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February 26, 2012


What Could You Do With a $300 Grant?

Three hundred dollars isn’t a lot of money; nevertheless, this question is kind of a mute point anyway since my college doesn’t currently encourage us to be innovative with teaching and learning by offering grants. We have nothing, so most teachers do nothing. The district offers learning grants, but you can’t use any of the funding to buy software or tools, so you basically have to write the grant to pay you for your time, and then use the money you earn to buy software or tools. It’s not a very sustainable solution considering some of the tools are web apps, and you’re paying a yearly subscription, not a one time fee.

So I’m going to do a little dreaming. If I had just $300 to spend on teaching and learning each year, this is what I would buy.

First, I teach Freshman Composition and all my courses are eCourses, 4 online and 1 hybrid. In keeping with the Quality Matters standards for online courses, I try to use technology and instructional materials in accordance with the recommendations from the QM rubric. Here are the QM Standards I try to meet with the tools I select to use in my courses

  • Assessment & Measurement
    • 3.1 The types of assessments selected measure the stated learning objectives and are consistent with course activities and resources.
    • 3.5 Students have multiple opportunities to measure their own learning progress.
  • Instructional Materials
    • 4.1 The instructional materials contribute to the achievement of the stated course and module/unit learning objectives.
    • 4.4 The instructional materials are current.
  • Learning Interaction & Engagement
    • 5.1 The learning activities promote the achievement of the stated learning objectives.
    • 5.2 Learning activities provide opportunities for interaction that support active learning.
  • Course Technology
      • 6.2 Course tools and media support student engagement and guide the student to become an active learner.
      • 6.5 The course technologies are current.

As I spend my imaginary $300, I will tie in how each tools helps me meet the QM standard listed above for added benefit. I will also discuss how would use the tool to help my students meet the objectives of the course.

My first purchase would be VoiceThread. The Manager account costs $99/year and comes with 1 Pro account and 50 Basic accounts (student accounts).

A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways – using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam). Share a VoiceThread with friends, students, and colleagues for them to record comments too.

In my online courses I like to have class discussions to “provide opportunities for interaction that supports active learning.” Each module includes at least one discussion forum. These forums, especially when I used Blackboard, where boring, dry and full of meaningless text from students. I’ve tried for years to come up with ways to make these interactions more meaningful and engaging for students. VoiceThread (VT) is a simple answer. VT gives students 5 ways to participate in the discussion and it gives the instructor a way to focus on several different points within one discussion.

Not only can I use this tool for class discussions, I can also use it for content delivery (think boring PowerPoint presentations). VT “supports student engagement and guides the student to become an active learner.” This is so because students are invited to participate in the presentation by adding comments and feedback about their understanding while they watch the presentation.

My second purchase ($201 left) would be for GoSoapBox for $90/year for up to 100 concurrent student users. GoSoapBox is a new instant student response system (think boring and expensive clickers). It allows teachers to gauge student understanding or confusion levels throughout a lesson, poll students and track the data for future reference. It can be used on laptops, tablets and smart phones, which sets it apart from some other clicker/student response systems.

GoSoapBox is used during class to break down participation barriers, keeping students engaged, and giving teachers insight into student comprehension that was never before possible.

What I get for my hard earned $90 is:

  • Student-ranked Questions
  • Discussions
  • Confusion Barometer
  • Polls & Quizzes
  • Advanced Data
  • 24/7 Access
  • 15 GoSoapBox Events

My third purchase ($111 left) would be for CreateDebate which runs for $99. I’m starting to see a trend here in educational pricing for web tools. Anyway, CreateDebate is “a user-driven social debating website which serves to facilitate discourse on topics of users’ choosing. CreateDebate combines social networking technologies with debating and voting in a social and democratic nature” (Wikipedia).

CreateDebate is an integrated and dynamic virtual learning environment that will stoke the discussion and participation in your classroom!

Since I teach argumentative writing, this site works well for getting students engaged in active debates about current events. They can demonstrate use of rhetorical devices and identification of logical fallacies in the arguments presented.  This course activity and resource would be the “type of assessment selected to measure the stated learning objectives” for the course, which is to “organize writing to support a central idea through unity, coherence, and logical development appropriate to a specific writing context.” CreateDebate increases participation, promotes critical thinking, and improves the vocabulary and persuasive writing skills of my students.

So with $12 left, there’s not really much I can buy with that, so I could just not spend it. The point is for under $300 I can get some valuable tools to help me engage my students in the learning process, as well as teach them using current technologies that also teach 21st Century Skills that help students to learn to think and work creatively and collaboratively. I can see the value in these tools, so as there is no such thing as the $300 grant at GCC, I’ll probably be digging into my own pockets like I always do to fund my innovative ideas for teaching and learning. I think my students are worth it.

  1. Todd Conaway
    Feb 26 2012

    You are one thoughtful, committed, inspiring, and awesome, person and teacher.

    • soul4real
      Feb 27 2012

      Thanks Todd!

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