Category Archives: Technology

Coursera [#NYTEdTech]

Daphne Koller said the following to an audience of 400 people [starting at 19:08 in the linked video] attending an educational technology conference.

There are so few opportunities for those of us here in this room to learn something new in an engaging and fun and high quality way.

From my notes. Red question mark is mine and was definitely not reflected in Ms. Koller's tone.

My notes are a paraphrasing. Red question mark is mine and was definitely not reflected in Ms. Koller’s tone.

She followed up immediately with this claim:

If you take away the residential requirement for enrollment [in college], all of us can be lifelong learners.

Also from my notes. Red comment mine.

Also from my notes. Red comment mine.

As a service to readers, I will state the assumption here:

“Lifelong learning” refers to learning that meets an external standard, and which is externally certified.

Smart Notebook app now available

I am looking at my Gmail inbox and I see that Smart is announcing the release of their Notebook app for iPad. Before I read it, let me state that I know it’s going to offer integration of the iPad with the SmartBoard.

I know I’ll be able to control my Smart Board from my iPad with this app and a wifi connection, right? I can draw or write on the iPad as I move around the room and the image will appear on the Smart Board in real time. Right?

Now I’ll open the email.

Ad copy:

Students can actively engage in personalized learning by creating basic multimedia files and completing SMART Notebook lesson activities using a choice of tools on their iPads. They can also learn collaboratively by saving files to work on at different times or by sharing the iPad screen to the SMART Board interactive whiteboard for whole-class discussion.

As personal devices become increasingly integrated into the classroom, SMART Notebook for iPad provides a versatile and highly anticipated option for your schools and districts.

That bolded text seems to hint at what I’m after. The following is from an online review:

A great app that lives up to its purpose. While on the outside it appears to be just a drawing app with no SMART Board connectivity (which is not the intent of the application,) the application lives up to SMART Product’s reputation. The application is perfect for small group instruction, to where the need of an actually SMART Board is unnecessary, or carrying a laptop across the room to pair it with an Interwrite pad can be tedious (in my position as a technology head and reading interventionist, painful…)

Hmmm…now I’m less hopeful.

Bob Jackman has done a really nice video overview of the app’s capabilities. But my feature doesn’t get addressed in it. (And by the way, the amount behind-the-scenes monkeying it must take to get these features up and running is astonishing.)

Seriously, “Can I control Notebook with my iPad?” is a question that has been asked many, many times in Smart Board sessions I have done. Teachers want these things to integrate with each other. I’m not convinced that they do yet.

The app is really intended for students to interact with a Notebook file on their own iPads. It costs $6.99.



Spinning wheel

Here is a crappy video of a spinning wheel.

I needed one for Calc 2, where we are studying parametric equations. I Googled “spinning wheel video” and found nothing that would be at all useful.

Now it exists. Hopefully someone will take the time to make a better one someday. And hopefully they’ll let me know once they have.

Until then, I am a bit embarrassed at how low the bar is for instructional innovation in higher ed math.

And if you want the QuickTime file so you can pause, edit and generally have your way with it, shoot me a note on Twitter and I’ll make it so.

Smart Boards excepted, right?

From EdTechResearcher by way of Audrey Watters at Hack Education:

In general, our findings cohere with 30 years of educational technology research. There are a handful of teachers who make remarkable use of new technologies, but for the most part, when teachers adopt new technologies, they use them to extend existing practices rather than to develop innovative practices.

As a dear colleague of mine once noted in a Smart Board session, “It’s just like the chalkboard; it’s the teacher’s worksheet.”

If I see one more f’ing Smart board disabling a chalkboard…

…I’m gonna ‘splode. Ladies and gentlemen, an interactive whiteboard is a supplemental technology, not a replacement technology.

From today's New York Times

From a post a year ago


Problem solved!

Don’t worry…I promise I’m not gonna turn into tech-tip guy. I’ll get back to the business of teaching and learning mathematics quite soon.

But I have solved a problem.

Be forewarned…if you don’t also have this problem, then your response will be Cry me a river.

And it’s a rich-guy problem. Not rich in the 1%/99% sense, but rich in the developed world/developing world sense.

What I’m saying is that I know teachers in the Peace Corps don’t have this problem.

OK. Here’s the scenario:

You’re a teacher. You use a computer in instruction. But the computer you use when you teach is not necessarily the computer you use when you plan. How do you make sure the files you need are where you need them, and that they’re the right versions?

Me? I have an institution-issued iMac in my office. But I use my personal laptop in the classroom, and that laptop travels with me. If I’m in my office, I’m usually on the iMac because it has the bigger keyboard and screen and an actual mouse, etc.

So planning and other current work files need to be accessible on both devices. Here are my previous solutions…each has its own limitations:

THe “I:” Drive

At my institution, each faculty member has a large partition on a server. It’s accessible through a shortcut on the desktop, and through a complicated series of links and logins over wifi and the Internet.

It’s cumbersome to log on to, and it’s only as good as my Internet connection. If WiFi is wonky, I can’t use my files while I’m teaching. Remote file storage is no good when you need instant, responsive access. It’s a good backup, though.

Flash drive

I love my SanDisk Titanium Crüzer. (Umlaut is mine, but don’t you agree it belongs?) It’s shiny and metallic and it slowly pulses a lovely blue light. It’s fast and responsive.

And when I leave it behind I’m screwed.

Oh and it doesn’t back itself up.

enter dropbox

David Pogue is the man. I knew vaguely of Dropbox, but hadn’t looked into it. He wrote about it recently and I saw a solution to my problem.

Here’s the brilliant thing about Dropbox: Your files live on both computers and they sync automatically in the background while you work on other stuff.

Let me repeat this.


So as I plan on the iMac, my files are modified on the laptop (assuming I’m connected to WiFi, which I normally am). When I pack up the laptop for class, the modified files come with me. If WiFi is wonky in the classroom, no problemo. They are on the laptop.

I cannot overemphasize this point. The files are not just in the godforsaken cloud. They are on my hard drive. Both hard drives. As long as I have had WiFi access recently, I’m good. I don’t need WiFi access while I’m using the files.

No log on. No links. No syncing. No physical object to leave behind.

2 gigs of Dropbox is free.

And frankly, if you need more than 2 gigs for your teaching you either teach film or you need a better way to organize your files.

Canvas v. D2L, round 2 (Grades)

I never used to post grades on D2L. It drove my students nuts. That’s really all they expected out of an LMS (well, that and being able to find out what they missed in class, or maybe when the next assignment was due). So they found it frustrating that I didn’t use D2L for grades.

But the gradebook in D2L is cumbersome. There is a grading system and a grading scheme (see image below). Those mean different things, but I have no idea what that difference is.

Oh right. There are grade values, grade item values and grade calculations (both adjusted and not).

So one semester, my solution was that I would upload my grade book from my laptop to D2L once a week. I could avoid using the bad grade book on D2L and my students could have their grades online. Win/win, right?

Nope. The import/export features are fussy. Things have to be in just the right format or they won’t import. And D2L won’t tell you that the information didn’t import. It just omits information it finds problematic and tells you it is done with the import.

And integrating Assignments (which, recall, do not exist in D2L) with the grade book? Huge hassle. Lots of non-intuitive clicks.

So I was not at all convinced that Canvas was going to be better on this front. I figured I would use Canvas for discussions, assignments, etc. But not for grades.

And then I decided that I really should give it a shot. Because otherwise, I’ll never know. I shouldn’t assume that Canvas grade books will be as frustrating as D2L.

And you know what? It’s working out great. As so many other things in Canvas, the grade book is integrated throughout. There is a checkbox on the page where you create an assignment. Check that box and it’s entered into the grade book. Don’t check it and it’s not. Rubrics? If you want to use one, hit the “add rubric” button. It’s all there and it all works together.

Here’s what it looks like in action:

So those are the pros, you say; but what are the cons?

I’ve only found two so far. They are so minor as to be laughable (but both are totally fixable by the good folks at Canvas; I’m sure they have bigger fish to fry than these, but they shouldn’t be hard).

(1) When you create a rubric, you start with two categories for each criterion (e.g. 0 and 1). To create more categories (e.g. 0 to 4), there is an awkward column-splitting interface. It would be nice if you could just type in the number of categories you wanted.

(2) There are no fractional points. My courses always used to be 100 points total for simplicity. That required using decimal numbers of points. My workaround is simple; I multiplied everything by 10. So now there’s 1000 points in the semester and I no longer have decimals.

Like I said, these are really, really minor in comparison to my complaints about D2L’s grade book.

Round 2 goes to Canvas too.