Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.
Information technology in the real world at school
August 24th, 2007

Blogs, wikis and similar web based apps are handy tools for teachers and students to employ as part of the teaching and learning experience. Blogs are reasonably easy to set up and publish. Wikis are easy to get going as well. What preceded all of this?

Back in 1993 I was working with Apple HyperCard and developing stacks for use by my students in both History and Computing Studies. My students began building them as well. The HyperCard stacks were always satisfying to produce and to share however they reached their use by date by the end of the 1990s. Apple stopped supporting HyperCard and other tools like Oracle Media Objects also bit the dust. HyperStudio seems to have run its course. Does it still exist? I have transferred the contents of some stacks to the web, in particular Prisoner of War.

In the past I also worked on the development of multimedia CD-ROMs. They were excellent products. They all sit in my filing cabinet now. None of them work on Macintosh OSX. I think they will function with Windows XP. They just seem too “big” now. Cumbersome. Like encyclopaedias.

The web came along and I started producing web sites using Claris Home Page and, later, Dreamweaver. Finding the time to develop web sites to support my own immediate needs and interest seemed quite difficult. I found myself building web sites and eLearning materials for clients and the boss. I also found that I was devoting a great deal of time teaching others to do the same. I rarely had the chance to practise what I preached.

Learning Objects became the “in” thing back in 2001 or so. The idea goes back to 1992 with Wayne Hodgins at AutoDesk. I attended conferences, workshops and the like however the hype never seemed to match the reality.

I began to devote time to teaching educators how to employ tools such as digital photography, digital videography, blended learning, and the like as part of their suite of teaching and learning strategies. I recently returned to the secondary school classroom to work with students at the coal face and see if I could employ some of the techniques and tools I had worked with in the tertiary and corporate worlds. Teaching at school affords additional time in which to research and experiment.

Working with tools like iMovie and Photoshop proved relatively easy in the classroom setting but building reasonably decent web sites with the students did not seem realistic. By and large there are limited opportunities to really sink one’s teeth into worthwhile information technology projects with students. The day to day life of a teacher is taken up with a diverse range of commitments and distractions.

The information technology projects developed by teachers and students seemed to be haphazard and lacking a life of their own. The projects would just end up on a backup server or CD-ROM. I would observe students work on a digital video project for weeks on end and then there would be a flurry of excitement as the end product is shared with the class or even the entire school. And that would be the end of it. The video project would be burnt to DVD, stored on a hard drive and seemingly forgotten.

Thinking on this it is apparent that if one is to work with the students to develop an information technology project and thus contribute to developing their own understanding of the subject, as well as the understanding of the others, then a number of criteria need to met. The process should allow students to develop a product that meets the following criteria…

  • The application of the technology should match the desired, specific
    curriculum outcomes
  • The tool’s learning curve should be short or non-existant
  • Development should be seamless for the students
  • The projects created by the students should be easily customisable
  • The projects should be interoperable
  • The projects should be re-usable
  • Subsequent cohorts should be able to pick up the projects and run with them

Creation of the project should be seamless for the students. It is the understanding that is important. The tool should not get in the way of the process. The last few years have seen the advent of several tools that can actually assist teachers and students to met the criteria listed above…

They include Comic Life, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Flickr. These tools are easy to use and readily implemented. Some of these tools are a subset of Web 2.0. Perhaps Web 2.0 can provide a platform for the realisation of the promise made by Learning Objects?

The projects that can be developed through the use of these tools can be shared with future cohorts and redeveloped. Products developed in any of the tools listed above can be linked to or embedded within any of the others. Numerous possibilities exist. I shall store this idea in my brain for the moment and blog on this later.

During the last 14 or so years I have found myself teaching other educators how to employ these tools in the classroom. Sharing these tools with other educators have served to crystallise a range of ideas that I would like to experiment with in my own school.

I have begun sharing the tools with students in Years 8, 9 and 11. The projects are underway and I hope to see some results by the end of the term… stay tuned for part 2 of these thoughts…

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