Digital Literacy: Communication

Digital Literacy is often defined as many things:

Most of these fall within the categories defined here under 21st century learning as well:


But I’ve become interested in the Communication facet the most. At my job we use Slack to communicate. One thing that makes slack so powerful are the integrations it has – and the ability to ignore things you don’t need to see and bring to your attention what you do. EG: whenever pull requests are made on github there’s a channel to see those without having to go to a separate webpage… web meetings can now be started straight from slack… there are bot integrations to find images and other information straight from slack as well. (although to be honest usually these are more fun than anything else).

Separately, Social Media is becoming more and more interconnected with hashtags mainstream and even on Facebook. Instant Video with Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope, not to mention Snapchat is truly revolutionizing the scope of what can be seen and when. Our students growing up today will never understand when one only saw video of the worlds events on television at a set time and channel. (Eg the 90’s and before!).

One thing I constantly am trying to convince the teachers in my Fresno Pacific classes is the changing nature of communication both professionally and with students – and how we need to not necessarily always be trying out the latest fad, but be thinking about how we can use the latest tools for our own educational needs. Example: Live Video (Periscope, Facebook) means I can watch a concert for free via someone’s phone… or learn from someone presenting at a conference (given they are ok with it). Or why not broadcast my college course classes live if it’s something that might be useful to others? These issues haven’t been fully explored (and if you read this Angel or Jeanne, I haven’t done that!) but should be… the age of instant knowledge has been upon us, and in the past couple of years instant video and augmented reality have arrived as well. There are privacy implications as well as amazing use cases for this.

For me personally, I learn a lot on twitter when people share ideas. I don’t think I would know about Hyperdocs without Twitter as an example! I see the idea of personalized PD coming soon as social networks get more interactive but we’re not quite there yet… twitter is still too hard for the beginning teacher to participate in I feel like – although sites like and Tweetdeck go a long way towards organizing the constant flow of content to make things more workable.

In conclusion, Communication is probably the most invested-in concept of our generation, so it’s going to be amazing to see how those investments change the fundamental nature of our human interaction in the coming years!

Quick ideas on Questioning

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago during the #MTBOS blogging initiative, and also in relation to the university classes I teach. I feel all of these would be completely appropriate and possible with upper elementary on up. This particular post was inspired by a Voxer group I just joined.

    1. Instead of in-class presentations, have students create screencasts of their interactive presentations and make them interactive with Zaption.
    2. Have students create TED talk-style podcasts and use Soundcloud to comment on them along the way. I’ve found that when focusing just on the audio, you can get a tighter presentation. I also once made them submit to me two different files – their practice essentially – then they were supposed to listen and resubmit! This worked VERY well even if it was annoying to them…
    3. In Google Classroom/GAFE, have students grant comment-only privileges and share with one another – what you grade is the comments/questions they ask about each others’ presentations. In math this might look like, “Is this the most efficient formula to use?” or, “What other ways could you have tried to solve this?” etc.  (Note: Not my screenshot/got it from Google)

What are other ideas you have?

Ditching Textbooks for Higher Ed

A lot has been said about ditching K-12 textbooks in favor of 3-act tasks, innovative websites, and digital learning platforms.  But this blog post isn’t so much about that as it is how I’ve managed to evade using an expensive textbook in my higher education classes that I teach.

The great thing about a textbook is that they’re consistent. They’re the same from one year to the next, and a course can be planned around that consistency. For the past 3 years, I’ve planned my higher education courses around a few different PDF’s instead. They’re not the same each year, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Currently my class (technology for student teachers) is planned around PDF’s from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Specifically, the 4C’s – Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication. I have my students read each PDF and write/turn in Notes using a program called Mendeley, which was a life-saver when I was writing my own masters thesis in 2013. Exporting notes is a great option to capture student thinking… and make sure they read and reflect on the entire article.Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.16.26 AM

The hard part about relying on PDF’s (the current set of readings was only published in October 2015!) is that I need to constantly update the class, but I feel especially for higher education, it’s necessary and makes for a better experience for students!

With tools like Mendeley, the extension Kami and other real-time collaboration tools, anything more than six months old doesn’t need to be used in a higher education class when we’re trying to educate tomorrow’s leaders!

Thank You PiApp

About six months ago I became aware of an app called Pi. ( It was at its core a chat program designed for higher education. Similar to Slack (and Hall) before it was bought by HipChat) which I’d first heard about and used in my consulting work with, I enthusiastically embraced it for my classes at Fresno Pacific University.

But before I did, I was invited to talk to their social media manager Jon Koop and AJ Nelson, one of the founders. We talked about my philosophy towards education and I talked about why I wanted to use their app in my class. Over the summer we participated in twitter chats with other faculty and talked about how we envisioned it being used. I fully used it with my masters-level class CRI 709 this past Fall, unsure after all this talk how it would actually play out.

My students (for the most part of course) loved it. Being able to converse during the week for a fully online class created a real community for those who chose to be a part of it. Some of my most tech-apprehensive students found themselves answering questions by the end of the class, and students began organically sharing tools on their own. pi

Yes, I could have had a twitter chat set up. But many of my students are very new to that and wouldn’t have been able to jump right into it as they were to Pi. Plus the confidentiality factor of being a closed group was important to many.

I’m sad about seeing a fellow startup end, but the lessons learned will live on. I am thankful to the employees of PiApp for being a part of the testing, discussions and beta testing of PiApp. I’m going to try Ryver this next semester, but already I’m disappointed in the interface (too much going on for what I need).  Either way, my classes will no longer be bound by the LMS I’m using or once a week video chats for sure! Conversation and community in online classes is the best part about teaching, and with asynchronous communication tools, it can happen!


Using Mathematica for Teaching Part 1

When I was an Undergrad at Fresno Pacific, I was introduced to Mathematica for the first time.

I immediately loved it. I enjoyed of course the mathematical abilities of the program, but also how it was very much (well, is) a programming language too. When I became a teacher, I stopped the need for programming in mathematica but loved Wolfram’s Demonstrations. Especially with a smartboard, they were a great way to illustrate to my students certain mathematical concepts long before Desmos came along and when Geogebra was not nearly as mature as it is now. (Back then, Geometers Sketchpad was king!)

So I’ve long thought of ways to use Mathematica in the classroom. Now that coding/programming is all the rage, I couldn’t help but think recently how mathematica could be used in secondary classrooms or before to teach both programming concepts and math.

For example this page talks about graphing in mathematica. The command is:


Thus, students are taking a look at the function, the input variable and the importance of domain etc when graphing.

Down the aforementioned page is also an interesting teaching application.


Click for copyable input


The graph curves themselves are now linked to further information (from MathWorld) that students can click on for more information. This could be used in the context of transformational geometry applications, changing slope, etc.

I’m just starting to think about this, mainly in the context of my work at OpenEd. Wolfram says soon they’ll have their Demonstrations online without the need for a browser-based plugin, so they will be more easily accessible for virtual manipulatives for students and teachers alike.


Upcoming Math Conferences

For the first time, I’m able to take time to attend the CMC conferences South and North this year! Previously I wanted to go, but either couldn’t afford to attend or couldn’t take the time off work because this was always the end of Water Polo season.  I’m going with OpenEd’s blessing but specifically to do some work for CMC around generating more buzz on social media.

My goals:

  1. Meet people from the #MTBOS: I have interacted with on some level but have not met Andrew Stadel, Robert Kaplinsky, Fawn (I know she won’t be there) Nguyen, and others that I know might be there. I also hope to connect with fellow adjunct professors of math or education technology, as the Fresno Pacific side of my life is something I really enjoy and am quite involved with as well.
  2. Recharge with mathematics: I had a chance to go to a CMC Executive Board meeting last month, and just being around fellow passionate math educators was amazingly refreshing. I’m the only math teacher at OpenEd and last year doing PD, I didn’t get to do near as much math training as I wanted.
  3. Connect: I’m going as part of trying to help CMC better unify its branding across the internet, so will be helping users get on twitter and engage with one another during and after the conference. Booth 104 🙂 We also have some awesome “twitter frames” people can use to post on twitter that have the hashtags #CMCS15 and #CMCN15

I’ll be getting in Thursday evening and leaving very late Saturday night (my family will coming down part of the way and staying with relatives in Los Angeles – I waited too long for a hotel so am at a Motel 6 somewhat nearby).  So it’s sort of a bonus trip for that, although it’s a long drive from San Jose to Palm Springs in total so we’ll take our time getting back!

Hope to see you there!

Enhance and Extend the Online Experience in Higher Education

Teaching fully online classes is great for most students, but on the other side of things it’s been hard to have those spur of the moment discussions that lead to real breakthroughs in understanding or lead to otherwise uncovered topics that end up being exactly what the students need.

In Fresno Unified we started using Yammer a couple of years ago, but as a teacher it wasn’t very useful because the constantly-on nature of it was not practical for teachers who were tied into a certain schedule. But it at least gave me a context for the ‘end of email’ kind of communication.  When I started consulted at OpenEd last summer they used a tool that allowed the same – even more important for a team that has never met in person before!

Now I’m very excited for my Fall semester of class to take this concept to my class. I’ll be using a product called PiApp which applies the idea of a, “useful chatroom” to higher education. I had tried todaysmeet sessions before, but studen’ts didn’t seem to find it useful and/or I got very little engagement. With PiApp I will be able to have office hours, have students themselves host discussions on targeted topics (instead of boring/one dimensional Forum posts is my plan). Sure, you can use Twitter, but I want students to feel completely safe and for some topics, don’t feel the public forum is the better forum.

Engaging college students in higher-level discussions on sometimes targeted, sometimes not will help everyone. I plan on using this to introduce the concept to my students:

This semester we will be using a live-chat service called PiApp to extend and enhance the online class experience.

My office hours will be X-Y pm every Xday on PiApp, but the general forum is open for discussion at all times! With PiApp, you can:

– ask questions and get answers

– Post links, images, documents

– Favorite posts you really like and reply individually to certain topics. 

If you have a question on something instead of emailing me or reading the syllabus you can ask your colleagues and often get an answer sooner. 

For more information there is a video here on how to use it, and know that participation is mandatory in addition to your Moodle materials. If you feel uncomfortable with this platform please let me know, or want to go through a webinar before using it please let me know. Please go to and use this code to sign up:  

PiApp also hosts a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday at 4pmCentral time using #PiChat   -very engaging chat among adjuncts/thinkers on different higher-ed topics.

Can’t wait to see it in action and feel more connected to my students!


OpenEd – Usage in College Education Programs

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I learned about OpenEd in the summer of 2013 while looking for flipped-learning style videos for my 7th grade math classes. After years of going to school at Fresno Pacific University, in the summer of 2013 I was asked to be an adjunct faculty member. Specifically, Education 644, a one unit technology in education class for student teaching candidates.

I received the course shell from the amazing Stacey Stansberry and the first semester, didn’t change much of anything! But I eventually focused the 8 weeks and 4 class sessions I had available to me on four main areas:

1) Google Apps for Education

2) Digital Storytelling tools

3) Assessment

4) Presenting their Technology Based Lesson Plans

The part I’m going to talk about in today’s blog is Assessment. I started incorporating OpenEd into my previous professional development presentations in the Fall when doing a training session with new teachers. They wanted to know about flipping the classroom, and I told them they really shouldn’t need to make their own videos – OpenEd already had it organized! Then as OpenEd starting making assessments, the coast was clear. I had Adam and Lisa Blum, two of the founders of OpenEd, do a webinar with my student teacher candidates in the spring of 2014, and became very intrigued by the company and its philosophy of assessment to instruction.

The assignment I gave on the most recent iteration of my EDUC 644 class had them take two assessments from OpenEd that I had assigned. I gave them access to the teacher account to be able to view the Mastery Chart.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.27.37 AM

Next, I asked students to put themselves back as the teacher looking at this data and analyze it to make meaningful instructional choices. Teachers are able to see individual student answers from this view as well as resources viewed by students in response, so I got some very detailed responses.

According to the statistics in the class mastery chart I will need to conduct a full class review of “Write Claims and Counterclaims”. The class average for this assessment was 43% which is far below mastery. No student reached the nearing mastery level of 70%.

This particular student went on to explain that offering the same content in a variety of instructional methods Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.41.29 AM might be more conducive to  some students. In addition, because OpenEd allows the teacher to assign resources to that student before they come to class the next day, a student could in effect get a head start on the learning through the use of the technology available.

Other things I’ve tried with my student teachers is creating a formative assessment tool matrix and analyzing each tool’s strengths and weakness as part of an overall discussion of ed-tech effectiveness. However I found that was a mostly meaningless task because it should never be just about the tool being used, but the “why” of the tool and if it is being used to help teachers and students or just is shiny and new.

This kind of thinking demonstrates that student teacher candidates were able to quickly look at assessment data and make the needed adaptation to instruction. Doing this in the university setting allowed for more time and sharing of responses to the mastery chart on a forum (Moodle) where others could learn, comment and even disagree on next steps. The week after this assignment, we were able to talk about it on context and highlight that too often as teachers we see data, but aren’t able to uncover the root causes of the poor or stellar performance. OpenEd makes it easy to re-assess students, help them with specific misunderstandings and bring the entire class to mastery of a topic through personalized learning.