Saturday, November 28, 2009

Google Forms

Two responses to my query on Twitter about getting feedback from students. Moodle has some kind of feedback module, apparently, but I don't know if we have it. I had not seen it when I went poking around earlier, and my e-mail to the Moodle administrator was not answered. So I went with Google Forms.

And it is great.

I made up my questionnaire and e-mailed the link to all my frosh. I wanted to know about certain aspects of a project that I had done in a new way recently. The responses have already started, so I know some of my students check e-mail on the weekend!

There's a spreadsheet that shows all of the responses together, and a summary page that has bar graphs and percentages.

I think I need to transfer the course evaluation to this format.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I didn't even know the word "backchannel" a year ago.

Last year during the presentations in Catholic Theology I had the students who were listening take notes. I was trying to encourage paying attention while their classmates presented, but at times it seemed that students were more focused on writing than active listening. They were almost transcribing, and copying down PowerPoint slides that were too wordy (despite my guidelines).

So, a bold experiment (for me). First, following Germaine's idea, no text on the slides. Just graphics, and the titles of their subtopics. And, I had the class on a chat website during the first presentation day. Write at least one comment, or ask a question, I said.

Some of the comments were simple affirmations ("I really like the slides" or "that story was AMAZING"), and while I had hoped for something a bit more substantial relating to content, I think the speakers probably appreciated those when they got a look. But there were some other comments that were closer to what I was looking for, and there were some good questions. It's possible that some of the good stuff came from a couple of students who are not usually very vocal in class. It also helped spark some of the conversation after the presentation.

I asked for reactions. They seemed to like the idea better than note-taking, anyway. One student said that it helped her to focus on what was being said. That is perhaps counter-intuitive. I used to think that the idea of a sort of conversation going on while someone was speaking was a bit... rude. So it was a bit of a leap to try it. I think we'll continue the experiment for the rest of the presentations.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Angels on Moodle

Okay, have a couple of links to articles on angels posted to Moodle, that expand a little on what we discussed. And, started a forum: one question about angels and another about "church," the topic of the chapter we are on. I'm not assigning it for now. I want to see if students will make use of it anyway, just because they want to share opinions. I don't expect that, really, based on past experience, but they looked interested when I introduced it.

Too bad we're doing a hardware upgrade this weekend and the site is inaccessible until at least this afternoon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Yesterday in a freshman theology class, someone brought up the story of the angel Gabriel and the announcement to Mary about Jesus, and then, based on whatever I said in response to the question, there were yet more questions, about angels. A teachable moment, right? A topic in which they are genuinely interested.

When all was said and done,I had a sense that some were not satisfied. The thing is, I don't know everything there is to know about angels. And the information I supplied them with just left a couple of kids wanting more. I am pretty certain. But we moved on.

Here's the thing. Every student had in front of her a laptop connected to the collective consciousness of the world (you know, the Internet. I'll dispense with my Borg analogy for now). You get the point. Information at their fingertips. I am not the repository of all knowledge. So why did I feel I was the only one who could answer their questions? Why did we ignore those machines sitting on their desks?

There are issues that raises, like whether freshmen can find good information on the web. Oh, right, if they don't learn that here, where will they learn it?

So, I'm just brainstorming here. Provide some links to good websites? Talk about filtering all that info on the web on day 1 of the class? Every student getting the Diigo toolbar on day 1 so that they can share what they find of the things they are interested in?

Yesterday was a teachable moment. But not as much for the students as for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Moodle madness

Oh, what a tangled web we weave... when we try to do everything on Moodle. Moodle is good, don't get me wrong; I use it extensively. But I have an assignment where each student records a podcast, and two other students listen and evaluate according to a rubric, as well as do some summarizing. The original assignment gets points, and the listening gets points. I had the girls submit their evaluations on Moodle. Some are Word documents, some PDF's because they could not open the Word version. Now I can't get some to open for me, AND, I can't figure out a good way to get each student's evaluations (submitted through two other students) back to her.

I believe I will have to give up "paperless" for this one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Passionate about teaching

According to blog posts I've been reading lately, I as a teacher am supposed to be pursuing my passion through social networking. Fishing, or birdwatching, or basketball, or whatever. I know at least one teacher who does that.

But I'm already investing hours into reading tweets about ed tech, and chatting online about ed tech, and bookmarking, sometimes skimming, blog posts about ed tech, and planning lessons that integrate ed tech. Then there's my daily life, and once in a while I squeeze in some minutes to read a novel.

That's it, I think! Only so many hours in a day. I think we're going to have to call ed tech my passion for the moment.

Teaching tech?

Alison wandered into my office the other day to ask, "When you did that podcasting assignment with your classes, did you ever get to a point where you felt like you were banging your head against a wall?"

She has a way with words. And she spent more class time than I did explaining what to do. I just gave them videos and instructions on Moodle and sent them to the tech guys. But there were plenty of problems. The answer was yes.

At points I feel like I am a tech teacher and not a religion teacher. If the content is taking a backseat, something is wrong. The tech part should be seamless, some of my Twitter colleagues have said. I don't teach the tech, a colleague says. They teach each other.

It has also been said that the kids are all tech savvy, and that is just not true. Some are, to a point. Some of them don't know any more than I do, and some know less about certain things. So how much class time is it reasonable to give up?

I don't have to teach my students how to type, or how to construct a decent sentence in order to have them write a paper. Do I need to be the one to teach them how to download Audacity and LAME? (Assuming I have figured it out for myself?)

Just wondering.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Staff in-service

Thought my colleague Larry did a great job planning and presenting. He presents other places, too, and preps all that in addition to his classes. Amazing.

I'm sure some folks are overwhelmed by all the information. I am to a certain extent myself, even though I was familiar with much of what was shown. Being familiar is not the same as making use of the full potential of something. And some things Larry talked about I haven't touched yet. There is so much out there.

I hope that staff members don't feel they have to immediately do everything. Pick something that looks interesting or useful, and explore.

And, if we started to utilize just one of the tools presented today to communicate more within the building, that alone would make the day a success, I think.

Looking ahead

Next semester I want to focus on making some connections outside the classroom. I'm not sure yet how I will go about it! In Catholic Theology, the chapter on "church" seems ripe for that, and maybe for a project of some kind.

In Peace and Justice (new prep), I want to do that for sure. What better way to get up-to-date information on the issues we will cover than through the internet and through people to whom my students can connect through the internet? That's the class where I plan to launch into student blogging in some way, too, though my plans are modest.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


What's the deal with students who are "forbidden" to enter a Google site I specifically invited them to? There's a lot of that. Now I have had students e-mailing me things which I then upload to the site. But we have to fix the problem, or they won't get there to see what their classmates have done.

I have these sites closed right now because I'm worried about privacy concerns, and in some cases, copyright issues. But I want to do some of that differently in the future. I want the students to have a wider audience for their work.

What about these .aup files? what happened there?

Why is one freshman pair's photo story over the limit to upload when at least three others chose that format and had no difficulties? It doesn't seem so much longer -- maybe the effects they used?

I'm thinking of dumping the paper/presentation for Catholic Theology all together for next semester, and designing a project or two tied more directly to the material we cover. The topics are so... random, with some overlapping what we cover in class but others not. A lot of energy expended, and maybe better spent elsewhere.

I'm happy with the results that I've seen and heard so far from these assignments. Just have to work out the technical issues, because they take away from attention to the actual product.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on the podcasts

Just checked my school e-mail and answered about a half-dozen e-mails from Prayer students on the eve of an assignment due. They were supposed to listen to two other podcasts, and they can't find them all. Days after the things were due, we're still figuring out stuff, or students are absent...

I have to say that last year with Gabcast it was nothing like this. Very smooth. Hopefully I will learn enough to do it better this way in the future. Because Gabcast now = $.

Funny how I would never think of letting students disturb me at home after school hours on the phone. But e-mail is okay. I like that I can be accessible this way.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Four Google sites. Open to the class, not the public. Prayer students uploaded mp3's. Got a .wav or two, and a couple of .aup's. We'll try to figure that out during an off day tomorrow.

Frosh: some difficulties getting into the site. Some already had Google accounts but with e-mails other than the school e-mail, so the website did not recognize and authorize them to enter. Maybe some other problems, too.

I am very, very much in favor of having frosh set up Google accounts with their Mercy e-mails at orientation. If we're going to use this technology and these laptops, let's just get one step out of the way. I'm not the only teacher using Google apps.

One student couldn't upload her photostory because the file was too big. "It's really long," she said. And truthfully, I don't even know how much my Google site will hold and whether the various projects will fit. A little bit of trial and error here.

So, not everything is uploaded yet. But what I've got so far, I like! I gave a choice of formats because I hoped the girls would pick something they are comfortable with, and could be creative with and have some fun. And in many cases, I think that has happened.