Thursday, December 31, 2009


A few years ago when I discovered Google Calendar, Docs, iGoogle, Reader and on and on and on I was really thrilled that I could have all my 'stuff' online and accessible from any internet ready device. I'm not sure that all of those apps have increased my workflow though. Ease of collaboration, yes! Ease of sharing, yes! Ease of access, yes! More work done in less time--well, not really.


I teach at a distributed learning school. I am responsible for Science 8 - 12 courses as well as Math 8 - 11. The math courses are all paper based and the science courses are all online. My students work from home, but they have access to face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials via Elluminate, as well as help as needed via phone, e-mail and face-to-face. The students work asynchronously at their own pace. This means that it is rare that I mark two of the same assignments in a row.

When Technology Makes Life Decidedly Better

Part 1: Moodle

This fall my district undertook to host Moodle on its own server. Prior to this our online course offerings were through WebCT (an oldish version). In our Moodle courses assignments can be submitted electronically within the course, with alerts being sent to the teacher to let them know when new material is ready to be marked.

Part 2: HP Tablet Laptop

Our school has had 2 HP Tablet laptops for the past couple of years. If you haven't seen or used one of these, you have the ability to draw directly on the screen using a special pen. There is handwriting recognition software which can convert handwriting into typed text. Prior to this year I have used the tablets with a projector when teaching to write notes and instructions, just as you might use a felt pen and transparencies on an overhead projector.

Marking with the HP Tablet

Marking with the HP Tablet

Part 3: Putting It All Together

Here's what happens when you combine Moodle with the HP tablet.

I receive an e-mail alert that a student has submitted an assignment. I click on the link and am taken to the assignment in Moodle. I select the student's file which is downloaded on my computer and opened in word. Using the pen on the tablet I can easily mark and add comments to the assignment (marking with the pen tool is far easier than adding comment boxes). I then save the file with a new name. I go back to Moodle, input the grade, and upload the marked file. The student will now receive an e-mail alert to tell them that their work has been marked. Easy peasy!

Prior to using Moodle, when students e-mailed in their work I had to save it to a specific folder, mark it, go to my marks program to record the mark, save the marked file, attach it to an e-mail and send it to the student. Lots of clicks, lots of little pieces to remember to do.

Prior to using Moodle, most students did their work on paper and dropped it off at the school. There was a delay between the student finishing the work and me receiving it and then a delay between me marking the work and them picking it up. And then there are the (infrequent) times I'd forget to record the mark and the times that students claimed that they handed in their work but it disappeared or they claimed that the marked work never reached them. This doesn't happen with the new system! In addition, it is far more convenient to carry home just a laptop as opposed to envelopes of student work. Students also tended to hand in a whole whack of work all at once, preventing timely feedback. In Moodle students are less likely to do this.

I'm finding it difficult to convey how smooth and seamless the Moodle/tablet combination is! Let me just say that I actually look forward to marking now (sick, I know).

How 'Bout You?

Is there some system or technology that you use that actually helps your workflow to a significant degree? I'd love to hear about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see about getting all of those math courses I teach into Moodle ;-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Most Influential Post of 2009

Requisite--So I Haven't Blogged For A While...

Lately my on-line participation has shifted more towards Twitter and the relatively new social networking site for BC educators, CEET (Community of Expertise in Educational Technology). Coupled with starting to using Moodle for course delivery and learning more about online course design, I've been less active with my blog.

Edublog Awards

Though I haven't been blogging much, I have watched with interest the Edublog Awards. I never got off my butt to make any nominations--so thank you to all those folks who did. The nomination list is always a good place to find interesting voices that are new to me.

Better Late Than Never... My Nomination

Though I didn't nominate anyone, I would like to highlight this post by Stephen Downes as the post that I found most influential in 2009. The post, titled The Monkeysphere Ideology, refers to a Cracked article from 2007 (yes, that Cracked.) From Downes:
Now let's look at the Cracked article, which suggests that each of us has a limit of about 150 people we can know and understand and relate to. The theory is based on Dunbar's number, and Cracked calls it - with more than a little alacrity - the 'monkeysphere'. The article, which was written in 2005, is making the rounds again.

Sock Monkey Group by sunsetgirl creations
Sock Monkey Group by sunsetgirl creations
One of the key points that Downes makes is:
Our failure lies not in the fact that we cannot know and understand more than 150 people. That's just a fact of physiology. Rather, our failure lies in how we characterize the remaining 99.99 percent of humanity: as though they were automatons.

I see this 'us and them' mentality pervading so much of life. Now whenever I do I think of the monkeysphere. For example; there has been so much in the news lately to do with global warming, and CBC ran this piece last week on the disputed island of Miningo. Because of global warming the water temperature in Lake Victoria is rising and water levels are dropping. This, along with overfishing, is resulting in increased pressure on the Nile perch stocks in the lake. Miningo island has become the flash point for Ugandan and Kenyan fishers who are finding it increasingly difficult to catch enough fish. From the CBC story:
The change in Lake Victoria is important because some 30 million people rely on it for their livelihood.

It is in situations like this that the monkeysphere ideology comes into play in a powerful way. Take this quote from the CBC story:

Kenyan fisherman Paul Odhiambo sorts through his catch of Nile perch in the bottom of his boat moored along Migingo's rocky shore. His anger rises quickly when thinking of Uganda.

"They just come with tear gas. And spraying us with the tear gas," he says. "So these people are not human. Just look at them. They are carrying guns. Why? Why carrying guns at this small place."

"So these people are not human." Where have you heard this before? Where else has this been justification for treating other human beings like garbage? But this is not a Uganda/Kenya problem. It is a human problem.

Since I read Downes' post, I've been thinking about the monkeysphere quite a bit. I am more aware when those around me and those I hear and read about "characterize the remaining 99.99 percent of humanity: as though they were automatons." or worse...

What About You?

What do you think about the monkeysphere? And what blog post, book , article, etc has influenced you in a big way this year? Thanks as always for reading, and I welcome comments. Cheers!