My main challenge this school year was to experiment with what works and what doesn’t work in a 1:1 laptop classroom. While I have taught discrete technology-based lessons in past years using a shared computer lab, this year marked the first time I had access to a laptop for each student in my classroom and could begin to change how my class operates. This post will discuss what I’ve learned over the course of this “edtech year”.
What worked for me (good stuff to try):
Edmodo: I’ve used it enough to earn “power user” status (thanks to @zemote). My biology classes, in particular, have benefited from Edmodo, since I had a variety of internet-based lessons that I adapted from previous years. Edmodo allows for easy delivery of links for students to visit and allowed me to assign and collect assignments paperlessly. Students appreciated Edmodo for its ease of use and the text-message notifications they received when I posted new resources or assignments. Edmodo made several major improvements over the course of the year and continues to improve its service. It is currently free but expect some “premium” services to roll out soon that might cost a bit.
Moodle: I set up a Moodle site hosted by http://www.keytoschool.com/ for free. This Moodle site became my main testing platform and really cut down on the amount of paper we used in class. Moodle can import tests that are written in ExamView, with a few tweaks. I also wrote a few tests using Moodle’s built in question editor or uploaded banks of questions available in Moodle format on the Web. I like how Moodle can provide instant feedback to students during a test and that the test may be set up to allow students second chances if they miss questions. Short essay questions become easy to read and to grade when delivered via Moodle.
Planbook: What’s not to like about Planbook? It keeps me organized and it was created by a physics teacher. I use it to post lesson plans and files so students and parents can keep tabs on what we do in class. I believe in having a transparent classroom and this software allows everyone to see what I do.
XMarks, Delicious, and Diigo: These are social bookmarking tools that I use all the time. I use XMarks to maintain the content area links found on my homepage. As I bookmark new links, they are automatically added to the shared folders that my students access. Delicious and Diigo do pretty much the same job for me, which is to create a list of my bookmarks that is sortable by tags. I also love getting new resources sent to me from the groups that I belong to on Diigo.
Evernote and DropBox: When my chemistry students started a major online research project, I set up my macs with Evernote and DropBox and gave students a brief overview of how they worked. Several students got hooked on Evernote, in particular, especially once they tried out the Evernote iPod app. I’ll definitely be encouraging the use of these two next year for synchronizing files between home and school devices.
PollEverywhere: We used PollEverywhere a few times, and it worked as advertised. Students preferred it to the Senteo clickers because they could use either the laptops or their cell phones to participate in the polls. However, since Edmodo introduced its anonymous polling feature, I haven’t gone back to PollEverywhere much.
What didn’t work for me (maybe it will for you?):
SMART Notebook software and the SMARTBoard: I found SMART’s premade science resources to be lacking and I never really took the time to create fancy Notebook-based lectures or activities. Notebook isn’t that well supported on Snow Leopard to begin with (yet?) and after the first few crashes I knew that I wasn’t going to waste my time with it. The students and I rarely use the touch function of the SMARTBoard itself, although it is nice when we do. Maybe I haven’t explored the software enough, but I find the SMARTBoard to be as useful as the LCD projector and screen that I used in previous years.
SMART Document Camera: I already had a ProScope that I used for projecting images of various specimens and it had decent microscope adapters so the SMART camera went mostly unused. I don’t teach from transparencies or notes much either, so there was no need to project pictures of them on the board. Add in the fact that the SMART camera only works in Notebook and…well, you get the idea.
Posting resources to Moodle: I started the year with blank Moodle courses and on the whole, they are still fairly blank, aside from the occasional quiz. While Moodle does have a powerful ability to organize your courses, the interface for uploading web links and files is tedious to use. Only one file at a time can be uploaded, or at least that is all that I ever managed to do. I switched to posting links in Edmodo once I realized students were looking there more often.
GoogleApps: While I’ve tinkered with GoogleApps this year, my district only switched over to GoogleApps for mail halfway through the year. The biggest drawback is that students do not yet have district-assigned Google accounts so the possible uses of GoogleApps are limited at this time. I expect that next year we’ll have students on board from the beginning of the year, so I may get to play with GoogleDocs a lot more, although that might add to….
Spreading out over too many sites: All told, I have three major platforms that students access: my home page, Edmodo, and my Moodle site. I would love to have one system that easily collected my links in an organized way, was a paperless assignment exchange and grading system, serves as a student-teacher-parent communications board, and allows the kinds of flexible assessments that Moodle offers. Maybe Moodle or some other LMS can do all that, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Until then, my students will have to deal with several sites and their passwords.
There are several other edtech/web 2.0 tools that I tried out, but those listed above are the ones that I keep coming back to as the framework for my online coursework. As you can see, my favorite online tools are those that provide the infrastructure for communication with students and parents and establish new ways to assess student learning. I hope that we continue to see free or low-cost services that meet the growing demands of teachers in 1:1 environments like mine.