“Whole-Class Learning”: Engage all of your students

At eSchool News, we cover all aspects of the ed-tech landscape, including how new technologies are opening new doors for whole-class learning. Now, thanks to financial support from SMART Technologies, we have combed through our archives to produce a collection of articles, web links, and other resources related to the experience of whole-class learning with technology.


Students plug in, enroll in ‘iTunes U’

Students at the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry use their iPods and MP3 players for more than just listening to music–they also listen to class lectures and review notes with a student-run project that uses iTunes technology for academic purposes.

UM-Dentistry uses iTunes U, a free content-management system from Apple Computer, to post audio recordings of class lectures online. Students can preview a lecture recording, download an individual lecture, or subscribe to have downloads delivered to their computers or MP3 players automatically.

The program represents yet another example of how schools across the country are tapping into the digital music and media phenomenon created by the exploding popularity of Apple’s iPod and other portable MP3 players. And now, Apple says it is making its iTunes U available free of charge to any other school or university that wants to use it.

“We’re excited, as iTunes U allows learning to happen truly anywhere, any time, and in an environment that students are already comfortable with: iTunes and iPod,” said Apple spokesman Todd Wilder.

iTunes U is a free, hosted service for colleges and universities that provides easy access to educational content, including lectures and interviews, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Apple says. Through iTunes U, users reportedly can download content to their Macs or PCs regardless of their location. They can then listen to and view content on their computer or transfer that content to an iPod for listening or viewing on the go.

UM-Dentistry students can access iTunes U through any computer, using their UM identification and password. Under UM’s system, a designated student begins recording a lecture at the beginning of class and stops the recording when the lecture is over. That student then posts the lecture audio online as soon as possible.

“I’ve had zero complaints,” Lynn Johnson, associate professor of dentistry and director of dentistry informatics at UM-Dentistry, said of the school’s collaboration with Apple. “The students have it organized, and they’re doing it, and at the end of last semester there were more than 300 lectures on the web site.”

The project began in 2004 when first-year dental student Jared Van Ittersum wondered why electronic versions of class lectures were not available.

“He asked to have all the lectures taped, and at first all I could see were dollar signs,” Johnson said. Johnson and Van Ittersum discussed his idea with other dental school staff and decided to run a pilot to see how the program would work.

“If the students wanted this, they’d have to carry the weight of it,” Johnson said.

Johnson, a self-described techie, and a group of students worked with a pilot program consisting of three different electronic approaches. Lectures were posted online in video with audio format, PowerPoint with audio format, and as straight audio files. They then consulted download traffic on the school’s server logs to see which format students downloaded the most.

“We looked at the logs to see what the students actually used, and they wanted audio,” she said. “The server logs pointed to this, and it makes sense–they wanted the mobility.”

Dental students have no time, and their whole world is scheduled, so this allows them to review a class when they’re working out or doing other activities, Johnson said: “It’s really a time-management tool for them, very much so.”

Van Ittersum, now in his second year at the school, echoed Johnson’s thoughts, adding that graduate students need to use every free moment wisely when dealing with the school’s rigorous course load.

With that idea in mind, Johnson and her staff developed an audio-recording system using Apple’s eMac computer. Students then record each lecture via the computer using the classroom’s public address system.

“Whatever goes out over the speakers is being recorded, and at the end of the lecture that same student stops recording,” Johnson said. The audio file is posted online, along with the class title, lecture title, and professor’s name.

Students must get an instructor’s permission before recording the lecture, but Johnson said she has never heard of a faculty member saying no. She also emphasized that listening to a lecture on an MP3 player does not replace going to class–rather, she explained, listening to a past lecture builds on what the student initially learned during the lecture.

“Part of what we are here to teach is professionalism, and if they [the students in charge of recording] don’t get a lecture up, their peers wonder,” Johnson said.

There is no cost for students or schools to use iTunes U, but there is a cost associated with creating the podcast and uploading it, Johnson said. In total, equipment costs about $500, plus the cost to run network lines. This year, Johnson said, school staff spend about 15 to 30 minutes a week troubleshooting, down from several hours a week during the pilot program, which started last year.

“It’s really low-cost, and the return on the investment is extremely high,” she said.

UM-Dentistry’s library offers computer and headphone access for students without MP3 players, but Johnson said the school is in the process of getting iPods for students to check out. Johnson conducted a survey of this year’s incoming freshmen class and found that 75 percent of the 105 students had an MP3 player.

“This class didn’t know about the project, and if you have 75 percent of the students who didn’t know about the project come in with the necessary equipment, it’s going to be much easier to accommodate [students in future classes],” she said.

UM-Dentistry’s collaboration with Apple is proof that the technology could work all across the entire UM campus, says James Hilton, UM’s associate provost for academic, information, and instructional technology affairs. Hilton hopes it will be easy to take UM-Dentistry’s system and integrate it into a university-wide, web-based educational tool, if others want to try it.

Johnson said UM-Dentistry’s approach to the situation was the exact opposite of Duke University’s 2004 approach, in which Duke gave every incoming freshman an iPod and encouraged professors to incorporate the technology into their teachings. In April of last year, Duke announced plans to scale back its high-profile program after the experiment received mixed results from students and educators. The initial experiment reportedly cost the university upwards of $500,000 (see story: Duke pulls back on iPod initiative).

“I’d like people to see that we started with a learning dilemma, a learning problem, and we did research before we came up with a learning solution,” she said. “We did the research that pointed to the tech solution.”


Apple iTunes U

University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry

Duke pulls back on iPod initiative


Arbor Springs’ student broadcast wins grant

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Arbor Springs Elementary School has been awarded a $17,500 technology grant from Best Buy, and has the chance to win $250,000 more. The school was one of 36 schools nationwide awarded the grant for demonstrating innovative use of technology in the classroom. The school won for its student-run broadcast program, the Gator News Network… (Note: This site requires free registration)


Students hit the podcasts

The New York Times reports that students at Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse, Wis., are producing and syndicating a series of podcasts over Apple’s iTunes music store. The diverse podcast topics include music, science and study aids, among others. They are cited as an effective learning tool because of the variety of topics discussed as well as the hands-on experience acquired from producing them… (Note: This site requires free registration)


Help eSchool News by becoming a “Conference Coorespondent”

If you’re going to FETC or ASCD conferences in Orlando and Chicago, you can help fellow educators around the world by volunteering as an eSchool News “Conference Correspondent.” All you have to do is send eSchool News informal reports during the conference, describing what takes place at the free workshops, and your analysis will be featured throughout the conference on the eSchool News Online web site. These reviews let you keep your colleagues at home informed while giving the presenters valuable feedback.


Google: China decision painful, but correct

Reuters reports that Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin’s decision to self-censor its Chinese search system followed a change of heart, predicated on the notion that “more information is better, even if it is not as full as we’d like to see.” The search giant, whose corporate motto is “Don’t be evil,” previously refused to comply with censorship demands from China…


Disney purchases Pixar

News.com reports that the Walt Disney Company announced that it is paying $7.4 million in stock to purchase Pixar Animation Studios. The deal puts Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Disney’s board of directors. Pixar shareholders will receive 2.3 Disney shares for every share of Pixar stock they own, making Jobs the largest individual Disney shareholder…


Wikis test students’ research skills

The rise of Wikipedia and other communally aggregated reference materials on the internet has created a new set of challenges for educators: How accurate or reliable are these sources for student research, and what kind of policies should educators set regarding their use?

The emergence of Wikipedia and other similar online reference tools is too recent a phenomenon for most educators who spoke with eSchool News to have formed clear policies that address these sites, and opinions vary widely as to how useful or reliable such tools are for student research. But the educators we spoke with did agree on one thing: No matter what approach schools take, the use of these resources and their growing popularity underscore the need for students to learn and practice solid information-literacy skills.

“Wikis” are collaborative web sites that represent the ongoing, collective work of many authors. Similar to a blog in structure and logic, a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete, or modify content that has been placed on a site–including the work of previous authors–using only a browser interface.

The most popular and well-known of these sites is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that allows anyone to post a new entry or edit a previously existing one. Drawing on the knowledge and experience of a vast community of users, Wikipedia boasts approximately 3.2 million articles in more than 200 languages. Since its launch in 2001, it has grown into a clearinghouse of free information on topics ranging from medieval art to nanotechnology.

But critics say its strength–the fact that anyone can post or edit a listing–is also its greatest weakness. Unlike content published in newspapers, books, and other traditional media, Wikipedia material can be submitted by just about anyone, regardless of his or her knowledge of the subject matter–and often without having to volunteer any identifying information.

This lack of accountability was demonstrated in November when John Seigenthaler, a one-time administrative assistant to Robert Kennedy, complained in an op-ed piece published in USA Today that a biography of him on Wikipedia claimed he had been suspected in the assassinations of the former attorney general and his brother, President John F. Kennedy. The erroneous, even slanderous, information reportedly appeared on the site for about four months before it was removed.

Less than a week after Seigenthaler’s op-ed piece was published, Wikipedia tightened its submission policy. The site now requires users to register before they can create articles, said Jimmy Wales, founder of the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based service. But site visitors still will be able to edit content already posted without registering.

Wales said he hopes the new registration requirement will limit the number of articles being created. While it won’t prevent people from posting false information, the new process will make it easier, he said, for the site’s 600 active volunteers to review and remove factual errors, slanderous statements, and other material that runs afoul of Wikipedia policy.

The Seigenthaler episode notwithstanding, such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule–at least when it comes to science. In a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, Wikipedia was about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, according to an article published Dec. 14 by the journal Nature (See related story: Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica–at least on science).

Traditionalists, however, remain skeptical of Wikipedia’s reliability as a reference source.

Linda Williams, president of the American Association of School Librarians, says communal online resources such as Wikipedia “aren’t acceptable resources for students–but perhaps they will be in the future.”

Yet, for educators, the challenge isn’t going away any time soon. According to the web traffic rankings site Alexa.com, Wikipedia ranks second in popularity among all reference sites, trailing only Yahoo and ahead of popular resources such as MapQuest and Encyclopedia Britannica Online. What’s more, Wikipedia is the 37th most visited web site overall, Alexa says.

Instead of pretending that Wikipedia and similar sites don’t exist, experts say it’s important to help students understand and practice good research habits.

Educators need to teach students “how to evaluate information in all respects,” said Della Curtis, coordinator of the Office of Library Information Services for Baltimore County Public Schools. Curtis said students need help in distinguishing between sources, and part of being a “knowledge worker” is teaching them what the most appropriate sources are and helping them determine the reliability of sources.

Tom Hoffman, a former teacher who maintains a blog in the Ed-Tech Insider section of eSchool News Online, believes that a few “old-school” skills are necessary to help evaluate these types of online resources: close reading and the use of multiple sources.

Students should be taught not to rely too much on a single source and to cross-reference sources against each other, Hoffman explained. He also said educators “don’t stress careful, close reading of text as much as we should,” and he notes that students should be careful to check the editing history of entries posted on sources such as Wikipedia.

Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey and another Ed-Tech Insider for eSN Online, summed up the dilemma facing educators in a blog entry posted last fall:

“Our whole concepts of accuracy and trust and truth are being challenged and redefined. This feels like a huge shift for educators,” Richardson wrote. “I don’t think we can fight these changes; the question becomes, how do we best navigate them?”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

See also: Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica–at least on science




American Association of School Librarians

Baltimore County Public Schools

eSN Online Ed-Tech Insiders