Digital Field Experiences

Phillion discusses in this article the implementation of a distance field experience project implemented online in order to provide primarily white pre-service teachers in rural, fairly isolated areas with opportunities to interact with diverse groups of students that are not well represented in the general vicinity of the teaching college. The participants use video conferencing and communicated frequently with the supervising in-service teachers to plan activities and prepare materials for students. Field experiences have been documented as the best way to prepare future teachers for the complexity and diversity of the classrooms in which they are likely to teach in our ever more diversifying society. Through this program, which is linked together through an online service called Polycom, preservice teachers observe the classroom, interact with students, and utilize the available technology to create engaging and enriching lessons.

It seems to me that such digital, distance field experiences may be the best option available to teaching colleges located in rural or “low-diversity” areas. I definitely do not see online options as equivalent to being in a real school, interacting with students and teachers in person. If I were an educator of educators, I may adopt such a system in a similar situation, but I would always hesitate to limit field experiences to an online environment. It is often said that multicultural sensitivity can only develop with a lot of critical, meaningful interaction with people from many different walks of life, and I fail to see how sensitive nonverbal communication skills could be developed without physical proximity. For these reasons I may just consider distance field experiences as an alternative to traditional visits to schools.

Phillion, J. (2005). Providing Field Experiences with Diverse Populations for Preservice Teachers: Using Technology to Bridge Distances and Cultures. Multicultural Perspectives, 7(3), 3–9.


Changes in Brain Function in Children with Dyslexia after Training

Dyslexia is a difficulty in reading that does not stem from areas of general intelligence, motivation, or necessary education. Between 5 and 17% of the general population is estimated to have mild to severe dyslexia. Temple summarizes research findings in this article that addresses whether dyslexia can be improved after focused practice with reading on a computer. The training program used, called Fast ForWord Language, focuses on oral language and auditory processing. Auditory processing is very important in learning how to match the sounds of a word with the meaning of letters on a page. Without the ability to detect rapid auditory signals, a child is unable to distinguish certain sounds and develops an inaccurate understanding of the sounds of his or her language. After training, a significant increase in oral language and auditory processing was observed in children that used the program, in normalizing and compensating terms. While it is important to understand that dyslexia is not only a matter of “trying hard enough” at reading, with carefully targeted practice young people may be able to improve their reading abilities.

As a language teacher I am happy to hear that guided and appropriate language training can be of help to struggling students. I expect that there will be a number of students in classes of mine that have disabilities or exceptionalities. I will keep this information in mind as I am invited to IEP meetings in which this research background information could be valuable. This article also reinforces in me the idea that both drill and practice and the methods of imparting knowledge and skills to students are very important.

Temple, E. (2003) Changes in Brain Function in Children with Dyslexia after Training. The Phonics Bulletin, 04/2003, 1-3.

The Virtual Revolution

Virtual schools are able to offer some services and flexibility that traditional schools cannot, yet those involved (in development or “in class”) face a number of challenges as well. The curriculum can be focused and instruction can be more individualized than in tangible schools. Also, flexible scheduling and student-centered learning can benefit students interested in technology and those who cannot physically attend a school, because of distance, illness, injury, or what have you. However, these schools are not for everyone and no matter how much they advance, it seems that virtual education will never completely do away with real educators. According to the authors, even “computer-based tutoring programs with artificial intelligence are not credible threats to the teaching profession”. Online/distance education generally lacks valuable human interaction and personal contact. Some do, however, expect that artificial intelligence will evolve to a point beyond certain measures of human intelligence.

I do not think that computers will evolve even near-human emotional intelligence, at least not in the perceivable future. This means that professional educators could not be replaced by digital or robotic computer teachers in every student home or classroom. I think virtual schools will remain an alternative or supplementary means to educate students. I cannot expect myself to contribute to the construction or development of such a school program in the near future, because I lack the time and training at this point to convert even an excellent in class lesson to a digital or interactive electronic format. I expect most preservice teachers will not be prepared to do this coming out of teaching colleges.

Greenway, R., Vanourek, G. (2006). The Virtual Revolution. Education Next, Spring 2006.

The Web's Impact on Student Learning

Research into the effectiveness of online learning has been focused mainly on the areas of critical thinking and writing skills. Content analysis is one method of evaluating online exchanges like chats and threaded discussions. A 1995 study (Cochrane, Newman, & Webb) showed that students were less likely to contribute novel ideas online and more likely to make important statements and link ideas compared to normal classroom interactions. This implies that internet exchanges may be better suited for linear thinking than brainstorming. Online discussions allow students ample time to consider appropriate responses and analyze issues and problems introduced by a prompt or other participant. In order to understand the effectiveness and usefulness of online education, it is also important to consider and research social implications for communicating without seeing others. We lose a number of valuable nonverbal social cues in cyber space and it is still uncertain how much one may compensate for this loss with more expressive or reflective writing.

I feel that the scope of this article is somewhat limited by the available research on internet education. The assumption from this article is that learning will continue to take place online through writing and threaded discussion to a large extent. I would like to consider how this may change, especially as we find ways of empowering students to express themselves online in a multitude of alternative, meaningful ways; not only through writing, but also through concept mapping, visual arts, video and simulations, student-led research, music and theater, etc. As a world languages teacher I am constantly considering effective teaching methods and also how students can demonstrate growth and understanding. I do not feel that I underestimate the value of writing and I will make it a key aspect of learning in my classroom, yet I hope to use diverse, well-researched instructional strategies, possibly including everything mentioned above. I assume that advancing technology will allow us to demonstrate skills and understanding in all of these ways online in the future.

Meyer, K. (2003). The Web’s Impact on Student Learning. T.H.E. Journal Online, 04/2003.

Probing for Plagiarism in the Virtual Classroom

How do we go about preventing or even detecting cheating in a digitalized world of learning? Hamlin and Ryan offer some considerations and suggestions for plagiarism issues. Time restrictions are often implemented to dissuade cheating on online tests, as students theoretically lack the time to look up or copy answers this way. Discussion boards may provide additional tools to assess student writing and use as a foundation for hypothesizing about plagiarism. Students submit many samples of their own writing during this process. As participating in a discussion board is frequently a low-stakes and highly contextualized activity, students are less likely to even consider cheating. A number of online services are available to facilitate educator determination of plagiarism as well. Plagiarism.org and other plagiarism detecting web sites use digital document fingerprinting to cross-reference documents with a database containing hundreds of thousands of papers. Instructors can only hope to deter student cheating by informing students that they will collect writing samples to analyze, run term papers through plagiarism-detecting programs, administer frequent pop-quizzes, and measure participation through online discussion boards.

It is interesting to me that in teaching students valuable computer skills in a foreign or secondary language I am, at the same time, also empowering students to cheat and use services that would make avoiding learning far too easy. Fortunately, I would imagine that most term paper sites offer substantially longer and more complex papers than my students would be capable in completing within three or four years of learning another language. It should be much easier for me, therefore, to detect plagiarism in my classroom. I am also somewhat relieved in considering that many cheating services have less to offer to beginning students of Spanish or Japanese. I will consider how students in my more advanced classes may discover how to abuse ever-improving cheating services online.

Hamlin, L., and Ryan, W. (2003). Probing for Plagiarism in the Virtual Classroom. Syllabus, 07/2003.

The Myth about Student Competency

The idea that “our students are technologically competent” is one that is perhaps tossed around a little too much, according to Oblinger and Hawkins. While virtually 100% of students these days are competent using word-processing and surfing the internet, only 25% of students can create a web page and not too many are comfortable with spreadsheets or graphic design work. How should we measure information technology competency? The first question to answer, however, is what skills do students need in our digital world? After we determine this, we can consider how we might go about imparting and teaching these skills to our students. We must plan for widely-varying skill levels and also consider what extra technical support to provide, whether that means offering help desk services somewhere on a school campus, or whether that means teachers (or other classroom assistants) staying after school to answer questions and guide students through their challenges.

Personally, I am fond of the idea of empowering already-skilled students to help others with lower technical know-how. I figure that as long as those not-so-technically-savvy students have other places and times to impart whatever it is that they have to share, then I can be more certain that students will not feel overwhelmed or undervalued in the educational process. For me, I think my challenges will start with translation of computer technology into the languages which I wish to teach: Spanish, Japanese, and English as a second language. I can picture having my students complete research projects, forming presentations, constructing websites, or creating videos based on course language content, but I would like to immerse them as much as possible in the target language as I am teaching computer skills (as well as keep them on-task and in-language in their interactions with each other). I am not sure exactly how to go about doing this, as the majority of school programs and the majority of the internet use English, which makes it difficult for me in my efforts to teach Spanish and Japanese.

Oblinger, G., and Hawkins, L. (2006). The Myth about Student Competency. EDUCASE, 03/2006, 12-13.

MISESS: Web-Based Examination, Evaluation, and Guidance

MISESS is a Management Information System utilized to allow online, electronic access for students and teachers to all classes, related course material, and examinations. This system allows for various levels of user authentication, meaning that educators can control course and exam content and also determine the manner and time in which students may access material or take tests. Those that manage the system can, of course, make modifications to online materials at any time. Online examinations can take many forms and include various types of questions as well. Question types include multiple-choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and essay format. Depending on the wishes of the instructor, carried out by the system administrator, test questions can even be drawn randomly from a set pool of questions only accessible to that instructor, with the potential implication that each individual student would take a different test that could be graded immediately.

These systems are implemented more often in universities, but wonder to what extent it would be manageable or effective in terms of development time to implement for a high school course. Many tests that I will administer may end up using multiple-choice, short answer, and true-false questions and if I had a testing system set up, I imagine I could save substantial time printing, grading, and handing back tests. Of course I would want to mind the digital divide, taking into account that perhaps sixty percent of my students are likely to have computers with internet access at home, meaning that such test administration should be conducted on school lab or library computers. Such an endeavor may be more feasible as a department-wide development task, although that would require standardizing the Spanish or ESL curricula and test material, which, again, may be very time consuming.

Tanrikulu, Z. (2006). MISESS: Web-Based Examination, Evaluation, and Guidance. EDUCASE, 29.1.


SmartTutor: Combining SmartBooks and Peer Tutors for Multimedia Online Instruction

In this article, Kogen, Kopec, and Whitlock address the question of how we can serve busy, working, commuter students in a college with a lack of tutors. The solution that they summarized is a multimedia, educational technology called SmartTutor. Such a system allows students to access course contents, frequently asked questions, and other information in a non-linear fashion with concept mapping heuristics. At Brooklyn College in New York City this system was developed as a supplement to peer tutors for courses such as the general, required physics class and a computer science gateway course that originally had a 50% drop/fail rate. Such systems need input from many areas of campus to be developed: Professors, students, peer tutors, and computer science and information majors. These systems are quite useful, because they allow access to information at all times of the day, they provide tutors with information on difficult content areas and questions, and they can help students perform better in gateway courses.

I have seen in technology education that concept mapping is not difficult to accomplish on most lab computers. Kogen, et al., mention that these systems are written with HTML and occasionally use JavaScript or PERL for animation. If teachers were instructed in the use of these languages, it seems they could be empowered to create such systems with less institutional support - ideally, that is. It makes sense in a large institution, however, to collaborate with computer science and MIS students, especially as they can receive credit while they complete construction of SmartTutor-type applications.

Kogen, M., Kopec, D., Whitlock, P. (2002). SmartTutor: Combining SmartBooks and Peer Tutors for Multi-media On-line Instruction. Proceedings of the International Conferrence on Engineering Edcation, 08/2002, 1-5.


An Investment in Tomorrow’s University Students: Enhancing the Multimedia Skills of Today’s K-12 Teachers. (Dr. John Minor Ross)

Many teacher training programs, such as that of the Woodring College of Education, now require that their preservice teachers take an instructional technology course. Ross describes in this article a new course at a teacher college focused on multimedia classroom preparation. This course was developed over a five year time period and Ross claims that it was relatively inexpensive to implement. Students gave positive reviews to the course, which included activities with video editing, PowerPoint, digital camera use, technical terminology, and web design. Using this success story as a foundation, Ross details what he sees as fundamental in teaching teachers about technology: While teachers should be prepared to use multimedia resources for their class activities, they must remember that teachers are the key to student learning, not technology. In addition, whatever is implemented must also be evaluated, keeping in mind questions, such as how students benefit from new technology and what technology is essential in order to help students. This assessment must be presented, or available, for all community members who have a vested interest in the education of children.

In reading this article I recalled instances in which I saw the technology in use as completely ineffective at facilitating my learning. PowerPoint is a program that I consider to be overused or at least frequently misused. When programs such as this are used only to provide reading material to the class while the teacher lectures, many lessons fail to effectively engage students. It seems that the software that we use most frequently can be used in much more creative and interesting ways. I feel I have been provided with opportunities in my instructional technology class to use familiar tools in new ways. I believe that Ross shares my view that instructional technology classes should challenge preservice teachers to use their available resources in the most creative and engaging way possible, while, of course, keeping in mind that a perfect 10 minute presentation does not make up for a week of lecture in terms of student engagement.

Ross, J. M. (2001). An Investment in Tomorrow’s University Students: Enhancing the Multimedia Skills of Today’s K-12 Teachers. Journal of Computing in Small Colleges, 10/2001, 52-61.

Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless. (Richard Van Eck)

According to the author of this article, Van Eck, many years of research have contributed and supported the assertion that learning with games is both effective and can save instructional time compared to traditional teaching methods. The main issues to negotiate (after having substantiated this claim) games must be a good match for instructional goals and that educational games can be either educationally effective and not fun, or fun and ineffective in teaching students target content or skills. The main benefit, if we can find appropriate and engaging games, is that all learning takes place within a context that is meaningful to the game. This contextual learning is referred to as “situated cognition” and is widely recognized as beneficial to learning. Games that are good tend to require a “constant cycle of hypothesis, formulation (of ideas), testing, and revision.” Games that are not challenging enough bore and those that are too difficult can frustrate our students. Choosing a suitable game can be very difficult, but many games, even if they present inaccurate or incomplete information on a topic, can be useful, especially to well prepared teachers. These teachers are ready to explore issues in depth and offer extensions that are relevant to the context of the game in order to further learning. Van Eck offers a number of possible extension tools for in-game content: Spreadsheets, diaries, reports, letters, experiments, and so on.

For my future classroom, I am interested in the prospect of using games to teach skills and content. I could see many games as applicable to foreign language (Spanish/Japanese/ESL) learning goals. The simplest step would be to use a commercial off-the-shelf game in the target language. Some popular titles are available in other languages as they become popular. This is especially true for games with Japanese, as many of them originate in Japan. I would want to be careful to censor games that include violence, harsh language, or other inappropriate themes. Upon briefly viewing the recommended socialimpactgames.com I found "The English Taxi" for my future ESL students. I will continue to look into these resources, because well-constructed games that are relevant to my teaching have a great potential to engage my learners and save me time.

Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless. EDUCASE, 41, 17-18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30.


Integrating Technology into the Instructional Process: Good Practice Guides the Way. (Marianne Handler)

While this article is fairly out of date, it does offer some practical guidelines and suggestions for teachers looking to integrate technology into their classrooms. Instructional goals determine to a large extent which kinds of technology teachers can utilize to help their students. Handler, the author, does state that this should not happen in reverse; available technology should not influence what content is to be learned. After first identifying the goals of an activity and pointing out what students are to gain from a lesson, software and other potentially helpful technology should be evaluated for its usefulness in facilitating learning. Many types of software can help students both to learn content and also to develop valuable higher-order critical thinking and problem skills. Graphic organizers, like Inspiration, can be helpful for thought mapping and brainstorming. Spreadsheet programs, like Excel, are useful for the organization and evaluation of information (through graphs and charts, for example). Another tool mentioned is instant messaging.

Nowadays, voice and video “chatting” is commonplace and could be integrated into many projects; for example, for developing strategies and solutions to problems with distant groups of people online. Skype is a great example of such a program. As a future foreign language teacher, I could definitely see myself using this to help my students learn Spanish or Japanese. Distance is a non-issue with such a program and many people use it make friends, conduct business, and form online communities. As I have some experience with Inspiration and Excel, I would like to utilize them with my students, yet I wonder if these programs will be available (or sufficient numbers of computers) in the schools in which I will teach.

Handler, M. (2005). Integrating Technology into the Instructional Process: Good Practice Guides the Way. Learning Point.

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. (by Marc Prensky)

According to Prensky, the common assumption among “Digital Immigrant” teachers is that our current students are more or less the same as those of the last generation. In this article, Prensky argues that our students have acquired an “entirely new language” that is derived from the digital world. The students of this generation are more likely and willing to adopt rapidly advancing technology; this is the attitude of a Digital Native. Digital Immigrants are reluctant to approach new technology and seem to be frustrated by the challenge that Prensky explains: To effectively teach modern students, educators must learn the new digital language and utilize the potential teaching tools of technology. Today’s students think and process information differently than the people of the previous generation. Additionally, these young people are constantly surrounded by computers, cell phones, video games, digital music players, and other technologies. For Digital Immigrant teachers to make progress and learn the digital language, Prensky recommends that they consider the following: Learning can be fun and high-paced; lecture does not have to be the default instructional strategy; and even serious, complex content can be integrated into a video game.

In reading this article I tried to consider where I fall along the spectrum of digital adoption. I was born in 1984, and therefore I probably fall slightly out of the range of the Digital Natives. However, I don’t think I could be considered a Digital Immigrant. I agree with Prensky that the current generation of students is very different from its parents’ generation. I feel that it may be a challenge for me to keep up with advancing technology and its effects on my students. The factors that I believe will determine the difficulty of my task are based on two questions: How fast technology advances and how fast my students are able to acquire and integrate it into their lives. I am literally blown away by predictions about the acceleration of technology, yet an economy based on linear (as opposed to exponential) growth appears unable to allow all starry-eyed individuals to access or consume it at the same rate. Despite my uncertainties, I do plan to challenge myself to engage my students by integrating new technology into my classroom.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, 5.