Monday, August 8, 2016

Counting the Clicks - Your Classroom Digital Ecosystem

I'm very impressed that my school district has a team evaluating and truly thinking about the digital ecosystem in which we all live, work and learn together. Marketers, huge companies like Apple and Google, all think about the digital ecosystem but school systems, not so much. This is something we didn't have to think about in the past with the Microsoft Office Suite. It used to be rather simple with one suite of tools, one operating system and one desktop computer. But now with web 2.0, apps, media, games, and multiple devices, teachers really need to design not just their physical classroom but the digital space as well so that students can get to the main objective of learning. And even though our 180,000 student size system is thinking about it, each teacher really should be ahead of the game and start design their classroom ecosystem. Just don't think you'll be done with it.

Divide and conquer is a great way to look at it. As with the chart below, the digital ecosystem really is 3 parts, content, creation tools and social communication. If you plan early, these three aspect can be easily linked to one another. Take some tips from the web designers about usability and test your ecosystem. How many usernames and passwords do students need to use? (that's always an issue.) How many clicks does it take to get to the warm-up? Does the content save in the preferred storage location? Can students figure out how to navigate or does it require teaching? If these aren't in place, you already have frustration.

Some teachers have an amazing system for handing out and turning back in papers. Students hand them up the rows, stack them alphabetically, place them in a specific box on the desk, all with great practice and precision. But how assignments are distributed and turned in electronically can be an afterthought. In the analogy of handing papers up the rows, there is thought about those rows, how tall the stack will be, how long it will take. If your school has a classroom management system such as Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology or Blackboard, every teacher should think about how the interface will best work with the content they want students to hand in. Google Classroom has designed a system that although limited, works well for the Google suite of apps and even a variety of other file types.

For our school system, Google Apps seems to take care nearly all three parts of the digital ecosystem but currently there are holes where content doesn't always connect in that environment. As an example, several teachers upload pdf documents only to find students can't really write on them. Our best tool for this is DocHub, a Google Drive connected website but separate company from Google, that allows students to edit pdf documents. However, after editing a document,  turn in is complicated because the edited document created is separate from the original. The better practice, and honestly, a much more pedagogically sound practice, is to redefine the assignment. Any practice where the teacher is asking for fill in the blank work from students may need reflection. Converting the pdf using the Google option to "open with Google Docs" provides teachers that opportunity to create more open ended questioning and leave more space for answers.

LMS's (Learning Management Systems like Blackboard) claim to be a one stop shop, but looking at the diagram, they really lack something in each of the 3 areas of content, creation and social. As an example, I don't know of any learning management system that has a video editor built in, yet student videos are quite common. You may hesitate to allow video production in class or delegate it to that "special" project because it's too cumbersome. Online editors like Wevideo, and the YouTube editor are fine but most students will want to use iPads, phones or a computer with editing software.  Determine early how video will be moved, stored and turned in. I suggest uploading to Google Drive for turn in since the playback tends to be simple. Once you have tested a workflow, establish it early in the year. This is true for turning in any assignments.

You really must have a social communication tool for your classroom (not just email) and many of the LMS platforms have one. But if it isn't as easy to use on a mobile device as a laptop, or it is clumsy, chances are students will resent that it isn't a "true" social platform. If you want blogging, try Weebly for ease of use. If you want a forum, see Google Classroom, if you need texting announcement go to Remind. How students access these communication tools needs to be mobile as well as on a computer, just as you access communication both places. And be sure the instructions how to access all aspects of your course are clear, easy to follow and help everyone stay on the same page. 

Finally, just because the district has a tool available or your friend down the hall is using the tool in class does not mean it is useful or appropriate for your ecosystem. I see a phenomenal overuse of quizing tools like Kahoot, Socrative and others as a time-fillers. If every teacher is quizing students in the same method, the differentiation for your subject area is gone. Find a review method that fits your style but also provides opportunity for growth for everyone in the class.  Quiziz has a nice self paced feature as does Quizlet. Perhaps designing your own with branching logic in Google Forms is really a better option and they can be entertaining as well with video clips included. Did you know that Khan Academy has more than just math? Yes, now you'll find courses in history, economics, music, science and grammar. All self paced with a gamified interface. 

Look how this teacher, Courtney Bennis, developed a Digital Ecosystem for her students over the course of the year. This Prezi was a way to communicate to parents the tools and developing skills of her classroom. You'll see that, not all Digital Ecosystems are created in one day. 

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