Sunday, February 14, 2010

Open Source / Free Software

The open source software movement has been growing rapidly, and for good reason. First off, it doesn't cost any money; second is the fact that you can share it with friends; third, since the code is available, you can change it to suit your needs or fix bugs that pop up - and you won't have to wait for a patch or an update.

There is a downside and strings attached. For those of us that are not technically-savy enough to edit code, we will have to wait for someone else to create updates, so it really isn't free. It often isn't easy to install and searching forums for answers takes a lot of sifting, reading, trying, and sometimes failing. And if it's free, you can't really complain, right? However, if you are a paying customer you have a right to call an 800 number, wait on hold for twenty minutes, and demand your questions be answered! (and hopefully you will).

This is not to say that all open source software is unsuccessful as it is quite the opposite. There are extremely successful programs that shine a spotlight on the open source movement such as OpenOffice, Wordpress and Firefox. I, too, have had great success with Gimp and Linux operating systems. I was even excited to see that some netbooks came with Linux installed versus Windows.

I see a trend in the use of open source software as budgets are being slashed and minds are being opened to the wonderful world of Open Source.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blended and Online Learning

One of the key findings of the Sloan report is that online education is not part of the mainstream of higher education. Pretty obvious finding, if you ask me. The enrollment growth rate of 18.2% was not so obvious.

25% of students in 3-5th grade want to learn online to "be in control of my learning", and almost 50% of 9-12th graders and 40% of 6-8th graders feel the same way. Why isn't there a stronger push to online learning for K-12?

I surveyed my own students and found several of the same trends. Students wanted to learn at their own pace and thought they would learn just as much online (if not more) than they would in a classroom. Some even noticed the reduced costs to school districts by saving money through conversation of energy, reduction in needed technology on site, no busing, and the cafeteria wouldn't have to make lunches. Some also noticed that having entirely online school would cut several school employees out of jobs - bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. Most students said they would miss the social interaction of school as well as gym class (of course!).

I am definitely a proponent of blended learning since it has the appeal and benefits of both online and face to face learning. I think a lot of this resonates with the subject matter I teach - math - and the need for visualization. I haven't seen many online math courses, just one to be exact, and it lacked engagement and demonstrations that I strive to have on a daily basis in my classroom.

For the remainder of the year and next year I would like to offer more blended learning opportunities for my students. This could be something simple like online tutorials or a weekly skype session.

Blended Learning Sites

I'm going to steal this from Lisa's post
Free Rice: Use your vocabulary skills to feed the hungry of the world!
Photo galleries, blogs, and maps of the voyages of Karen Fennell and family.
Walden hosted a Scholars of Change video contest. This is the personal story of Elisa Watters, one of the grand prize contest winners. (2.5 minutes)
Behind the scenes video of a science lesson creation at K-12, Inc.
A calculator to figure out how much you’ve saved by taking The World is Open online instead of on-campus.
Another behind the scenes video from K-12, Inc. on how they incorporate animations into their lessons and their philosophy behind doing so.
Brief discussion of the global post-secondary education market by Laureate Education, Inc.
Want to learn Chinese?
Jones International School quiz to determine if you have what it takes to be an online learner.
This five-minute video provides an overview of the Michigan Virtual University and several of the programs aimed at K-12 students. (5 minutes)
Urban Farming video about the program planting urban gardens while educating youth, adults and seniors about providing environmentally sustainable systems. (7 minutes)

Monday, February 1, 2010


I'm torn on e-books. On one hand, I think it's a great idea and a useful tool in the classroom. They would take up less space and ultimately require less dusting. They could be updated quickly and I would like to assume they would be cost effective since the actual publishing part is eliminated. However, you couldn't necessarily assign homework out of the e-book, because not all students have access to a computer or the internet. I guess all students would have access to the public library, but if they cannot drive or their parents cannot drive them to the library, you are back to the original problem. There would be so many benefits, especially if these textbooks were searchable and had links to differentiated activities including videos, experiments, tutorials, games, answers, wikis, forums, etc... This would provide content-rich and interactive learning for students.

I do not know that much about e-books, as I don't have a kindle, but one of my friends does. He loves the fact that it takes up less space and weighs less in his carry on luggage for traveling purposes, although he still purchases hard copies of books. I've read a few places that books expire after so many months, which seems ridiculous to me. The only way books disappear off of my shelf is if I give them away or lose them, not because I have owned them too long. But, this is just what I have heard and not researched, so I am not sure what truth there is in this. Also, I'm not sure that you can share your books, like you can share books from your own shelf. So as far as personal recreational reading goes, I'll stick to purchasing the actual books.