Do we really know that adding technology to learning works?

Am I smart yet?

Is it the tool or the technique?

At the Education Rethink blog, John Spencer makes the argument that tech integration in K-12 has been slow because the stakes are too high – teachers do not feel comfortable experimenting with new methods because of pressure to succeed with their students.  I get that and I think he is right to a certain measure.  We do need a more professional environment where teachers are trusted to develop new and better ideas and approaches.  Other reasons are also mentioned, such as the need for PD, the lack of time to learn and a few other legitimate holdups.  I like what he has to say.

But it got me thinking about my own classes and about the teachers I talk to daily.  I responded with what is below and I wanted to post it here so you can pick on me rather than on John’s excellent blog.  Here is what I said over there: Continue reading

Lecture Capture on the Cheap – Part 2.

Another successful lecture experience

This is the second part of my post on lecture capture.  You can find part 1 in the previous blog entry.

After a week in class, my lecture capture bugs have been worked out.  I wanted to give it some time because things rarely go smoothly and they didn’t here, either.  I discovered some elements were not in place and I’ll share what I’ve learned.

For me, the biggest factor was finding a good microphone.  Screen capture is not an issue, there is a killer app for that.  Camtasia Studio is a software package that has been around a few years – it does the screen capture well, and will sync a voice over that.  The software is sold by Techsmith and they are a company committed to selling products in the education space.  They have a collection of how-to helps and videos.  Even more impressive, if you shoot them an email, you get a personal response right back, often complete with personal praise for the way you are using their product.  Techsmith is a great resource and there is no software I know that competes with Camtasia. Continue reading

Lecture Capture on the Cheap – Part 1.

Are we asleep yet?

I keep seeing those stats on the low viewer numbers for the lectures put online by UC – Berkeley and MIT, the stats that show us that people will prefer to spend buckets of money for tuition even when they can get the same for free by watching the lectures on Youtube or downloading to their iPhone.  Nobody is watching those videos.

That may be right about the general public but I’ll wager heavily the students in the classes are watching.

I started making problem solving videos for my chemistry classes 8 years ago.  I purchased the first version of the Sony Vaio because they (supposedly) offered breakthrough technology that made video creation a snap.

Ha!  Creation was cumbersome and slow but I found that when I got something up online, numbers greater than 85% accessed the videos for help.  My school (University of Idaho) has always offered great internet access – I know, Idaho? It’s in the sticks.  But check out the facts, Yahoo put us in the top five for educational access when they started measuring these things in the dark ages. Even though access was slow relative to today, students put in the time to download these videos and use them.  I learned their value as instructional tools back then and I am even more confident they are useful tools today.  Not so much as the primary means for providing content but as a super  source of notes, or to fill in blanks or to provide feedback after practicing alone.  That is the real proof – do students use a resource.  But I’ve also tracked performance in class and students achieve better scores when I can provide more resources.  For example, I’ve done experiments where I offer a homework assignment that serves as a pretest.  In one case I provide video that walks viewers through each problem step by step and in the other case, the students are left on their own.  I then give the two groups an exam over the same learning objectives and the video group has performed 22% better.  That’s significant.  I haven’t been able to tease out whether the important factor is the video or simply providing more resources but the simple answer is clear, the more resources, the better.  It might be that the students do the work with video and without, they rely on a friend to feed them answers.  I’m not sure of the reasons yet.

So this year I am committed to putting all of my lectures online, which takes us back to the beginning of this post.  I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and I am crazy jealous of the Berkeleys and MITs that can do it.  Faculty at each of those schools call the IT department on Tuesday and a camera crew shows up on Wednesday to record the whole thing.  That is the way it should happen – tuition is high at those places, they can do it. Continue reading

What can a student expect from my introductory chemistry course for non-majors?

Chuck doesn’t need to know chemistry. But you are not Chuck Norris.

Among other duties, I teach large lecture classes of introductory chemistry at a land grant research university. The course I have “earned” (by generating the fewest number of student complaints, I am sure) is the course for non-science majors. It serves as a general science core course in our curriculum. Every graduate of my university must take at least two science courses, one of which requires a lab. This list includes courses such as the ubiquitous Astronomy and Geology courses and the less common Environmental Science. The first two are well-known in the US system and strive to create an exposure to scientific method and are relatively low-stakes courses. The Environmental Science course awards enrolled students significant points towards their total grades for attendance. That also makes the course pretty low-stakes. These courses can be difficult to compete with for student enrollment who are not highly motivated to work hard and actually learn college level material – which is the case for many students fulfilling university general requirements. I am happy to say enrollment in my course is growing fast – so fast, a second large lecture had to be added this year. Continue reading

Does the content level preparation of high school teachers matter?

Yes, it does, at least for High School Chemistry.

[note: I recently added more data to this study and reworked my stats.  The average GPAs quoted in this study are barely changed and analysis shows that the average differences are significant to greater than 0.99 confidence level.  I expected I would need much more data to reach this conclusion but with differences in GPA that large, the effect is real.  I will continue to add data but I do not expect any changes, other than the differences will probably grow.]

The following graphic is a copy of a brochure that describes preliminary results of a study undertaken at UI in my Chem 101 – Introductory Chemistry course. The study tracked student performance of students who had previously taken a chemistry course in the state of Idaho while in High School. The state of Idaho has a majority of rural school districts. It’s challenging to find highly qualified teachers in STEM fields. In order to staff the positions in rural districts, Idaho has relatively light educational requirements in chemistry and physics. For example, the majority of Idaho teachers deemed “highly qualified” to teach chemistry have an endorsement in Physical Science or in Natural Science. These two endorsements value a broad teacher preparation over content specialization and the result is that a chemistry teacher can teach with as little as eight college semester hours of chemistry and in some cases, as few as four. The study described below was undertaken to discover the effect of this reduced teacher content preparation on student success in college.

Click on the image to increase the size to a more readable format. The brochure is meant to read in columns across the page. There are two individual pages to enlarge – top and bottom.