The “Basic Suite” in the Classroom

Today’s teachers are looking for technology tools that increase productivity and improve workflow.  Students are also in need of practical, reliable technology software.  According to Roblyer (2016), software tools known as the “basic suite” can improve productivity, improve appearance [of products], improve accuracy, and provide more support for interaction and collaboration. Typically included in the basic suite of software are word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs.

Two of the most commonly used basic suites are produced by Microsoft and Google.  Microsoft offers Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and Google offers Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Microsoft Word is a word processing program that allows the user to create documents, newsletters, brochures, etc. with both text and graphics.  The use of spell check and a variety of fonts adds accuracy and interest to the documents.  Students can use a word processing program to write essays, reports, letters, or to create poetry and flyers. While teachers can choose to create lesson plans, assignments, parents letters and much more.  The relative advantage of a word processing program over pen and paper is a more polished look, the ability to share files with other students a teachers, and to save documents for later use.  Google Docs offers the additional features of collaboration (two or more students can work on the same document at the same time) and the teacher has the ability to make comments and corrections directly on the student’s document. “Adaptive keyboard and voice recognition capabilities make writing more accessible for students with physical challenges.” Roblyer (2016). I was recently able to use Google Docs to create a Back to School Night packet to share with parents.  If a parent cannot attend the meeting, the packet can easily be emailed home.

Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets have also become valuable technology tools for educators and students.  Spreadsheets put numerical information in a row-column format and can also be used for calculations by applying mathematical formulas. Data such as student lists, club information, and checklists can easily be copied and manipulated in the columns and rows. For example, this year I have 75 students that move in 3 different groups.  I can enter all of their data, including their various groups, into a spreadsheet and then choose which columns to organize the information by.  This is a huge time saver, as previously I had to create many different tables of student information and then choose which table was appropriate for each task. Students can take surveys and polls and then input the results into spreadsheets. From there, they can create charts and graphs to make the data more visually interesting and clear.  Google Sheets offers a similar advantage as Google docs by allowing collaboration and sharing capabilities among teachers and students.

A third element of the basic suite is presentation software.  Most people are familiar with Microsoft Powerpoint as a tool to display text, graphics, audio, and video in a multimedia style slideshow.  Google’s version of presentation software is known as Google Slides.  Both Powerpoint and Slides can help organize thinking about a topic, enhance the impact of spoken information, and allow collaboration on presentations. It is important that students and teachers understand the basics of a quality presentation.  Overuse of text and bullet points, poor color combinations, and difficult to read fonts can all weaken the impact of a good presentation.  Overuse of animations can leave the audience feeling like they just left the funhouse. However, when used well, standard book reports, review games, and project presentations can be much more enjoyable and interesting. Another advantage of presentation software is the ability to include links to additional sources and websites related to the presentation.

Software support tools known as the basic suite have become indispensable resources for students and teachers alike. Basic tasks can be done efficiently and shared with other teachers, students, or parents in an email. Materials used from year to year can be organized, reworked, and enhanced on either flash drives or computer files. “Teachers choose them not only because they have qualities that aide classroom instruction and help make classroom time more productive, but also because they give students experience with 21st century tools that they will see again and again in their workplaces.” Roblyer (2016).

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Pearson.

 

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Instructional Software

Today’s educational technology can go far beyond simply “entertaining” kids in a classroom. According to Roblyer (2016), “Instructional software is a general term for computer programs used specifically to deliver instruction or assist with the delivery of instruction on a topic.”  Instructional software can be divided into five main categories: drill and practice,tutorials, simulations, instructional games and problem solving software.  Most of this software takes a directed learning rather than a constructivist approach to education, however all types can enhance the educational setting.

Drill and Practice: This type of instructional software usually consists of exercises or activities that students answer one at a time and receive immediate feedback. Sometimes explanations are given for incorrect answers and a “reward” may be offered at the end of a series of questions. Students are able to work at a self paced rate on isolated skills.  

The relative advantage of drill and practice software is trifold: immediate feedback (and sometimes praise) is given, students are motivated to practice to receive a reward, and teachers save time correcting students’ work. Another advantage is that basic skills or knowledge can be recalled automatically, known as automaticity Gagne (1982) and Bloom (1986).  This type of software can be especially useful for students with learning disabilities.

An example of drill and practice software that could be used in 6th grade world geography is a flashcard generator such as Quizlet to review countries and capitals.  Another example would be Lizard Point software.  This program offers a variety of customized geography quizzes. Students can keep a personalized quiz tracker to track their progress.

Tutorials: This type of instructional software is similar to a teacher’s classroom instruction in that it follows a self contained unit and should provide students with enough information to learn the topic. Good tutorials also provide the student with practice and feedback so they require more than just watching a video. In today’s 21st century classroom, tutorial software is often used in what is known as “the flipped classroom”. Extensive user interactivity, thorough user control, appropriate graphics, and adequate record keeping are all key to well-designed tutorial programs.

The relative advantages of tutorial software are similar to those of drill and practice.  They offer immediate feedback, can motivate students, and save teachers time.  In addition, tutorial software can provide instruction that is complete on its own. Students can complete a self paced review or move ahead when the rest of the class is not ready to advance. Tutorials can assist students who miss class or fill in for a teacher who may be unavailable.

An example of tutorial software that would benefit world geography students in 6th grade would be Educreations. Educreations allows a teacher to record their voice while using an Ipad or tablet as a whiteboard to create a video lesson. Teachers can post their videos to YouTube, Twitter, or share via email.  Videos can also be saved in a dropbox or on Google Drive.  Students are then able to access the videos through any laptop or mobile device.  Sophia Learning offers a variety of tutorials that help students to identify major forms of government and compare and contrast the major features of different forms of government. After viewing the tutorials, students can take a quiz and earn points for correct answers.

Simulations: “A simulation is a computerized model of a real or imagined system that is designed to teach how the system works.” (Roblyer 2016) Using a constructivist approach, simulations allow learners to take control of the tasks. Two types of simulation software include those that teach how to do something, known as procedural simulations, and those that teach about something, known as situational simulations.

Because simulations take a constructivist approach, the relative advantage is multifaceted.  Students become involved in decision making and therefore see the relevance of the lesson. The interactive capabilities allow students to experience real life activities. Simulations can also save money and other resources and still offer a quality learning experience. Simulations can allow repetition with variations (students can repeat a simulation as many times as they wish) and they can allow observation of complex processes such as elections or the workings of a government.

One example of a simulation in world geography would be a virtual field trip. A class in the United States may not be able to take a trip to the Taj Mahal, but through a simulation they could explore and examine the features of this amazing monument. Programs such as Classroom 2.0 and http://www.taj-mahal.net/ both offer trips to India. Another type of geography simulation would be a program called Civilizations.  According to the website https://civilization.com/, “Civilization is a turn-based strategy game in which you attempt to build an empire to stand the test of time. Become Ruler of the World by establishing and leading a civilization from the Stone Age to the Information Age. Wage war, conduct diplomacy, advance your culture, and go head-to-head with history’s greatest leaders as you attempt to build the greatest civilization the world has ever known.”

Instructional Games: Instructional games combine the fun of gaming with entertainment and education. Simply put, they add rules and competition to learning activities. The most difficult part of integrating instructional games into education is making sure that the game offers appropriate instructional value.  While students are clearly motivated by the idea of gaming in the classroom, it is easy to lose sight of the objectives of the lesson.

Relative Advantage: According to Edutopia magazine, “Video games can do a lot of things that traditional teaching cannot. As Squire’s class showed, they can get unmotivated students fired up about — can it be? — ancient history. Games can also be an effective way of reaching students who haven’t responded to conventional teaching methods, and they can get gifted students to apply critical-thinking, problem-solving, and other higher-level skills to subjects they already know.” (Schreve 2005) Educational games can be used as rewards and are a strong motivator to those resistant to other forms of instruction. It is important that the teacher emphasize the content-area skills first.

There is a huge variety of game based software for education.  Jeopardy type games can be adapted to almost any subject and learning environment. Sheppard Software also offers many fun, interactive geography video games.

Problem Solving Software: This type of instructional software aims at teaching students valuable problem solving skills.  In a world where collaboration, critical thinking, and communication have become essential skills for future success, problem solving software can give students the opportunity to practice those skills. The software can be directly related to content or be independent of the content and teach general problem solving skills. Students can enter environments that challenge them to solve complex problems.

The relative advantages of problem solving software are: students can visualize complex problems and solutions, student motivation and interest may be increased, and students can make connections to the “real world”.

GIS or geographic information systems are computerized systems that create layered maps and analysis of geographic data. According to Edutopia magazine, “Thanks to a recent $1 billion pledge from software developer Esri, free access to cloud-based mapping software is coming to 100,000 K-12 schools across the country. The donation of ArcGIS Online, the same software that governments and businesses use, has been pledged through ConnectED, a White House initiative to improve education in the STEM fields.” Such software allows students to “take learning and problem solving in new directions by developing their geospatial literacy. Being able to analyze data and present information visually are important skills, whether you are investigating global issues or trying to solve problems in your backyard. Adding GIS to the project-based learning toolkit opens all kinds of opportunities for rich inquiry.” (Boss 2014)

Resources:

Boss, S. (2014, July 28). Students Map Real-World Issues with (Free) Geospatial Tools. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/students-map-real-world-issues-free-geospatial-tools-suzie-boss

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Pearson.

Shreve, J. (2005, March 23). Let the Games Begin: Entertainment Meets Education. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/video-games-classroom

What Is Successful Technology Integration? (2007, November 6). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description