Eliane Stampfer just finished giving a talk called A Difficulty Factors Assessment of Fraction Representations. One small vignette: you can’t always assume your students have enough background knowledge to handle an assignment, even if that background knowledge is mind-numbingly basic.

For example, in a study on students’ ability to solve fraction equivalences and additions with and without illustrative pictures, it turned out that many students- about 20%- interpreted the equals sign ‘=’ as “write your answer here”, not as “the left side is the same amount as the right side.” So even on the most dead-simple equivalences, those students provided incorrect answers. And these were fifth and sixth graders, not kindergarteners! How many literate adults do you think there are who don’t understand what an equals sign means? Could it be as high as 20%? The thought is stunning.

I don’t think Eliane mentioned this term, but the phenomenon of teachers missing these super-basic stumbling blocks is known as the “expert blind spot”. It’s something you need to be wary of any time there’s a computerized tutor or intervention of some kind. Any system which is going to be deployed to more than a handful of students really needs to be piloted to find out where these super-basic misunderstandings and mistakes creep in. If you don’t catch them before deployment, you risk a massive flop as students struggle in ways the system isn’t designed to cope with.

Here’s an example from my own experience: I made a vocabulary tutor program for ESL students, and the design of the tutor assumed that students would be able to correctly spell the words they learned. Arabic speakers have severe and persistent difficulties spelling English words, however, so my Arabic-speaking students quickly became frustrated that their correct words were being rejected due to incorrect spelling. The point of the tutor was not to train spelling abilities, so this was a very unfortunate problem! I felt very bad for my students, but it was a valuable learning experience for me. I’ll be careful not to make the same mistake again!

Hello, Futurenauts!

As a member and researcher of the Pittsburgh Science of Learning center, I’m currently attending the National Science Foundation’s inter-Science of Learning Center conference in Philadelphia. It tends to showcase research that isn’t quite “classroom-ready” on the spectrum of educational research; for example, the most recent talk was about the common neural substrates of mathematical and reading skills. Interesting stuff, but unless you have a degree in neuroscience and a transcranial magnetic stimulation device in your classroom, there’s probably not much practical application from a teacher’s standpoint! Still, if I see something which looks relevant to our mission here at Future Imperfect, I’ll be sure to post about it.

A teacher’s complete guide to using Google Voice to collect classwork and homework

This entry will guide you through the process of setting up and using a Google Voice account for the purpose of collecting spoken homework, such as for a language class. After reading this guide, you will be ready to configure your Google Voice account and collect your first round of homework. The focus of this entry is not to give an exhaustive list of all the contexts and ways in which Google Voice can be used in education, however! Use your creativity and share your ideas in the comments. 🙂

Google Voice is a completely free service which gives you a local telephone number with voicemail service.

Students can call your Google Voice number from their own phones, be directly connected to voicemail, and record messages up to three minutes long. You can then listen to their recordings on any computer and even e-mail your students their audio files with your feedback.

To create an account:

  1. Go to http://voice.google.com/
  2. Log into a Google account. I suggest using a separate “professional” account rather than your personal Google account.
  3. You will see a message saying Getting Started: Set up your Google Voice number.
    1. Choose “I want a new number.”
    2. Type in the area code that you want, click “Search numbers”, and choose any one from the list. (The listed location of the number, such as “Oakmont, PA” or “Clairton, PA” is not important.)
    3. On the next page, choose a four-digit PIN for your voicemail and accept the terms and privacy policy.
    4. On the Add a forwarding phone page, you must type in your own normal phone number for now, whether it be for your private cell phone or for an office phone. Don’t worry- we will remove it again soon so that this Google Voice number acts only as a voicemail inbox.
    5. On the Congratulations! page, click “Finish.”
    6. On your Google Voice inbox page, click on the gear icon toward the top-right of your screen and choose “Settings.”
      1. Under “Forwards calls to:”, uncheck the box next to your private phone. This will ensure that when students call your Google Voice number, they are directed immediately to the voicemail box.

To set up your outgoing voicemail message:

  1. On your Google Voice inbox page, click on the gear icon toward the top-right of your screen and choose “Settings.”
  2. Click on the “Voicemail & Text” tab
  3. Click on “Record New Greeting”
    1. Type in a title for the greeting (optional) and click “Continue.”
    2. Under “Phone to ring,” Select your private phone from the list. Click “Connect.”
    3. Your phone will ring. Answer your phone and follow the instructions to record your greeting. You might want to say something like this: “Hello, {Language} student! This is your teacher, {Name}. Please say your name and then record your speech after the beep. Thank you.”
    4. Close the “Record your greeting” popup on your computer.
    5. To test your voicemail greeting, click the “Play” button next to the “Voicemail Greeting” item on the “Voicemail & Text” settings tab.

To share recordings with your students:

  1. On your Google Voice inbox page, find the recording you want to send to a student.
  2. Click on the blue “more” button.
  3. Choose “email”.
    1. Type in your student’s e-mail address, a subject line, and a message.
    2. Click “send.”

Things to consider when implementing Google Voice in a language course:

  1. Make sure students have phones. It’s good to double-check that your students have some kind of phone access before giving them a Google Voice assignment!
  2. Keep the recording limit in mind. The maximum length of a Google Voice voicemail recording is (a frankly quite generous!) three minutes. This ought to be enough recording time for most small homework assignments, but be careful not to use this method for speeches which may exceed three minutes.
  3. Using Google Voice to collect herpetology homework. Photo: Twak, CC-BY-2.0

    Make sure students say their names. Include that instruction in your voicemail greeting message. There’s nothing worse than getting three or four anonymous recordings and then painstakingly trying to match the sometimes poor-quality recordings with your students’ voices. Most of the idiomatic features which make our voices unique are in very high frequency bands, and phones filter those frequencies out entirely. That’s why it’s so easy to mistake your aunt for your mother on the phone.

  4. Use Google Voice inside or outside of class. Your Google Voice voicemail box is a wonderful tool for enabling students to make recordings outside of class for homework. However, during class, it can be used to record multiple simultaneous speeches or role plays. For example, I sometimes give my students an impromptu speaking topic, give them half a minute to collect their thoughts, and then direct them to call the Google Voice number all at the same time to record their responses.
  5. Allow for students’ ability to prepare their speeches. Keep in mind that you cannot control how long students take to prepare their speeches outside of class, so for assignments intended to test a student’s on-the-fly language performance, this method should be used sparingly—perhaps only at the beginning of a semester.
  6. Assess content, not pronunciation. Collecting pronunciation homework over the phone is not ideal because phones filter out or compress so many frequencies. Because of this, Google Voice pronunciation exercises could be good for practice, but don’t rely on it for assessment.

Have you ever used Google Voice to collect spoken homework? If so, what was the assignment? How did it go? And if you haven’t tried it out yet, what activities in your class could you use Google Voice for? Sound off in the comments!

Further Reading:
February 21, 2013Permalink 24 Comments

Tips for Living in the Cloud

This guest post by Derrick Waddell was previously published in his blog, Teach the Cloud.

Photo by JD Hancock, CC-BY 2.0
Photo by JD Hancock, CC-BY 2.0

I live and work in the cloud, and over the past few years, many people have joined me there.  There has also been a lot of reluctance to move into cloud computing from people who are afraid of turning over control of their data to companies with giant server farms.  Understandable.  For the most part, though, cloud computing is just as safe and secure as your local machine, and the benefits far outweigh the concerns for me.  If you are reluctant, though, or are new to the cloud and still trying to find your footing, here are a few tips to help you.

1. Be smart with sensitive information
When you’re computing in the cloud, you’re essentially using someone else’s computer.  Whether you’re storing documents on Google’s servers using Google Docs, storing your images on Yahoo’s servers using Flickr, or simply opening documents on someone else’s computer using an iPad app that touts cloud-based Microsoft Office, your stuff is Continue reading