10 Be’s: My Digital Footprint and PLN

I have read through dozens of articles, links, blogs, and articles to formulate a strategy to guide me as I grow my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and create a positive digital footprint.

Here is the direct link to Google Docs.

Professional Development: Webinars

Last night I stayed up very late in Nepal to catch a few webinars on SimpleK12. One was a fast-paced Web 2.0 smackdown where each presenter (me included–cool!) shared his/her screen and told about a useful tool. I chose PollsEverywhere, not because it is the best polling system out there, as others provide more analytics and assessment (InfuseLearning was highlighted as well), but because it is an easy way to turn any device into student response systems. I also learned about some other great tools such as screenr for instant screencasts, Doug Edmonds YouTube music videos that teach content, and BeeClip student digital scrapbook alternative to Glogster. I asked questions on the backchannel that were later answered and left feeling enthused and full of ideas. ]

The next webinar was on Symbaloo, which I am actually teaching this week during a professional development discussion, and I gained some new ideas on how to incorporate this tool. For starters, I’m going to set the homepage of all of the laptops to my Symbaloo webmix so that students don’t waste so much time pulling up websites and to keep them on task. I didn’t realize there were so many useful webmixes already created, such as “Surprisingly Edu Apps” and “Best Education Blogs.” I will definitely be spending some time webmixing this week.

I’ve tried a few times over the years to attend a successful webinar and have always left frustrated. It was either was boring or laden with technical problems. This webinar experience has encouraged me and I will be looking for others on topics of interest.

Reflection: Explaining Educational Technology

I think we all face the inevitable questions: “What do you do exactly?” “What is it again that you are studying?” “What do you plan to do with that?” I tend to give a short, user-friendly answer that goes something like, “I help use technology in the classroom for learning.” It’s a basic explanation, I know, but it usually suffices. For those who want to know more, or who need convincing that I don’t just help kids play on iPads all day, I will bring up my role in technology integration, curriculum development, and how I help instill 21st Century digital literacy skills in students and teachers.

I have been in the EdTech program for one year now and have worked hard. I have learned more than I initially thought possible. Whatever I thought I knew, however skilled I believed I was, I have come a long way. In short, I have learned practical tools, technology integration strategies, theories and instructional design principles, and technology planning helps.

I am not a certified teacher and therefore do not have my own classroom. However, just this week I started as a part-time technology integration coordinator at my children’s international PK-12 school. Already, I have a very full plate. I will be involved in teacher training, curriculum development, helping teachers integrate technology tools more effectively, and teaching grades 2-5 with the MacBook laptop carts. I am responsible to keep an upbeat, moving-forward technology morale. It is an overwhelming but exciting opportunity, and I’m determined to do the best job I can.

From this EdTech 504 course I hope to gain a deeper perspective of the big picture and be able to better explain to others a greater scope of what educational technology is – and is not. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about this course because I don’t really enjoy studying theory and models and epistemology (frankly, I had to look the word up). I would much rather deal with practical application. However, I’m sure that this course will add a depth to my studies that is necessary, and I’m hopeful that we will be able to make many connections from our coursework to our everyday practice.

So, I will start now. Here are three things that most impressed me from my readings this week and from watching the course videos:

Educational technology has been around a long time and making predictions about what the future will bring, or making grand assumptions, is a bit dangerous.
I loved the posted video Instructional Technology: Looking Backward, Thinking Forward. Too often, I tend to view educational technology as a recent development, defined by SmartBoards, document cameras, iPads, Wi-Fi, social networking, eBooks, and similar emerging technologies. This video was a real eye-opener that reminded me that teachers over time have always been seeking new and improved ways to deliver instruction and engage students, and that what we may think to be the next “big thing” may or may not hold true. It quoted a wonderful prediction by Thomas Edison that said, “I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our education system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.” Today we could easily substitute eBooks, iPads, or the Internet. Will we be right?

Educational technology as a field is complicated and difficult to define.
When I have a hard time explaining educational technology, it appears I’m in good company. It’s taken many people many years to come up with a working definition and it’s still a “moving target,” as our course module calls it. This week’s readings explored why it is a difficult field to define and how published definitions have evolved. I particularly liked Luppicini’s (2005) perspective when he notes McGinn’s breakdown of technology that looks at technology as a socio-cultural structure that is both form and activity. Even defining technology itself is not as easy as I thought, and involves much more than state of the art tools. Januszewski’s (2001) definition resonated with me more than any other that states, “As a worldview of education, educational technology emphasizes applying scientific techniques to solving educational problems in efficient and effective ways. This emphasis results in an attitude of action. This attitude values technique over philosophy” (p. 118). I feel that attitude of action, which leads me to my final point.

As educational technologists, we have a responsibility to use what we know to help the greater good.
Educational technology is not an individual field but is very global, collective, innovative, and fluid. As part of such, I feel a great responsibility to educate others in the key principles and application of educational technology. This scope is far-reaching and often overwhelming. For me, it involves teachers, administrators, parents, and students. For others it may involve different stakeholders, but the mandate is the same. We may not know what the future brings, but we must prepared to take it on.

Januszewski, A. (2001). Educational Technology: The Development of a Concept. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

Luppicini, R. (2005). A Systems Definition of Educational Technology in Society. Educational Technology & Society, 8 (3), 103-109.

ELL iPad fun

I think I finally got it right: the near-perfect combination of engaging, educational, and fun.

Because I have been so swamped by my EdTech courses and other efforts, I haven’t taught the Access students as much as I would like. I was thrilled to meet with them again and see how much their English skills have continued to improve. They are awesome.

I’ve said before that they are great students: motivated and respectful. They are warming up to me, which means they are more willing to talk, discuss, and answer my questions. I’m also getting less nervous which helps. They work really hard, and I mean really hard. Tomorrow is Saturday, the only day off public schools in Nepal. It’s their only day to sleep in and yet they will meet for their Access class at 6:00. That’s a.m. Motivated! That’s in addition to coming after school during the week for 90 minutes each class. They told me tonight in their government schools they attend during the day there are between 50-70 students per class. It must be refreshing to be in a small class of only 20!

Their classroom is simple but fully functional. Its walls are covered by their recent writings and holiday drawings. Today one wall showcased handmade Valentines cards, since they also learn about American culture and holidays. Often they start the class by singing, “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” or “Oh, Susanna!” It’s great.

I’ve tried different things with these students along the way. Some have worked, some haven’t. It’s always a struggle to figure out what I can teach that will really help them. None of them have computers at home. They have limited time at the Cyber. I think I’m finally on to something.


I decided to use technology directly related to their field of study: English Language Learning (ELL). If you’re wondering why I haven’t thought of this before, I have. I’ve tried. But this semester I’ve designed some technology integration strategies for ELL students that I thought might prove beneficial to them.

[I also received a different projector (thanks to a grant from GSA) that allows me to mirror everything on my iPad. The projector I’ve been borrowing is battery-powered, amazing HD quality, and the size of an iPhone. It’s still great, but it has two drawbacks: 1) it’s not bright enough for bright daylight, and 2) it only works through certain apps like slideshows or presentations.]

Lesson Plan
Student Worksheet

I began with what is, in my opinion, one of the best iPad apps released to date: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. This is an app that demonstrates what is truly possible with a tablet. It’s a phenomenal blend of video, eBook, interactivity, and sheer genius. If you haven’t experienced it, you really should. I used it to prompt a discussion on how they think such an app could help them boost their English language skills [it shows text on each page while it reads].

Next, I asked them to reflect on learning English for the past 15 months and rank the following concepts from hardest to easiest: conversation, writing, grammar, speaking, and vocabulary. Both classes marked grammar as the hardest with vocabulary as a close runner-up. Easiest was writing and then conversation. I was thrilled with their responses because the two hardest tasks, grammar and vocabulary, are the easiest two to support through technology. How exciting! My mind began racing with ideas for future implementation.

I divided them up, sending half off to the four computers in the next room to explore  websites listed on their worksheet. The others stayed with me and we explored some fun apps on the iPad.

They loved it! Everyone had a chance to interact with the iPad, which takes them all of one second to figure out. Just for fun I tried some really basic apps that I use with my young children. I took care to explain that even though I knew these apps are really easy and below their level, which they are, I still feel it’s helpful to hear native English speakers (which they hardly ever do), practice pronunciation, and review vocabulary. We practiced animals and colors using Fun English and Flashcards. They giggled and laughed and competed against each other. It was great. Then I moved up to SpeakingPal, which allows them to listen to a quirky video conversation and complete a quiz. This was more on their level and they enjoyed trying to beat their previous score. Just for fun, I tried a speech-to-text app called Dragon Dictation, which really struggled deciphering their accents but gave us all some good laughs. If we had time, I threw in a few extras (like Stack the States and Scribblepress).

Time flew by, they were active, engaged, learning, and having fun. I came home feeling like in some small way, I had made a difference.

As always, the honor is mine.

P.S. These are their new bags — aren’t they great? They gave me one too!

Accessibility Features on my iMac

I’ve been studying various accessibility/assistive technology tools this week. What an exciting area of growth that benefits so many people!

My EdTech 541 project page features several integration strategies for students of all abilities. Many of the tools, apps, websites, and devices listed not only benefit students with physical or sensory impairments, but also students who are struggling in various content areas. I also touch briefly on some tools for gifted and talented students and those up for a good challenge.

This post will take a look at some of the accessibility features built-in to the computer I use every day. I have experimented with them and seen briefly how they might really help students with various special needs.

Meet my accessible iMac:
Model: 27-inch 3.2 GHz Intel Core i3 iMac
Date: mid-2010
Operating System: Mac OS X Lion 10.7.3
This is one powerful machine and I adore it.

I created this Clarify-It screen tutorial to give an overview of some of the basic accessibility features on my iMac. There are many other features that are listed on Apple’s Accessibility website.

The iPad and iPod are also very powerful machines with a different set of accessibility features built-in.

It is wonderful that so many tools are built in to the operating systems of computers and portable devices. This truly gives many students the opportunity to use and enjoy computers in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

Apple: Accessibility features on a Apple devices
NASET: Overview of vision impairments
: Open source assistive technology software
: resource for assistive technology information
OCAD University
: Inclusive Design Research Centre
: Center for Applied Special Technology
: Accessibility features on Windows
: Offers a wealth of information on disabilities
DO-IT Center
: promotes the success of individuals with disabilities in postsecondary education and careers, using technology as an empowering tool
: Web accessibility evaluation tool
Building Accessible Websites
: free online book

Obstacles (and Solutions!) for Integrating Technology in English and Language Arts Instruction

New technology tools available for teachers bring new challenges, and English teachers are not exempt from these issues. In fact, English and language arts teachers are wise to navigate these issues and leverage the powerful tools available in this major content area. This post will discuss what some of the obstacles are and integration strategies to best overcome them. While I have added my own thoughts and other resources as cited, I relied heavily on Chapter 9 called “Teaching and Learning with Technology in English and Language Arts Instruction” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012) for this post.


Digital Literacy
In their 2012 book Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, Roblyer and Doering state, “Reading, writing, and critically analyzing written communications are considered fundamental skills for a literate person, and technologies have much to offer teachers as they help their students develop these skills. However, technologies have also brought about dramatic changes in the format and types of communications that literate people must deal with, thus presenting an array of new challenges to English and language arts teachers” (p. 266). The new challenges are very real, but also present exciting opportunities for both teachers and students.

Because technology changes so rapidly, the definition of digital literacy is also fluid. The University of Illinois defines it on their website in three parts: 1) The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information; 2) The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers; and 3) A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments (http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html). This is a powerful definition that not only involves using the technology itself, but understanding, evaluating, and  interpreting information. Taking it a step further, students must be able to perform tasks more effectively and apply new knowledge as a result of such literacy. Hence, English and language arts teachers are responsible for much more than reading and writing. They must equip their students with 21st Century digital literacy skills.

Need for New Instructional Strategies
Patricia Edwards, then-president of the International Reading Association, stated in 2010, “If students are to successfully meet the social, political, and economic demands of their futures, they must be able to adapt and reinvent the ways that they read and write the world” (p. 22). She further notes that teachers must be willing to take risks and to adapt their instructional approaches and classroom resources in new and imaginative ways (Edwards, 2010). Teachers can’t rely on old instructional strategies to teach new technology skills.

Other challenges
Today’s classrooms are more diverse, and often include students of all backgrounds who are learning English for the first time. Some students struggle with attention disorders or learning disabilities, and many need additional support in reading and writing. There are many technology tools that can wisely be used to support this diverse group of learners. Another challenge English teachers face is motivating students to write, as students are reading less for pleasure and struggle more with basic reading and writing skills. Ebooks, blogs, wikis, and similar tools can greatly help in this area. Much is expected of teachers, and professional development and training must support them in their efforts. Administrators everywhere must make professional development a priority if teachers are going to be equipped with enough 21st Century skills to impact our students.

“The transformation of our culture from an Industrial Age to an Information Age is why a new kind of literacy, coupled with a new way of learning, is critical for today’s classroom teacher” (Edwards, 2010). Though demanding, this is an exciting time to be a teacher, and fortunately there are many tools that can assist in this great undertaking.

Integration Strategies (Solutions!)

I love the following technology integration strategies listed by Roblyer and Doering (2012, p. 273-274) and feel they are worth a repeat here (click the image to see it as a full-size PDF with hyperlinks):

Of those listed, I feel one of the most powerful and effective ideas is digital publishing of students’ work. This can be done through a class blog or wiki, or through an individual assignment such as creating an eBook in a particular area. I recently designed a sample activity using eBooks for young students that meets cross-content area objectives. Students enjoy this type of activity, and are generally more motivated to write if they know others will read what they have written.

There are countless tools available to English and language arts teachers that help instill stronger literacy skills in students. Technology integration can be overwhelming but that shouldn’t keep teachers from starting small, starting somewhere. Pick one tool, one website to try. Then another. Great technology tools plus great teachers equals better equipped students with digital literacy skills. Our kids are worth the extra effort!

Digital literacy definition and resources. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html

Edwards, P. (2010). Reconceptualizing literacy. Reading Today, 27(6), 22.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

“My Life” Digital Storytelling activity

eBooks are a powerful tool for Language Arts educators that can help engage students and get them excited about writing. Numerous resources are available online that allow free eBook creation and collaboration without having to print the final product. The possibilities for use in the classroom are exciting.

Above is a sample eBook I created on Mixbook. This site allows students to create a digital storybook and publish their work online for free. Its editing tools and templates are simple and students can work individually or collaboratively on a project. Click on the image above to view my book directly on Mixbook.

Here is a complete lesson plan for teachers to use a similar project in their classroom. It is geared for 3rd-6th grade students, but could easily be adapted for other age groups.

Relative Advantage of using Technology in major Content Areas


Research is plentiful showing the relative advantage of using technology to enhance classroom instruction. But which classrooms and in what areas? This blog entry will cover specifically how using technology wisely in major content areas offers students a more engaging, relevant, and authentic learning experience.

Major content areas are: language arts, social studies (including civics, history, geography, government, and economics), math, the arts, and science. These are the areas of focus for standardized testing, and therefore are the subjects teachers teach. Take any school across the country and you will find their days broken down among these subjects to some degree or another. All content areas have been impacted by emerging technology tools, and all can benefit from integration strategies. Michael King, a noted principal and educator for over 30 years, states that teachers should begin to build units of study that merge traditional learning with virtual learning, and that these lessons and units developed should be integrated into all areas of the curriculum, not just computer, business or technology classes (King, n.d.)

Supporting Research

Ultimately the goal of educators and schools is to provide students with a valuable, sustainable, and practical education that will prepare them for their lives after they graduate. “Today’s world demands that students learn how to access, manage, apply, and evaluate rapidly growing banks of information” (King, n.d.).Technology is a critical part of this effort and cannot be overlooked. I will highlight three advantages of using technology among the various content areas and give examples of some of the technology tools available to educators and students.

It is much easier and effective in a foreign country if the traveler can speak the local language. It is no different in class. If teachers are able to speak the “language” of their students, the message is more fun and ‘sticks’ better. Technology is the language.
Social interaction and networking has had a big impact in language arts instruction. Students like to connect with others through commenting and reaching outside of themselves and their classroom. When students publish their works on blogs or wikis, they make more of an effort and are engaged more with the content. Ebook readers allow students to “make notes and comments directly on what they are reading, which helps them better comprehend its meaning” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 268). They can click on a word for its meaning, adjust the font size, or see passages others have highlighted. “Teachers are turning to the interactive and visual qualities of software and websites to increase motivation for reading and writing” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 270).

There are many websites that help students practice their reading and writing skills. Apps are available on mobile devices that students can use outside of school. Vocabulary boosters, talking word processors, speech-to-text capability, concept mapping, and collaborative editing all contribute to students’ digital literacy in a fun and engaging way.

Students benefit greatly when they can see a practical use for the knowledge they are learning. If teachers can make a solid connection between students’ real-life scenarios and the content, then students will get more out of the instruction. “Students need to know the rationale for learning, and teachers should take the time to explain it” (King, n.d.).

Social studies has perhaps been the most affected by the impact of technology than any other content area (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 334). Today’s technology tools certainly make the world smaller and information travel quickly. These changes affect how much students know about the world around them and the “interconnections of people and the earth” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 334). Project-based technology tools apply across various themes like culture, environment, global connections, civic ideas, and technology in society. The tools available and their potential use in a classroom are endless.

“Simulations, or electronic environments that allow students to interact with simulated events or locations, can help make these concepts more clear and meaningful” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 338). Virtual field trips allow students to travel online to a place they would not normally be able to visit. This opens up the world to them and allows a budget-friendly opportunity to learn about a location, museum, or historic site almost as if they were there. Digital storytelling is “the use of images and audio to tell the stories of lives, events, or eras” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 340) and can be a motivating and powerful tool for students. This tool not only increases digital literacy, but engages students and allows them to make their own lives a part of their scholarly research (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 340). Geospatial technologies (think Google Earth) involve using technology for visualization, analysis, and measurement of the world around us. Students can view and examine the world through “multiple layering of data sets (population density, roads, earthquake activity) within a spatial environment” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 341). Several programs are free. How else can students view the world in high resolution photos and satellite images? Adventure learning (AL) is a “hybrid distance education approach that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 339). It’s all quite remarkable.

There is a need, especially in abstract math and science concepts, to make learning genuine and real. Students need to see why it matters to them. Not enough students are pursuing STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) fields. “This trend could have serious consequences for our country…There is a need for all citizens to be scientifically literate in order to make informed decisions that affect our country’s future” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 318).

Integration strategies and tools available can really help make science and math more meaningful for students. Virtual science labs, while debated in how much they should be used, are certainly worth exploring. “Authentic science not only involves having students ‘do’ science, it also includes connecting science to students’ lives and life experiences. Involving students in active scientific investigations can improve their attitude toward science as well as their understanding of scientific concepts” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 319). Several online projects allow students to collect and analyze data, communicate results, get feedback and become “collaborators in a real scientific investigation” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, p. 319). In math, students are able to visually see realistic representations of abstract concepts by using graphing calculators, interactive software, and probes, thus helping students develop problem-solving skills.


The sheer number of content area resources available is overwhelming. However, educators must devote the time and training needed in order to provide more engaging, relevant, and authentic learning environments. They must become masters in the tools of their trade in order to prepare students for the real world, especially the 21st Century digital world.


King, M. (n.d.). Integrating technology Into the curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/15709322/Integrating-Technology-Into-the-Curriculum

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th
ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Additional Resources

Social Studies:

  • GeoThentic: Helps students learn geospatial technologies by solving complex problems in an online environment
  • Muzzy Lane’s Making History: An interactive game that gives players the power to take full control of any world nation, colonies, regions, cities, and military forces during the time leading up to and during the Second World War
  • The Oregon Trail: An interactive game about America’s pioneers as they make their way west
  • Louvre Museum: Experience a virtual field trip and view some of the masterpieces up close and in detail
  • Neighborhood MapMachine: A hands-on program, students create and navigate maps of their own neighborhoods, other communities, or imaginary places
  • GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series: A free program for K-12 that follows a real group of scientists, explorers, and educators as they dogsled across the Arctic
  • The JASON Project: Connects students with scientists and researchers in real- and near-real time, virtually and physically, to provide mentored, authentic and enriching science learning experiences
  • Earthducation Adventure Learning Series: A series of 7 expeditions to every continent over the course of 4 years (2011-2014) designed to create a world narrative of the dynamic intersections between education and sustainability
  • Center for Digital Storytelling: Describes the art of digital storytelling and provides publications and courses
  • Digital Resource Centers: University of Virginia’s Internet-based academic collections
  • Digital Documentaries: The Art of Telling Digital Stories website discusses the advantages to viewing and making documentaries and has many documentary resources

Language Arts:

  • Wordle: create word clouds based on the frequency of words used in a text
  • Brainpop: gives students practice in linking words and images
  • Visual Thesaurus: creates word maps of related words
  • ePals: connects students all over the world who want to share ideas and work together
  • Poetry: full of poetry examples and ideas from the Academy of American Poets
  • Write Source: student writing models by grade level
  • Project Gutenberg: offers over 38,000 free ebooks
  • Your Student News: publish student work in an online school newspaper
  • Readwritethink: online practice in matching letters and sounds


  • National Academy Press: over 4,000 free PDFs for download in STEM content areas
  • Sheppard Software: free science tutorials and games
  • Globe Project: Hands-on science projects for students, teachers and scientists to collaborate on inquiry-based investigations of the environment and the Earth
  • Journey North: allows students to ask questions and receive responses by experts about migration and seasonal change
  • Project FeederWatch: allows students to collect data for a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders across the nation
  • Exploratorium: interactive website for this museum of science, art and human perception
  • National Science Digital Library: online portal for STEM education and research
  • Simulations: Fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena from the PhET project at the University of Colorado
  • Telescope: Students can design and make astronomical observations with research-quality telescopes


The Arts:

  • GarageBand: Apple’s iLife software that allows composing, mixing, and sharing of music through various instruments and formats
  • BubbleMachine: allows interactive navigation through a piece of music
  • Finale: provides a practice environment for students with accompaniment, with tools for composing and arranging, teaching and sharing
  • Practice Musica: personal individual tutoring in musical skills and theory
  • Children’s Music Journey: a collection of software that teaches music to young students
  • Audacity: free open-source option for recording and editing sounds
  • MuseScore: free music notation software
  • Gimp: free online photo editing
  • Google SketchUp: free 3-D modeling software
  • Masters of Photography: Internet and CD collection of photographs
  • National Gallery of Art: see online tours of artwork by artist, work, or theme

Video Integration Lesson: Why Read?

Videos, if integrated wisely and well, can be a powerful media tool in the classroom. Thousands of educational videos are available online and can be used to demonstrate experiments, explain a concept, show a historical event, and engage students visually in ways unheard of before now.

I created a lesson plan that incorporates videos to help encourage and motivate students to be lifelong readers. Click here for complete lesson plan and video library.

Virtual Field Trip to Nepal

Click on the image below to view a virtual field trip learning activity I created for my EdTech 541 assignment this week. Its purpose is to use a virtual field trip to teach Web 2.0 tools to other educators. Enjoy your trip!