Essential features of community platforms (Module 2, ISTE-CS 4b)

My main question by the end of my last module post was something like:

What features are essential for platforms which are hosting a PLC?

This module follows up on that question.

Recall that this quarter is all about investigating ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 4: Professional development and program evaluation. For Module 2, I’m looking specifically at ISTE CS 4b – design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

Communities of practice

Communities of practice, as defined by Wenger (1998), is not a theory of learning that is specific to adults. As I understand it, it’s a theory of learning that can be applied to all ages. (Though more recent reformulations of communities of practice – i.e. Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder, 2002 – focus on their applicability to the workplace, which can be assumed to be adult-focused. See Cox (2005) for more on the different formulations of communities of practice.)

In short, Wenger’s (1998) conceptualization of a community of practice is a group of people who develop and use a shared repertoire of tools to mutually engage in the pursuit of a joint enterprise. “Learning” is a form of identity development and done through learning to participate in the community – through developing a shared meaning of what the community is and what it means to participate. What it means to participate is inherently flexible and under constant re-negotiation; thus, participants are continuously learning by virtue of participation in the community.

According to Schlager and Fusco (2003),

Researchers and reform advocates consistently cite participation in communities of practice as an integral factor in achieving effective, sustainable professional development systems. … The recognition that communities of practice can play important direct and catalytic roles in teacher learning has spurred great interest in how to harness the power of communities of practice in the context of systemic school reform and professional development projects. ( p. 206)

For clarity, I should note that one critique of communities of practice – and therefore, implicitly, the related body of literature – is that Wenger (1998) and Wenger et al. (2002) conceptualize communities of practice in sufficiently different ways. Based on these differences, Cox (2005) suggests that people using communities of practice pick one formulation of the theory and stick with it; I suspect that much of the communities of practice literature uses the two conceptualizations without distinction. On a different note, Schlager and Fusco (2003), draw a distinction between communities of purpose and communities of practice, claiming that professional development communities are often better defined as communities of purpose; they also elevate the question “what counts as a community of practice?”

All this to say, unless indicated otherwise, I now approach the mention of communities of practice with the assumption that those speaking of it aren’t making a distinction between the two conceptualizations of it; and I wonder if there is a justifiable argument to be made for carefully combining the two conceptualizations in a way that better fits the communities that can form in professional development. Or to put it a different way, is there a way to justifiably redraw the boundaries of “what counts” as a community of practice, which draws on both conceptualizations, so that we can better “harness the power” of communities of practice in PD contexts?

Platform features that support online communities

The above critiques and questions aside (for now), and working from the assumption that communities of practice can support teacher learning in PD, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wenger et al. (2002) actually made a list of seven “online facilities that are among the most useful to communities”:

(1) A home page to assert their existence and describe their domain [compare to joint enterprise] and activities.
(2) A conversation space for online discussions.
(3) A repository for documents, including research reports, best practices, and standards.
(4) A good search engine to find things in the knowledge base.
(5) A directory of membership with some information about members’ areas of expertise in the domain.
(6) In some cases, a shared workspace for synchronous electronic collaboration, or to enhance teleconferences with visuals.
(7) Community management tools… These might include the ability to know who is participating actively, which documents are downloaded, how much traffic there is, which documents need updating, and so forth. (p. 197)

I also found two other lists: one from Feverbee (2012), and one from Serrat (2017). It is unclear to me how these two resources generated their lists, and Serrat’s (2017) references appear to be incorrect/incomplete. However, I found no other resources to compare to Wenger et al. (2002).

Out of curiosity, I color coded the lists for like elements (I took liberties with what I counted as the “home page” element).

Colors are used to highlight like-features across lists. The list from Bond says: "Wenger et al. (2002) identified the seven online technology infrastructure considerations that are critical for knowledge sharing (1) a home page, (2) a conversation space for online discussions, (3) a repository for documents, research reports, best practices, and standards, (4) a search engine to find things in the knowledge base, (5) a directory of membership, (6) a shared workspace for collaboration, and (7) community management tools including page counters, participation tracking, etc." (Bond, 2013, p. 63). The list from Serrat says: "Contents • Home page: relevant information and news, latest news on the progress of related activities and projects, ongoing activities and online discussions • About the community: background information, expected outcomes and impact • News and announcements: news archives, email newsletter archives • Library (repository of relevant documents and tools) • Discussions (online discussions on particular topics of interest) • Members: list of members with background information and email addresses • Photo gallery • Links to other websites • Help (information on how to use the site and how to get assistance) • Contact us Tools • Search facility • Email this page/notify members of this page • Download and print this page • Optional: online chat facility, an events calendar" (Serrat, 2017, pp. 586-587) From <>. The list from Feverbee says: • "Discussion area. Members need a place in which they can interact. This will usually be a forum-based.  • Notifications. Members need to be notified when people have responded to their posts. This keeps members coming back. It sustains activity.  • Analytics. You need to be able to properly track what's going on. You need to know what's going on beneath the surface.  • Member profiles. Members need to create and use a consistent identity within the community. These profiles don't have to be overlook" (Feverbee, 2012) From <>.
The image shows three separate lists of essential platform features for community platforms, from Bond, 2013; Feverbee, 2012; and Serrat, 2017.

The observations which I think are worth pointing out are:

  • there are only two features that show up on all three lists: a discussion space and a list of members.
  • if a feature showed up on only two lists, it did show up on Wenger et al.’s (2002) list.
  • “notifications” only showed up on Feverbee’s (2012) list.
My top three most important features
  • Notifications
  • Member tagging
  • Two levels of threaded conversation

Notifications is one of my top two essential features of communication platforms; the other being member tagging, which is related to notifications, and not on any of the lists. I agree with Feverbee (2012) that “members need to be notified when people have responded to their posts. This keeps members coming back. It sustains activity.” And tagging supports conversation by directing someone’s attention to a specific place.

I can’t say this feature is essential… but I think it’s extremely valuable: at least one extra level to threaded conversations. I think we can assume that most platforms have a commenting feature, which is the first level of threaded conversations – someone can make a post and that thread contains the post with its comments. So the extra level I’m referring to is being able to reply to a comment, giving you a second level of threaded conversations in that post. I think having at least two levels of threaded conversation is helpful because it supports linked (but possibly diverging) conversations by keeping conversations/responses more organized.

I couldn’t find a more recent academic list, but I do suspect that notifications and member tagging would make the cut on a list of essential elements of community platforms, and I suspect that I’m not the only one who sees multiple levels of threaded conversation as beneficial. I wish I could find a more recent academic resource on the topic, and without a formal study, I wonder what I would learn if I compared common features of the most popular social networking sites.

It would still be worth considering what activities people in PLCs engage in that make the PLCs successful, and then generating my own list of platform features from there (like I mentioned in my Module 1 blog post). Towards that end, Pappas’ (2016) blog post 8 Tips To Build An Online Learning Community would be a good resource to refer back to.



Bond, M. A. (2013). Constructing Guidelines for Building Communities of Practice for Supporting Faculty Professional Development in Electronic Environments (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Cox, A. (2005). What are communities of practice? A comparative review of four seminal works. Journal of information science31(6), 527-540.

Feverbee. (2012). Essential elements of community platforms [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Pappas, C. (2016). 8 tips to build an online learning community [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Schlager, M. S., & Fusco, J. (2003). Teacher professional development, technology, and communities of practice: Are we putting the cart before the horse? The Information Society19(3), 203-220.

Serrat O. (2017) Building Communities of Practice. In: Knowledge Solutions. Springer, Singapore. Retrieved from

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge university press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Harvard Business Press.

What does it mean for “technology to work for you”? (Bonus blog)

Something I feel like I’ve learned through my work in this program (Digital Education Leadership M.Ed. at Seattle Pacific University), which has drastically changed the way I approach and/or think about technology, is what it means for “technology to work for me.” It’s definitely a phrase I’ve heard, though I don’t know that I could identify where. It sounds like it could be a slogan or a motto or something: “Making technology work for you!”

In the past, it was a rather meaningless phrase for me, but now I feel like I have examples that shows what it means – though first, I’ll state what I think it means. And I want to highlight that my description might be no different than what it would have been in the past, before I felt like I understood; my understanding is not in my description, but in my ability to identify examples of it and in the way I now attempt to make technology work for me. My description:

Making technology work for you: seeing a task you need or want to do, and using technology to somehow improve or make possible the doing of the task.

My description is based on the accumulation of my work and interactions in my program; it’s hard to really cite anything specific at this point.

Example 1: Text-to-speech (tts)

I think I first understood this idea when I was working on my text-to-speech (tts) blog (here). To recap what that was all about: I needed to read a history book for a class, and I really needed to find a way to have it read to me because it was taking me a very long time to complete and retain the reading, unaided. I had never used that assistive technology before. I still had to read along while it was read out loud to me. At the moment, I don’t know how to explain the difference that it makes or why I feel like I need it, but my favorite tts reader that I found (a browser extension, compatible with Chrome and Safari, TTSReaderX In-Page Text to Speech) has changed the way I do the activity of reading. Sometimes I really need it and it makes me capable of getting through a reading. Sometimes I can read just fine without it. But the technology is working for me in the way that the tts reader improves my ability to read.

Another way I use the reader is to have it read my own writing back to me, to watch and listen for errors. I read that as a tip somewhere, and by golly, it works! I never post a blog without listening to it on No browser extension is needed to copy and paste into the website – again it’s built to work in Chrome and Safari. I say a silent thank you every time TTSReader works for me in this way because it is doing something I can’t do: voicing my writing, in not my voice, exactly as written. Technology is working for me in the way that it improves my ability to proofread my own writing.

Side note: TTSReader has a statement about not ever collecting any of the data you pass to their readers.

Example 2: Arranging pictures with associated text

My second example comes from a recent request. My mom asked me if I knew a good way to organize pictures with text. Specifically, she wants to have a picture of a piece of pottery that she made, with a description of the glazes she used, so that she can keep track of how she glazed a pottery piece and what the glaze looked like when done. Additionally, she wants to be able to print off these pictures+descriptions in a list-like way so that she can mark off what she’s sold when she does a pottery sale. What technology would be good for helping her do this?

Based on a few more needs and parameters, I suggested that she primarily use PowerPoint, and also use Facebook and Windows’ Snipping Tool (built-in program in Windows 7 and after).

PowerPoint allows you to group a picture and a text box so that you can easily move them around together. You can put multiple pictures+text boxes on one slide, and then print multiple slides on one piece of paper, making it easy to print a “list” of pictures+text.

My mom would use Facebook as a way to quickly save a picture and text on the fly. When she’s in the studio, she can make a private post to her FB page (so that her work is only visible to her), with a picture of her piece, and she can either write her glaze recipe right then, or later. Then she can easily copy the picture and text to PowerPoint once she’s on her computer. (And she can move that picture into a private FB album to keep her pictures organized on FB.)

She can use the Snipping Tool to snip the picture+text from PowerPoint, to make a picture which includes the text box in the picture itself. I’m not sure the exact reason she wants to be able to do this, but the Snipping Tool is a great way to do that on Windows computers.

In this example, my mom has a few things she wants to be able to do, and we tried to pick a few programs that could work together to suit her needs. We’re making technology work for her by trying to optimize her ability to save, organize, and print her work through the use of technology.

Closing remarks

Again, the difference in my understanding is hard to articulate. It’s not like I wouldn’t use a tts reader or be able to help my mom find tools that help her accomplish her task without this “new found understanding.” But I am much more active in the way I try to make technology work for me. I think harder about how different steps in my task could be optimized or made easier, and I think harder about my needs. I feel like I can imagine more. I feel encouraged to dream up what I could do, instead of recall what I can do. And isn’t that what cutting edge technology is all about?: dreaming up what we could do if only there was a piece of technology that did x, y, and z.

Workshop proposal: Students, technology, and new Google Sites (Community Engagement Project)

This quarter, our Community Engagement Project was to create a professional learning presentation or workshop. For this project, my classmate, Ryan Gritter, and I decided to work together to design a two hour workshop, which we titled Theory and Practice: How Students Use Technology and Using (new) Google Sites to Reach Them.

Workshop description: In this workshop we will use new Google Sites (and other Google products) to discuss how technology impacts student learners and examine how to incorporate digital tools to promote collaboration in and out of the classroom. Specifically, we will consider issues of ethics, privacy, etiquette, and online community, and we will discuss how to improve pedagogy through digital tools like Google Sites. During the workshop participants will create their own Google Site and get a chance to “be the student” by engaging in digital collaboration.

During the workshop, we plan to alternate between discussing how technology impacts student learners and giving participants hands-on time with new Google Sites. Ryan and I have submitted our workshop proposal to NCCE’s 2018 Seattle conference (Feb 14-18) and we are waiting to hear back from them.

Addressing Teachers’ Needs

This workshop addresses teachers’ needs in a few ways. On the content knowledge side, we will discuss some elements of digital citizenship (ethics, privacy, and etiquette). We will also provide them with additional related resources to explore after the workshop is over. Additional resources include information on:

  • Selecting tools that are compatible with your school’s technology infrastructure
  • Tutorials on using new Google Sites
  • Pros and cons of new Google Sites
  • Online community and collaboration
  • Accessibility and assistive technologies

On the practice side, we will try to give participants an experience in using Google Docs to collaborate and get help from each other during the workshop itself. Google Docs makes it easy to collaborate from a distance or asynchronously, but we want to show how this digital tool can be used to benefit synchronous classroom environments.

Lastly, we want to give them some experience with a new digital tool. In November 2016, Google released new Google Sites. Like other Google products, Sites is free to use and part of G Suite for Education. However, it doesn’t seem as widely utilized as, for example, Google Docs. So to give participants exposure to this digital tool, we will use new Google Sites to host our content and to have participants engage with the content during the workshop. One nice thing about this platform is that it can (and will) remain available to the participants after the workshop ends.

(Note: Classic Sites is currently still available, but Google intends to phase it out. See this post for more information.)

Promoting Active Learning and Collaboration

Everything we do on Google Sites is intended to promote active learning. Based on the prompt, “Knowing is obsolete – Why or why not?,” participants will discuss their own thoughts on the question in small groups and then everyone will “blog” about their own thoughts by creating a new page on the Site. However, in order to do this, we will need to take some time to learn how to navigate the Site as an editor. Once we have done both those things, we will also take time to “comment” on each other’s blog posts.

(I have put “blog” and “comment” in quotes because new Google Sites isn’t specifically a blogging platform, and there is no commenting feature. However, we will work around these characteristics of new Google Sites to do these things anyway.)

Collaboration is promoted primarily through the Back Channel. I knew I wanted a place where participants could chat about the topics or ask questions in real time, but I wasn’t sure what platform I wanted to use to do that. I was inspired by this blog post to use Google Docs for the Back Channel. My hope is that participants will utilize the Back Channel throughout the workshop to expand on ideas and get help from each other. In order to get them started in the Back Channel, we will have them respond to a prompt at the start of the workshop. Here is a picture of the top of the Google Doc.

Picture of the Back Channel Google Doc. The Table of Contents has "questions." "notes," and "other thoughts." The community guidelines are: assume goodwill, jump in where you can add value, reciprocate (even in advance). The logistics are: add new content to the beginning of each section, indicate yourself in your comments through your name or a chosen screen name, feel free to add sections and if you do, use heading 1 for a new first-level heading and update the table of contents.

In line with my first blog post of the quarter on connecting classroom management to collaboration, I chose to include the community guidelines and logistics in order to try and establish initial expectations and practices for the Back Channel.

Publishing the Google Site

Since we are waiting to hear back from NCCE about our workshop proposal, we will not publish the site just yet. If we are accepted to the conference, the website will be publicly available after the workshop. If we are not accepted, I will revamp the site and publish the content. In the meantime, here is a peek at the home page.

Picture of the home page. Shows the workshop title and description. Also shows the sidebar navigation panel; most of the navigation items are expended to show subpages.

Text-to-speech adventure: Making technology work for you (Module 2, ISTE-CS 3b, 3d, 3f)

To continue exploring ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 3: Digital age learning environments, this week we are looking at three of its indicators:
CS 3b – “maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments.”
CS 3d – “select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning.”
CS 3f – “collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure.”
These indicators spoke very directly to some recent tools I’ve been trying to learn to use for myself, and the experience has lent itself wonderfully to the creation of my investigation question:

How can I evaluate, select, and manage text-to-speech (TTS) tools and resources for teachers and students that are compatible with my institution’s technology infrastructure?

Why This Question?

I have always found course texts difficult to read. When I was interviewed for admittance to SPU they asked me something to the effect of “what is something you think you might struggle with in the program?” Or maybe they asked if I had any fears about the program, or if I expected any particular challenges. The gist of my answer was: I know I struggle to keep up with course reading materials and I expect there will be a lot of required reading. And it’s not that I can’t do a lot of reading, because I can…when I’m reading novels. When I’m not in school I like to go on the occasional “reading binge” and read a handful to a dozen books consecutively. But learning by reading? It’s never been something that’s come easily, and the thought of it feels heavy.

So when I started this quarter and saw that I needed to read an entire book on the history of American education for one of my classes, I went “I gotta find a way to get my computer to read this to me.” I tried to figure out how to do that, but I got so lost in the forest of technology I scrapped my efforts. Or maybe I didn’t even get into the forest – I got stuck trying to make it through the bordering brier patch. (One of the main reasons this has been so difficult is because my ebook is a protected text and displayed as images instead of text. I’ll get into this more later.) So I committed to reading the book without any assistance, and after 9 hours reading the first two chapters, my brain was fried.

By the time week three came around I said it one more time: “I have got to figure out how to get my computer to read this to me.” So there (re)began my adventure of trying to get my computer to read me my textbook. It sounds like an easy task, but it has been anything but. I won’t describe the whole process of how I came to the information below, but I will say that all of this has been new information to me.

Important note: It seems pretty typical that you need to download a voice pack along with whatever TTS software. I didn’t know that and spent a good deal of time going “…Really?! How is this the only voice option?”

Selecting and Evaluating TTS Technologies

TTS technologies benefit many populations of learners with a range of needs, such as those who are blind, dyslexic (The Regents of the University of Michigan), learning English (Carroll, 2014), or simply anyone that has any reason to want to listen to writing, and the needs of the user will play a role in how you assess a TTS tool. One of the obvious features to assess when selecting a reader is how it sounds. Of course that counts for a lot and could ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not you like a given reader, but there are other factors that come into consideration too. Some other things that matter to me are whether or not you can read from a chosen place in the document and if you can pause. The Kurzweil Blog Team wrote a nice article called The Many Facets of Text-to-Speech which lists things to consider when selecting a reader for yourself or for others. Their list includes: accuracy of TTS, variety of available voices, and options for highlighting the text as it’s read.

Two of the suggestions I really like from Kurzweil’s blog are: before recommending a reader, make sure you can listen to it for 10 minutes; and when using a reader, test out different voices for different content areas – you might find that one voice doesn’t fit all.

My number one favorite tool so far has been the TTSReader X In-Page Text to Speech. This is a free, super easy to use Chrome extension that reads the text on a webpage. Of all the free readers I looked at, this one definitely has the best voice (I like the UK Female). And that comparison almost doesn’t say enough; plain and simple, I think it sounds pretty darn good. It’s also really smooth to use: highlight the text, right click, select “Play Selection.” Then from the extension button (which is next to the address bar) you can pause, rewind, and otherwise control the reading. Once it starts reading the selection, you can even leave the page if you would like.

Here’s a quick video to demonstrate how the reader sounds. With Ryan’s permission, I am using and excerpt from Ryan’s Blog, The Worst of All Possible Worlds – ISTE Coaching Standard 3 and the Dystopian Future of Education? (2017). It’s a great post on the future of education with technology – I recommend giving it a read!

In addition, they also have a website, which is the same tool but on a website. It’s a little more ergonomic than the extension tool if you are copy+pasting a chunk of text. The website works in Chrome and Safari (you can go to the website in other browsers, but it won’t work properly or fully). This Chrome app, TTSReader – Unlimited Text-To-Speech, will enhance the functionality of the website, making it so that the website remembers your voice settings, the last thing you entered into the text box, and where you left off listening.

TTS in Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat

Microsoft Office actually has a built in TTS tool called “Speak” – here’s how to access it, and here’s how to get to Speech Properties to change the reading speed. This TTS doesn’t sound nearly as good as, but I’d guess that you can download other voices – Microsoft Anna is the only voice available in my settings – I just haven’t investigated that yet. To make it read you highlight what you want to read and click the Speak icon. Click it again to make it stop. There seems to be no way to pause and resume.

***Update: adding new voices is apparently quite the issue in Windows 7. I tried and it didn’t work. There are many forums documenting this issue and there are basically no good solutions. Some people have gotten things to work by making changes in the computer’s registry (which is a risky thing to do). Oh, that reminds me! I forgot to mention: Windows still does free upgrades to Windows 10 for people who use assistive technology (Hubbell, 2016, blog post here).

Here’s a quick video to demonstrate how Microsoft Anna sounds. Again, I’m using an excerpt from Ryan’s post.

Similarly, Adobe Acrobat has a built in reader called Read Out Loud – here’s how to access it. Mine currently only reads in the Microsoft Anna voice. I see that there are other voice options, but none of them seem to work. Again, I’m guessing you can download a voice pack. On PDFs that I create, I can click a paragraph and the reader will read that paragraph, but for other PDFs (like articles downloaded from journals that I can access through my university library) it will only start from the top of the document or page. There are hot keys to control pausing. Despite having settings for changing the reading speed under Edit > Preferences > Reading, the speed seems to actually and only be controlled from Speech Properties in the control panel (i.e., the same way you change the speed of Speak, which I linked above).

Since I tend to want greater control in where the reader starts from, and I read a lot of journal articles that only want to start reading from the top of the page, it was good to learn that you can actually open PDFs in Word. (Select the file, right click, select Open With > Word.)


JAWS seems to be the screen reader and it was suggested to me more than once. (Screen readers seem to be a special class of TTS with extra capabilities for controlling your computer via audio and the keyboard.) But trying to use JAWS was a bit like trying to pilot an aircraft after only playing Pilotwings on Nintendo 64. I really would need to put in some time to figure out how to use it.

Also, JAWS is $900. However, you can download a free 40 minute trial (here), and restarting your computer renews the trial. There is a separate voice pack to download (here), and yes, the voice pack works during the trial.

Voice Dream

I want to quickly mention one last TTS reader. At the recommendation of my program director, Dr. Wicks, I bought the Apple app Voice Dream for my iPhone. In spite of having a hard time changing the reading speed, I’m very happy with it and it was well worth the $15. I have regularly wished that Siri would read PDFs, but it never occurred to me to look for an app to do that. (Of course there’s an app for that!)

It sounds great. It shows how long it will take to read any given document. I can adjust how far it rewinds/fast-forwards. I can load a variety of text-based documents into it, including webpages. I even have it linked to my Google Drive which makes it super easy to access the documents I want. I recommend it.

Reading My Class Textbook

So with this information in mind, what did I do to read my protected ebook and why is this so challenging? The major challenge here is learning to use screen readers (e.g., JAWS). If your protected ebooks are like mine, then screen readers are basically your only way into TTS technology.

My school uses ProQuest: Ebook Central for its ebooks. On this website, the pages are displayed as images, and in order to turn on accessibility mode*, which displays the pages as text, I need to use a screen reader. If I download an ebook, the only program that will open the file is Adobe Digital Editions. There is no built-in TTS feature in Digital Editions (like there is with Adobe Acrobat), but this blog post from Adobe (Kirkpatrick, 2012) suggests that they have improved the accessibility of protected texts and it lists screen readers that are compatible with their software.

(*Accessibility mode is not available on mobile devices.)

But recall the JAWS/Pilotwings analogy… Not knowing how to use a screen reader made all of this very difficult. While talking about these difficulties, my friend immediately asked me: “Did you Google it?” (“It” being how to turn on accessibility mode or otherwise get my computer to read my ebook to me.) Yes, multiple times. The information surely exists, but finding what I needed, while not knowing the right key words to search with, was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Two days ago I finally figured out how to turn on accessibility mode on the website, and in my silent apartment, next to my fiancé, I had visions of fireworks, marching bands, and confetti falling from the ceiling for about the next hour. I was so happy!

In the weeks prior, while I figured out how to use a screen reader, I used up my copy+paste allotment for my textbook by copying a page at a time from Digital Editions into (Publishers set copy+paste limits on ebooks, and I assume Digital Editions keeps track of how much you’ve copied because it’ll cut you off.)

Tying All This Back to CS3

That was a lot, so let me restate my investigation question.

How can I evaluate, select, and manage TTS tools and resources for teachers and students that are compatible with my institution’s technology infrastructure?

Knowing about these programs and features is the first step in being able to make recommendations for teachers and students; I’ve learned a lot and there’s a lot to learn. I also feel a heightened sense of awareness about the importance of making course materials available in a timely manner so that students have time to use them in ways that support their learning (thank you, DEL program, for consistently posting all course materials for us at the start of each quarter!).

Now that I have my feet wet about some (overstatement) of the realities of trying to evaluate, select, and use this technology, I am more prepared to think about how math teachers can make the materials they create TTS friendly. For example, how would a reader speak through an equation or graph? How do images and diagrams get read out loud? I don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but I know to ask them. I also see that the occasional math equation I put in my posts, like this d = x_{2} - x_{1} (which reads d equals x-sub-2 minus x-sub-1), simply gets skipped over by The same is true of all the equations on Paul’s Notes (a very popular website for additional math notes). This has pretty big implications for choosing the format of instructor-provided notes. To give a different example, when I have read Dr. Lambers Multivariable Calculus notes, it reads much of the math text, albeit not 100% accurately (e.g., x^2 and x_{2}, that is, x-squared and x-sub-2, are both read out loud as “x-two”). Add in the difficulties of finding/using/paying for readers that are compatible with a school’s technology infrastructure and you’re looking at a lot of hurdles to use TTS technology with a math textbook. Again, I don’t have answers, but these will all be things to keep in mind as I start my math program in August.

Making Technology Work for You

One thing I have really taken away from all this is a better understanding of the phrase “make technology work for you.” This TTS technology is like a revelation. Where has it been all my life and why have I never tried using it to read? I mean…through the thicket of technology…that’s where it’s been. I’m definitely a little TTS-crazed at the moment and I’m having fun exploring when it best aids me. I also know at least a handful of people who would love to know how to use TTS technology and I’m guessing that a lot of students would benefit from TTS if they knew how to use the technology effectively and efficiently.

My one tip for any first time user who thinks TTS could benefit them is: Give it a chance. It took me a few tries to settle into a rhythm using TTS, and initially it was distracting to hear the words out loud. But after I got used to it, it became incredibly helpful. So give yourself a chance to find that rhythm.


Carroll, Jason. (2014). Digital supports for English language learners. Retrieved from

Hubbell, D. (2016). Microsoft accessibility blog: Windows 10 free upgrade page for people who use assistive technologies. Retrieved from

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from

Kirkpatrick, A. (2012). Adobe accessibility: Digital Editions 2.0 available. Retrieved from

Kurzweil Blog Team. (n.d.) The many facets of text-to-speech [Blog post]. Retrieved from

The Regents of the University of Michigan. (n.d.) 10 helpful text-to-speech readers for back to school. Retrieved from


Digital citizenship clicker questions in math, and Mendeley (Module 4, ISTE-TS 4 digital citizenship)

This week we are looking at ISTE-TS 4: Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility – “teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.” In past blog posts I have discussed ways in which digital citizenship is or can be particularly relevant to a college math class – see my Mission StatementDigital Readiness Project, and Backwards Design Project. From these past…”musings” as I want to call them, what emerged as one of the most pertinent ways to tie in digital citizenship is the ethical use of digital tools to help students do their math homework – I mostly talk about that in the Digital Readiness Project. Another major thought I’ve had is that if you want to teach digital culture in relevant way, integrating online spaces for collaboration into the structure of the course helps – I mostly talk about that in the Backwards Design Project.

So for this module, I was hoping to find an example of a lesson plan or some thoughts on how to digital citizenship in a math class; an example of a teaching doing Indicator 4a – “advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources” – in the context of math. My investigation questions were:

When teaching digital citizenship in a college math class, what can implementation look like/how can you implement it? Can I find any example lesson plans?

Clicker Questions on Ethics

I didn’t find what I was looking for in the context of a math class, but I did find a great blog post by Derek Bruff (2010), Ethical or Not? Clicker Questions about Academic Integrity. In this post, Derek shares the clicker questions he asked his writing students (which were written by himself and a colleague, Maggie Bowers) and talks about the students’ responses/the discussion around these questions. The post is very insightful and offers a glimpse into the classroom during the lesson. (For day two of Derek’s lesson with more clicker questions, check out his other blog here. For a description of clicker questions, check out his guest blog post on Busynessgirl’s blog here.)

Since I didn’t find anything like this for math, and his questions did stimulate an engaged discussion around ethics, I thought I would try using his questions to inspire my own. I’m just brainstorming here and would call this a draft. But it’s a start! Some of Derek’s questions would be relevant to a math class, so I did include them below – 4, 5, and 6. And not all of these questions have a digital component, which I will say more about in a moment.

  1. You are stumped by a homework problem, so you…
    1. use Wolfram Alpha to look up the solution. Ethical or unethical?
    2. get help from someone. They write out a solution and it makes sense to you, so you rewrite the solution and turn it in. Ethical or unethical?
  2. You are working with a friend on a homework assignment. The two of you collaborate to write a solution on a white board. Both of you rewrite the same solution for your homework. Ethical or unethical?
  3. A friend of yours took this course last quarter and gives you…
    1. pictures of their homework from the class so you can check your work. Ethical or unethical?
    2. pictures of their old exams from the class so you can study for your exams. Ethical or unethical?
  4. The student next to you drops his test and you accidentally see the answers. This leads you to change one of your answers. Ethical or unethical? (Bruff and Bowers, 2009)
  5. You get a B- on an exam. You would really like a B, so you ask your professor after class for a few extra points on a particular exam question, even though you know your answer probably doesn’t deserve a higher score. Ethical or unethical? (Bruff and Bowers, 2009)
  6. You find a copy of the instructor’s solutions manual to one of your textbooks online. You use it to check your homework before turning your homework in. Ethical or unethical? (Bruff and Bowers, 2009)

Like I said, some of these don’t have a digital component, like 1.2 and 2 – however they could if you add in taking photo of the work. And similarly, the 3 doesn’t need to involve pictures to get at the same underlying ethical question – maybe your friend gives you the hard copies of their work. So if I were to develop these questions further, I would want to be more thoughtful about how I include technology in the questions, because it’s not always true that the heart of the ethical dilemma is inherently tied to technology. Instead, with some situations, it’s simply that digital tools make it easier to perform certain actions.

Imagining that I were to use these or similar questions, as part of this discussion I think it would be important to clearly define plagiarism in the context of a math class.

Now let’s abruptly switch gears…

Mendeley for Citation Generation and Management

On a different note, I found a free tool that is helpful for generating citations and references within Word: Mendeley. Citing our sources is important for students and teachers alike. In regards to ISTE-T4, Mendeley could aid teachers in doing Indicator 4a (i.e. modeling good citation practices) by making it a little easier to cite your sources – particularly if you are citing the same things more than once.

Mendeley is a free citation management tool. It has extensions for Word and most Internet browsers. In Word, it assists you in doing in-text citations, and will generate and update a references list. Online, it detects citation information so that you can add a citation to Mendeley while browsing, and whatever information it doesn’t detect, you can add. Here is a quick demonstration. (Looks like I need to figure out some better OBS Studio settings to make the image clearer!)

There is a WordPress plugin…but I couldn’t figure out how to use it. Nevertheless, if you’re in Word, this is a great tool and I can’t believe I only just started using it!


Bruff, D. (2010). Ethical or not? Clicker questions about academic integrity [Blog post]. Retrieved from

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for teachers (2008). Retrieved from

Mendeley. (2017). Retrieved from

Doing math online (Module 5, Creative communicator, Global collaborator)

Module 5 is about investigating ISTE Student Standard’s 6 and/or 7:

ISTE Student Standard 6: Creative Communicator – students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.”

ISTE Student Standard 7: Global Collaborator – “students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.”

When I read these descriptions and their corresponding indicators, the thing that stood out to me was that students are going to need a good way to talk math in a digital setting. Whether students are connecting with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures (indicator 7a), working with peers, experts or community members, to examine issues from multiple viewpoints (indicator 7b), contributing to project teams (indicator 7c), or collaboratively investigating solutions to local and global issues (indicator 7d), students will need to communicate complex math ideas clearly (indicator 6c) and choose appropriate platforms to do so (indicator 6a). This led me right to my investigation question:

What platforms can students use to talk math and do math with each other in an online setting? More specifically, what platforms would be better than typing in chat windows or video chatting and sending pictures of your handwritten work?

The short answer is: I didn’t find an interactive, online tool that I think is obviously better than chat windows/video and pictures, or even a clear winner among the tools I did find. They all have their pros and cons (or glitches). I’ll discuss a few of the tools that I want to keep playing with, but it will hardly even scratch the surface of what’s available. For 60+ online whiteboard-like resources, I will refer you to these two links:

The platforms I’d like to keep playing with are:

  • Ziteboard – an online whiteboard I tried it out after reading Kar Romkodo’s (2016) mini rave review in the comments here.
  • iDroo – a whiteboard with extra things like a function editor and chat window.
What I Wanted

It’s hard to even articulate what I wanted in my online, interactive space. I wanted a smooth feel. I wanted to be able to draw and type. I wanted a function editor so that x^2 + y^2 could look like x^2 + y^2. I wanted it to feel fluid as I transitioned between these functionalities.

As I played with some whiteboards, I decided that chat boxes are still beneficial, and as always, I prefer having sharing and permissions settings. With further play, I found that I want the eraser to erase whole brushstrokes (as opposed to erasing only the pixels that the eraser is covering), and yes, I want to be able to export my whiteboard image… (that’s not always standard?!)

What that Meant – a Stylus

I immediately realized that in order to get what I want, I will need a stylus. Without that, drawing math on an online whiteboard is, to me, an absolute no-go. Trying to draw an integral symbol (\int) or even a simple x with my mouse or touch pad just filled me with anxiety. I would never choose that over sending a picture of written work, which makes it hard to see myself confidently suggesting that a student use a whiteboard that way.

Unfortunately, adding a stylus removes a level of accessibility for these tools. Some college students already have devices with a stylus, but many don’t and it’s not something I’ve ever owned. I decided it was worth purchasing though, because I’ll be starting a math master’s program in the fall, and I will be doing the whole program as a virtual, out-of-state student. However, I don’t want a new computer that supports a stylus. Instead, for about 30-dollars, I found a highly recommended USB device that works on the laptop I have: Huion’s H420 Graphic Tablet. The stylus interacts with a little pad that plugs into a USB port and acts as a fully functioning mouse and then some, with the capability of converting your handwriting into text.

As I hoped, the stylus made a world of difference as I tried to draw math on various whiteboards, but the experience is still not as smooth as I wanted…

What I Found, Generally

Unsurprisingly, on all of the online whiteboards, drawing is not nearly as smooth as it is on a program like MS Paint. In particular, the online whiteboards can’t keep up with fast writing. As long as you are making a continual brushstroke, fast is fine. But the moment you start making multiple brushstrokes, you have to be careful; I can’t write at a normal speed on these sites. In comparison, when I’m on a computer program that supports drawing, like MS Paint, my normal-speed writing is just fine. Here’s an image showing slightly careless, normal-speed writing on both Paint and Ziteboard.

Of course, I could use a little practice to make my writing look nicer, but the difference is obvious. Online, my equal signs regularly look like the L shape you see in the first Ziteboard column, and the second Ziteboard column got really out of hand. This issue makes me want to scrap online whiteboards and instead do a screenshare so I can use a program like Paint, but that takes away the interactive piece. That might be okay, depending on the circumstance, but and interactive board was part of the point.

What I Found, Specifically


In spite of the need to draw slow, there are a lot of great things about Ziteboard.


  • Clean, intuitive interface.
  • Mirror view option: helps everyone on the board see the same section of whiteboard.
  • Laser pointer option: allows others to see where your cursor is.
  • Lock all: locks the current objects on the board, allowing you to erase and clear all without deleting those objects.
  • Add images to your board.
  • There appears to be a Slack integration if you’re using Chrome (details here), which I should look into considering what I loved about! (See this post for my thoughts on Slack.)
  • Text editor.*
  • Others can edit what you have typed. So if you type an equation in a text box and your collaborator wants to copy+paste that equation, they can.*
  • They have a really nice FAQ page here, which I think is worth highlighting.*

The main con is that it’s been glitchy for me on Internet Explorer – but everything is glitchy on IE, so I don’t blame them. (Which, who uses IE?, I know. I use three browsers and IE is among them; it’s the browser I use for anything related to my Digital Education Leadership (DEL) MA program. When an interactive website isn’t functioning properly during our online class meetings, the first questions is always “what browser are you using?” and the answer is nearly always “IE.”) That said…

CONS in Internet Explorer:

  • Navigation button doesn’t work properly.
  • Side panel items work intermittently.
  • “Export whiteboard” won’t export.
  • Once you add text, the editing options don’t function as intended, but you are still able to edit the text.*

None of these things have been issues on Firefox, so I recommend using a different browser. But until I switch all my DEL stuff to a new browser, it’s something I’ll have to work around in IE.

Regarding what I said I wanted in a platform, there’s no typing and* no function editor and I don’t see a chat window, but what it does do, it does well (except in IE) and I think Ziteboard is worth recommending. If I don’t need to use a function editor, this is probably the site I will use for my future online whiteboard needs.

*Edit: Ziteboard saw this article and emailed me a very nice email! They let me know that there is typing, and honestly I should have known because there’s a text-size selector in the same menu as the brushstroke-size selector. To access the typing (on devices with a keyboard) you click to draw a dot, then simply start typing.


iDroo, on the other hand, more of what I was looking for, so in a sense I feel like I can’t complain, but there are a few things I wish it did better.


  • Function editor.
  • Text editor.
  • Chat window.
  • Import images.
  • You can move all items you create (including drawings) and edit any text/function.


  • I can’t see a way to export your whiteboard, which is a big con, I think.
  • Again, IE is glitchy and I can’t copy+paste in iDroo when using IE. Being able to copy+paste is super important to me because after painstakingly entering the math in the function editor, I definitely want to be able to copy+paste it. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be an issue in Firefox.
  • Zooming in and out is very hard to control, in both IE and Firefox.
  • The header bar never goes away so the board-space is a tad limited.
  • You can’t edit text or functions created by other board users, which I think is a bummer. I don’t know if this would actually be an issue in practice, but it seems like something I would want to be able to do.  Edit: I’m wrong, you can edit a text or function box that someone else creates. But you can’t edit a text/function box that someone else is currently editing. (I use two accounts to play with these tools and I must have been coincidentally clicking only on text/function boxes that I was already clicked into on my other browser.) Initially I said I didn’t know why I wanted to be able to edit what others had typed, but I realized, as I said earlier, it’s nice because then you can copy+paste the math that others have entered.

iDroo doesn’t feel as smooth as I want, but I’m having a hard time identifying why. It could just be that there’s a learning curve, and with practice, transitioning between functionalities would feel more fluid. Nevertheless, it does actually have a lot of what I was looking for, and I think it’d be worth giving iDroo a shot for online math-collaboration.

Final Thoughts

The Huion Tablet seems like a great product so far. It is working exactly as I had hoped (minus wishing online sites kept up with fast writing) and I’m excited to try it out in a real collaboration. I am expecting that the tablet and interactive whiteboards will be beneficial to me in my math program, which leads me to believe that the stylus + whiteboard combo is worth exploring as a way to meet ISTE Student Standards 6 and 7, Creative Communicator and Global Collaborator. And actually, with the text and/or function editors, Ziteboard and iDroo may not even need a stylus to be good platforms, depending on your needs. Hooray for free tools!

Hmm…I wonder if there exists a keyboard/device that has only math related keys…? That’d be something.


Grech, Matt. (2016). 10 Best Online Whiteboards with Realtime Collaboration [Blog post]. Retrieved from

iDroo. (2017). Retrieved from

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from

Romkodo, K. (2016, May 15). Re: 5 Free Online Whiteboard Tools for Classroom Use [Blog comment]. Retrieved from

Smith, C. (2017). Interactive Whiteboards. Retrieved from

Ziteboard. (2017). Retrieved from

Bunco and MATLAB (Module 4, Computational thinker)

“One,” they say in approximate unison.
“One. Two. Three. …Eight! Nine!”
“One. Two. BUNCO!!!” they scream, with a curious comradery considering they’re playing against each other.
“Nooo!” the other tables tease.
“What was your score? Sweet, I’m the loser!”

Once a month, my extended family gets together to play a game called Bunco. See here for some details; rules vary, and indeed our rules are a little different than what I linked. It’s a dice game. It might sound complicated, but I swear it’s incredibly easy. You take turns rolling and (in our rules) you want to be the first person to reach 21 points; there are specific point values associated with rolling certain things. At most Bunco parties we’ll play through the game six times. That’s a lot of dice rolling. It takes us about three hours. So one might eventually wonder, as I did, how many times, on average, does an individual need to roll to reach 21 points?

There is surely a mathematical solution to my question. You could also brute-force the answer by counting the number of times you had to roll to reach 21 points, over and over and over, and then averaging the results. That would take ages, but if you know how to play the game, you could do it. Or, with a little coding, you could have the computer brute-force the answer in no time at all! (Well, in 2 min and 27 sec, which actually felt like forever.)

This week’s module, Module 4, is about investigating ISTE Student Standard 5: Computational Thinker – “students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.” In response to Computational Thinker Indicator 5b, “students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions,” I asked the investigation question:

What resources or programming tools are there that would be appropriate for students who have not previously done any programming? Maybe some good beginners tutorials for MATLAB, or something to teach the ideas used in programming (like vectors, for loops, if/else statements).

After poking around the internet and thinking about the setting of a college math class, I decided that I really did want to take this opportunity to look for a good beginner’s resource for MATLAB. MATLAB doesn’t have to be used as an advanced tool, and if you think of it as simply being a different (but epic) calculator, then I see no reason why beginning programmers shouldn’t be introduced to MATLAB. And furthermore, if you pursue math you’ll surely be introduced to it eventually.

MATLAB Resources

My two favorite resources that I found are:

Mikhelson’s video tutorials have the main things that I was looking for:

  • Zooming in on computer screen so you don’t have to squint.
  • Short-ish videos. I’m not really looking for entire hour-long, lecture-style lessons, just quick videos that give enough to know some basics.
  • Few enough videos, and covering the topics that I would want my students to know. Again, not looking for an entire course, I just want some good basics. The main topics I had in mind are: variable declaration, vectors, matrices, for loops, while loops, and if/else statements. But I like the other topics he included.
  • A slow enough speaking tempo.
  • Easy to follow visually.

I mostly just skimmed Xenophontos’ PDF, and I liked what I saw. It had a nice tone and layout. I found it easy to look at. Lots of good basics; more than the video tutorials, but not an exhaustive MATLAB manual. I think it could pair well with video tutorials as a reference.

Connecting MATLAB to ISTE Student Standard: Computational Thinker

Learning and using MATLAB easily touches on Computational Thinker Indicator 5b. For loops and while loops are two basic ways of programming the computer do repetitive tasks for so many iterations, or while some condition has yet to be met. When you write a script (a.k.a: code, program), you are writing a sequence of ordered steps. Coding in MATLAB or any other program is a manifestation of computational thinking.

But What Does This Have to do With Bunco?

Recall my game question: how many times, on average, does an individual need to roll to reach 21 points? This is a perfect question for MATLAB and I think a great example of using programming to answer a real-life question. The answer, by the way, is approximately 32.67 rolls. In order to program MATLAB to “roll the dice,” count how many times it took to reach 21, and then average the results, all I needed was: variable declaration, a vector, a for loop, a while loop, a few if/else statements, and two other commands – one to generate a random integer between 1 and 6, and one two average the number of rolls. Aside from the two other commands, all of these things are covered by Mikhelson’s tutorials in about 35 min.

It’s very freeing and rewarding to be able to answer your own questions, and a program like MATLAB opens you up to a new set of questions you can answer. It gives students a tool they can leverage while being a computational thinker. In addition to answering real questions, another reason a program like MATLAB is great tool to have at your disposal is because of what processes it can automate for you. For example, one time I was creating tons of bar graphs, which required calculating dozens and dozens of percentages. The tediousness and repetition of the task was making me cry on the inside. In comes MATLAB to save the day! Write a little code; copy and paste some tables; change a few numbers every now and then. Bam! Tables complete. I wanted to cry tears of joy over how much time MATLAB had saved me.

When I read Computational Thinker Indicator 5b, “students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions,” the first thing I think of is MATLAB. It is a tool that enables you to embody this indicator. And as much as MATLAB can do, knowing even just a few basics can add such a powerful tool to your technology-toolbox. It’s a tool I want people, and my future students, to have access to.

(By access I meant the knowledge to use it, but speaking of access, Octave is the free “equivalent” to MATLAB; nearly all of its commands are identical. And typically, colleges will give students a discount on MATLAB and/or have MATLAB available for use on the school computers.)


ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from

GNU Octave. (2017). Retrieved from

MathWorks. (2017). MATLAB. Retrieved from

Mikhelson, I. (2014, March). MATLAB tutorials. Retrieved from

Xenophontos, C. A beginner’s guide to MATLAB. Department of Mathematical Science, Loyola College. Retrieved from – Communication management (Module 3, Innovative designer)

Module 3 is about investigating ISTE Student Standard 4: Innovative Designer – “students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” In response to Innovative Designer Indicator 4b, “students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks,” where digital tools are defined as “brainstorming tools, flow charts, drawing or mark-up tools, 2D or 3D design software, note-taking tools, project-management tools,” I asked the investigation question:

What project management tools are there?

My investigation question is fairly narrow, and my answer is even narrower…but I am so excited about it! At the suggestion of program director, Dr. Wicks, I looked into which is a communication management tool. It’s basically a place to create discussion channels (i.e., chat rooms) for group/project/team members. And these channels are only available through invite – the world doesn’t have access to them.

When it comes to group communication, I’m a huge fan of FB, and until Slack, nothing else has been able to compete. But as a student, I have observed that students tend to keep their FB activity fairly separate from their school activities, and some students don’t want to be on FB. In my experience, communication between peers often happens through texts, emails, comments within Google Docs, and LMSs like Blackboard and Canvas. Rather than go through what I think the disadvantages of these platforms are for group communication, I’ll jump right into…

What I love about Slack for online, group communication (from 5 days of playing with it):
  • Notifications and tagging – two communication features which I think are an absolute must if you want to foster a sense of community or “teamness” during online interactions. The notifications are super customizable, and I’ll just note that you can even tell Slack to notify you when a specific word or phrase is said! What?! Love it.
  • The apps – I’ll mention this right now because notifications are most effective, I think, when they come from an app. There are desktop and phone apps; I have both.
  • Threaded comments – if notifications and tagging are a first-tier must, threaded comments is a second-tier must. It’s just super necessary for discussion organization.
  • Edit your comments – in a school setting, when I find a typo in my post/comment and can’t edit it, it drives me bonkers.
  • /remind – you can set a reminder for yourself…OR someone else! Even more conveniently, with the click of a button you can also have Slack remind you about a specific message.
  • “Apps and integrations” – Not to be confused with the Slack apps themselves, there are tons of things that you can add to your Slack group, like polls (I recommend Polly), RSS feeds (I recommend RSS), dice rolling, and calendars.
  • Other convenient features: star messages, see all starred messages, see all things you were tagged in, private messages, multiple channels, and search discussions.

Slack is super easy learn and very intuitive – getting started is a breeze. There is a lot to explore and Slack just keeps surprising me with cool things!

Regarding any downsides or limitations (that I’ve seen within these 5 days):
  • I wish the apps and integrations had user ratings. I sent them /feedback about that from within Slack (super cool feature) and they quickly got back to me – they’re working on how to do that well.
  • Slack uses a non-trivial amount of computer memory in order to run (~375,000K for desktop app; ~475,000K in Chrome), but what can you do? So does running FB (~501,000K in Firefox).
  • There are free and paid versions of Slack. Limitations on the free version are: search limited to the 10,000 most recent messages, storage capacity limited to 5GB, only 10 apps or integrations, and voice and video calls limited to two people. For a list of differences based on version look here.

The limitations don’t deter me – they are what they are and something to keep in mind. If Slack were integrated into a 10 week college course, a class of 30 students could go past 10,000 messages if they’re very active. They’d have to average over 33 messages per student, per week. Regarding storage, 5gigs is quite a bit of space. That’s about 16 hours of some .mp4 video files I have, twice as much space as I have on my free Dropbox account, and way more space than the 100MB of storage that Google Sites gives you! 10 apps/integrations is quite a bit, and there are other ways to do free group voice/video calls.

Tying Together Slack and ISTE Student Standard 4d

Aside from using Slack to manage project communication, the apps and integrations (which I will now just refer to as “apps”) within Slack seem to help corral other design and project management tools by keeping extra tools linked in one place. However, it can take some time to find apps that are actually free, so if I were suggesting Slack to my future students, I think it would be nice to give them a head start with a variety of suggested apps.

quickly browsed the app store, looking for apps that could support collaboration and the goals of ISTE Student Standard 4d. Below are some functionalities I saw, with apps I feel confident suggesting:

  • Create diagrams (It has some limitations, but I checked out Lucidchart enough to know it is free. You can make flow charts, Venn diagrams, etc.)
  • Project management (Trello and Trello Alerts, which is free)
  • To-do lists (To-do bot)
  • File management (Dropbox, Google Drive)
  • Calendars (Google Calendar)

Between apps like these and Slack itself, I can see ways for students to brainstorm, make flow charts, take notes, and track project tasks, timelines, expenditures, materials, and potential obstacles. I think this makes for a pretty nice set of tools. Or at least it does in theory. I have yet to try it all out with a real project, so I can’t speak from experience, but I’d love to give it a go!

Using/Moving Over to Slack

Getting a group of people to use a new communication product can be a little challenging. It’s another thing to log into and check, another program to download and run, another app to put on your phone. Another thing to learn. But to me it seems worth it. Among other groups that could benefit from Slack, I think it could be a great tool to help students manage project communication as they work on their innovative designs.


ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from

Lucidchart. (2017). Help center: Account types. Retrieved from

Slack. (2017). App directory. Retrieved from

Slack. (2017). Pricing guide. Retrieved from

Homework solutions, digital citizenship, and math education (EDTC 6101, Digital readiness project)

It stretches my thinking to imagine how Ribble’s (2013) nine elements of digital citizenship can be meaningfully incorporated into math education. Digital citizenship is a concept that relates respecting, educating, and protecting yourself and others while in an online world through nine elements: digital etiquette, digital access, digital law, digital communication, digital literacy, digital commerce, digital rights and responsibility, digital safety, and digital health and welfare. Technology is a large part of our culture and I believe that being a thoughtful digital citizen is as important as being a thoughtful citizen of the physical world, so I think it is important to teach digital citizenship where applicable. In my day to day life, digital citizenship feels like a highly relevant and core skill. However, during my math classes as an undergrad, I don’t feel like digital citizenship was ever addressed.

Pre-interview preparation

Since I was struggling to think of ways in which digital citizenship could be taught within a math class, I wanted to use the interview portion of EDU 6101’s Digital Readiness Project as a way to uncover some of the inherent connections. Therefore, I developed a list of questions based on the ways I thought technology could intersect with math education – including topics like gender-related differences in calculator/math software use, and accepting students as friends on Facebook – but I left the interview open enough to follow unexpected connections. For this project I interviewed math professor Dr. James Lambers of University of Southern Mississippi.

Post-interview infographic

This infographic represents some general information about technology and math education. What I chose to include was based on my interview with Dr. Lambers.


Post-interview reflection

Upon reflecting about the interview, one connection between digital citizenship and math education stood out to me as the most meaningful, and that is the connection to digital law with digitally accessible homework solutions. The connection is possibly more in spirit than technically an issue of copyright law, but the issue of students using digital homework solutions is morally and ethically similar to the problem of stealing content since both are an issue of presenting unoriginal work as your own.

As math educators, we want students to take ownership of their learning, and digitally obtained homework solutions via resources like Wolfram Alpha, Chegg, or past students can exasperate the problem of students working to “get the grade” instead of working to learn. I don’t mean to say that using solutions is always negative for the learning process – it’s how solutions are used that makes the difference. I’m specifically referring to when students copy solutions without understanding what they’re copying, and this is the kind of behavior we want to prevent. I’m envisioning a connection where helping students develop their moral and ethical thinking for citing sources of digitally or otherwise obtained solutions could promote a shift from focusing on “getting the answer” to being responsible for the learning process.

James (2014) gives us some insight that may be useful for understanding students’ moral and ethical considerations regarding instructor-developed homework problems and solutions. Her research suggests that knowing the content creator can increase young peoples’ moral and ethical sensitivity (p. 63), and one study showed that students were more likely to use digital content without permission as opposed to physical content (p. 67). This makes me wonder if students may be more likely to respect a teacher’s request to not distribute solutions simply because the students know the teacher, and if the students may be more likely to not distribute physical handouts of solutions, as opposed to electronic solutions. Furthermore, her work suggests that young people who have created content within a community feel more responsibility towards that community and are more likely to employ moral and ethical considerations. This makes me wonder if developing a sense of community in a math class where students are also content creators could support their moral and ethical thinking about copying and distributing homework solutions.

Beyond the direct parallels made between James’ work and math education, these questions also got me asking broader questions about using solutions: How can we utilize James’ research to help us teach moral and ethical use? How are students thinking about the use of digital homework solutions? Are they making consequence-based decisions or employing moral and ethical thinking? When do they employ moral and ethical thinking? What activities increase the moral and ethical thinking of math students? Do they have a free-for-all mindset regarding solutions (p. 56)? These questions are very interesting to me and could inform possible directions for future dissertation work.



James, C., & Jenkins, H. (2014). Disconnected: Youth, new media, and the ethics gap. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lyublinskaya, I., & Tournaki, N. (2011). The effect of teaching and learning with Texas Instruments handheld devices on student achievement in algebra. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching30(1), 5-35. Retrieved from

Munger, G. F., & Loyd, B. H. (1989). Gender and attitudes toward computers and calculators: Their relationship to math performance. Journal of Educational Computing Research5(2), 167-177.

Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). (2016). Mathematics literacy: Gender. Retrieved from

Ribble, M., & Miller, T. N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: Connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of asynchronous learning networks, 17(1), 137-145. Retrieved from

Svadilfari, Sean. (2008). Homework. Retrieved from