Classroom Clicker via Google Forms

I’m teaching a section of Microcomputer Applications – an introductory level computer course.  An early topic in the semester, for me, is security and ethics.  Of course, I prefer discussion to lecture, and as I prepped this semester, I was wishing I had a classroom clicker – aka audience response system or aka polling – system to help engage the class – to solicit their input beyond a simple show of hands.  After having just used Google Forms to collect introductory information about students, I figured I could try using Google Forms as a makeshift classroom polling system.  All it requires to be functional is a teaching station with PC & projector and learners having individual access to the internet (a computer lab environment).  It worked perfectly, and I definitely got more feedback and learner participation than I’ve gotten in the past.  Here’s what I did.

First, I used Google Forms to create a survey for each question that I wanted to ask and use to facilitate the discussion.  One example is this question about virus protection software:


I actually created ten surveys since there were various questions that I wanted to poll learners about throughout the discussion.  It required more work and prep that way, but I think it helped break up the discussion a little as I stopped to ask a question and poll them.  The alternative would be to have all questions in a single survey and have learners respond to all learners in one fell swoop; that definitely would take less prep time.

Second, I added to the learning module within my LMS the list of questions with links to the surveys and the results.  There’s also additional links for learners related to the question or concept.

Third, during class, the process was relatively simple.  As the discussion progressed, I stopped and asked the class to click on the current survey link and complete the survey.

After students had 30-45 seconds to start responding, I accessed the results page and continued to refresh until I had a number of responses matching the number of students in the class.  The results, particularly given the chart and percentage summaries, provided a number of opportunities to personalize the issues and discuss the implications.  This example shows that 12 of 21 in the class were/are not sure what phishing is.

With the preparation in advance and the links readily available to learners, Google Forms provided an excellent, makeshift polling system.  Several side notes.  First, it is anonymous since there’s no way to pass learner ID from the LMS to Google Forms; of course, I could have had learners enter their identity, but I chose not to since they would have had to do that on each and every form/question/survey.  Second, it’s not good for impromptu polling; it takes relatively thorough preparation for the discussion.  The process of creating the form, making the link available and accessing the results via the Google Forms interface takes some time.  Finally, students couldn’t access the results on their own; Google Docs doesn’t currently have a way that I’m aware of to publish results.  Clicking on the results link required logging into Google with my identity, but having the link available with the course materials allowed me to quickly and easily access the results. 

Certainly, hardware solutions and proprietary software solutions provide more bells, whistles and features, but for the value/cost ratio I got from this, it was a great solution ;-)

Photosynth: Dissected Cat

I have kept an eye out for Photosynth since the beta was demonstrated at TED 2007 by Blaise Aguera y Arcas.  This morning, I was catching up on a few RSS feeds and noticed an August 21st entry by Eileen Brown noting that Photosynth is now publicly available.  I immediatley started planning a way to test it; the first several ideas I had weren’t instructionally meaningful, so I brainstormed until settling on the idea of photosynthing images of a dissected cat.  The visualization possibilities are instructionally exciting; I think the natural sciences offer a great deal of opportunity for Photosynth.  I’ll detail my quick experience with creating my first Synth, but briefly, I found it to be relatively easy while producing more than satisfactory results.

You can make the jump to my Dissected Cat Synth, but of course, you’ll need to have a stable – perhaps empty – stomach and need to download and install the Photosynth plugin.  It does run successfully on Firefox 3.  

Going into the process today, I had watched the Blaise’s TED 2007 presentation a couple of times and have been capable of explaining the way it functions in non-technical terms, at least.  I had also already had experience browsing other Photosynth’s for maybe a cumulative 30-45 minutes.  I had not spent a great deal of time preparing or learning, but I didn’t come into the creation process blindly either.

Today . . . I spent less than an hour creating the actual Photosynth

  • 10 minutes scanning through the photosynth photo guide with tips/suggestions for taking photos to be used in photo synths
  • 15-20 minutes taking pictures (with a biology faculty member and a lab supervisor looking on); 
  • 15-20 minutes waiting for the the site to process/upload and arrange the photos; this happens automagically once clicking “upload”

This worked out VERY well given how very little time I spent on it, and the 3D arrangement of the photos, I think, is much more impactful than a regular 2D arrangement, like flipping through in slide format. 

I know several things will improve the Synth. 

  1. more photos; I only took 77.  
  2. better planning of angles and content; I deliberately didn’t plan to spend time on this until I had an idea of how well the Synth would turn out.
  3. better lighting; we tried to get closer to natural lighting, but the lighting could be much better.
  4. a more capable camera; the camera I used was a nice camera – not a point and shoot – but several years old.  I was shooting at 2 megapixels, and a better macro mode would have been helpful.

Here’s the embedded Synth.  Linking to the original is better.

Who are you on Twitter?

Reading Sarah’s post at Ubernoggin from today regarding the notion of identity in social networks; I don’t think my comment posted properly (kept getting timed out after submitting), so I wanted to post my thoughts here.  Be sure to read her post and the comments that follow – interesting discussion.

I have three thoughts.

I post personal and professional tweets and have tweeps that I’ve met in meatspace and those that I haven’t.  The end result has been that I’ve connected more personally with a number of professional colleagues, and a few folks from my personal life know a little more about my professional life.

I have caught myself thinking twice about what I’m posting given that an increasing number of colleagues at work have started tweeting.  However, I think that’s more a function of having the good sense to mind what you say in what should be assumed to be a public forum than it is a new dilemma posed by Twitter.

I wonder to what extent people segregate their different social networks/identities by application.  For example, I’ve been encountering professional colleagues in Facebook, and I’ve sometimes hesitated – thinking that I already have Twitter, LinkedIn and others that I use for professional networks, why not keep Facebook for my personal network?  The implication of that I think, hits upon a question/issue I’ve heard asked more than a few times, most recently by Matt Croslin at EduGeek Journal.  If a learner wants to keep their different “hats” separate, what happens if/when faculty are trying to integrate social networks into formal learning environments, as more than a few seem to suggest we should?  While using Facebook in a course may, as many may advocate, “go where our students are going,” Matt may be right.  If students’ have the opinion of “keep your class out of my Facebook” then aren’t attempts to integrate social networks into learning spaces simply creating a situation where learners are awkwardly forced (a) to refuse class participation or (b) to allow a class to infringe upon their personal space?

Personal Learning Narratives Now Uniquely Possible

Giving more thought to Personal Learning Narratives.

I believe this may be our first opportunity to truly explore personal learning narratives. 

First, as Wesch has noted, we have always had a grand narrative of some sort that provided cultural context and reason for learning; I believe the absence of a grand narrative not only suggests that the presiding reason to learn is for the sake of learning itself but also provides a unique opportunity in our history to focus on personal learning narratives.   

Second, technology has enabled and educators are advocating the change in the loci of control within the learning process; individuals taking control of their own learning process has become uniquely possible given dramatically increased access to information.  It’s within that context that personal learning narratives have become possible and perhaps necessary.

I believe there’s an argument that the development of personal learning narratives – with education shifting to facilitate individual learner development of personal learning environments – is critical to the further development of the information age.  If our culture and our country are to be successful moving forward, we need to focus on the issues, infrastructure and changes necessary to support personal learning narratives.


The Crisis of *Personal* Significance

I posted this thought originally as a comment to a blog entry at Mediated Cultures by Professor Wesch, but I wanted to add a few things and include it here as well. This is a developing idea that, at the moment, is framing a larger context for all of the trends, ideas, and technologies I believe I’m understanding within education (K-16).

Several conversations and ideas have lead me to the idea of the “personal narrative” rather than the “grand narrative” suggested by Professor Wesch.

  • Wesch’s publication, Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance
  • Wesch’s Crisis of Significance presentation, a version of which I saw at ELI Annual 2008.
  • Professor Pausch’s challenge to and hope for Carnegie Mellon’s May graduates to “find [their] passion.”
  • a comment by Larry Friedlander during a video interview included in a conference presentation I attended today (7/31/08, Campus Technology 2008).
  • a few personal reflections on the concepts of internal and external motivation
  • a great conversation with two newly found colleagues (@pong, @jcollier) at Campus Technology’s 2008 Summer Conference (ending tomorrow 7/31 in Boston, MA)

The Crisis of Significance suggests we need a grand narrative that provides a socially, culturally adhesive reason to learn. However, we’re in an era where there’s no grand narrative; there’s no transcendent context which motivates us to learn. Professor Wesch suggests we need to identify or find a grand narrative.

For me, the absence of a grand narrative suggests the presiding “reason” to learn is learning itself; we are social beings that inherently need and want to learn “something.” However, until now we’ve always had a “grand narrative” that held significance strong enough to motivate us individually; it motivated us to learn specific things in specific ways. The underlying problem now may be that we’re struggling for the first time, as individuals, as a society and as a culture to learn for learning’s sake rather than for some other, external sake; that also means there’s no overriding grand narrative mandate to learn specific things or to learn them in specific ways.

That may explain the burgeoning social movement by educators to change the way we’re teaching and learning in formal/traditional learning spaces. That may explain the root genesis for the concept of “personal learning environments:” unique, online spaces and processes created by individuals to facilitate and control their own learning. That may explain the increasing interest in informal learning – individuals learning on their own, on the job or within organically formed groups seeking personal satisfaction.

For me then, the answer to the crisis of significance may not be to find a grand narrative. Maybe the better answer is to continue down those paths already being created to discover ways in which we may help individuals identify their own personal narrative, their passion; and, once that passion is identified, we must find new ways to facilitate the exploration and growth of that personal narrative.

That does mean that we need to fundamentally alter the way we teach and learn. One of the reasons we may be struggling to learn for learning’s sake is that all of our institutions have always served the prevailing grand narrative. They are not inherently capable of supporting and are often argued as being counterproductive to supporting anything resembling a “personal narrative.”

We have to find the significance, but it’s personal rather than grand.
We have to find some of Professor Pausch’s passion.
We have to understand that “teaching is more and more requiring a very deep respect for learners, and an awareness that each learner has a deep inner life that is relevant to the learning process that must occur within an atmosphere of mutual trust.” (taking great liberties with paraphrasing a video interview of Dr. Larry Friedlander, Stanford presented during this session)


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