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Edchat on Edcamps

Posted on May 31, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.This past Tuesday, practitioners gathered in Twitter’s #edchat to discuss edcamps, of which I, and I imagine many others, have never heard. The vast majority of the people involved in the discussion, though, seemed familiar with edcamps, and several had either attended or organized an edcamp.

The first thing that was immediately apparent was that most edcamp attendees come away impressed and pleased. As Tom Whitford put it, “EdCamps have been some of the best learning experiences I have enjoyed since coming into the Ed Field.” The key points made by many participants were that edcamps are flexible and follow an “unconference” model and the focus is on encouraging educators to share their strategies and skills in a series of participant-led sessions.

Participants largely seemed to enjoy edcamps because of the relaxed nature of the camps and how the camps emphasized involvement and learning over procedure. Since edcamps are participant-driven and do not tend to run according to a pre-established schedule, participants are able to drift around and visit the sessions they feel will be most beneficial for them. If an attendee visits a session that they do not feel is right for them, they are able to, and even encouraged to, leave and visit another session, all due to the fact that edcamp attendees are more interested in sharing ideas and developing skills than anything else.

Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that many adminstrators do not accept the edcamp model for professional development or faculty training because, according to Tom Whitby, “it lacks control and leaves too much for the participants to decide.” Julie Shy chimed in to comment that “Admins want answers. That isn’t edcamp. We discuss and discover together to come up with solutions.” The question, then, is whether or not organic programs like edcamps make for better educators than other more structured programs. Tuesday’s #edchat participants certainly seem to think so.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

Accessible Content in Math

Posted on May 8, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.In “Accessible Content Creation in Mathematics,” Chris Hughes and Scot Leavitt of Portland Community College seek to investigate how mathematics teaching can be altered in order to address accessibility the challenges. Hughes and Leavitt primarily focus on blind individuals because, in terms of learning mathematics, blindness is one of the most difficult disabilities to address, as math is a highly visual area of study.

The authors became aware that a project such as this would be worthwhile when they attempted to begin to meet initiatives of accessibility for the college’s online courses. While other subjects, such as English and history, can have material put online and made compatible with screen readers with relative ease, the same is not true for mathematics.

Initially, the authors assumed there would be only one way in which to address the issue: By rendering the language of math readable to screen readers, and consequently accessible to individuals suffering from blindness. However, during their work, the authors encountered an individual who has “a strong educational and technical background” who also happens to suffer from blindness. This individual, Maurice Mines, explained to the authors that not all individuals suffering from blindness are auditory learners.

Just as student without disabilities learn best in different ways, individuals with disabilities, such as blindness, also learn best in different way. Thus, it is unreasonable to assume that the needs of a population can be effectively addressed by offering only one alternative. Hughes and Leavitt turned to “the rule of four,” which is often used as a guiding principle in teaching math, and used it to guide their attempts to make math accessible. The rule states that a concept should be discussed in four ways: algebraically, numerically, verbally, and graphically. In the case of students who are blind, the graphical aspect is the most challenging, but three other venues of explanation exist. The hope is that all venues can be made into “equally effective learning experiences,” which is a major tenet of Universal Design.

The authors ultimately generated a list of recommended and discouraged resources that can be used in creating content with which to teach mathematics by assessing each resource according to how it can contribute to accessibility. Their work represents an accomplishment in efforts to expand accessibility.

#spedchat on Twitter

Posted on May 3, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.Recently, #spedchat on Twitter has focused on apps that SPED specialists have found useful in their work. The general trend is that, when a scheduled spedchat is not going on, people share links to information about education and awareness of special education and the needs of students with disabilities. During spedchats, practitioners come together to share the tools, techniques, and strategies they have found useful.

As mobile devices become increasingly available and accepted in educational environments, practitioners are becoming more interested in what apps can offer their students. In the latest spedchat, practitioners discussed some of their favorite apps, which they organized into five categories:

  • Speech and language apps
    • Toca Boca
    • Bamba
    • My PlayHome
  • Data management/tracking apps
    • Class Dojo
    • SmartyEars
  • Creation apps
    • Book Creator
    • Haiku Deck
    • Pictello
    • Tapikeo
  • Reading apps
    • Reading Raven
  • Professional & personal apps
    • Genius Scan (scanning documents)
    • PDF expert (signing documents on an iPad)

You can read the full transcript of the most recent spedchat here (reads bottom to top). If you are interested in learning more or participating in a future spedchat, check out #spedchat on Twitter. I recommend following Melanie (#teachwtechbrox), an intervention specialist and spedchat moderator, for frequent updates on current events.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

Where teachers go to school: #Edchat

Posted on May 3, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.Throughout the week, thousands of Twitter users gather around a hash tag to discuss the current state of education. There are many different chats focused on education, but #edchat is certainly the most popular. I’ve been tuning into it for the past few weeks and am pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found.

One of the best features of #edchat, and others alike, is its lack of formality. You only have 140 characters to get your point across, so the conversation is pretty laid back. This causal setting creates a very unique kind of conversation – one where you feel comfortable enough to speak your mind and where you can say things you might not ordinarily say in person. Most people would call this their personal learning network (PLN), but it’s a lot more than that. We aren’t just searching for like-minded professionals; we’re interacting with data, reinforcing what’s helpful and weeding out what’s not.

I love a scholarly essay just as much as the next person, but sometimes I just want a plain, simple explanation. That’s what these chats are doing – delivering information in a way that is accessible to any level of expertise. Not to mention you can ask questions if you don’t understand something. It’s also a great way to discover new topics you’d never looked into before. For instance, depending on how much you want to learn about a topic, you might find a tweet interesting, click to read their blog post on it, then click to examine the essay or report it was based off of. I think that’s more useful than an abstract.

Perhaps the most important quality of an #edchat, is its ability to keep teachers and administrators up to date. The information that trends throughout the week reaches that status because it’s coming straight from the source. Administrators and educators gather to hash out the changes (or lack thereof) they’re seeing in schools today – tech integration, weekly projects, school policy reform, blended learning, whatever they want. This gives bystanders a first-hand look at what’s happening in schools, not six months after an article was published musing about “the next big thing in education.”

If you want real-time feedback about what’s going on in education today, check out this weekly Twitter chat schedule.

 Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.