Next Big Things in Tech

Even if you don't teach tech or work that much with tech in your classes, it's nice to have an idea of what the next big thing in the tech world might be in our schools. But it's difficult to predict. When polled readers recently, they asked: "What do you think will be the "next big thing" in technology that might help you be more successful at work, either with students or in your own PD?"

One thing I see that's not in their poll is that there is a trend to call professional development (PD) "professional learning." Semantics?

Here are the poll results:

Automated individualized student education plans  34.67%
Live two-way peer coaching  21.67%
Accurate voice-recognition word processing  17.96%
Spoken language translation without having to type text  11.76%
Holographic projections that don't require monitors  5.88%
Virtual "unconferencing"  4.95%
Semantic personalized Web searching  3.10%

Asking Questions

SocratesAsking questions in class is an important teaching skill. It encourages students to think and learn. It helps you as a teacher to hear student answers; it's the first real way to assess their learning.

I remember having education courses when I was an undergrad that talked about asking questions and using the Socratic Method. But just asking questions doesn't make it an effective practice.

I found out years later that the "Socratic Method" was not quite just "asking questions" anyway. It is a dialectical method, often involving a discussion in which the defense of one point of view is questioned. It is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions.

Recently, I was doing some research on questioning techniques (see sources below) for a presentation. I compiled some tactics for more effective questioning that can help you "capture students' attention, arouse their curiosity, reinforce important points, and promote active learning" (Davis, 1993).

  1. Ask one question at a time - multiple questions at once can confuse students

  2. Avoid yes/no questions - try asking "how" and "why" questions

  3. Ask students what they think of other students' answers

  4. Ask questions that YOU don't know the answers to. Too often teachers guide the dialogue towards the answer they want to hear.

  5. Pose questions that lack a single right answer

  6. Focus your questions - broad questions can steer discussion off topic

  7. Wait time - pause in silence after a question to allow for students to think about the answer. Don't be afraid of the "dead air" -this is not talk radio.

  8. Try to find and show consensus on responses.

  9. Ask questions that require students to apply knowledge and demonstrate their understanding. "Do you understand?" questioning has little value

  10. Ask some difficult questions.

  11. Structure your questioning to encourage students to respond to one another.

  12. When you say "I wonder if it is possible that..." it opens up possibilities that may encourage the reluctant answerer. A question that begins like "What is the definition of ..." signals that there is a specific answer required.

  13. Good questioning involves all the students. Even walking around the room can bring students into the conversation. Wait staff at restaurants learn that kneeling at the table and coming closer and to the level of the customer has a positive effect on tipping.

  14. Albert Einstein “Most teachers waste their time by asking questions that are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning is to discover what the pupil does know or is capable of knowing.”  The question itself can teach something even before there are answers.

  15. If you don't embrace wrong answers, students won't take risks. I would actually be wary if all I got were correct answers. Yes, some questions have correct answers, but some incorrect answers will lead to deeper discussion and learning.

  16. Follow-up questions that ask for specifics, clarification, examples, relationships and more are very important. If you stop when you get to "the answer," I would question your questioning.

When all the questioning is over and you get to testing, test the way you question. Why bother with all this critical thinking in class if you are going to ask them test questions that require them to memorize and regurgitate.


Davis, B. G. Tools for Teaching. Jossey-Bass.
How to use the Socratic method in the classroom
The Socratic method as an approach to learning and its benefits (pdf)
Lemov, D. Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College Jossey-Bass.

Use Fair Use

This month I attended a talk at William Paterson University on fair use for educators given by Brandon Butler. He is the Practitioner-in-Residence at the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C. Before teaching law, he was the Director of Public Policy Initiatives at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Before that, he was an associate in the Media and Information Technologies practice group at the Washington, D.C. law firm Dow Lohnes PLLC.

One of his main points was that educators need to use fair use and even push against the edges of it. In my years working in instructional design, I had many instances of faculty declaring something to be "fair use" for a new online course section because "that's what I do in my face-to-face class." Of course, that is often not the case.

But one takeaway from the talk was that educators need to use and push at fair use to keep it alive.

I brought up a MOOC I am currently in offered by Coursera and the University of Rochester on "The Music of The Beatles." I'm sure The Beatles have good lawyers, but the idea that there is NO music in the course - not even snippets to illustrate lessons - seems rather sad - and overly cautious.

In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that parody can be protected by the fair-use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The ruling came about when the rap group 2 Live Crew used elements from "Oh Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison in their song "Pretty Woman." The 2 Live Crew version uses the same guitar riffs and melody, but the lyrics and storyline has the "pretty woman" as a hairy, bald-headed two-timing woman.

The music publishing company that owns Orbison's song sued Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew for copyright violation saying he used too much of the original work and gained commercially from it. Campbell argued that he had fair use and the Supreme Court agreed. Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote, "Like less ostensibly humorous forms of criticism, [parody] can provide social benefit by shedding light on an earlier work and, in the process, creating a new one."

The revamped Google search tool (illustrated above) allows you to search based on reuse rights. The photo-sharing site Flickr allows for search of the photos that a particular kind of Creative Commons license.

The Flickr Creative Commons license has several permutations which are designed to provide a creator with more flexibility than copyright provides without requiring the creator to give up copyright. It is very helpful for people looking to “remix” materials originally created by someone else and then shared online with a license that allows remixing.

Images are only one sort of digital content available online with Creative Commons licenses. They are used for audio, video, text documents, slide presentations - and this blog.

The site is not exactly a search engine but metasearch using other search engines and filtering for CC-licensed material. The search results should be only materials licensed for those particular needs. (You should double check just to be sure.)

At site is an experimental project from ccLearn which attempts to provide scalable search and discovery for educational resources on the web. This search prototype hopefully will allow you to explore metadata enhanced search, specifically for OER. Unlike most search engines, it can incorporate data provided by the resource publisher or curator.

Some more sources of information:

Open Access and creative common sense - a 2004 interview with Lawrence Lessig from Open Access Now

A Call For Copyright Rebellion by Steve Kolowish – InsideHigherEd

Free Culture and Remix, by Lawrence Lessig - two books available for purchase, or for free PDF download under a Creative Commons license.

Butler's talk is available online through NJVid and allows you to embed it. It also carries the following Rights Declaration: This video is protected by copyright. You are free to view it but not download or remix it. Please contact the licensing institution for further information about how you may use this video.


Using Hangouts and Unhangouts

For one of the projects I am working on currently, I participate in a weekly Hangout. The team meets using the Google service in order to talk and share materials. We don't archive the sessions or publish them to YouTube. It's an easy service to use and if you have never participated in a Hangout, it's worth experimenting with someone to see how it might be useful in your teaching or research.

Google has a lot of help materials online - will give you a start on using video Hangouts and Hangouts on Air directly from your Google+ Page.

Yes, this does require you to be part of the Google+ world that they have created and are both expanding and centralizing. ("One + to rule them all.")

The short directions are: Log in to your Google+ account and click Pages. Select the Google+ page for which you'd like to start a Hangout. Click Manage this page and the click Start a hangout.

With Hangouts On Air, you can broadcast live discussions and performances to the world through your Google+ Home page and YouTube channel. You can also edit and share a copy of the broadcast. This is a bit more involved as you will need a YouTube channel that is connected to your Google+ profile or page. (Newly created YouTube channels are automatically connected to Google+. If you have an existing channel that is not connected to Google+, you can connect it.)

Once the broadcast is over, it’ll be posted to your YouTube channel as well as your Google+ homepage. From there you can edit it, and the edited version will be available to anyone you share it with.  

There can be issues with the content you can and cannot play in a Hangout On Air - for example, using clips from films or television news and other programs. You can check out the restrictions at the YouTube Copyright Center.

unhangoutRecently, I became aware of a small project (4-person team) based at the MIT Media Lab to have people create Unhangouts. The is an open source platform for running large scale online un-conferences.

The term "unconference" goes back to 1998. It was meant as a way to have a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events we are used to at a "conference."

Unhangout uses Google Hangouts to create as many small sessions as needed, and help users find others with shared interests. Their site says to "Think of it as a classroom with an infinite number of breakout sessions. Each event has a landing page, which we call the lobby. When participants arrive, they can see who else is there and chat with each other. The hosts can do a video welcome and introduction that gets streamed into the lobby. Participants then break out into smaller sessions (up to 10 people per session) for in-depth conversations, peer-to-peer learning, and collaboration on projects. UnHangouts are community-based learning instead of top-down information transfer."

Unhangout is an open source project. (The code is in their repository on GitHub.) The team offers to help get this set up on your own servers and may even be able to host your event on their installation.

The Digital Divide 1998 and Now: Not So Different. Or is it?

The New York Times carried a story last year that I wanted to write about concerning a study of the different ways technology is used by students from different backgrounds. It looked at fourth and eighth graders who answered questions about their classroom experiences while taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That is the test that is often nicknamed the "nation's report card." 

When I searched for the story yesterday, I turned up a blog post from whose take on that study was that the findings from 2013 when compared with 1998 show a "shockingly" similar digital divide.

The N.A.E.P. data shows that 34% of eighth graders who took the math exams in 2011 used computers to "drill on math facts" while less than 25% worked with spreadsheets or geometric figures on the computer. Only 17% used statistical programs.

The survey data also shows clear differences among racial groups and income levels. The results might not be what you would expect though.

More than half of the black students in 2011 said they used computers to work on math drills, but only 30% of white students said they did. Similarly, 41 percent of lower-income students (ones eligible for free and reduced lunches) used computers for math drills, while only 29% of students whose families earn too much to qualify for the lunches.

The article points out that "Remarkably, virtually the exact same study, was conducted by Harold Wenglinsky of the Educational Testing Services Policy Information Center in 1998, with strikingly similar findings.
Boser looked at background surveys from the 2009 and 2011 NAEP tests, and Wenglinsky looked at the 1996 NAEP background surveys."

What are we to conclude? Fifteen years and new technology and new software, but the patterns of usage and inequality remain. Is it technology, classroom practice or students?