Saturday, November 30, 2013

Innovative Ways to Grade Students in Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs)

By Sean Scarpiello

As more online educational programs such as Coursera, Udacity, and others become available online, there are a lot more students enrolling in these Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs). And while education can easily be provided at much lower prices in MOOCs, some aspects of education still remain difficult, if complicated by moving education to online media. One aspect of education where this is seen is in the grading and evaluation of students. As the number of students in a class increases, it becomes more and more difficult for teachers to grade the tests, projects, and assignments of the class. And while the class size of many of these online classes offered by Coursera and Udacity reach well into the thousands, it becomes extremely difficult for professors to evaluate each student individually.

As a result, there have been many new and innovative ways teachers have designed work to be graded on a mass scale. For one, I have seen many tests designed in such a ways that goes beyond the typical multiple choice problems. In some of my online past assignments for classes, I have seen problems asking to organize statements into a sequence of events, analyze graphs, and even fill in the blank. Through these types of online questions, teachers enable multiple correct answers to account for different interpretations of data and wording used by students. Further, I have even seen some programs that allow students to build models or solve huge math equations all by breaking up the problem into individual steps that are graded individually. As a result, students can have instant results on their grade in a test or assignment.

But while these types of online grading techniques are easy to use for professors, the evaluation of student’s knowledge using these techniques is limited. While some students could simply fill out questions as they look up the answers online, other students may not be challenged enough with a test of matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice questions. Further, there are some subjects, such as in political science, English, and business courses where grades cannot be based off of tests but rather papers or projects. In these areas, MOOCs often struggle to find ways for professors to grade a class of 1,000 papers or projects. However, some MOOCs have come up with some innovative ways of assigning and grading these sorts of assignments.

Coursera has come up with the idea of allowing peers to grade each other’s work. After turning in an assignment, Coursera sends it out to a handful of other students who have also turned in the assignment for grading. Then, based on certain criteria, it is graded by other students in the class, and then their results are averaged to give students their grade on a project. So far, this technique has worked successfully because professors can still challenge their students with projects, but continue to grade their student efficiently. This serves as just one example how the grading and evaluation of students enrolled in MOOCs can be innovative and successful.

As MOOCs and other types of similar programs are developed, this sort of innovation needs to be implemented into other programs. Therefore, students are not forfeiting quality of education at the expense of difficulties in grading. In this case, MOOCs can continue to provide high quality education to more students at reduced cost through the utilization of technology.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

3-D Printing Made Easy by MakerBot Academy

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently, MakerBot and America Makes have joined forces to bring new 3-D printers to a handful of different public schools in a program called MakerBot Academy. Along with a 3-D printer, schools are given the plastic needed to print 3-D models and free access to the Thingiverse Community where students can download files for different models. But what exactly are 3-D printers, and what good can public school students do with this technology?

Until now, 3-D printers have been exclusive to industrial efforts and scientists in the fields of engineering, physics, and medicine. This is because 3-D printers allow scientists to slowly add layer upon layer of different media on to 3-dimensional models, sculptures, or tools. Using different plastic media, scientists can build, dissolve or create flexible objects and even build parts out of metal alloys. So far, 3-D printing has been used to make parts for industrial machinery, firearms, and even artificial hearts. With this is mind, 3-D printers appear to be pretty difficult, as it must take a lot of knowledge of different software to successfully design and create different 3-D objects to print.

While designing complex objects using 3-D printing software isn't easy, it is still possible for students to learn how to develop a basic understanding of designing simple models. Despite some difficulties, students do not need to be experts on the design software to print out 3-D objects. In fact, the free Thingiverse website offers more than 100,000 different objects that can be downloaded and printed easily be students. On this site, students can pick and choose to print out anything from LEGO block sets and puzzles to scaled models of buildings and art. Also, many people who are well versed in how to use 3-D printing software have posted the data necessary to print some creative objects with real word applications. For example, there are downloadable plans to print your own iPhone case, watch, bottles, and even a top for an aluminum soda can. With all of these cool objects and more, student can print out models for different classes. Models of DNA or the heart can be printed for science class, while models of jewelry or miniature sculptures can be made for art classes.

Further, schools could begin teaching students how to use the software. The goal of MakerBot Academy is to teach students how to use these technologies. 3-D printing really is the future so if students can begin to learn how to use this software early on, we can expect huge advancement in society utilizing 3-D printing. Students learning the software in high schools now may go on to develop intricate parts of tomorrow’s spacecrafts or transplant-able organs. Therefore, getting an early start on understanding the software is vital for success in the future.

In all, by donating 3-D printers to public schools as part of MakerBot Academy, MakerBot and America Makes are stimulating young minds to enter the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Also, 3-D printing allows students with all different types of interests to print 3-D models for a variety of classes. Best of all, MakerBot Academy is allowing students to learn this new software at low costs as they integrate more technology into the classroom.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Evernote is Revolutionizing Note-Taking

By Sean Scarpiello

As more and more educational apps are being put on the market today, none of them work quite like Evernote. This new educational based app is revolutionizing the way students are able to take notes in class. While this new app has fantastic applications outside of the classroom, Evernote truly shines in the classroom. The education app is available to students on all different devices, such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops for Windows, Mac or Android. Currently, Evernote is a free app, but users can pay to receive more memory for their data.

Evernote is so perfect for classrooms because of its ability to keep students and teachers organized. While the app has many great utilities, the coolest function is Evernote’s ability to easily archive notes. For instance, if a student can takes a photo of their notes and uploads it to Evernote, the app will translate the written text as if it were typed into a computer. Later on, students can simply run searches in Evernote for specific key terms which Evernote will highlight for students. This allows students to easily find and review specific parts of their notes relating to certain topics. As these notes are available on their phone, tablet, or laptop, students will always have a full copy of their notes for classes handy. This same function of Evernote does not need to be limited to class notes. Students can even take pictures of textbook passages, figures, graphs, homework assignments, and even confusing math problems worked out on a blackboard. Evernote can then organize all of this data in an easily accessible way. Along with this, Evernote can allow students to save scanned data on their accounts. Essentially, students can scan a worksheet for class, complete it on any of their devices and then email to their teacher, all through Evernote. This allows students to not only easily complete and turn in their homework, but also save a copy for themselves if there is a problem that they have later on or when studying for a test.

Another great benefit of Evernote is its ability to make research easier. By adding a free Google Chrome extension to the Evernote app, students can save entire webpages or parts of articles and pictures. They are then able to add other information about the “web clipping” and store it where it can easily be accessed. Students can even save the URLs of a webpage so they can return to it later. Through this, any sort of research project can easily be done on phones or tablets, then later pulled up on the computer. In fact, by using a web browser such as Google or Bing, students can pull up their saved “web clippings” from their Evernote account while searching the internet for related topics. Then, once this data is saved, students can effortlessly share all of their research with classmates or teachers.

In all, Evernote is an easy to use app that can keep even the most disorganized students in order. By utilizing its features that allow students to scan and store class notes, figures, websites, pictures, “web clippings,” and more, students can easily access all of their class material on any of their devices. This benefits students immensely as they can easily find the material that they are having trouble with in class and contact their teachers about these problems through this free app. Evernote’s share functions also allow students to share their work with classmates or turn in their assignments to their teachers instantly. Overall, Evernote is great because it is a no cost educational technology that helps students and teachers in and out of the classroom.