Tzveta’s assignment 2 – Part B – Tools for DL

For this assignment I chose the topic of educational tools applied to e-learning and distributed learning. After making the research, I’ve selected the ones I’m more interested in and made a description of its features and examples of use in real schools. For each tool and based on the school’s experience, I’ve identified some disadvantages and proposed possible solutions for the problems. If I couldn’t find anything wrong, I added my suggestions to create new features of the tool.

The website of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT) you can find information about new learning trends, technologies and tools. There’s also a list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013. I’ve selected two of the tools: Socrative and Canvas.

Socrative

According to its website, “Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets”.This defition is very wide, so I’ll comment its main features. You can watch the presentation video of Socrative, it’s very good to understand the philosophy of this tool. Basically, the teacher has an account and students can connect to this classroom. Once they are in the classroom, the teacher can interact with them through different kinds of activites. Those are quick exercies which include: multiple choice, true or false and short answers. You can also create quizzes and the results are automatically sent to your email, the send the reports to the students. You can use it as an app for Android or IOS and in an internet browser.

Rob Zdrojewski is using Socrative at Canisius College, and he states Socrative is a free tool based on the student response system by just clicking. He likes it because is highly motivating and engaging and on top of that it’s free and it works on any device that has internet connection. Moreover is very easy to use, any student can using with basic instructions, just join the classroom and the rest is simple and intuitive. So there’s no special trainning need it and it adapts to all kind of students even students with learning difficulties. There’s also a feature that allows students to work in groups, is called the Space Race. This lets them collaborate with each other and come with the answer as a group. It’s like a kind of game, so in this aspect is more motivating at the same time they actually learning. Rob says that in his school there are more teacher that are starting to use Socrative and they even use it for the final exams. He points out that the fact that feedback is immediately is a benefit for the students; they don’t have to wait days or weeks until they get their results.

There’s another school that serves as an example, this is Wilmington Middle School and they have pretty much the same experience as Rob. I’m not going to repeat the same benefits, I’ll just state new information they give. They emphasize the fact that feedback is shown immediately, actually they says it’s the best and you get an excel file with all your students’ results. They remark it’s a very engaging way of learning.

After reading the experiences of these schools, my analysis of Socrative is that is very appropriate for DL because it’s flexible with the students, you can teach students at distance, and they can work in groups as well and collaborate with each other. Something important that this tool is accessible for everybody because you don’t need to pay and the technology is simple and intuitive. So there are no barriers for students who struggle with technology. In my opinion, this is a way of engaging students who may be “afraid” of using new technology. Since it’s so easy they can’t have any problems. Another point that is motivating for the students is that they get immmediate feedback, this is reinforcing. If you do an assignment, but then you have to wait weeks you can forget what it was about. In this way, students are more motivated because they are aware they are learning or what they need to improve. So far, these are just good things about the tool; however, I think there can be added new features such as audio, video and photos. Questions are just written, and students respond in the same way. Why not using a video instead of a written question? And the same for students, they could respond submitting a video. All smartphones have a video recorder, so it wouldn’t be a problem. In my opinion, they use different ways of communication and it also depends on the way of learner you are. There are visual, kinesthetic and auditory learners, if we take it into account, it adding this new feature would be better for the learners.

Canvas

Canvas, by Instructure, is a LMS and it has three different varieties. One for higher education, another one for K-12 and then Canvas Network which was launched for the MOOC’s. I’ll focus on the higher education version and I’ll go through the most important features. Canvas for higher education incorporates the newest technology and makes the students engage in their learning. The feature it incorporates are the “App Center”, you can integrate apps, such as youtube, slideshare, google charts and so on, to the courses. Then we have the “Graphic analytics reporting engine”. This tool is for both students and teacher and you can get analytics and feedback of learning outcomes. It’s very useful because students get immediate feedback and it’s more motivating. The feature of “Integrated media recorder” allows you to record a video and you can use it for comments, messages, assignments, etc. Instead of writing you can attach a video. The “outcomes” of the learning are easier to evaluate because it’s based on the students coursework. The “automated tasks” are easily available on the calendar so you can have an overview of the schedule. It is very “easy to use” for the students, the design is clear, intuitive and they don’t get frustrated when learning. Canvas is compatible with “IOS and Android”. It “supports RSS” so you can get updates of new activity in the course.  “Speedgrader” is a tool for giving feedback to students, you can easily submit audio, video, any kind of comments and rubrics are also integrated. You can watch a video explaining how it works.

Kevin Reeve is a teacher in Utah State University writes a blog sharing his experience using Canvas in online teaching. I’ll write here what he likes most about Canvas. He really likes the iPad SpeedGrader app because you can do it very fast using your rubric. There’s also a reminder that tells you that you have to grade an assignment. He says that it saves you a lot of time and you can do it at any time, you don’t need to be at school or dedicate a lot time, just when you spare time. Another point he likes it’s the rich text editor that appears everywhere you have to enter text. And the advantage of it is that you can add any link to any content page you have on the course, such as quizzes, assignments, etc. In this way all the contents are linked and it’s visually clearer. Kevin finds the feature of conversation through assignments very useful because you can give feedback and students can correct their assignment and answer you. One thing that he thinks needs to be improved is the discussions in Canvas, there are, but the workflow needs to be enhanced. He says that this is a common discussion among the users of Canvas.

The Innovation Center in Utah Valley University uses Canvas and gives us some feedback about their experience. Canvas is easy to ease, fast and intuitive. It allows you to communicate with the students and teachers in a very easy way. You get a notification when you have new messages or comments. You can select when and how you want to be informed of any kind activity. This is good because you stay updated without having to check the site. Moreover, you can the screen of recent activity so don’t miss anything important. The assignments that students can do are numerous, they can submit a file, media, quizzes, websites, this makes learning more entertaining. They like the feature that I commented in the introduction about the speedgrader. In the section of assignment it allows you to browse all kind of submissions. The assignments can be in different formats, texts, videos, websites, etc and they are all opened in Canvas, you can see the assignment and grade quickly. On the right side of the page you can introduce the grade manually or use the rubrics you’ve created. If you do so, then it’s very fast because you just have to select what you want and it’s sent to the student. Teacher like the fact you can add a comment or record a video giving your feedback for the assignment. And students can respond to it as well.

The analysis I make from this readings is that Canvas seems to be a very powerful tool for online learning and DL. From the users’ experiences it seems one of the best LMS that is available now. However this information can be biased since their users are going to say more positive things about it because they are using. Although, I’ve never used Canvas and from all the information I got it seems more complete than Moodle. It incorporates tools are new for me and I think are very appropriate for DL. One is the video option you can add in your comments, this way of communicating is similar to face to face and it gives the sense of a more personal treatment. The grading system again takes a very important role in the evaluation of its users. The variety of assignments makes the learning more productive and flexible for all kind of learners and this point is very important for DL. It wouldn’t make any sense just submitting writings. Here you have the opportunity to have text, videos, quizzes, websites, discussion, chats, etc. The learning is then engaging. What they say it should be improved is the discussion tool, I agree with that because communication is very important in learning and even if you are on an online course you need to communicate and get feedback. If it doesn’t work properly you can get frustrated because it’s not like real communication. It should be as real as face to face communication. This is an important issue in DL, the interaction among students, and teacher as well.

Conclusion

After evaluating the two tools and the experiences from different teachers, on the one hand I’ve realize they care a lot about the grading system. They like this to be easy and fast. However, I don’t know if this is going to be dangerous because teachers may not pay the attention they have to do to the assignment. I mean, if it’s so easy they can end up doing it automatically without giving the right feedback. These are just my thoughts after reading their experiences, although I haven’t tried the evaluations tools by myself since I don’t have any real course with assignment submitted from my students.

On the other hand, the easiness of the tools is another important point for the teachers. This is totally agreeable with the DL principles, so it has to be easy and accessible for the students. They don’t need to receive any special training or struggle with the tools; they have to be beneficial for their learning.

Resources

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