Sunday, January 31, 2010

Educational Technology Tool: the IPL and its Literary Criticism Collection

As a M.Ed. student focused in Secondary English, I’m constantly exploring online resources for literary analysis and critique. While SparkNotes has become my go-to source for literary summaries and analytical overviews, I have wanted to find an online resource that provides higher-level literary analysis from various sources.

In tackling this week’s homework assignment, I came across the Internet Public Library (IPL). The IPL began in 1995 as a research project designed by students in a graduate seminar in the School of Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan. Today it is an extensive online library managed by Drexel University, Florida State University (FSU) and the University of Michigan, and is maintained by a consortium of 7 additional universities that serve as managing partners (including Syracuse and the University of Illinois) and 9 additional participating universities. At the start of 2010 the IPL2 website was launched, the result of the merger of the Internet Public Library (IPL) with the Librarians' Internet Index (LII).

The IPL is exactly what its unabbreviated name suggests: an open access online reference library. Its content is extensive. On the homepage, the site is divided into five segments:

1. Resources by Subject
2. Newspapers & Magazines
3. Special Collections created by ipl2
4. For Kids
5. For Teens

While teachers, parents and students alike could utilize this site as a multi-faceted reference tool, my personal search for an extensive literary analysis/criticism database led me to the site’s Literary Criticism Collection. In this portion of the site, the user can browse by author, title, nationality or literary period. Once the user has selected a literary work or author, he/she is directed to a series of weblinks to other websites dedicated to the subject or to online critical essays on the subject.

For example, a student might be assigned to write an essay on 20th century American Literature. Via the IPL Literary Criticism database, that student would be directed to a series of essays on American Lit. Perhaps he/she would choose to explore the link to an essay on the Harlem Renaissance Movement. After reading about the Harlem Renaissance writers, the student might decide to explore the link to author Langston Hughes. After clicking on the link for Langston Hughes, the student would be directed to a site which hosts an extensive autobiography and guide to the author’s work. Via the IPL, the student could also link to critical essays analyzing the various works of Langston Hughes. Exposure to such essays would provide insight to the deeper thoughts of experts and academics, and serve as a model for the student’s own critical thought.

For the secondary English student or secondary English teacher, the IPL Literary Criticism library, while not a complete collection, provides a wide array of information - fact (historical and biographical info), literary analysis, and literary critique – on hundreds of literary subjects. I look forward to exploring it further.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1/18/10 Essential Question

* Can teachers provide equal access to the digital world to all students?

Realistically, teachers cannot provide equal access to the digital world for students because education extends beyond the classroom. Unfortunately, student academic achievement is as much a product of socio-economic status and how education is valued in the home as it is the efforts of even the most successful educators. In this country in our lifetime, and likely indefinitely, there will always be a population of students who have unlimited access to computers outside of school, and those with little or no accessibility. There will always be wealthy school districts (ex. Windham, NH) that fund a 1-to-1 student/laptop ratio, and others like many inner-city public schools that can barely afford the electricity, water and heat required to remain operational. Truly “equal” access to the digital world is a Utopian dream.

However, teachers can strive to maximize access in any environment. A class such as EDU-533 should be mandated as professional development for teachers in a school system such as Windham’s where there is equal access in the classroom. In a more typical school system where a school might have a computer lab, or one computer per classroom, equal access is far more challenging. I am a substitute teacher at Pinkerton Academy, a high school recognized for its outstanding facilities. Even at PA, teachers must sign-out the computer cart for a given date/time or sign-up for computer lab access, and there is often a waiting list for both. In the average American school, it is less likely that students have direct, individual access to digital learning. A SMARTBoard is an excellent compromise. Costing $3000-5000, a SMARTBoard is on average half (or less) the cost of outfitting an entire classroom of students with laptops. At least in a classroom with a SMARTBoard, a teacher could integrate technology in the classroom regularly. The better educated the teacher on how to leverage a SMARTBoard effectively, the more equalized the access.

Most challenged for equal access are the impoverished school systems with no computer lab, perhaps one computer for every classroom at best, and an oppressed student population with no computer/internet access outside of school. I recently observed at such a school, Boston English High School in Jamaica Plain, MA. In that school, neither teachers nor students are required to use an online grading system, but a population of the teachers use Engrade (free online gradebook) and allow students to check grades at will. Most teachers allow students to use the classroom computer at lunch or during study periods for typing word documents or online research. Unfortunately, the opportunity for direct access for students like those at Boston English ends there. The only other option for granting students access is indirectly, with the onus on the teacher to utilize the Web as a resource for alternative or unique lesson planning and for articles or tools (games, puzzles, worksheets) that can be printed as a master and photocopied for students.

True “equal access” is not a reality in our society today. As free and open software becomes more prevalent and its usage more widespread, the number of desktop computers or laptops allotted for purchase in a given budget will increase without the need to budget for the additional costs of licenses for operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. Courses such as EDU-533 will continue to expose pre-service teachers such as we are to the many educational resources available digitally. The burden will then be us as working teachers to push beyond the limitations of school facilities to do our best to maximize access for our students.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

EdTechTalk Presentation: A Discussion with Curt Bonk

EdTech Talk Presentation #83:
A Discussion with Curtis Bonk, author of "The World Is Open"
Broadcast date: September 21, 2009

To compliment this course’s required reading, I listened to a broadcast that featured Curt Bonk, author of “The World is Open”. I thought such a discussion might provide valuable feedback from other readers, just as a book club discussion might. As Professor Chamberlain was an active participant in this broadcast, I also thought it would be interesting to hear his contribution to the panel and his questions for Dr. Bonk.

Using this blog post as a teacher would intend, as an educational tool for sharing acquired information, here is a brief summary of what I felt were the 3 most interesting and useful “take aways” from this EdTech Talk presentation:

• Check this out: Curt Bonk’s “CliffsNotes” version of “The World Is Open” Hahaha. Actually, this could serve as a handy, quick reference guide for each of us long after we’ve completed this course.

• A participant asked Curt Bonk what his thoughts were on free online content versus formal education materials that cost money such as enrollment in a course, or a course textbook. Bonk said he is an obvious proponent of free online content and spoke of harnessing its power in ways that generate the greatest “payoff” such as making high school and community college courses and the corresponding diplomas/certifications available online for free. In other words, targeting the population who has the least accessibility or means of affording such content. Check this out: and

• Professor Chamberlain asked Curt Bonk which countries were most actively and aggressively responding to the "World Is Open" movement. Bonk mentioned that MIT spearheaded the movement by being the first university to put course content online for free access. Interestingly, he mentioned Vietnam has made great strides in technology integration in education, followed by Iran, India and China. He also noted that the countries that have implemented national policies on E-learning such as Korea, Singapore and the UK, are the most influential leaders in the “World Is Open” movement.

1/11/10 Essential Question

* What can we gain through collaboration?

Through collaboration we can obtain a broader scope of information and comprehension, and we can be far more productive in far less time than when working independently. For example, I've just spent the last 30 minutes locating and reading as many classmate blogs on collaboration as possible, jump-starting my own thoughts on the subject. I enthusiastically agree with those that responded (and I paraphrase):

- Collaboration in a classroom will keep students engaged.

- By collaborating with each other, teachers gain alternative/fresh viewpoints as well as support.

- Collaboration can facilitate communication, better understanding, and a better working relationship
between teachers and administration.

- It is important students learn to collaborate in the classroom with peers and teachers alike, as it's a basic life skill that will be necessary for "real world" success.

- There are numerous online resources available to students and teachers that leverage collaboration to promote education.

- Learning that happens without collaboration occurs in a void; everyone brings something different to the table.

For me, collaboration has helped me to gain and maintain focus. I am in my first term of grad school and haven't been a student in 12 years. Everything is new and the academic skills I once honed as a successful high school and college student are nearly extinct. I am both excited and anxious by my reintroduction to academia and admittedly a little overwhelmed. When I sit down to an assignment - a reading, writing a response, formulating intelligent thought of any kind - I find it difficult to quiet my mind, focus, and begin producing cohesive, coherent thought. However, collaboration has helped me to clear a path in the labyrinth that is my student mind. I listen to my classmates give their feedback on a certain subject; I ask questions and listen to the answers provided; I search for information online related to the subject I'm studying; I read blogs. Somehow, after I've collaborated with others in some way, my own thoughts begin to organize, find focus, and finally I can begin to communicate and respond intellectually to what I'm learning.

Thus far in my education, I've made collaboration my navigation tool of choice. It's the GPS I'm taking with me on my M.Ed. road trip to make sure I get where I'm going with as few wrong turns and detours as possible.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Exploration of K12 Online Conference and/or EdTechTalk

K12 Online Conference 2009 Presentation:
"Keeping Literacy in 21st Century Literacy" by Drew Schrader

I did a search for presentations in “literacy” in the hopes that I could maximize the benefit of this exercise and use whatever presentation I watched as a resource for my “RDG-504 Content Area Literacy” class. This stroke of genius (haha) paid off, as this 16-minute presentation spoke clearly and concisely to issues/strategies being discussed and learned in RDG-504. The presenter even referenced the Tovani text, “I Read It, but I Don’t Get It” which is the required text for RDG-504. I hit the jackpot in selecting this presentation for my review and reflection. The fact that the presenter gave a user-friendly presentation for the "common man" made it extremely easy for me - the education studies rookie - to follow and understand the information presented.

The presenter outlines 3 common challenges in literacy. For each, he clearly defines the issue, a strategy for combating the challenge, and the online tool he recommends as a weapon. He then gives a very brief tutorial on each tool’s capabilities. I took offline notes on each tool referenced, and may consider using them in my RDG-504 lesson plan.

I was completely riveted by this presentation, and understood each issue, strategy, and tool presented. Based on the success I had with this K12 Online Conference exercise, I would use the K12 site as a resource again without hesitation.

EdTechTalk Presentation: "21st Century Learning #113: Roxbury Latin's Social Media Plan"
Broadcast date: October 20, 2009

This presenation involved an EdTechTalk host interviewing the director and another member of Roxbury Latin's information services department (aka the "tech department") about the school's existing and future social media plan. The two men discuss how the plan began as a Twitter profile and now spans multiple social networking resources - Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, Moodle, Flickr- to communicate with faculty, students, alumni and prospective Roxbury Latin community members .

It is interesting and important to consider the socioeconomics of the Roxbury Latin community: independent/private school, $20k yearly tuition, 100% college matriculation, 8:1 teacher:student ratio, average 13 students per class, etc. My initial/gut instinct is that the level of technology integration in education is almost entirely dependent on the school budget, which I assume is largely dependent on the socioeconomic status of that school’s community/student population. Therefore, I wonder if technology integration in education, while admirable, is an idealistic and not realistic goal in the average school system.

I found it hard to stay focused having only audio to listen to, and no visual accompaniment. I preferred the audiovisual presentation on K12 Online Conference.

1/4/10 Essential Questions

* Why should we integrate technology into lessons?
* What is the purpose of integrating technology into learning?

The video "A Vision of K-12 Students Today" (B. Nesbitt) shows us in a powerful way exactly why educators must consider technology integration in the classroom: students today are digital learners. These students "learn by doing", and what they are doing when they are not sleeping or in the classroom, is exploring and communicating digitally. The majority of their learned and retained information comes in the form of digital technology. The language of technology IS the common language spoken among American students today, not English. As current or future educators, it seems impossible to expect students to grow and adapt if we force them to use antiquated, stagnant tools. The internet is the global community of society and industry today, and it will certainly be the ever-developing community of tomorrow. The fact that the American education system falls below the global standard, while countries in which education standards excel embrace technology integration, also supports the need for our country's education system to move aggressively towards a technologically-integrated curriculum. Considering these statistics, if the purpose of teaching is to engage students and enable them to intake information, comprehend it, and then with their new knowledge yield a product, then the community - administrators, teachers, students and parents alike - must embrace technology integration in the classroom.

It seems to me the real challenge in this movement is not understanding its merit, but executing it in reality. I would imagine that ideal, full integration would constitute a 1:1 ratio of students to PC's or laptops in the classroom, and technologically-literate teachers. While Windham High School may be fostering this utopia, even a school with excellent facilities (such as Pinkerton Academy where I am a former student and currently substitute teach) cannot support that ideal. Some "middle of the road" approach, perhaps a structured media/technology plan developed and mandated as part of the curriculum, would be a significant step in the right direction.