrators are pushing to get the latest technology in the classroom to keep up with the ever-changing trends. Although it may seem like a daunting task, incorporating the latest trends into the classroom does not need to be difficult. One of the most notable creations after the rise of the internet was the blog. Since blogs have been growing in popularity over the past few years, we can expect them to be around for a long time. Today’s students will be exposed to blogs for the rest of their life and at one point, many of them will write them in the future. So why not start writing them in school?

We have all had to sit through class with the teacher that assigns long and tedious book reports, especially in English classes. If teachers began to have students write daily or weekly blogs on their readings instead, students would definitely benefit. First off, by assigning blogs, instead of a book report, teachers can keep their students more involved in the class. Students can formulate their own opinions in their blogs, and discuss how they feel about certain topics, themes, or ideas in a class. Also in their blog, students can discuss what areas of the reading they found difficult, confusing, and even interesting. By having students write blog articles, teachers are forcing students to think critically about subjects. Often times, students will find themselves learning more than they thought possible because they entered a reading or text with a certain mindset.

Implementing blogs, instead of book reports can also be beneficial because students are learning to write in new ways. They are asked to write down their opinion or view on a topic -- something that has never been asked of them before. This new form of writing can help them in other classes where they need to write persuasive reports or analyze a set of bias data. Writing blogs is relevant life experience.

Teachers can also become creative with the blog assignments. They can have students focus on certain themes, topics, or characters in a book. Then students can focus on how an individual idea has evolved through the text. Some teachers may feel that blog writing cannot completely replace report writing. This is definitely true. However, it would be unwise to not implement blog writing because it may seem like less writing. If a class is reading a book over the course of a few weeks, teachers could assign a one page blog article weekly, or a half page blog article due every few days. Over the course of a few weeks, these pages of blog articles add up, and may even encompass more than a book report. At the end of a book or text, the teacher could ask the students to sum up all of their blogs and analyze the evolution of an idea or the course of a character throughout a book.

In all, assigning blog articles to a class would definitely be beneficial to students. It would keep students engaged in class and mix up the general routine of class time. In the long run, it would be even more beneficial because students can take what they learn from writhing blog articles and use these skills in the real world.