Take Web Reading to the Next Level with Docentedu

Here’s the scenario, I’m at home reading my favorite Sunday morning newspaper on my Chromebook, and I come across an article that fits perfectly with the unit we’re currently studying. Pretty exciting, right, to find a current event that connects with the novel we’re talking about? Then, I start to consider the workflow. I’ve got to get a hard copy of this, and then I’ll need to make sure that I get into work early to make the copies I need. Hope no one jams the machine before I can get at it. Oh, and I’ll also need to write some questions and get those typed up and make copies of those for everyone.

Too much work!

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But, there’s a solution.

I want to make a plug for a great tool that’s helped integrate technology with my reading instruction. For about a year now, I’ve been using a Chrome extension called Docentedu. (Full discloser, I am an Docentedu ambassador, but not just because I get to put the badge on the bottom of my blog, but because I sincerely love this product.)

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This tool allows me to embed questions into any web-based text. Below, you can see a screenshot of what this looks like both before and after the Docentedu extension is enabled.

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Once students are logged into Chrome, logged into Docentedu and installed the extension, they can easily access the class you’ve created, see the docents, and then get to work reading, and answering questions. It’s great that you can set open-ended questions as well as multiple choice. Like working in Google Docs, Docentedu automatically saves the answers to the questions for the students and aggregates responses for you to mark.

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When the reading and questions have been completed, it’s easy to go into your teacher account and mark in a variety of ways. You can mark responses by student or by question. Because you set the answer to the multiple choice questions, those responses are automatically marked for you.

After the questions are marked, it’s possible to download a CSV file of student scores. I love this feature as it allows me to see a class average and to see how students did with the reading.

Because you can add your own notes to the webpage as well as embed videos from Youtube, using Docentedu creates a one-stop shopping for students. Recently, my IB English 11 students read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and I used Docentedu as the tool for this reading. I found a decent copy of the essay on-line, then embedded the pre-reading activities at the top of the webpage–these included a Youtube video by another English teacher doing a background lecture to Swift and some notes of my own to help establish the socio-cultural context of the essay. I was also able to share this with a member of my department who specialized in Irish literature. He was able to help me craft my questions and add something to the background that helped students with this challenging piece of writing.

I did something similar in my “Media Maker” class with Tony Hawk’s “This I Believe” essay. I was able to embedded videos of him skating, as well as pre-reading questions for the students to hook them and activate personal and prior knowledge.

With the wealthy of great readings in the public domain, and our school going to a 1-to-1 technology integration with Chromebooks, this tool will be essential. Also, I think we’ve moved passed the age where there wasn’t always great content to read on the web and with major media outlets. Certainly, in this day and age, there’s so much great writing and content on the web. In “Media Maker” we’re only looking at web-based texts and writing and creation intended to be read online. When I am reading in print, and find something I might like to read with my students, I jump on the web, find the text and save it in my Docentedu account. 

Similarly, because we’re an enterprise level Schoology school, I can create pages in my class, and use Docentedu on these pages. It’s a great way to leverage the power of two different tools in one package. Also, we use a number of databases through our library for student research, Docentedu has worked great for getting students to interact with the articles there. I’ve done this with model essays that I want my students to grade. 

The one-stop shopping is important to me, because I find that students get confused when they have to go multiple locations on the web as part of an assignment. I would prefer to create a hyperdoc that keep students on one page and interact with all of the content that I put there.

To be honest, I haven’t worked with the annotation tool or the discussion feature. It’s a goal of mine this semester to work with those features. However, for the uninitiated, that those features are there is enough.

Last year, working for the first time with docent, some struggles and learning curves. It’s important to do the first couple of docents with students. Don’t simply assign them. My students have no idea what extensions are and were completely lost. I needed to take them through he process. Also, our network at school has this issue where the extensions, once installed, break when moving from computer to computer. Kids need to know how to install and uninstall connections. And, kids need to work in Chrome. That’s a habit that I have to beat into them as we move forward. Won’t be such a problem when were all working on Chromebooks in the near future.

Skip the Sunday night dread and panic of what you’ll be doing in class on Monday, and check out Docentedu today.

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Education on a Cloud

What has become one of my favorite Sunday morning habits–besides coffee, the New York Times, a good solid run, a walk with the dog–is to watch a TED talk. This weekend, I was, as educator, immediately drawn to Sugata Mitra’s “Building a School in the Cloud.” Not only does Mitra have an engaging speaking style that permits his audience to feel completely at ease and thoughtfully entertained, but also his talk is part of a wave of discussion about the future of learning and the future of schools. It’s great food for thought, and as someone who likes to think of himself as progressive and forward thinking, on first pass, I thought that Mitra nailed it. Certainly, as I lounged about my house on a Sunday morning in my PJs, it was nice to think education occurring where this was the dress code.

Mitra’s talk is clearly trending. My father, an educational consultant, watched it when I emailed him the link, and when I spoke over the phone with him about it, he told me that six of his colleagues had also sent him the link. As of today, just over 400,000 people had seen it.

When we consider the future of education in the twenty-first century, Mitra’s ideas clearly give us pause to consider: Are schools obsolete? Are the teachers and the materials once used to educate now becoming dodos?

As part of the blogosphere, noted educational blogger Vicki Davis, in her Cool Cat Teacher blog, pointed out that she had problems with Mitra’s research. Beyond this, Davis points out that while TED is thought provoking in its design and concept, it does not offer a chance to question. I have to agree. For all its slick panache, its cool stages, lighting, integration of speaker and presentation, we must just listen to the TED speakers. When is there the questioning? Where is the dialogue that might come of such ideas?

I use TED talks frequently in my classroom as models of research and as examples of great inquiry. At these times, the talks are not left simply to play. I’m there to facilitate some discussion and learning towards particular outcomes that I want kids to walk away with or as part of the inquiry in which we’re engaged.

Let me get back to talking about the cloud.

There needs to be a general call to warning about the stream of conversations that Mitra is part of. Do we really think that we can educate without teachers? It’s nice to think of adolescents as fully motivated to learn all of what we need them to without teachers. Is it really possible?

Are all of us that motivated? You can’t think of a time where you didn’t need a teacher to help motivate you or clarify your learning? Furthermore, how many people use the Internet for learning? Give an adult an iPad for an afternoon and are they going to read molecular biology? Or, will they surf their Facebook page and Amazon for the best deals and play cool word games with college dorm mates? I don’t mean to nullify the benefits of this technology, but I don’t think that we use the, in the ways the Mitra suggests we will.

While Mitra’s learning networks call them Grannies, they are still teachers who motivate and monitor the children as they learn. Smiling, grey-haired ladies pose little threat and certainly pose a warm, fuzzy feeling we believe would be the nicest of environments to learn inside of; however, sometimes I find students need something more forceful to motivate them. It is nice to think that all students, given a computer, will be motivated enough to learn the most complex of subjects, whether its molecular biology or the intricacies of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Is it plausible?

Additionally, we’re not looking to create a world of call centers where we need learning networks to help people improve their English pronunciation. The higher ends of Bloom’s taxonomy tell us that higher level think is more than just parroting. While in India, answering phones at a call center may be a job of status, if the United States is going to regain its position as a global leader, we have to ask more of our students than being operators.

It’s easy in the new knowledge economy, with a prevalence of technology in offices, stories about flipped classrooms, and schools that have moved to 1:1 technology programs for the public to misrepresent what teachers do in the classrooms. It’s false to think that teachers stand at the front of the room and lecture endlessly and act as the sole holders of knowledge. Education is in a better state than that. Beyond being content holders, they are also facilitators of that content. They have been trained to recognize when a student has not gone far enough in understanding a topic, they identify the gaps in these knowledge and skill levels, and then they prepare further facilitation to get the kids to continue to develop. This is the unique training that teachers are given that does not exist in other professions. Not all students are able to identify these gaps on their own.

Educational researchers and pundits and techno-savvy gurus love the idea of the utopia where everyone’s got a tablet and access to all of human knowledge paired with the cost savings of not paying for teacher’s salaries or pensions. However, let’s remember the place and work of what it is that teachers really do.