2020 Vision

It was interesting to watch Karl Fisch’s prognostications regarding technology and learning in the year 2020. Some of his ideas were spot-on. Others were close but missed the mark. But overall, it’s a brave thing to do and fraught with peril.

I won’t pretend that I know or can even pretend to know where technology and learning/teaching will be in the year 2020. What I will do is tell you what I would ‘like’ to see happening by then.

Right now I think there are two big players in the technology world. I believe Fisch was right in zeroing in on Google. They are doing some really great things in the field of web accessible tools. Google Apps and the associated tools Google has created, purchased and integrated are coming together and creating a powerful platform. Google has moved past its infancy stage and is starting to mature.

The other major player in technology is Apple. Far from being bought up by Google as Fisch predicted, Apple has become one of the most dominant forces in technology. Their iOS devices (iPods, iPhones and iPads) are ubiquitous. According to “Apple Insider“, Apple’s iPad accounts for 98% of the web traffic that originates on a tablet device. Additionally, they account for 54.5% of all web traffic that originates from any mobile device. The iPad has become much more than a ‘consumer’ device. According to “the Mac Observer” 94% of the Fortune 500 companies are either testing or deploying the iPad in their business.

Imagine what could happen if Google and Apple could bury that hatchet and join forces. Imagine Apple’s hardware and iOS quality control and design prowess being used to help Google design and produce a collection of web apps that were integrated into Apple’s iOS and Mac OS. Apple’s profit margins from the sales of their devices could easily support Google’s research and design work. On it’s own, according to “TechCrunch” Apple spent $2.4 billion dollars in research and development in fiscal year 2011. And… Increased that by $1 billion dollars in  fiscal year 2012, to a total of $3.4 billion dollars. That’s just for research and development.

So imagine Apple and Google working together. Google’s apps have become fully functional and so mature that there is feature parity with Office. And, it’s free, integrated into Apple’s now fully merged iOS and Mac OS. Apple’s profit margins are supporting Google’s development of the web applications. Google’s apps can open and translate all Office files and formats. For all practical purposes, Office is dead.

On the other hand, Google’s fragmented, bug-ridden and virus-infected Android operating system has been replaced by Apple’s iOS operating system on mobile devices: phones, mp3 players, tablets and devices yet to be developed. Apple’s years of developing an operating system in a closed environment has resulted in an OS that is virus resistant, mature and vastly superior to other contenders, including Microsoft’s late-to-the-game offering.

Microsoft’s computer operating system still has influence in the desktop PC market, but that influence is waning. Apple’s evolution of the OS X operating system into the OS XI operating system (now merged with iOS) with Google App integration has taken hold. Apple has once again decided to license its operating system to other hardware vendors. Only, this time the hardware has to meet strict specifications that are set by Apple. As has always been the rule in Apple’s own ecosystem hardware and software interoperability is ‘de rigueur‘. Failure to follow human interface design guidelines results in instant revocation of licensing and removal of merchandise from the market.

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of: 1) Multiple  Means of Representation, 2) Multiple Means of Action and Expression and 3) Multiple Means of Engagement have become fully integrated into all learning materials. (If you aren’t familiar with UDL, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning has a five minute video that will explain the concepts.) All publishers are now required to produce common core curriculum supporting materials in a certified UDL format.

Multiple means of representation: Learning materials are now presented in multiple formats… schools no longer need to convert text materials to a format that can be read to those students with print disabilities as all print materials also come as an electronic text format that can be read using a text to speech program. Materials are also available in a video format that explains the concepts and can be used in a flipped-classroom format, as well as large print and electronic braille formats.

Multiple means of action and expression: Students also have the options of demonstrating their understanding of the concepts in various ways. Paper/pencil tests don’t work for you? Create a video demonstrating your understanding. Create an audio podcast to show you know your stuff. Work through a project that could only be completed if you understand the material.

Multiple means of engagement: Students have the option of working alone or in groups, using a traditional learning approach or engaging in a constructivist approach, having the environment highly structured or extremely free and spontaneous.

The point of UDL is, we are all different and we learn differently. Consequently, we need teaching and evaluation materials and methods that are accessible, effective and highly engaging for all students. By having multiple methods of representation, expression and engagement incorporated into the curriculum materials at the time of their purchase, teachers are free to provide individual students with the materials and methods that are best/necessary for those students to succeed. Additionally, teachers are freed from the time and effort, the burden of having to try to ‘adapt’ traditional materials to meet the varying needs of a diverse group of learners creates. Teachers are busy. Trying to adapt materials is very time consuming. It would be much more effective and efficient to provide teachers and students with universally designed learning materials right up front than to have to try to adapt them.

In the past I’ve talked about word-prediction programs, text-to-speech programs, context-based grammar checking programs, voice-to-text programs and other assistive technology programs. These programs are essential for some students. They are not optional, they are a necessity for some students to have access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) (follow the link to see Wikipedia’s description of FAPE). For other students, these are helpful programs. These students may not need to have them but they may be more successful if they do have access to them. These tools are incorporated in all UDL materials.

In the future I envision, Apple and Google have joined forces to provide access to web based, UDL designed tools, materials and teaching methods for teachers, ensuring that all students have access to the free appropriate public education that is their right.

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Web Applications

I’ve come to really like Google Docs. I’m speaking specifically about the word processing module. As a student I would be able to start my writing project using Firefox on the school Windows computer and finish it at home using Google’s Chrome browser on my Mac. It is truly platform agnostic. It only requires a modern browser, it does like Chrome, Firefox and Safari the best, with a heavy nod to Chrome. Regardless of the browser, all I have to do to get to my work is to log into my Google account. There I can see anything I’ve worked on.

Google’s assistive technology support isn’t that great. It really doesn’t have good text-to-speech support, or any kind of workable word-prediction, nor is it supported by the spelling and grammar checkers Ginger or Ghotit. There are some options for providing text-to-speech. The Macintosh built-in voices will work with it. Also the very good NaturalReader for Mac and Windows will work. All you have to do is select the text to hear it read back to you.

Still the best feature of Google Docs is the collaboration. As a student I can work on a document with a classmate, at the same time he/she is in the document. We can use the chat window to visit about what features or comments we need to make in the document. This is even better than leaving messages in a wiki because it can be done live. The chat window pops up along side the document.

Google Docs has come a long way. It is a much better program than the review from 2007 that was in our readings suggest.

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Paperless Spaces

Once again, because I don’t actually have a classroom, I am going to write about how the idea of ‘paperless spaces’ would affect students I work with who have reading and writing disabilities.

How would a paperless class change your role as a teacher? How would paperless classes change learning?

Students who work in a paperless class would have the advantage of not having to write on a piece of paper. Students who have a physical disability or a learning disability that prevents them from holding a pencil, writing legibly or transferring their thoughts to paper, may find it easier to write using a computer. For some, keyboarding can take away the barrier of the pencil and paper. It allows them to create without having to slowly and deliberately shape those letters on paper. Less energy dedicated to encoding those letters can mean more energy being creative and explaining a concept. Additionally, editing on screen can be much easier than having to physically re-write something. A speech-to-text product like Dragon NauralySpeaking or Dragon Dictate allows the student to write by using their voice. Some editing may need to be done with the keyboard, but much of the entry will be done keylessly. Being in a class that is totally paperless allows the student who ‘needs’ to be paperless to part of the norm.

How would you measure learning in a paperless class? Would a paperless space make it easier or harder to build a learning network? Why?

I guess it depends on what the expectations are. A paperless class could really look no different from a regular class, if it just means that all assignments are delivered to the students electronically and work is turned in the same way. It really wouldn’t have to change. A teacher could leave ‘comments’ on the written work. You just wouldn’t have to worry about penmanship. 🙂

It would be easier to build a learning network in a paperless class. A teacher could build into the evaluation the level of collaboration that had been incorporated into the project. In the paperless class, using today’s tools, a student could easily reach out to other students or professionals in specific fields, and seek information from them. Using a wiki, blog or other tool they could subsequently share their findings, ideas and opinions with others in their learning network.

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Big Shifts: Open Content

Open Content (open-source content created through collaboration)

Because I don’t have a classroom, I’m going to address the questions from the perspective of one who supports students with reading and writing disabilities.

How has this shift affected your teaching practice so far?

It hasn’t. Because schools would have to adopt these materials and they would have to fit into the Common Core State Standards, there aren’t a lot of these materials available, yet. 

How do you expect it might affect you in the future?

This is a growth area. I think we will see lots of development here. Apple’s iBooks Author software makes it possible to create stunning, interactive textbooks quite easily. These digital texts will have the potential to be easily updated. On another note, a group of educators in Utah is developing a set of etextbooks for high school math that will be freely available. This will be a huge boon to students with learning-disabilities or print-disabilities who need use text-to-speech technologies to access printed materials.

Have your views changed since you started this course?

Yes (and no). I am certainly more aware of ‘open content’ than I was prior to the class. On the other hand, I am also more wary of the validity of open content. I think this ties in closely to another one of the ‘big shifts’, that being students need to be more than readers, they need to be critical thinkers/editors.

How can you use technology to facilitate this shift in your own classroom?

Students who have print disabilities have a difficult time reading print materials. Either they can’t see them well enough, can’t handle the materials or have a different disability that prevents them from accessing the materials, even though they understand them if they are read to them. These students benefit from etexts. They can use text readers such as Kurzweil 3000, Read and Write Gold, Natural Reader, or  the built-in text-to-speech feature (Apple menu > System Preferences > Speech > Text to Speech) on the Macintosh to have etexts read to them. This levels the playing field for these students, giving them access to materials that would have otherwise been denied them due to their disability.

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Tags Test

This is a test post to check out the ‘tags’ feature.

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Using Skype

Because we support 57 school districts in quite a large geographical area (it can take 2-1/2 – 3 hours to drive from one end to the other) we are using video-conferencing more and more. Not only can you get back the ‘windshield’ time you might have otherwise lost, we are saving the agency significant amounts of cost in the form of mileage. Often it is the case that the conversation can be face-to-face, but doesn’t need to take place in the same room.

I recently had a conversation about a student for whom an Assistive Technology referral had been submitted. We used video conferencing (in this case Google Hangouts) to connect. The Principal and AEA building representative were a 75 minute drive north of me. Yet we were able to have a substantive conversation around the student’s needs and strategize next steps. Our second meeting needed to be at the school as I had to work with the student. But our third contact will be the school, a device vendor from ‘somewhere’ and myself. All of us at three different locations. The vendor will conduct a live training to address some questions we have about the device. This will save all of us substantial amounts of time and money and should still result in effective learning.

Another use that I run into for Skype (and Google Hangouts) is supporting teachers with technology. Skype has a shared screen feature that allows two of us to connect via Skype. The person needing assistance can allow the other to take over their screen. This allows the screen to be controlled remotely, either demonstrating to the client what needs to be done or actually doing it for them from the distance. This, again, is a great time saver for the person providing the support and can also allow the user needing support to get that support more quickly and efficiently.

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The initial question put forth by Group B is, “Is Connectivism a learning theory?”.

The writers state that the theory of  Connectivism is similar to Vygotsky’s Activity Theory and Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. They go on to say, “All of  these theories are similar…”. Apparently, the writer’s do feel that Connectivism is a learning theory, having just identified it as such, twice in one paragraph.

The second question that is addressed, but never actually stated, is whether Connectivism is a “new” learning theory. I assume what they mean by this question (as gathered by the conversation) is, is this a totally distinct learning theory? I would agree with the writers that this theory of learning isn’t new. Rather, I would see it as a natural and logical progression that reflects the evolution that has transpired as a result of the availability of technology in the educational and social setting. It would seem that Siemans has considered existing theories, synthesized them, resulting in a ‘new and improved’ learning theory that describes a type of experiential learning that has been in existence for millenia, but now has been greatly impacted by the advent of the growth of communication technologies.

Learning is often an evolutionary process. We take a product, a thought, a conversation and say, “What if we looked at it this way?” From there we make changes and see new results. The same argument can be made for developing a learning theory. We look at existing theories, and say, “Yeah, I like that, but what about the impact of X?” and we look at it again through that lens. This results in a new, evolutionary (not revolutionary) learning theory. It is a natural progression, a growth, not to be de-valued because it isn’t a ‘revolutionary’ idea.

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