Aaron Johnson
ECI 509
CoolTools Review and Application Plan
Going Multimodal with Xtranormal and Voki
On Tuesday my first Cool Tool experience at the NewLiteracies Leadership Institute was with Dr. Spires who introduced my group to both Xtranormal and Voki. Xtranormal being an innovative movie making software which allows students to take on all essential roles in the film making process, including director, script writer, set designer, and cinematographer. Student created films become an engaging method of offering content proficiency. The films feature dialogue which is supplied by students in the form of written text then converted to described film dialogue. The written text is core to rationale supporting Xtranormal's usage, without it presentations could quickly become gimmicky and superficial. However, with the appropriate student generated text Xtranormal becomes an exciting project. Students can choose various camera angles, settings, and even control character movement; it potentially affords a great combination of content with technology.
What I like about Xtranormal is it's easy to use, aesthetically unique, and incredibly engaging. Maintaining student interest would certainly not be a problem when using Xtranormal. I can easily see traditionally apathetic students suddenly becoming interested in creating Xtranormal films. This great opportunity would also come with increased supervision from instructor. Some students may abuse intended purpose, seeking only mischief and distraction. But properly implemented it could be a big success. What I do not like about Xtranormal are the robotic character voices. Character voices are completely monotone and without emotion (which at times is rather funny). I realize there is an option to record your own voice, but in a classroom setting teachers may not always have access to microphones or cell phones.
Teaching Social Studies, I can instantly see many uses for Xtranormal in my classroom. In the historical context, utilizing two character actors and fostering a debate of sorts would be really cool. For example, students could produce dialogue representative of the Lincoln-Douglas debates: debating the merits of gradual abolition v. popular sovereignty; or maybe Federalist v. Anti-Federalist and the role of government. Another possibility, characters assuming the role of television news reporter, describing newsworthy events. For example, as court room reporter students could generate reports which would inform the populous of significant court decisions and their potential ramifications on society. Within the cultural context, students could generate characters from different cultures involved in an cross-cultural dialogue. What has to be core when using Xtranormal is the student generated script which displays content proficiency. Having students submit a written copy of script would facilitate written component of desired project.
Voki bares some similarities to Xtranormal in that it is character representative and aesthetically pleasing. Voki features a variety of avatars from which students choose. Various categories including holidays, celebrities, VIP, etc. afford many possibilities for selection. After choosing an avatar students can then modify character dress and appearance according to their preference. Choosing a setting becomes the next option; setting themes range from patriotic, urban, bucolic, psychedelic,and so on. Finally students supply selected avatar with all important text. Upon completion Voki presentation presents student supplied information in an interesting and engaging way. Voki does lack multi-dimensionality reflective Xtranormal; presentations are locked in on one character with one angle. Voki is however, not as pixilated as Xtranormal, offering higher resolution.
What I like about Voki is it's incredibly simple. With little or no instruction students can run with the technology, creating very unique presentations. If students are not instantly attracted to a new software often they will reject it outright; no worries with Voki as it will easily engage an already visual generation. Many of the avatars offered have an anime like appearance which again caters right to our desired demographic. What I don't like about Voki is the one minute limit on presentations. It is hard to unpack appropriate content in such a short time allotment. But I guess that could potentially work in your favor by forcing students to only focus on the most important. Like Xtranormal, Voki features those robotic character voices, which again quickly grow tiresome.
Social Studies invites much potential for Voki. I've previously used Voki as part of my class web page to inform students of week's activities. This can be fun as I've often used historical characters such as Abraham Lincoln or John Smith to enlighten kids of coming events or provide inspiration. But specific to content Voki is a great tool that allows students, especially those who are afraid of public speaking, to express content proficiency. Teachers can present students with a question, for example, "Why were residents of colonial Carolina commonly referred to as "rogues" by officials in Britain?" Students would then create a Voki presentation to explain their interpretations of plausible reasons as to this branding. Students could also use Vokias part of a larger project. Vokis will embed nicely into websites or other projects which could make an existing project even more effective.
Seeking Socrates with Duffel Up
Most people love to travel and part of the fun associated with traveling is planning all the cool places you'll see and things you'll do while on your trip. Duffel Up utilizes this niche of the human psyche in a potentially educational way. Students select a specific destination on which to travel and then identify points of interest for a perspective trip. The points of interest on student itineraries is of particular significance; they can upload photos and enter text describing exactly why this is a must see or do on their trip.
What I like most about Duffel Up is its ability to capitalize on student existing interest. Many students have never traveled outside of the country and Duffel Up puts them in the imaginative position of international traveler, opening up windows of opportunity for inspiration and creativity. Photos easily upload to site and create an aesthetically appealing overall experience for students. I did not like, however, the frequent advertisements that pop up when using the site. I realize it's a free software and travel ads are consistent with theme, but ads can be a bit annoying at times. The only other concern I would have is that the site is mostly geared toward an adult crowd, so using with middle schoolers might be asking a bit much.
I can easily see using Duffel Up in a high school Social Studies setting. U.S. History students could plan a virtual Civil War field trip, visiting major battle fields and other points of interest specific to the war. Students of European history could plot the journeys of Napoleon Bonaparte as he ventured global dominion. Regarding more recent events, a teacher could create a Duffel Up presentation documenting events of Arab Spring; this could be an effective tool supporting a class discussion.
Flipping the Classroom
Ian O'Byrne introduced my group on Wednesday to a very interesting concept, "Flipping the Classroom." Despite some technical difficulties experienced during the online conference, some very valuable information was gathered regarding said concept. Flipping the classroom is essentially utilizing online recording software to record various aspects of your instruction. Desired goals driving concept is maximizing classroom time, reinforcement, and reflection. According to Dr. O'Byrne utilizing concept affords more individualized time with students. For example, teachers could play a recorded instructional lesson of themselves while simultaneously servicing individual students. Libraries of instructional lessons could ideally be accessed by students as well while outside the classroom; this would afford them with the opportunity of additional help while not physically in class. These libraries would also become a great source of reflection as students could play them and reflect upon them at their leisure. Flipping the classroom is not about working harder, but rather working smarter and more efficiently. Great concept!
What I really like about the concept of flipping the classroom is the idea of maximizing instructional time. I could not tell you how many times during any given day that I have to repeat the same information or answer the same question over and over again. I have created some tutorial films in the past, especially when introducing a new technology, but never before have I thought of compiling them and utilizing them in the manner suggested by O'Byrne. The potential time saved using described concept could be huge. Students could simply refer back to taped sessions whenever they needed them, albeit at home or in the classroom. O'Byrne suggested some recording software which I have had the opportunity to test out since his presentation. Jing was pretty utilitarian but sufficient; Camtasia was awesome, you have to pay for it but probably worth the investment. The only potential drawbacks I see with flipping the classroom would be the initial time spent creating tutorials. But actual classroom time maximized as a result of flipping, I think makes it all worth it.
Flipping the classroom works in all classroom settings regardless of subject area. I would utilize concept by hitting highpoints of any given lesson in the form of a brief tutorial video providing students with opportunities for reflection and reinforcement at home. When introducing new software such as Voicethread, flipping the classroom concept would be of particular interest; students could refer back to tutorial session if they happen to have been absent or simply need a little extra help. In my classroom I use quite a few web 2.0 tools so concept carries even more potential. I will use.
Using Free Google Tools in Your Classroom
The world's most popular search engine and source for email provides classroom teachers with many free tools and applications. Encouraging students to create websites to house and present collaborative projects is a great utilization of Google Sites. This feature available to anyone with an existing gmail account is very practicaland user friendly. My partner and I used Google sites for our PBI and found it very user friendly and efficient. Google Custom Search is a Google application that provides structure for student web searches. Essentially teachers point students in the right direction by sanctioning endorsed sites and making them available to students as they search the web; again not doing the research for them just pointing them in the right direction. This strategy and application could be of particular use for younger students who often get frustrated by the overwhelming amounts of information afforded the Internet. Also Custom Search prevents students from selecting questionable, unreliable sources.
What I liked most about the Google Tools is the fact that the Google tools and applications essentially sets up a "one-stopshop" approach to online source material (which I guess could be good or bad). Very practical, students could resort to common Google spaces for everything they need. Project information, responsibilities, deadlines, benchmarks, web searches, etc. everything housed in a single web location. I was really intrigued by all of the Googlei nfo presented, however, I must say I'm not completely sold on the idea of Google Custom Search. For younger students, I can see it as being used to reduce potential anxieties associated with information overload, but for older students I find it to be too paternalistic. Students must ciphert hrough information themselves and determine what's credible and what's not; it's a skill that has to be developed. I feel we do them a great disservice by holding their hands through this process.
Google Sites would be a great tool for any Social Studies classroom. I could use it myself to make topic specific information and spaces available for students. I really like the idea of students creating their own sites as potential projects. Creating a web site combines content and technology in a way that's hard to duplicate. Not only are they using technology and content but they're also manufacturing online content which is absolutely a real world skill. When covering a major unit within my curriculum such as the Revolutionary War or Women's Suffrage, I can easily see students creating a website (with specificguidelines) dedicated to said content topic(s). Google Sites affords accessible spaces for collaboration. Students could set up blogs to document their daily progress and keep in constant communication. Other applications including Gadgets could be embedded in their websites adding increasing dimension and effectiveness.
Glogster: Hook, Line, & Sinker
I would venture to bet most of my 8th graders' bedrooms are full of posters. Posters reflective of their interest whether they be Justin Bieber, Slipknot, Jersey Shore, or Lil' Wayne; pop culture, I'm sure is plastered all over their walls (it should be noted that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were plastered all overmine). Glogster has capitalized on this aspect of teenage expressionism in the form of a poster presentation software. Students essentially create posters or"glogs" as a means of displaying content proficiency. Students select a "wall" which serves as the canvass for the project or poster they are going to create. Various functions such as text, sound, image,video, etc. are afforded to add depth to their presentation. Text boxes, which come in various shapes, colors, and sizes, house the information which students post onto their glog. The image option allows students to upload images and paste them onto their glog, offering further dimensions. More tech proficient students can select the video function, which allows them to upload existing video to their now multi-layered glog. Like Xtranorma andVoki, Glogster offers a great alternative to traditional presentation platforms. Apathetic children are instantly hooked by this incredibly unique web 2.0 tool.
What I like most about Glogster is its ability to not only catch the attention of students but to maintain engagement throughout the process. I've used Glogster before in my classroom and its been a big success. Also the affordability is great; I received100 free student accounts last year, although Andrea says they've reduced that number down to 50 now, nevertheless it's still a great deal. The functionality of Glogster is great as well; various sources are easily brought in and out of students projects as they choose. Glogster houses all stored projects locally which is particularly useful. My one complaint about Glogster, and this is from previous experience, is the fact that on occasion when students attempt to save work the site goes into an unending processing mode, forcing students to restart their computers loosing work in the process; very frustrating for them.
Glogster works well for my teaching style and content area. I love presenting information in fresh new ways and Glogster definitely qualifies. Glogster works well as a means of culminating a unit or specific topic. For example, after learning about the pioneers Lewis and Clark in the classroom, students could then create glogs displaying the significance of their trek across the continent. Various tribes encountered, plant and animal species, maps, artifacts, could all be incorporated. For a Civics lesson students could create glogs centered around the Bill of Rights; each glog representing a specific Amendment. Glogs could then be interlinked thus creating a non-linear, informative presentation. Students of European cultures could create glogs specific to a single European country, for example Sweden. Entire glogs could be dedicated to better understanding the Swedish people and their culture. Glogster is a great tool.
What's the Wii Got to Do with it?
Certainly the most kinesthetic of all Cool Tool presentations was that of Dr. Wiseman and her intro to the Nintendo Wii and its potential in the classroom. I must admit I've never been much of a "gamer" (except for that one period when Igot a standard, low budget Nintendo for Christmas), but I was easily absorbed in the Wii and its visual, non-traditional affordances. Games which we were exposed to ranged from"Super Mario Cart" to "Indiana Jones," each presenting unique challenges and roles for participants. What I learned from my Wii experience is that gamers' dispositions (when in game world) more readily embrace risk taking in an collective effort to solve problems or reach specific goals. This is really profound. If we as classroom teachers can harness these gamer dispositions and transfer them to our classrooms the potential becomes unlimited. For example, if we propose a real world problem such as global hunger to gamers potentially they could in turn apply gamer practices such as risk taking and hopefully produce genuine, unique solutions to said problems.
What I like about Wii in the classroom is of course its encouragement of bodily movement. Its been my experience that movement within the classroom, if well planned, is a good thing. I'm really into possibilities of transferring interest and energies in virtual worlds into potentially manifesting solutions to real world problems. I really do not have any dislikes for Wii in the classroom, however, my pragmatic self cannot help but have slight reservations that video games supplant curricular content.
Wii transitions nicely into most Social Studies classrooms. Themes of games can reinforce topics previously discussed in class. For example, I noticed a lot of what appeared to be Mayan artwork in the"Indiana Jones" game I witnessed. Kids could easily make connections to classroom discussions reflective ancient Mayan civilizations. Wii could potentially offer teachers with an incentive for student achievement, a reward of sorts; once kids displayed content mastery they could have a shot at Wii game that would in turn reinforce curriculum topics. Themes, at least in the Social Studies classroom, would again be key to making content connections.