Technology use in the classroom, whether for K-12 or Higher Education, should not be the exception but the rule. I should point out technology should never replace good, solid teaching or the promotion of good, solid skills, such as working math problems using pencil and paper, or writing using pen and ink. Certain fundamental skills should never be replace by a digital crutch.
For work, teaching, or hobby, I use technology every day. I find myself moving among different technologies fluidly and often wonder why others appear to stumble among technologies. I then realize, oh wait, these people have lives away from computers; you don’t. I get exposed to numerous bits of software, hardware, and tech, increasing my comfort incrementally each day.
Hording knowledge does no one any favors, therefore I thought I should share some tech suggestions to those interested parties.
1. YouTube >> I create mini-lectures using Powerpoint, a headset microphone, and Microsoft Live MovieMaker. I also maintain a geography channel on YouTube for the general public to subscribe. Each of my mini-lectures I upload to my geography channel and then notify my classes about the posting. I also hunt for other geography-related videos. Popular, for me, are “No Reservations w/Anthony Bourdain,” and “Bizarre Foods w/Andrew Zimmern.” Other sources of geography videos are also available, such as those produced by National Geography, PBS, and authors.
2. Powerpoint >> When created correctly, Powerpoint can be a powerful assistant. I am not a big fan of animations. Only when an animation can help illustrate a concept do I create moving graphics. Otherwise, animations can slow down your presentation and be a distraction. Each slide should only contain an outline, talking points, not the complete text of the lecture. Too often I see people put the complete text of their talk on the slide. What is the point? Powerpoint presentations can be exported to HTML for incorporating into a local intranet or posted to a public web site. Powerpoint presentations can be exported to PDF, providing notes to students. Lastly, be careful with backgrounds and text contrast. The other fatal Powerpoint mistake is creating slides with poor contrast. A bright background with dark text works best; then, a black background with light text. Avoid using backgrounds with complex imagery. Remember, the message is important, not the background.
3. Microsoft Live MovieMaker >> MM is a free download from Microsoft. MM allows users to create videos using other videos or graphics. MM then allows to add sound or music, titles, captions, and some visual effects. MM provides direct upload to YouTube, Facebook, and other sharing sites. Take your Powerpoint slides, export those slides to JPEGS or PNG image files, insert them into the MovieMaker fim strip, use your headset microphone to provide a voice-over, and soon you will have a mini-lecture ready for a course. It is almost that easy. Once you hear your own voice, you might decide to do some editing. Editing can be time-consuming.
4. Creative Commons Images >> Sites like Flickr and Wikipedia include images covered by various components of the Creative Commons license agreement. Some variety in what content providers will allow exists, so read the fine print of each image. However, most of the time, if the images are to be used in a learning environment, the images can be fairly used. I have found images on Flickr and Wikipedia very valuable when searching for examples of culture, food, history, maps, etc.
5. Paint.net >> Paint.net is a free download for editing images. Very similar to MS Paint, Paint.net goes a little further while being almost as easy to use as MS Paint.
6. Facebook >> I can’t believe I ‘m adding Facebook. Like with most anything, FB is simply a tool, and is not inherently evil. A hammer is needed to build a house. A hammer can also be used to bludgeon someone. How the tool is used is important. If you elect to use Facebook to support a course, there are a number of steps you should take. First, create a separate page for the course. Create a separate FB user account for administering the page. If you have a personal FB account, pretend as if that account does not exist. Do not “friend” your personal FB account with your course FB account. Barriers, whether real, or virtual, are important in Education. Keep constant in your mind the course FB page(s ) are for academics. Set content and posting ground rules for students. FB can be good for sharing interesting, course-related web sites, research, and videos, or for posting course FAQs.
7. WordPress/Blogger >> Blog authoring sites can help provide additional content and lecture fodder. I maintain this blog to share material, thoughts, ideas, and presumed knowledge with the public in hopes to augment the public’s knowledge about geography, Education, and technology in Education. You can do the same with a course- or topic-related blog.
8. Learner.org >> The Annenberg Center for Public Media provides hundreds of videos supporting nearly all disciplines for free. World history, economics, math, writing, and science are only a few of the general topics for which videos are available. Some videos tend to be somewhat dated but still useful.
9. Google Earth >> One of my favorite all-time Internet apps, Google Earth is essential for teaching geography. All disciplines should encourage the use of other disciplines; math should encourage writing, writing should encourage chemistry or physics, and all should encourage geography. The use of Google Earth can illicit discussions of size, scale, and distance in mathematics. Have your students find Panoramio images and build a creative writing assignment around a posted photo. Use the 3D Terrain function in Earth Science to illustrate land forms. Download “SketchUp” the Google 3D authoring software and have your art students build a 3D mock-up of the school, neighborhood, or town.
10. ArcGIS Explorer >> ArcGIS Explorer is a mapping application that runs in a browser. A large mapping community exists that has offered a multitude of “featured maps” available for anyone to peruse. Students can find topics from USA Population Shifts, Predicted Climate Shifts, WorldBank Age and Population, to Seattle Parking Maps or Supermarket Access Maps. Courses involving politics, culture, math, or even art and design can find ArcGIS Explorer worthwhile.
Technology should not be the end all, be all, or used as a crutch for poor planning. However, technology used thoughtfully, with guidance and direction, can promote interest and engagement in students of all ages. I have turned countless students on to Google Earth merely by using GE as a backdrop for teaching world geography. No doubt the spatial awareness of locations improves in my students simply by them seeing a region of the world projected onto a large screen. Simple techniques can make a big difference.
If you have other technologies or resources to share, please pass them along.