Monday, January 26, 2015

There's no I in TEAM (there's an _A, _M and _R though!)

When we first introduced the OneNote Binders, amongst the immediate requests was for group collaboration spaces.  For the first year, we had the teachers request them through our IT request system and manually created them and assigned the permissions.  But, given the convenience of OneNote, we knew we wanted a dynamic solution... and so we rolled out a webapp that would create groups of any size or shape!

The teacher goes to the webapp and decides on a name for the Project and then assigns students to groups.  Some teachers will create only one group and then they have a section that everyone can contribute to.  Groups can be of any size and students can be in more than one group.  The groups can also change as needed, so if you need to shuffle a person to a different group, once you do the permissions are changed to reflect their new position.

Inside of each team's section group are the regular sections for Assignments, Marking (that is private to teachers) and Returned (the digital portfolio). see description here
Unlike the regular student sections, the group sections are not available to the student's parents since parents would also see the work of other students.

Teachers have been very creative in using these collaborative spaces... some have used them for discussion boards, for script writing, for Minecraft project development (since screen clipping and sketches work so well in a pen-based tablet environment), math exam review.  Really, whenever you want students to work together.  And since it's so easy to copy content back into their personal sections, you can still tease out what they're contributing after the group work has complete.

While dynamic groups aren't yet (January 2015) a part of Microsoft's version of the OneNote Class Notebook given the success we've had (and the general clamouring for collaboration) I'd expect to see it appear relatively soon.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Facebook question on "tablets"

A friend asked the following on Facebook so I thought I'd provide my response to promote discussion more generally.

Who all is in a one-to-one tablet school? How's that going? Use them daily? Weekly? Monthly? Blue-moonly? Curious if the tablets are making a difference or just a thing.

I'm going to make the distinction between a tablet (iPad or Android slab) and a tabletPC (Microsoft Surface Pro or Dell Latitude, amongst others). The former are really personal consumption devices and their long-term viability in a classroom are limited relative to the latter, which are desktop replacements. You will likely see more success through implementing BYOD with student personal mobile devices (i.e. smartphones) than with a 1:1 slab program.

We only saw intensive & continual up-take and use of technology by faculty & students when we moved to a pen-based tabletPC which allowed for free-form input (i.e. "writing") on a digital surface with sufficient computing power to keep up with mathematical work and allowed for easy movement of ideas and digital content (ink, text, images, audio, video) between applications. (I would emphasize that Microsoft OneNote helped create the environment to facilitate this process).

Once students & faculty could treat their tabletPC as we would paper, almost all our content is digital -- this means it can be shared and collaborated on with ease. So groupwork is not based on physical or temporal proximity (although really, it still is but we are no longer constrained). Neither does feedback depend on a physical or temporal imposition -- I can add suggestions to a student's work when I am free to do so, not by collecting their work from them since everything is in the same "cloud".

What about Chromebooks?

The challenge with Chromebooks (and any non-inking-device) is that mathematics is not meant to be typed. To do mathematics is to doodle & sketch -- and you need to have digital ink to allow that free form input. They may help to change the learning space in humanities & languages but in the maths and sciences they're less likely to have an effect.

Having said all that, starting the process of experimenting with teaching and learning with technology is the right step .. use what you have. But I think it's important to recognize the desire of mathematics to be free and not limited to the device's nature.  :)