Tag: technology

The Future of Writing is . . . Writing Brad Wilson's Alphabetical Take on the Future of Writing

Our students have an opportunity to write on an incredible range of platforms.  These include emails, texts, blog posts, and other more traditional platforms.  So, how does the plethora of platforms influence the teaching of writing?

Brad Wilson, in a presentation at the Michigan Reading Association’s 2015 conference, discussed the teaching of writing in this new technological milieu in this thought-provoking presentation, The Future of Writing.

Will Technology Make Teachers Redundant?

The short answer is, “Of course not!”  Teachers play a critical role even when students are engaging with technology within the classroom or at home.  Right from day one, when computers arrived on the scene in schools, educators have been grappling with how these new technologies can be used most effectively to enhance instruction.  Here’s an article that explores the intriguing role between teachers and technology.

Chromebooks versus iPads What's the best tech solution for schools?

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of visiting a number of schools in various jurisdictions around British Columbia and Alberta.  As a former teacher with a strong interest in the use of technology in schools, it’s always enlightening to talk with teachers about their tech set-up.

One particularly interesting trend I’ve seen is the move away from the traditional computer lab towards having mobile trolleys with class sets of Chromebooks. 

Another trend is the move away from iPads to Chromebooks.  There are a number of significant advantages of using Chromebooks over iPads.  Chris Hoffman’s article, “Why Chromebooks are schooling iPads in education” outlines some very compelling reasons for this development.

Can Technology Help Students Become Better Writers? Food for thought in the brave new world of Ed. Tech.

Although the question posed by an article in EdTech Magazine was, “Can Technology Help Students Become Better Writers?” a much more compelling question is, “How are teachers using technology to help students become better writers?”

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the National Writing Project, technology is used to teach writing by the use of wikis, websites, blogs, interactive whiteboards and various tools to help students edit their own work and review the work of others.

Missing from this list are a number of key elements for effective writing instructional programs.  The use of technology in writing instruction should also address:

  • how to motivate students to become engaged in the writing process.
  • how to develop the all-important skill of writing fluency (i.e. the ease with which a writer is able to generate ideas and put them into words.)
  • how to develop original ideas and think critically.
  • how to give students feedback on their writing so that they can become self-regulating learners.
  • how to cater writing assignments to individual needs.

All of these elements have been key in the development of the writing app COW.  Our goal is to provide educators with a practical and effective tool that enhances writing programs with the use of technology.


Bring Your Own Device Can this really work?

One of the major hurdles facing many teachers wishing to integrate technology into curriculum is, quite simply, student access to technology.  In visits to many schools and conversations with a multitude of teachers, so often, teachers voiced their frustrations in dealing with limited student access to technology– not enough computers or tablets, slow networks, and the list goes on.

One solution that’s been batted about is the idea of “Bring Your Own Device.”  This entails students using their own laptops, tablets or smart phones at school to improve access to technology during school time.

Is this really a practical solution for giving students greater access to technology for meaningful educational pursuits?  Are there too many potential problems accompanying this approach to make it workable?

Sherry Langland, a junior high school teacher in Edmonton, Alberta, spearheaded a B.Y.O.D. at her school.  Her blog post, “Our ‘Bring Your Own Device’ is a Success!” describes the steps her school took to make B.Y.O.D. a practical, workable solution to the challenges of giving students more access to technology.

Algoauthors and the Brave New World of Writing How Writing Alogrithms and Other Technological Advances Should Change the Way We Teach

Before reading any further, take this very brief quiz:

Did a Human or a Computer Write This?

If you’re anything like me, you were bamboozled on more than a few of these questions. The capacity for a computer algorithm to generate text is quite astonishing.

This immediately raises a few questions in my mind, including:

  1. What role will humans play in the future of writing?
  2. What implications does this have for writing instruction?

We’ve already seen a revolution in the world of writing with the advent of the word processor and its accompanying tools such as spelling and grammar checkers, autocorrect, and other text analysis tools. As we look back at these writing tools and ahead to what may be available in the future, what adaptations have we, as teachers and curriculum leaders, made in the teaching of writing?

  • Can we shift our emphasis away from the teaching of spelling, grammar, and other conventions when such tools are available?
  • How much time is spend with students maximizing their ability to use these tools to improve their writing?
  • With such tools to help with the conventions of writing, can more emphasis now be placed upon the essence of writing– generating and communicating ideas?

As technology advances, educators must be in a constant state of re-evaluation, questioning their instructional strategies, curriculum content, and fundamental classroom structures. In no curriculum area is this need for questioning more pertinent than in the teaching of writing. It’s this constantly shifting landscape that makes teaching relentlessly fascinating.

Oh, and by the way. This was written by a human.

Techno-gaga. Techno-lust. Techno-struck. Call it what you will.

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In the last post, How a 1200 Baud Modem Didn’t Change Our World, three questions were raised which educators have always needed to ask when considering the implementation of a new technology in schools. The first question was:

Does the technology address curriculum goals?

This seems like a hopelessly obvious question to ask. If it’s such an obvious question, then why isn’t it asked with the necessary regularity? The simple answer? Techno-gaga. Techno-lust. Techno-struck. Call it what you will.

Let’s define it as the state of being infatuated with the idea of using technology. Over the years, we’ve been wowed with the appearance of new technology, and the promise of how it will change education. Paradigms would shift, curricula would be redesigned, and the role of the teacher would be drastically altered. Appearing in schools was Logo, Hypercard, iMovie, Powerpoint– the list goes on. Amazing educational experiences for students, yet . . .

. . . they still have to learn to read and write. The reality of education is that fundamental literacy skills are still a primary focus of the curriculum. Many more areas of curricular concern have been added to the teacher’s proverbial plate. In addition to teaching literacy, mathematics, content areas such as social studies and science, the fine arts, and many others, teachers are now enlisted in the fight against childhood obesity, bullying, drugs, and other social problems. This is all to happen within the limited timeframe of the school day.

Given the present state of curricular pressures placed upon teachers, any new technology introduced to a school must address current curriculum requirements. Otherwise, it will go the way of past innovations and fall off that proverbial plate.

In designing COW (Creative Online Writing), Alieo Games has developed a tool for teachers that will enable them to effectively enhance the teaching of one fundamental curriculum goal: writing.

Using COW with students will not be an “add on,” but a valuable tool to get students motivated to write and receive relevant feedback upon the quality of their writing. COW provides an online learning environment in which students will not only improve their writing fluency, but also practice using elements of writing as taught by their teacher.

So, in answer to the question, “Does COW address curriculum goals?” the answer is a resounding, “Moo!” (Translated from the bovine to mean, “Yes.”)

How a 1200 Baud Modem Didn’t Change Our World Three questions educators needed to ask then, and still need to ask now.

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In 1989, a box arrived at the school. Inside the box was a 1200 baud modem. This, we were told, was our gateway to the Information Superhighway.

The Mac Classic in the library could now communicate with other schools around the world! This seemed absolutely amazing, especially given that we were still paying long distance charges on calls to the next town.

This piece of incredible technology had the promise to change the way schools worked. Students could have pen pals in Saudi Arabia! Questions could be sent to scientists anywhere in the world! The possibilities were endless. Classes would flock to the library to connect to the world. The place was bristling with excitement.

A dedicated line was installed in the back of the library office. Going online meant unwrapping a very long phone line all the way out of the office, over the circulation desk, and finally to the lone computer. It didn’t matter that twenty-five kids would attempt to huddle around the Mac Classic and try to catch a glimpse of the cryptic writing on the tiny screen. It didn’t matter because this was cutting edge technology.

Everyone listened with anticipation to that distinctive sound of the modem– the phone dialling, followed by a series of screeches, scratches, and buzzes. It was the sound of the future.

And then . . . the sound of a busy signal. The Data Pack port to the internet was shared by four schools. That social studies teacher up at the high school must be online again.

“Sorry, kids,” the librarian would say. “We’ll have to try it again later. Maybe we’ll have better luck.”

And, subsequently, whenever the librarian would do a demonstration of this amazing technology, fingers would be crossed, Hail Marys would be mumbled as everyone held their collective breath, hoping the technology would actually work.

It didn’t take long for teachers to give up. For the time, energy, and hassle, using the technology wasn’t worth it. The promises of educational technology were not fulfilled. At least, not for now.

Fast forward twenty-five years, and schools have obviously made huge progressive leaps in access to technology. Logistics have been streamlined. Teachers have become more technologically literate.

Still, in spite of these advancements, teachers still face many of the same fundamental challenges in incorporating technology into curriculum to enhance instruction.

Boiling the issues down, three fundamental questions must be asked when a technological innovation is being considered for implementation in a school:

  • Does the technology address curriculum goals?
  • Is the technology practical to use?
  • Does the technology enable students to learn in a way that is not possible without the technology?

The same three questions apply to those designing educational products for classroom and school use. Without carefully addressing all three questions, products in the realm of educational technology are doomed for a place on the shelf right next to that 1200 baud modem all covered in dust.

Inspiring Reluctant and Not-so-reluctant Writers to Write COW: The Gamification of Creative Writing

Creative Online Writing (COW)

COW is an online web app designed for students of all abilities in grades 3-8. The goal of COW is to improve writing fluency– the ease with which ideas are generated and put into words. This is accomplished by giving students a gamified writing experience to encourage repeated practice and develop creative thinking.

COW also provides teachers and parents with a valuable tool to examine student writing through the use of advanced text analysis algorithms.

How COW Inspires Student Writers

  1. Blasting Off with Prompts
    There’s nothing like a good prompt to ignite the spark of creativity. When a student begins a new writing session, they are given the opportunity to draw from a bank of highly motivating prompts to get their creativity flowing. They also have the opportunity to forego the use of a prompt and just get writing.
  2. Stretching Creativity with Bonus WordsEvery 40-60 words the student writes, a bonus word will appear on the side of the writing page that the student can choose to incorporate into their writing. By using a bonus word within their writing, students will earn Alieo Dollars. Attempting to incorporate these bonus words into their narrative greatly enhances a writer’s creative agility.
  3. The Incentive of Earning Alieo DollarsAs students write, they will be earning Alieo Dollars. These are awarded for:
    • a. every Bonus Word used.
    • b. every word over six letters used in their writing.
    • c. using a descriptive word from each of the five senses of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and seeing.

    We are currently working on an avatar system in which the student can use their Alieo Dollars to purchase items to customize their avatars.

  4. Writing up through the Levels: From Micro-Fiction to Epic SagaThe number of words the student writes for each story will be added to their accumulated word total. COW has a level system such that as students write more words, they’ll progress from the Microfiction level (1,000 words), to Short Story (7,000 words), to Novelette (20k words), and so on until they’ve written enough words to reach the highest level of Epic/Saga (200k words).
  5. Sharing With an AudienceStudents’ stories are saved on their own personal Bookshelf. Young authors using COW will also have an opportunity to share their stories with an audience of peers on the Class Bookshelf.

COW: The Teacher Perspective

When educators log on, they see a dashboard where they can set up accounts for their students all at once. Each time a student finishes a writing session, the teacher can view the text the student has generated, as well as text analysis which includes:

  • the number of words the student wrote
  • the number of words over 6 letters long
  • the number of sensory words used (e.g. sound, sight, smell, touch, taste)
  • the number of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, prepositions, and verbs used
  • what tense the student wrote in, that is, how many verbs were past, present, or future tense
  • average length of sentence

Such text analysis can prove to be extremely valuable in directing instruction for individuals and classes.

Educators can also set a classroom word count goal. As each student writes, they contribute towards this collective writing goal.

A Class Bookshelf (with all stories approved by the teacher) is a place where students, colleagues and parents can view the students’ writing.

How to get involved in the initial prototype test of COW

If you are interested in running a user test in your classroom, please contact exec@alieogames.com with the subject heading ‘[COW tester]’ and we’ll send you a username and password so that you can see for yourself what COW is all about.

We are in a very early stage of development where only the bare bone features described above are available. Our goal is to tack down what your biggest challenges are for improving language literacy and writing fluency in your students. Even if you do not have the bandwidth to test out COW in your classroom, please don’t hesitate to email us and talk to us about your experiences with evaluating student writing and what you do to get kids to write more.

Technical requirements to test

Each student needs a computer with the following requirements:

  • An internet connection
  • Chrome, IE 9+, or Firefox

About Us

Alieo Games (alieogames.com) is an educational games company. It was founded by:

Chris McMahen, a teacher and children’s book author from British Columbia
Kit Chen, Neesha Desai and Nathaniel Rossol, three Ph.D. candidates from the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta

© 2017 AlieoGames

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