Are we speaking the same language?

With the emergence of new technologies that instantly translate languages, are we arriving at a time and place when we can have meaningful discussions without speaking the same language?

CC-BY-NC-SA by Manar Hussain on Flickr

CC-BY-NC-SA by Manar Hussain on Flickr

I am currently enrolled in a MOOC on research methodology through Coursera. The instructors are from the University of London and the participants are from all over the world. One of the challenges with this course is that people responding to one another in English possess varying degrees of fluency.

It seems to me we might be better off with people posting not in English, but in their own language. There has been real improvement in translation technology in the past couple of years and apps such as Google Translate do a pretty good job of translating across a number of languages. So when enrolling in a MOOC, rather than attempting to translate every discussion into English why not just post in your native language? I would post in English, but you would read my post and comment on it in Portuguese – a classmate reads your post in German and responds in German.

By reading and writing in the language we are most comfortable with, we are more likely to express our thoughts with greater clarity and depth (instead of being distracted with how I might translate my words for you). This puts the onus on the receiver for making meaning from what is said, and the reader can ask for clarification as needed.

Google Translate

Google Translate

The technologies of language translation are not limited to text.  Skype Translator will permit real-time language translation via web conferencing, adding the potential for yet another layer of interactivity for online and open course participants.

Apps like Word Lens by Quest Visual (recently purchased by Google) translate visual images in real-time to text using apps on your iPhone or Android smartphone.

How long before Word Lens and other translator apps are integrated into wearable technologies like smart glasses permitting travelers to walk about in foreign cities seeing the sights and signs translated instantly for them into their own language?

By using these tools in MOOCs where various languages are spoken in the same course, we have much greater potential to increase and improve the quality of our interactions and understandings across cultures and languages.

Will Google Classroom be your next LMS?

Google is inviting educators to apply for a free preview of their “Google Classroom”.

The initial roll-out of the learning management system (LMS) includes several of the basic tools we are accustomed to seeing in other systems, including assignments and communications tools, along with a grade book.

Google is inviting partners to participate with the development of additional integration tools. Perhaps some of the features we have come to expect (e.g. plagiarism prevention, quizzes) will be made available as these partnerships evolve.

The trend over the past several years, has been for LMSs to become increasingly more complex with myriad connections / integrations behind the scenes and a never-ending stream of updates and patches that challenge both end-users and administrators time, skills, and patience.

Some of the initial criticism of Google Classroom is that it isn’t as sophisticated as the more established commercially available platforms.  However, according to Clayton Christensen, disruptive innovation “takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market…”

Keeping in mind that Google already has a foot in the door for many educational institutions with  Gmail serving as the primary email system for millions of students throughout the world – meaning students already have access – they’re already logged in.

Ready-or-not, Google Classrooms is scheduled to be rolled out in September of this year. If they can keep it simple, affordable, and accessible – who knows?



What will the active learning classroom look like in the not-so-distant future?

There are a number of emerging trends in classroom technology that will likely shape the way we teach and learn in the very near future.  These trends include mobile technologies (BYOD), improved wireless connectivity, and an increased demand for flexible learning spaces.

LearnLab @ Holden University Center, Lakeland Community College

Learn::Lab @ Holden University Center, Lakeland Community College

The Learn Lab at the Holden University Center is an example of an active learning classroom. With three interactive projection whiteboards placed strategically around the room, students are able to connect and to share their work using interactive screens and their laptops. The instructor can display content for all students or small groups from anywhere in the room. The direct line-of-sight configuration creates an optimal environment for student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content interactions.

When this classroom was built a few years ago it was considered “state-of-the-art”.  With the current configuration tables are outfitted with hubs that are wired into the interactive projection screens. Students plug in with their laptops to collaborate with their group. In the short span of a few years we have seen the rapid adoption of tablets and other hand-held technologies. Students are now bringing their personal technology into the classroom with the expectation of using them in support of their own learning.

We are now at a point when wireless technology permits students and faculty to connect and share their devices: laptops, iPads and other tablets, as well as smartphones. This mobility will change how we interact with classroom technologies. It means no longer having to place tables in a fixed location – resulting in greater flexibility. High definition monitors with build in Wi-Fi (or connected devices such as Apple TV) will likely replace interactive projectors and whiteboards as the preferred projection surface – with content from our apps on our hand-held devices.

The next generation interactive classroom…

1) will support students bringing their smartphones and tablets (BYOD) into the classroom. Students can expect to interact with their peers and the content / media on-the-fly, at the same time, discovering new ways to use classroom and web-based technologies to support their own learning.

2) will be increasingly wireless. Apple TV is already being used in classrooms where students and their teachers share their assignments and class projects on high definition TV screens. Emerging wireless technologies such as 802.11 ac, mean faster connection speeds and improved quality of shared media.

3) will mean classrooms are more configurable around the people using them rather than the fixtures and technology in the room. The use of multiple surfaces fosters collaboration, creativity and design, permitting students and instructors the ability to display, capture and share these interactions.

New learning spaces are emerging as a blend of the formal and informal – with flexibility driving design. I envision the classroom in the not-so-distant future will require multiple screens, myriad writing surfaces, configurable and mobile furniture with high speed Wi-Fi and the ability to connect and project from the student’s device of choice.

Sounds messy.


Interactive graphic filters “EDUCAUSE Top-Ten IT Issues” by institutional characteristics…

I like this interactive graphic permitting filtering by institutional characteristics. The  EDUCAUSE Top-Ten IT Issues for the community college differ significantly from the overall higher ed perspective.

Can digital badges increase capacity for online learning?

According to the ITC Distance Education Survey 2013, the number one challenge administrators face regarding distance learning faculty is ”engaging faculty in development of online pedagogy”. – Instructional Technology Council (ITC)

Too much coffee, Luigi Anzivino, CC-BY-NC-SA

The problem is one of Capacity! Too much coffee, Luigi Anzivino, CC-BY-NC-SA

Like many colleges, online and blended enrollments continue to grow even as overall enrollments decline. The demand for more flexible learning options outpaces our capacity for online delivery, in part because we lack enough faculty with the training and experience in teaching online.

This past year we began offering the Teaching Online Workshop Series – a series of twelve hands-on, competency-based, professional development workshops designed to prepare instructors for teaching online.

The Teaching Online Workshop Series consists of four units:

  • Extending your Course with Blackboard Learn
  • Teaching with Blackboard Learn
  • Designing the Online Course
  • Teaching & Learning Online

The first unit of three workshops is designed to introduce the LMS and provides basic use as far as navigation, file and folder management, setting up a grade book and using common communication tools. The second unit (workshops 4 – 6) focuses on implementing assignments, quizzes, and online discussion. The third unit (workshops 7 – 9) introduces the Quality Matters standards in areas of learner engagement, measurable outcomes, and assessment. Finally, the fourth unit of three workshops focuses on design, especially in regards to accessibility, usability, and student support resources.

The hands-on, competency-based model is a natural fit for digital badges.

…digital badges [are defined] as “credentials that represent skills, interests, and achievements earned by an individual through specific projects, programs, courses, or other activities.” – Alliance for Excellent Education

according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Mozilla Foundation.

The report, “Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities Through Digital Badges,” examines how digital badges can be used to improve student learning and outcomes. It explains what digital badges are and how they work, provides examples of digital badges that have already been implemented, and speculates on the future of the system.

According to the report, digital badges are “credentials that represent skills, interests, and achievements earned by an individual through specific projects, programs, courses, and other activities.” They provide a digital hyperlink to information about the badge’s associated skills and the projects or tasks the badge holder has completed to earn it.

We considered three digital badge systems: Mozilla Backpack, Open Passport, and Credly. While all three require that awardees open an account with their system in order to accept their badges, Credly provides a preview of the badge at the time it is awarded. For this reason – and that they host the badges on their own server – we decided to go with Credly. We also liked the ease for sharing the awardee’s successes on social media including Mozilla Backpack, for which there is a building block in the next version of Blackboard.

We put together an organizational account for Lakeland Learning Technologies. The pro account permitted us to have a “verified account” – adding a certain level of authenticity. Awardees can share their badges on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Mozilla Backpack. We will be looking at integrating the badges with Blackboard in the next service pack upgrade.

Lakeland Learning Technologies on Credly

Lakeland Learning Technologies on Credly

Earlier this week we began offering the full Teaching Online Worskshop series in a HyFlex format to all full and part-time Lakeland faculty. In an effort to increase capacity we intend to recruit future workshop facilitators from those who have successfully attained a certificate of completion for the entire workshop series.


Smartphones and Voice to Text

Most of our students have smart phones and while they work great for looking things up on the web and playing YouTube videos and social media, writing using handheld technology can be cumbersome at best.

How to type diagram CC-BY by Crossett Library Bennington College on Flickr.

How to type diagram by Crossett Library Bennington College on Flickr.

The technology of voice-to-text is actually improving over time. It’s quite possible to effectively participate in a discussion or post an essay using a smartphone or tablet with just a little practice.

“Writing” from your smartphone maybe done using voice-to-text but it takes a little getting used to. If you simply dictate into your phone you’ll spend a good deal of time correcting words, breaking out paragraphs and inserting punctuation, capitalizing the first word of each sentence, etc.

With a little practice you can get the job done and potentially in less time than it takes to write an essay. By ending sentences with “period” or “question mark” and starting a new paragraph by including “new paragraph” in the dictation, the outcome is much improved. If you make a mistake, you can repeat the sentence and simply delete the error.

Dragon dictation is a free app I downloaded to my iPhone and iPad. I find it does a much better job of interpreting than a lot of other voice-to-text solutions. Because it makes very few mistakes dictation can be significantly faster than typing using a keyboard.