Exploring byte-size teaching: 7 ways

1. Second Life: A virtual world online

“Meet me on iLEAD Island” may soon become a common phrase for students in the program. Somers and Bouzar have been working with a vendor to develop an entire iLEAD island within Second Life, complete with buildings, offices, classrooms, meeting space, and “outdoor” theater. Somers and Wheeler already are on the island, represented by avatars they created. Bouzar is similarly represented, ready to provide whatever technical assistance is needed.

When this microcosm goes live this fall, each iLEAD student will create an avatar as well. Through their avatars, students will be able to chat with each other, exchange documents, watch videos or PowerPoints their instructors set up, conduct a meeting, or listen to lectures. The entire class can log in from their homes (or favorite coffee shop) and yet—through their computer screens and the magic of Second Life—they can sit together in an outdoor theatre, listen to a professor’s lecture, and have a discussion.

What’s in it for students: Apart from the fun and novelty factor, it gives them the convenience of attending class no matter where they are. “It also gives our students another way of understanding technology,” notes Somers, “and how they could use it in their own classrooms” as teachers.

The advantage for teachers: “This is another point of relation with the students,” says Somers. “The virtual world provides flexibility and convenience, and if it makes students less self-conscious, it may prove to be a way to engage them in more extensive discussions.”

2. Alternate reality games: role-playing leadership online

Ever wish you could have been graded on how well you could play a game? iLEAD students are now getting that opportunity, thanks to an alternate reality game. An ARG merges real-world artifacts with clues, puzzles, and dilemmas that are posted online. Students work with each to solve the problems—in this case, helping to turn around a failing (invented) school. The students assume the role of the principal and face such problems as gangs, angry faculty members, and an aloof superintendent.  After the students create an outline and come up with a plan to help the failing school, the project is submitted for a real grade.

The game utilizes videos, e-mails, and documents, all of which are managed by iLEAD faculty. The faculty serve as “puppet masters,” determining the consequences of student decisions as they play. “This game is designed to immerse students in an experience in which they will need to use their acquired leadership knowledge and skills to help out the pretend school,” says Somers. iLEAD contracted with Scott Warren and Chris Bigenho of the University of North Texas to develop the ARG.

What’s in it for students: An ARG is a fun way to let students collaborate to solve problems. Students can practice solutions before trying them in the real world, while honing their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills at the same time.

The advantage for teachers: Teachers can control and modify much of the game, allowing them to challenge their students or help them to rethink a situation.

3. Wikis: A group project solution

Need to work on a group project with five classmates who aren’t around? Not a problem. Thanks to wikis, students can go online to a Web page and work together without actually having to be together. “A wiki is a common collaborative workspace,” Somers says. “If you know how to use Word and e-mail, then you can use a wiki.”

What’s in it for students: Each member can post notes, videos, podcasts, brochures, and links to other websites, and each person can edit the content. Students also can chat with each other on the wiki using a form of instant messaging. Content designed in the wiki can be used as part of another project. For example, students can compile notes and photos on the wiki and then use that information to create a printed book.

The advantage for teachers: Teachers are able to see which students are accessing the wiki and gauge the frequency and quality of their contributions to content and discussion.

4. vLeader: a simulation game that builds leadership skills

Somers and Wheeler are writing the book—literally—on how education leadership programs can use this program, which was developed for business students. Created by SimuLearn, vLeader features a corporate scenario requiring the player (the student) to make decisions about which course of action to take with employees. Each decision determines the next encounter. At the end of the game the student is scored on leadership style and effectiveness. “This is used to teach people how to be leaders,” says Somers, “and it’s used to bridge the gap between theory and real-life experiences for aspiring leaders.” After the students complete the scenario, they have an hour-long phone call with an expert from SimuLearn who analyzes their performance and provides feedback. “This saves time in the classroom, and provides a safe place for students to make mistakes,” explains Somers.

What’s in it for students: Aside from making the learning process fun, it provides immediate feedback and helps students explore their own management style in a non-threatening environment.

The advantage for teachers: It provides yet another way for the instructor to present or reinforce information, acknowledging that students have different learning styles, and is a unique assessment tool to gauge how well students are internalizing what they’re learning.

5. Skype: Free phone calls on a computer

The ability to make free phone calls over the Internet is changing the way students in the iLEAD program check in with their fieldwork supervisors. Each semester, they are required to have three conferences with their supervisor. Thanks to Skype, they can accomplish that via computer. “We’ve been using the heck out of Skype,” says Somers. “Last semester, one student Skyped me from home, another from school, and another from their vacation.” iLEAD has 40 headsets and 40 Web cams, allowing students to turn personal computers into phones—with live video.

What’s in it for students: Students, most of whom have full-time day jobs, no longer need to travel to campus or even meet during business hours.

The advantage for teachers: Teachers have greater flexibility in scheduling, and work with students who are less stressed.

6. Adobe Connect: software that creates a virtual classroom

Because most students in the iLEAD program are working full-time jobs, fitting all the important lecture material into an evening course schedule is a challenge. With Adobe Connect, lectures and presentations can be recorded and played back at any time. A teacher sets up a webcam and records a lecture. At the same time, the teacher has access to a virtual white board, allowing him or her to draw on the board or to write notes. The lecture is saved and assigned a URL, creating an easy link that can be e-mailed to students. When students play back the lecture, they see the video of the teacher in addition to any notes that were written on the white board.

What’s in it for students: Missing class doesn’t have to mean missing the lecture. Though there’s a distinct advantage to being part of the discussion, sometimes absence from class is unavoidable. Now the student can catch up by listening to the lecture later—straight from the horse’s mouth. Adobe Connect also can be used to create real-time virtual classrooms, allowing students to log in and participate in a conference, lecture, or class.

The advantage for teachers: Usually instructors have more information than they can pack into the lecture schedule. Recording lectures that they don’t have time to deliver in class enables them to cover the material; they can assign these e-lectures as part of the course requirements or offer them as extra credit. The ability to conduct a live lecture in a virtual environment provides extra flexibility for scheduling without compromising the ability to write on the board, have a discussion, or even present a PowerPoint.

7. SMART Board: a whiteboard with a memory

If you’ve ever wished that a lecturer’s notes from 30 minutes earlier were still on the board, you’ll understand one of the advantages of interactive whiteboards. These are replacing traditional chalkboards and whiteboards in many classrooms. Wirelessly linked to a computer, the SMART Board displays what’s on a computer screen. The surface of the whiteboard is touch-sensitive and can be “written” on by four digital pens that use digital ink. Teachers can record each step of a lesson for students to review later. Teachers also can create lesson plans that involve anything from YouTube videos to photos to typed notes that can be projected easily onto the Smart Board.

What’s in it for students: Interactive whiteboards can make a lesson more engaging, but if your mind wanders in spite of yourself, you can go back and review the part you missed.

The advantage for teachers: Teachers can bring a variety of resources together at the touch of a finger—PowerPoint, YouTube videos, and other Web resources, plus material stored on a laptop—while adding notes or diagrams in the course of a lecture. This flexibility, as well as the ability to teach to different learning styles, make interactive whiteboards an attractive instructional tool.

Glossary

iLEAD UIndy master’s program (Inspiring Leadership in Education through Application & Dialogue), equipping new school leaders with knowledge and skills for today’s schools.
Web 2.0 an umbrella term for interactive information-sharing and collaborating online, as opposed to passive viewing of web content.
avatar a movable icon representing a person in cyberspace or virtual reality graphics.
interactive white board an area on a display screen common to several users, on which they can write and draw; a teleconferencing tool enabling visual communication.
wiki a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users (from Hawaiian wiki-wiki, ‘quick-quick’).
URL uniform—or universal—resource locator, the address of a World Wide Web page (e.g., www.uindy.edu). Letters are pronounced; doesn’t rhyme with “hurl.”
instant messaging the exchange of typed messages between computer users in real time via the Internet.
webcam a video camera that inputs to a computer connected to the Internet so that its images can be viewed by Internet users.