With such a wide variety of cloud tools available, it is possible to find a tool to fit just about every teaching and learning situation. To instruct, engage and inspire my students I lean heavily on YouTube for videos. For example, for Biology I can find videos that are serious (e.g., Neutrophil Phagocytosis) or entertaining (e.g. Amoeba Sisters: Mitosis).

One of my favourite online tools for collaboration is Google docs. Students can access their document from anywhere and sharing files with students (or between students) is simple. Digital mindmap tools such as Coggle and bubbl.us are also great collaborative tools, allowing students to visualize connections using images and colours rather than simply text. Creation of a mindmap could be assigned to a class in preparation of a unit (show what you already know) or as a summary of what they have learned.

Symbaloo  is a wonderful organizational tool for students working in an online environment. It can be challenging to keep track of the various websites used for different courses, and symbaloo provides a visual way of organizing weblinks. Teachers can create a symbaloo (webmix) that includes classroom links tailored for a specific lesson or course that they can then share with their students. This tool is also a great way for students to curate their work, creating an e-portfolio.

Assessment of student progress can take many forms. One way for students to show what they have learned is through the creation of a website or blog. I have used Weebly and found it easy to use. Through Weebly, students can reflect on their learning and post artifacts that illustrate their understanding of a topic. If students need to hand in an assignment, and posting it on a Weebly site is not appropriate, Dropbox is an option. However, a disadvantage with Dropbox is that you cannot send feedback to the student through this same dropbox; another method of communicating needs to be used (e.g. email). Students can self-assess with Quizlet, an easy to use flashcard interactive website. Instructors can create flashcards for the students to use, but I have found it effective to have the students create a set of flashcards as an assignment to share with their classmates.

For inquiry based learning, I would like to further explore TedEd. I am intrigued by the multimedia approach provided with this cloud tool. ‘Dig Deeper’ questions encourage students to seek out additional information to supplement the main lesson. Students can also self-assess with the quiz feature and participate in discussions with their classmates. Discussion questions can be designed to further encourage higher-level thinking. These mini-lessons can be built by a teacher to match specific course curricula and could be used as an introduction to a topic, as the main lesson on a topic or as a review.

One drawback to consider when using cloud tools is the digital divide. Not all students have access to the same technology or services and will not necessarily be able to fully participate in all online activities when not at school. Some tools may require high-speed internet connection or use large files that take a long time to download. This can make it challenging for students that live in areas of poor connectivity, are unable to afford a high speed connection, or are using older hardware that is not capable of working with larger files. Choosing tools that allow the user to work offline would help alleviate this problem. As the level of technological skills in a class is varied, an instructor may consider using tools that are simple in design and intuitive in their use. Tools should not be used simply for the sake of using the ‘newest, shiny toy’. It is important to carefully consider how the tool will help the student meet the learning objectives. It may also be necessary to limit the number of tools introduced to a class; too many may be overwhelming to students.

Despite these drawbacks, cloud tools can be used to improve or enhance the online learning experience for students. By incorporating a variety of media, different learning styles can be addressed and a topic can be approached from many angles. Students also have access to a range of ways to show what they know, and can choose a tool that best supports them in illustrating their learning. Cloud tools may also increase student engagement and interest in a topic or course by encouraging interactivity and collaboration. By becoming part of a learning community, students may be more likely to engage in active learning.

They can just use a computer on campus.

This is a common response when I bring up the challenges of using technology in my courses. I teach a blended biology class, where students have an online lesson one day each week. Often a student’s computer is their cell phone. I challenge any educator to complete an online class using only a tiny cell phone screen! Technology would benefit my literacy math class, but the digital divide is even more prevalent with this group of students. A ‘digital divide’ is unequal access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) due to geography, socioeconomic status or knowledge (Wikipedia, 2014).

According to the Canadian Federation of Students (British Columbia) (CFSBC) (2013), the proportion of aboriginal students in ABE is higher (at 12%) than in traditional K-12 systems. This student population identifies as visual or graphic learners and ICT can support this method of learning (Thiessen & Looker, 2010). However, 71% of ABE students live on an annual income below the poverty line, even though half are employed full-time (CFSBC, 2013) and only 58% of households with incomes $30 000 or less have access to the internet (Statistics Canada, 2012). Students believe they learn more using computers than from reading books or watching TV (Thiessen & Looker, 2010), but without access at home they are required to remain on campus outside class time. Since 29% of ABE students support a family while attending school (10% as single parents) (CFSBC, 2013), class time may be the only time they have in the day. I see the value in using technology in my classroom, but I still struggle with how to create an equal learning experience for all my students. Seeing the statistics has made me realize how challenging this may be.

 

References

Canadian Federation of Students (British Columbia). (2013). Adult Basic Education: A gateway to post-secondary success (Fact Sheet). Retrieved from http://cfs.bc.ca/section/50

Thiessen, V. & Looker, E.D. (2010). Chapter 3. Bridging and bonding social capital: Computer and Internet use among youth in relation to their cultural identities. In E. DianneLooker & T.D. Naylor (Eds.), Digital Diversity (pp. 59-86). Retrieved from https://d2l.viu.ca/d2l/le/content/56545/viewContent/622563/View

Statistics Canada. (2013). Canadian Internet Use Survey, 2012 http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/131126/dq131126d-eng.htm

Wikipedia. (2014). Digital divide. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide