Hi Tech Cheating – Do Your Kids Do It?

Note: this is a cross post from my Dad blog, but I thought the topic would be of interest to you as well.

Is this cheating?

Does your teenager have a cell phone? If they do, there is a good chance they are using it to cheat at school according to a new report by Common Sense Media.

Key findings from the report say that more than 1/3 of teens with cell phones admit to having used them to cheat at school, while over 1/2 of all teens admitted to using some form of cheating involving the Internet.

According to the report, we parents are living in denial. Not that this practice exists in schools – 76% of us believe that cell phone cheating is happening in school – but only 3% of us believe our kids are doing it.

Hmmmm, 35% of kids admit to doing it, but only 3% of their parents believe they are doing it. That is a big digital denial divide.

But really the question we as parents need to be asking is not whether our kids are cheating or not (although that is a very important question), but rather what is cheating? Perhaps it is time to take a long hard look at what we think cheating is in the digital age. If we do, then we might come to the conclusion that how we define cheating may actually be hurting our kids.

For example, is it cheating for students to collaborate with their peers to find the answer to problems? 1 in 4 of the students in the survey don’t think so and I tend to agree with them. After all, is this not what we “grownups” do in real life? When we need to figure out a problem, what do we do? We tap into our personal networks and fire up the web. Isn’t collaborating to figure out a solution to a problem something we want to foster in our kids?

And is it so wrong for students to use the most game changing educational tool called the Internet to find answers? I mean, why do we ask kids to pretend that this massively useful tool does not exist? Why do we insist that they need to be able to work inside a bubble to solve problems?

What I do have a problem with is a student taking someone else’s work and turning it in as their own. That, to me, is my moral threshold. But collaborating with their peers using technology to solve problems? That is something we should be rewarding, not punishing.

I realize this may seem like an extreme position to take, and it is fraught with a whole can of worms that educators have to deal with (not the least of which is how do teachers really assess learning), but I think we need to take a long hard look at how we define cheating in a digital age. If we do then we might just discover that what we think of as cheating is actually an essential skill our kids are going to need to thrive in a digital world.

Photo: Poor Marc Has No Idea She CHEATS! by Mr_Stein used under Creative Commons license.

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North Island College Remote Science Lab

I was reading Grant Potters account of the 2009 Canadian eLearning/ETUG Conference held last week in Vancouver and was highly impressed by a robotics project being done by North Island College.

One of the traditional challenges for remote students studying in lab based courses is how do you simulate the lab environment? The Remote Science Lab addresses that problem. A project of Ron Evans aege nd Albert Balbon from North Island College and funded by BCcampus and Inukshuk, the lab allows students to remotely control lab equipment by robotic arm through their web browser.

North Island College – Remote Web-based Science Lab from Devin Clarke on Vimeo.

Because this project was funded in part by BCcampus, the software is being offered to other to all BC post-secondary institutions who wish to explore a similar project.

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Anticipating my Masters

My first Masters residency at Royal Roads University begins in a few short weeks and I am in the process of getting my spaces – both physical and head – in form and ready for the next 2 years. To say I am excited is a vast understatement. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

Lately I have been pondering about what it is I want to get out of this experience. There are the obvious goals –  knowledge, better career opportunities, a degree and professional credibility (not that I believe a degree on its own brings credibility, but in my experience credibility is very difficult to archive without those letters behind your name as a starting point). But beyond that I am also trying to set some deeper, more personal goals ahead of the experience. I am also trying to take a hard, objective look at what I think are some of my strengths and weaknesses.

Goal 1: Better focus and reflection

When it comes to my personal learning and professional development, I often feel like the birds that visit my garden feeder. They swoop in, grab a seed and take off, zipping to the next feeder where they stop, grab another and zoom away. Like those birds, I tend to zip from topic to topic, grabbing seeds of information from here and there. It’s not a great trait to continually consume and not critically reflect on what I am taking in. At some point, you have to stop and digest.

I am not sure why I have this very strong (and completely delusional) desire to KNOW EVERYTHING. In doing so, I often end up knowing nothing or knowing just enough to make me dangerous and/or annoying. To stretch the bird analogy, I am not sure what the metaphorical cat in the bushes who waits to pounce is. Fear? Pride? A need to know all the answers so I can fix all the problems? I don’t know what is at the root of my need to know everything about everything, but I hope that the academic rigors of this program will help (force) me to focus and reflect and develop better self-discipline.

Goal 2: Become a better collaborator

I sometimes fear that I am a better collaborator in my head than in real life. This Masters experience will put that to theory to the test and hopefully prove it wrong.

That’s not to say I haven’t played significant parts on successful teams, but when I look back at both my career and my personal life I can see that I have had a great deal of latitude and personal space to deviate and explore in my own time. Maybe this goes back to my radio days where I often spent 4-6 hours a day by myself in a little room with nothing but a microphone, a CD player and a newswire. It was a place where I lived and died on my own wits (or lack of, as was often the case).

A psychologist might trace this trait back to my youth where, as the fat uncoordinated kid, I never really shone in all those places where the teamwork ethos is is first fostered in a life – team sports. Sure, like most good Canadian kids I played hockey. But I was a goalie; not because I was any good, but more likely because I filled the most space in the net (it’s okay, I have long since moved on). Any hockey player will tell you that goaltenders are the lone wolves of the team. They tend to be a little bit different than other players. You have to be if you are willing to stand toe to toe with a frozen hunk of rubber traveling at a hundred miles an hour. But I digress.

The Masters I am taking is cohort based, meaning I will be working closely on group projects with many different types of people. This both excites and terrifies me. I do love meeting new people and, having gone through this sort of intense program before, I know that I will develop deep and lifelong connections with my group. We are all about to embark on a transformative event together, and overcoming common obstacles together not only develops strong team dynamics, but also strong personal connections. I only hope I am up to the challenge and am able to contribute in meaningful ways.

Goal 3: Get the tools to work

This is more pragmatic. I want to discover whether these tools I use daily in my personal and professional life will work in my academic life. Will delicious, Twitter, Netvibes, Google Reader, Feedly, a tricked out Firefox, Zotero and all these toys I play with on a daily basis become indispensable or a pain when I am deep into the throes of deadlines and due dates?

What role will my PLN play in my education? I feel extremely fortunate to have close at hand a virtual network of educators and friends and I think that this network will be an invaluable resource and sounding board for me as I progress through the program. You included. Yes, you. You know a lot more than I do. And I know that you like to share. I am hoping you will share with me when I need it. I promise to do the same back.

So, the question is – will these tools and resources will be just as invaluable to me in the context of my academic life as they have been in my professional and personal life? I am eager to find out if my gut feeling is right on this.

Goal 4: Fill in the blanks

I also have a gut feeling that education (and, for that matter, society) is at the tipping point of something big with regards to knowledge and how we learn. But whether this is true and what this “something big” might be I don’t know. Or maybe it isn’t really something big? Maybe we have all been here before? This is the point – I am missing the intellectual context to back up my visceral gut.

It may be because I spend a lot of time in my EdTech echo chamber. It’s a place where the word “change” reverberates off the virtual walls like a sonic boom. But one thing is clear – I am lacking context to both critically analyze and accurately articulate my thoughts into something solid and tangible. More importantly, if it is true that we are in the verge of tranformative change, what does it look like? It’s hard to have vision when you lack context, and it is some of that context that I hope to gain by undertaking this Masters.

Too ambitious? Perhaps, but something I am looking forward to with great enthusiasm and excitement.

I have started a new category on this blog called My Masters. My plan is to document the journey as much as possible, mostly for myself as I hope to turn the blog into a bit more of a reflective tool. I hope that you will still find this useful, and continue to join in on the conversation. There may be more questions than answers over the next little while, but that’s okay. After all, isn’t that where all learning begins?


4 Free Audio Players to Add Audio to Your Site

Adding audio to your website, blog or online course is pretty easy to do these days. Long gone are the days when we would force students to download and install proprietary players like Real Player or Quicktime. With the ubiquity of Flash and JavaScript, and mp3 we now have more options for delivering audio on the web than ever before.

Here are 4 audio players that I have been working with recently while redeveloping a French language course. All of these players support mp3 and are built using JavaScript and Flash. 2 of the players (Playtagger and  Yahoo Media Player) only require a single line of code to get working on a page. The other 2 (WordPress Audio Plugin and the JW FLV Player) are more complicated, but much more feature rich. All will do the job of playing audio without requiring a software download or install by students and all worked when I tested them in D2L.

The links to the demo of each player will open in a new window since I didn’t want to have multiple players competing with each other on the same mp3 files.

1) Playtagger

The most basic of all the players on this list, the Delicious Playtagger, is minimalism in action. You can start, stop or add the file to Delicious. That’s about it. No pause or volume control. In fact, no audio controls whatsoever.

But what Playtagger lacks in features it makes up for in simplicity of use. Include a single line of JavaScript in your HTML, and any link to an mp3 file in your document automatically becomes playable on the page. A play icon will appear just to the left of the mp3 link.

The one little problem I have with the Playtagger is that if you click on the text link, the mp3 file may either try to load in your default media player or try to download the mp3 file to your computer, depending on your browser. It would be better if the mp3 file played in Playtagger regardless of whether you click on the Playtagger play icon or the actual text link itself.

That one minor problem aside, if you are looking for a simple option to play an mp3 file, you can’t get much simpler than Playtagger.

Playtagger in action.

2) Yahoo Media Player

Like Playtagger, the Yahoo Media Player is added to a page with a single line of JavaScript, which adds the audio player to any mp3 link on your page. Click on the play icon beside the file and the player opens up at the bottom of the screen.

The Yahoo Media Player has more features than Playtagger. There is a pause button, skip forward/back to the next/previous track control, volume control, and track and time information.If you have multiple audio files on a page, the Yahoo Media Player will play the files back to back like a playlist. In fact, there is a playlist option within the media player itself.

The Yahoo Media Player does give you more options to customize the interface and the default behaviour of the player. There are some documented hacks at the media player wiki which come in handy if you want to extend or change the player.

Another resource you will want to check out if you use the Yahoo Media Player is the blog of  Eric Fehrenbacher. Eric has written a number of scripts that extend the player and add extra features. Features like TrackSeek , which adds a slider to give users the ability to move forward and back in a track and TrackLoop which will loop through a playlist after it is finished.

Yahoo Media Player in action.

3) WordPress Audio Player

First off, the WordPress Audio Player is not just for the WordPress blog platform. There is a stand alone version that can be used on any web page.

This audio player is a tad more complicated than Playtagger or the Yahoo Media Player. There is more mucking around with the code to set parameters, but the process is well documented and should be fairly straightforward to get you up and running.

You also have to download and install the scripts for the WordPress Audio Player on your own server, unlike Playtagger and the Yahoo Media Player whose scripts are hosted on external servers. This could be a deal breaker if you don’t have access to a web server. However, if you are using D2L, you can use the file manager in D2L as a place to serve up the files from.

Those negatives aside, I think the WordPress Audio Player has the nicest interface of the lot and packs all you need for features in a compact player. The player itself slides open and closed so it takes up very little screen space and you can change the look and behaviour of the player by changing a few values in the settings.  And unlike the Yahoo Media Player, the WordPress Audio Player comes with a slider enabled out of the box with no need for a third party script.

WordPress Audio Player in action.

4) JW FLV Player

The JW FLV player is by far the most full featured (and hence, the most complicated) of the 4 players here. The JW FLV Player works not only for audio files but for video as well.

Of all the players, JW FLV is the only one capable of doing true media streaming using RTMP as opposed to progressive downloading. True media streaming requires a media server. If you have access to a medai server, then JW FLV Player is your player.

Like the WordPress Audio Player, you need to upload the Javascript and Flash files to your own server.

Configuring the player can be a bit of a frustrating affair if you are not technically inclined. Much of the documentation and tutorials feel like they were written by developers, which is okay if you are a developer but not so if you just want to get the thing working. You should feel comfortable working in JavaScript before diving into the JW FLV Player, especially if you want to customize the features or look and feel beyond the default player.

Speaking of which, the JW FLV Player does have a vibrant developer community and many developers are creating and releasing skins and addons that change the look and functionality of the default player, so you have a lot of pre built interfaces to choose from if the default interface doesn’t toggle your play button.

JW FLV Player in action as an audio only player. This is a streamed mp3 file from our Flash media server.

5) Bonus for the more geek oriented: SoundManager

Okay, if the thought of digging into the JW FLV Player code excites rather than terrifies you, then be sure to check out SoundManager. SoundManager is not a player per se, but rather bills itself as a Javascript Sound API which lets you create some pretty impressive audio players. Check out the page as playlist demo and the still-under-development-so-may-not-be-working-perfectly examples of the 360° Player Demo. However, SoundManager is very JavaScript intensive and I was never able to get it working reliably enough in D2L to use it.

And then there is HTML 5

The chances that most of these players will become obsolete once the WC3 releases HTML 5 to the world are pretty good. HTML 5 promises easier ways to embed audio and video content on web pages with standard HTML tags. The goal is to make adding multimedia content to a web page as easy as adding an image or a table is currently.

But even though HTML 5 got a huge Google boost with the demo of Google Wave, which is a fully functioning  HTML 5 web application, we’re still a few years away from it being available widely enough to rely on it as the sole method of delivering audio and video content. So in the interm we still need players to play multimedia content.

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