Happy Thanksgiving!

As this November draws to a close, we want to express our immensely gratitude for your support and confidence in us.  
On behalf of the entire SMARTdesks family, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  

Don't Drop the Pencil Yet: Why Writing Longhand is Still Important

Image of pen writing across keyboard
The so-called paperless society has long been an aim of futurists and technology innovators alike. As computers and handheld devices have proliferated in recent years, we’re closer than ever to making that vision a reality. But it turns out that there are some unintended consequences to favoring electronic devices over the printed page: namely, that writing longhand is a dying skill, and students lose a number of benefits as a result.
One challenge with respect to writing and technology is that, as indicated by some studies, handwriting is better for memory. It’s also the cognitive exercise that takes place with respect to writing longhand: it helps the student learn to read more effectively and, especially, to write more effectively. Writing a long-form piece such as an essay or report is a complex endeavor where a number of skill sets come together, including language production, the ability to form logical constructs, and memory retrieval. As writing longhand has become de-emphasized, and in some cases eliminated altogether, the results haven’t necessarily been favorable.
At this stage of technology adoption in the K-12 world, it’s obvious that analog and digital tools will need to live alongside one another. This is one of the driving forces behind furniture setups like our computer desks with FlipIT technology. It allows students to swivel the monitor into place when it’s needed, and stow it out of the way when they don’t, giving them access to the full range of desk space.
Ultimately, teachers need to use whatever mix of technology, whether it’s longhand or digital, that works best for the student.
(Source: EdSurge)

Does the Teacher Know Best? He/She Sure Does in China

Asian student at chalkboardA recent article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about an American family’s experience in the Chinese education system has gotten a lot of attention recently. Whereas in the U.S., where teachers are frequently questioned and challenged by students and parents alike, Chinese teachers tolerate none of it: they expect strict obedience from their pupils and support from their parents. It’s basically a teaching philosophy straight out of Confucianism and, as the writer shares anecdotally, an awfully good fit with Chinese communism.
The numbers help explain why the Chinese approach has its admirers. Chinese 6-year-olds crush their American counterparts in math and logic skills, and Chinese students are exceptionally successful abroad. It’s also worth pointing out that China’s societal emphasis on deference to teachers appears to translate to a higher level of respect for the profession in general than is found in the U.S. or Great Britain.
But the approach has its downsides: the writer indicates that Chinese education tends to discourage creativity, and some Chinese schools, realizing the deficiency, are trying to adapt. Moreover, as the WSJ article states, the Chinese approach just wouldn’t fly in the U.S., which places too high a premium on individuality and the ability to question authority.
All that said, the strengths of the Chinese approach to education, particularly given the country’s rise on the world stage, will probably continue to attract attention.

BYOD Alternatives for Classroom Polling

Digital alternatives for classroom polls and quizzes
During the course of a lesson in an active learning environment, instructors may want to conduct some type of classroom poll, which can get complicated in a BYOD (“bring your own device”) environment. Fortunately, there are several options available that allow students to participate in classroom polls while using their own laptop or tablet, or even a phone.

  • Kahoot – The company boasts commitment to keeping the product free, so responses are free up to 1000 participants. Additionally, results are exportable to Google Drive.
  • Poll Everywhere – Students can simply text responses using their phone. Instructors receive up to 40 free responses and one year student access is $14.
  • i>clicker REEF –  While this service requires students to bring their own remote, there is a 2 week free trial offered and students can obtain an access code for $15.99 that tracks their quiz answers for a year.
  • Audience Opinion – This is a simple app and is free up to 75 responses to professors with an “edu” email account.
  • Direct Poll – Easy to use and free up to 500 responses, this one is a great pick for large lectures.

Depending on the needs of the class and instructor, there is sure to be a choice that will seamlessly incorporate BYOD polling into the curriculum.
(Source: University of Delaware)

Open Source College Textbooks Going Mainstream?

Are open source textbooks becoming more widely accepted?
One frequent headache for the average college student is dealing with textbooks. They’re expensive, used copies in decent condition can be hard to find, and textbook companies frequently come out with “new” editions that are minimally revised versions of the previous edition.
But an initiative out of Houston-based Rice University could help change that. OpenStax is on a mission to provide openly licensed college textbooks, many of which allow for open contributions from academics. After launching their first textbook in 2012, they have expanded to more than 20 different books. In August, they formed an international partnership with the UK Open Textbooks project to help make its model available to students across the world.
But providing free textbooks is only part of the organization’s mission. Another major facet involves application of technology through online tools that help students practice and deliver personalized questions to help students fill in the gaps. And the best part for financially strapped students? All of this is free or available at a nominal cost, as low as $10 per course.
Of course, there will likely be concerns over content quality; schools won’t be interested in adopting this if it puts their accreditation at risk, regardless of how cheap it may be. But given that this is based at Rice University – one of the premier schools in the nation – OpenStax seems to carry some level of credibility. Moreover, this new approach should be compatible with colleges seeking to implement active learning techniques. With the right kind of active learning furniture in place, it could be a tremendous boost for any number of colleges and universities, particularly those serving low-income communities.
So the internet, having already disrupted numerous other industries, has now trained its sights on textbook publishers. Starving students across the world are likely thrilled.
(Source: Campus Technology)