Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Wonderville: A New Grade School Learning Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

Earlier last week, a new education platform called Wonderville started their first pilot program in over 50 schools reaching more than 1,000 students. This new platform is designed specifically for students from kindergarten to 5th grade as a way for students to utilize technology in the classroom. Mark Eastwood, the CEO and founder of Wonderville.com describes the goals of this new platform: to empower teachers with technology as a medium for class instruction; to better include parents into their children’s education; and to spark young students’ interest into new fields of study. Each of these aspects are important in an educational platform for students, but how well does this website carry out these claims?

When first looking at Wonderville’s ability to empower teachers with technology, we can see that the platform is completely free. All teachers need to join is a computer, and they're granted access to all of the different resources available on the site. Among these resources are core tracking standards for ensuring the class is keeping up with the curriculum, a classroom network online for each student, and the ability to upload pictures, videos, and class announcements on a site that resembles Facebook for school. Through all of this, teachers are able to track each student’s individual progress on quizzes and readings, as well as having the ability to connect to parents regarding any problems students may be having in class. Additionally, teachers have a lot of class material at their fingertips to share with their students. All of this material is designed to specifically keep students engaged while lining up with the required curriculum which teachers must strictly adhere to each year. One of the most beneficial components of Wonderville is that it provides a direct link from teachers to parents. Teachers now have the ability to give updates to parents concerning the expected homework assignments and what is happening in class each day.

This leads to the next main objective of Wonderville- to connect parents and teachers. This component is absolutely necessary in an online learning platform for grade-schoolers. Many psychological studies have shown that students with parents who place high importance on academics and parents that stay involved in student’s academics are more likely to succeed in school. Therefore, teachers can easily update parents who are now able to address any issues going on in school. It also gives parents insight on which subjects their children are struggling in, or if a child is struggling in other areas such as communication or teamwork skills. Parents and students also have the ability to request homework or other assignments if students plan on being absent or if they need to stay home sick for a day. This also gives the students an opportunity to stay involved in their studies in a manner that is not unlike working a job in the work force.

The last objective of Wonderville aims to spark the interest of students in new fields of study through all of the technology and involvement in education for the students. The site’s set up is very simple, colorful, and appears to be interesting to students. There are separate units called Smart Galleries where students can watch videos, look at pictures and diagrams, and then take a quiz to test them on the information. When students complete a quiz, they are then given a Smart Badge which they can collect. This too is a great feature as students will want to collect all of the badges, which means completing all of the Smart Galleries on their own. After seeing this, I decided I was going to try out a quiz to gain a Smart Badge and I was a bit surprised. I decided to take a 5th grade level test on a Smart Gallery on the Sun and our solar system. After taking the quiz, I found it was quite easy and not just for a college student, but this test would be extremely easy for a 5th grader. Many of the possible answer choices were blatantly incorrect or silly, which is not challenging students at all. One question asked students to identify from a list of planets which planet did not exist in our solar system, and one of the answer choices was a planet from Star Wars with a space ship next to it. This answer choice is going to be way too obvious for a 5th grader. In addition to this, one of the questions in the test was wrong. Part of a question asked if the sun was the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and the quiz deemed this to be true (the sun is the center of our solar system, but the center of the Milky Way Galaxy is around 28,000 light-years away from the sun). Overall, I was disappointed in what I had seen in the only quiz that I took at the end of the Smart Gallery.

In all, I feel that Wonderville is a great new platform for helping out teachers and parents to improve education both in and out of the classroom. The site was also interesting, colorful, and interactive for students. However, some of the material designed to challenge a student in 5th did not seem challenging for that grade level. On top of this, some of the information being taught on the site was incorrect. Therefore, the site has great intentions and is a great starting point as a platform. However, once some work is done on making the site more stimulating for the minds of students, Wonderville will surely be a huge success in the grade schools across the United States.

Sources: http://www.wonderville.com/


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Choosing Massive Online Open Classrooms Designed for Students

By Sean Scarpiello

As education professionals start to move their classrooms online, we are hearing more about massive online open classrooms, or MOOCs. Programs such as Udacity and Coursera are just two of these new MOOC projects that have thus far been received favorably. Among all of these different MOOCs, each offers different classes as well as different types of structure. Therefore, each program comes with its own benefits and disadvantages. Getting to know the ins and outs of all of the different MOOCs can really help out students, as they will be able to derive the most benefits by attending MOOCs that are tailored to their learning style.

First, the structure of each program plays the biggest role in a student’s success in MOOCs. To look at the two most popular MOOCs currently, Udacity and Coursera, it is stunning to see how different each program’s structure is designed. Udacityhas a much more open structure: classes start and stop on the student’s time. Therefore, students can complete an entire course in a just few days or across a few years. This offers students immense flexibility as they do not need to wait on the teacher to assign more work, and they can move at their own pace. Also, students who may require more time to complete projects may benefit from this as they are allowed as much time as they need to do their work. While this can be extremely beneficial, these benefits can also turn into disadvantages for the student. With no due dates or deadlines for projects and tests, there are many students that may just put off coursework for a day, then a week, then a month, until nothing gets done. When it is up to the student to set and keep to deadlines, it is often difficult to keep up with these set deadlines, as they can be pushed back easily. Therefore, in programs set up to be overly flexible, such as Udacity, students can put off work indefinitely if they do not have the best work ethic and can’t stick to their own goals.

On the other hand, there are other MOOCs that are set up with a much stricter class structure. In MOOCs like Coursera, new assignments are given out every week. This gives students an entire week to work on coursework which is due by a certain time. This is beneficial in that it is set up most like real classrooms where there are due dates the entire class must abide by, and students have to push themselves to meet these deadlines. I wouldn’t say that this structure is better designed for slackers, but when students are held to their teacher’s set goals, there is less wavering from these goals. For example, everyone has been in a position where they wish they had an extra day to study for a test, where in reality not much studying went on during that extra day extension. On the other hand, these types of structures offer much less flexibility. Students who want to complete the course quickly will be forced to wait on the teacher to assign more work, while slower students may not have enough time to complete all of their required coursework in the limited time.

Keeping in mind these two basic types of structures, there are plenty of MOOCs that have structure which falls between these two extremes. For students looking to derive the most benefits from their learning experience, it is important to research and choose the best structure that accommodates individual needs and learning styles. Students with strong work ethics who want to get a lot done should choose a different MOOC structure than a student who wants to work slowly or who are taking the class for leisure. Therefore, it is extremely important that the class fits the goals of the student. As more MOOCs make it to the internet in the future, we can be sure to see just how different each program is set up, so it is even more important to ensure that students get what they want out of class by choosing programs designed for their learning style.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Using Technology Advertising to Reduce Educational Costs

By Sean Scarpiello

Across the United States, the idea of letting businesses advertised in schools has been brought up again and again. For the most part, this would mean allowing companies to buy space on a school bus or billboards in the cafeteria, where they can advertise their products. Although many educational professionals have faced this idea with resistance in the past, we could begin to implement this idea now with regards to technology. This would not only allow students to gain access to technological resources to use in school, but also allow educators to provide these learning tools in an inexpensive manner.

Essentially, large technology companies could donate or sell their products at reduced costs to schools. Then the schools would be able to give these products, ideally laptops or tablets, to each of their students to use. If students are impressed with these pieces of technology, the students or their families may be more likely to buy products made by these companies in the future. In addition to this, the companies can advertise their other products on the donated laptops or tablets. One way to do this is to refer students to their website for updates in the applications and programs students are using in class. Companies could even have student tutorials or help guides available on their websites made just for students. This would again allow the companies to advertise to a growing demographic, while affording students the benefits of utilizing technology in class.

One current method that I have read about where companies have been implementing this idea is in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. Here, students are given a laptop by the school in the beginning of the school year. As part of an advertising scheme, the school uses AT&T to give the students mobile broadband internet connectivity. The students attending school in this district are relatively poor; therefore, the students highly benefit from having the WiFi capabilities provided by AT&T. In the future, these students may go on to buy even more products where they can use AT&T as a service provider. Furthermore, AT&T also has an increased ability to market to these students. While this may seem bad for the students, it pays off in the long run because it lowers education costs for schools, while providing students with a higher quality of education.

In light of all of this, this type of advertising does not need to rest solely on the shoulders of big companies such as Apple, HP, AT&T, and Verizon. Any company, even smaller local businesses, can donate resources to schools. They may also work out a deal with the school to raise public awareness of this incentive to bring in more educational resources. Fundraisers held by local businesses may help to raise money for these programs, while also advertising their businesses to the community.

Overall, it is easy to overlook an idea such as in-school advertising, because some claim that it may interfere with the learning process. In reality, students see hundreds of advertisements each day, so a few more in school won’t hurt. Plus, these advertisements will benefit schools in that they bring new technologies into the classroom at lower cost which also benefits students. By utilizing the latest software and interactive programs available to them on laptops and tablets, students can begin to challenge themselves more through the learning process and have fun doing it.