Important Ratio #1

Around the edublogosphere, a teacher without a wiki counts less than a fireman without a hydrant. I teach. I blog. And yet I don’t use Moodle in my classroom. My classroom isn’t Web 2.0 compliant. My students aren’t podcasting. I can imagine maybe one out of my eighty kids running home to her blog after school but the rest are oblivious to any Internet past their MySpace profiles and Google.

At this early point in my job, I’m fascinated by classroom management and psychology at the expense of everything else, including wikis. My interest in a flatter classroom is also limited by the one (1) computer in my classroom and the narrow (I mean narrow) bandwidth allotted to my better-funded-than-average high school. Even if all my students came MacBook-equipped, however, I’d have one last justification for my wiki-cynicism.

And that’s my commitment to weighing every instructional decision against this ratio:

I’m looking to maximize this ratio and you be should too.

Homework review has a low index in my class. Ten minutes per period spent reviewing 20 problems which ten kids completed and five kids copied, half of which problems could’ve been charitably dubbed “busy work” is of low instructional value.

Assessment has a high index. Twenty minutes per week spent developing a clear sense of a student’s understanding and of a teacher’s effectiveness is of high instructional value.

Let’s skip to the obvious point, one which won’t surprise any hardcore flat classroom educators, but one which they’d better get used to addressing:

I think wiki-ing has middling instructional value.

So maybe my students post solutions to classwork problems to Blogger. Or maybe they analyze common errors on a classroom wiki. I just don’t see how either of those accomplishes anything we couldn’t do in less time together as a class.

If the point is to acclimate them to what will be the essential publishing tools of their day (a cause I can get behind and push), then, shit, will Journalism and English please step up their curriculum, pronto? Otherwise, will someone link up the post I’m missing? Because until someone explains how wikis will increase Instructional Value while decreasing Minutes Expended then I’m content to play wallflower at this party.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Doing stuff on the Internet does give you something more than when you are in the classroom, and that is allow outside people into your process.

    As you say, it might not save you time but. What it does is something better – it gives you time. The value of wiki-ing and blogging is that it extends your classroom time to even when you and your students are not physically together. For example, aside from the 20 minutes you spend discussing as a class, you get an additional unlimited time (in theory) discussion on the wiki/blog. I as a student really find discussion outside the classroom helpful because most of the time, I only get my ideas straight after the class, when I’ve had time to think about everything the teacher said.

    This might not work in your present set-up but one-size-fits-all is clearly not the name of the game here.

  2. Thank you for expressing what I have been thinking about for a long time. As a technology coordinator who is skeptical about the time-learning ratio of some of the Web 2.0 activities, I feel like a luddite. But having seen classes spend an incredible amount of time on blogs for very little learning results, I think skepticism is healthy. As in all teaching and learning, the activities must be well-structure to get results.
    That said, I am a big believer in the motivational power of kids using the real tools of their generation for real work. It just requires a lot of time and planning to figure out the most efficient way for kids to get that publishing experience without spending a lot of class time and limited technology to have 120 kids blather about their hobbies in poorly written prose.

  3. I appreciate the comments from both sides of the teacher-student divide.

    Steve helpfully reminds me that it’s impossible to waste class time if I assign blogging/wikiing outside of class. I take my kids’ home time as seriously as our class time, though, so I would need to believe wikis are worth my kids’ outside time, which right now I don’t. Vicki’s last line speaks to my concern of spending “a lot of class time and limited technology to have 120 kids blather about their hobbies in poorly written prose.”

    However, it seems Vicki, Steve, and I all see Web 2.0 working for some teachers. The scattered failures don’t deter me either. As with every new instructional strategy, the lazy, uninnovative teachers looking merely for some self-righteous assurance that they’re riding the cutting edge are going to flop. I’m absolutely certain there’s some good here for the teacher who’s willing to work for it.

    But y’all Moodleheads have to know that while you’re going a great job preaching to the choir and collaborating with the converted, your words aren’t escaping the echo chamber. If you’re content to keep your tech initiatives to yourself, then 2007 is looking bright. If, however, you want to proselytize this you’ve got to remove the entry-level barriers.

    Namely, someone needs to develop an authoritative website for the interested Web 1.0 teacher. It’s got to look, taste, and feel like Web 2.0 also. The closest I’ve ever seen is Web 2.0 for the Classroom Teacher, a Web 0.5 resource which is as overwhelming as it is ugly. Cf. Software for Starving Students. Clean, purposeful, hierarchical, and open source. If you guys want this to break wide — if you’re serious about changing education in the 21st century — someone has to register Software for Teachers and make it good.

    I have some hope for Next-Gen Teachers, even while others are skeptical and even though it’s looking more and more like another echo-blog. It’s clean. Its creators haven’t gone plugin-crazy yet. It has a look that a veteran teacher can access. It needs less meta-content and it needs clearer writing but it could still work out.

  4. I’ve just started my Year 10 students blogging their History homework ( Some of them didn’t want to (although the majority did), a few dissenting voices amongst the members of staff said they couldn’t be trusted, I had to delete a couple of blogs because of profanity.

    Yet I’m continuing. Why? Because I want my students to feel some of the connectedness I feel. I want their homework to be more than just something that they and I see. They’ve already started commenting on each others’ blogs. We’re doing about the Native Americans at present and one student even got a descendant of a Chief comment on his blog. You can’t buy moments like that.

    It’s motivational too. One student was distraught when she told me she’d accidentally deleted the work she’d done on her blog. I told her it was OK, that she didn’t have to do it again. But what made her most upset? The fact that someone else in the class had ‘beaten’ her by writing a better post.

    We have to prepare students for the world they’re going to inhabit. The world of instant communication, of peer review and of knowledge in flux. If we don’t integrate some of these Web 2.0 tools in schools we’re letting down the current generation of students.

    Yes, there’s a lot of doing things for the sake of it that goes on. There are innumerable barriers to progress – there always have been. But if we don’t keep on pushing that door of ‘messy assessment’, of not teaching to the test and of real learning experiences that count for something in the world outside of the school gates, if we don’t keep pushing that door will never open.

    Nice blog by the way… :-)

  5. Doug, thanks for dropping by and leaving some stories of the good and bad of student blogging. The intro to your Yearly Roundup hearkens here I think in that you obviously thrill to the possibilities of an open-source transparent Internet. 2006 for me was a year-long discovery that this publishing revolution has made everybody, for all practical purposes, omniscient.

    I realize that modern education doesn’t do much to get students excited for what is in fact a really exciting world out there. I wish there was some way to remedy that. All the best parts of me — my passion, ambition, clarity, efficiency, etc. — came about post-high school. Post-college even. I — like you and your next-gen colleagues — would like to catch ’em young.

    That moment you shared about the Native American chief is really cool, but let’s not kid ourselves. You did buy that moment. It cost class time, among other assets. I don’t care one whit about whether my class steamrolls through every state standard, but, man, I hate wasting time. Put it on your list of next-gen bloggables to talk about how you streamline the blogging process — everywhere from registration to commenting. I’m very interested in that.

  6. Dan, that suggestion about someone creating the defintive Education 2.0 reference site is very good. I’m guessing that for someone who isn’t familiar with the Web, the present blogversations are only a deterrent, because you have to dig your way around to get a somewhat clear picture of what everything is about anyway.

    I hope the more prominent advocates of this thing stumble upon these comments and do something about it. Hint hint.

  7. Is Will Richardson’s book on wikis, podcasts etc. a definitive resource? Do people have suggestions for coherent visions that don’t involved reading 50 people’s blogs on a regular basis? (Okay, I know I am a wimp — I don’t know how you guys do it. I just need time to sleep and spend time with my kids.)

  8. From an outsider’s perspective, the edublogosphere seems to sustain itself off some publication or event — recently, The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Edubloggers worldwide react with equal shares vitriol, concern, and self-congratulation. The collective knows the solution but its hundreds of wiki-centric bloggers have effectively (and unintentionally, I’m sure) shrouded it in mixed and sometimes unrelated messages. Vicki and I are interested but don’t have the time to excavate 50 different blogs.

    I haven’t read Will Richardson’s book yet. But even if it offers me an exact roadmap to 21st-century teaching, y’all are only converting me and the enthusiastic minority I embody. What of the recalcitrant teachers who haven’t bought a book on teaching since college? The tech teachers who read online content exclusively? To be effective, someone will have to fit the medium to the message. A print medium extolling a digital message just seems … off.

    Near miss of the day: School 2.0.

  9. Well… it shouldn’t surprise you that the school 2.0 site you linked to is a miss — it’s a government site.

    Interestingly, I agree with you about the ratio — and personally, for my own teaching, I’m not a wiki-ite. I admit to loving moodle, but for now, the way I’m trying to spread the gospel is locally, not digitally. We get a few zillion visitors to SLA, and we show them all how we use it in our classrooms.

    We’re also hosting conferences for teachers to learn how to use these too… and presenting at conferences and writing… oh… and trying to start a school too. :)

    Personally, I’d start at — that’s where I did. I found it to be a nice way to learn about the tool by using the tool, and that’s still the best way to learn. And it’s what we did at SLA — we all learned moodle together by using it as a planning tool. (We couldn’t meet face to face regularly, and we had a lot of work to do.)

    To me, there are a *ton* of Web 2.0 tools to use. No one teacher should think they have to use them all. And — and here’s where I’ll put my administrator’s hat on — they’d waste a ton of time if they did. What’s needed are schools where the chance to explore, the time to learn, and the tools are easily configured and navigated.

    I’ve said it before, as long as we expect the lone teacher to make these changes in their classrooms without institutional support, we’ll never see the use of these tools take off. There needs to be the time and space made by administrators for teachers to explore ways to use these tools.

    For example…

    *IF* your school had a wiki installed on its server, and you had time in PD to learn how to use it… you could, in a geometry class, have the students co-create a wiki of geometric theorems — and that is somewhere where the hyper-linking could be really useful because students could see how the different theorems related to and built off of each other.

    On Moodle — you could create “Homework Help” forums where kids could post questions if they are home at night. Or you could even create assessments online that kids could do… and one of the things that is both nice and *REALLY* scary about these tools is that it can extend your classroom beyond its time. Homework is solitary, but moodle is a pretty amazing way of continuing the community of the classroom after hours.

    None of this is to say that you have to do it — or even should. I don’t *make* my teachers integrate technology other than posting homework assignments on Moodle so that parents can see what the kids have to do. And I don’t expect every teacher to do every thing. But what we have noticed is that in an environment where there is the time and space made for doing this kind of work, that ratio you post takes on very different meaning, and teachers can experiment and experience more.

  10. Alright, I’m making Moodle my entry point. I’m keeping expectations low and my eyes open. Thanks for the initial vector on this, Chris.

    And P.S. on my best days, I’d agree that my ratio is way too simplistic. I can’t weight time and value equally, for example, when my class gets so worked up on learning that their sense of what’s possible expands in front of me.

  11. Hard part about making Moodle your entry point is that I’m not sure how you create a moodle course without a moodle site. It really is the kind of tool that is school-based. And it does require a decent amount of administration.

    But hey… poke around, and if you want to see how we’re using it, let me know, and we’ll set you up with an account on SLA to check out what we’re up to.

  12. I used to collect spiral bound journals every 2 weeks from all 140 of my students. That was a pain, took me about 3 hours to read through 2 sections (about 60 journals), and I rarely got them back to students in time for them to write their newly required batch of entries for the week. Since switching to blogs, I grade all blogs (about 120 this year) in about 2 hours.

    Doesn’t this post speak to the power of blogging? What was once your own personal issue is now something several different voices have weighed in on. What if you allow your students to see and experience that? Using a blog to help figure out how to approach a concept or deal with a difficult situation makes this meaningful to you. Once you see how a blog can help you, you see how a blog can help your students. If you don’t, then you should not have your students blog. I blog and so do my students because I see the value in it and I try really hard to pass that on.

    At the end of the day, though, you’re right about the time spent. I’m just not sure that I agree with you about what constitutes wasted time. The time I spend walking my students through the process of signing up for a blog, showing them how to comment on peer blogs, helping them create a list of links to their comments, none of that is wasted in my eyes. I may not be teaching them something in my content area, but I am teaching them something. Not everything of instructional value resides in the content area of the course.

  13. I’m pretty sure if I taught language arts this would be less of a sticking point for me. I think Google Docs and its ability to track changes (for example) would be a slick way for a teacher to a) collect essays and b) review drafts. In math, though, I just can’t veer off content area so easily.

    I mean, it’s a nice sentiment: “Not everything of instructional value resides in the content area of the course.”

    I’m no apologist for NCLB or state standards but that there’s a slippery slope you’re standing on, Todd. I mean, where’s the line? Some teachers factor homework and attendance huge into a grade because they believe it’s their place to teach their students responsibility and citizenship and where does that stop? Deducting points from kids who didn’t brush their teeth that morning?

    I’m speaking in extremes, obviously, but the point stands. My students enrolled in Geometry … not Geometry and Whatever Else Mr. Meyer Deems Important. I think you’ve got a great impetus for and implementation of blogs, Todd. I’ve gotta find a justification apart from my opinion that blogs are essential publishing tools.

  14. Got it. However, I’ll say that NCLB and state standards are just about everything that’s wrong with American public education. I might feel another way if I was in math or some other course that’s not is subjective as a liberal art, but I’ll leave that for a different posting.

    Slippery slope arguments don’t work until the slope becomes slippery. Where do you draw the line? I don’t know, but not here.

    The uses of Google docs you suggest are actually not veering off my content area at all. In fact, they are in keeping with several state standards. I’m not familiar with the math standards, so I’m not sure how you can use this stuff to help kids get the concepts, but I’ve got to believe there’s a way to work that in. But you’re right: first, the teacher has to want to work that in. That’s fine if you don’t want to. Keep on doing what works for your kids.

  15. Not to belabor the point but I think you’ve got fair call — fair even under state standards — to use wikis, blogs, and to collaborate like Web 2.0 intended. In my case, though, even more than I want my kids to publish and collaborate like I do, I want to avoid idolizing myself as this Great White Socializing Hope who can shirk necessary conceptual growth in favor of his own pet projects. I’m looking for a solid psuedo-standards-based integration for all of this, but until then I can’t justify the means with the end.

    Too attached to standards, I guess.

  16. Again, got it. I wish I was more familiar with math standards. But if there’s anything you can do better on a computer that you do on paper, do it. It’s not as much a pet project (though it is partially that for me since computer literacy is as important as any other literacy, though the most neglected in high school) as much as it’s using these tools to save time and make the work more meaningful to your students, just as you describe in your ratio.

    I’m having students create time lines right now using an Excel spreadsheet. They could have simply written out the time line on paper, but with Excel students only need to complete the work once and then can print it our or email it to whoever needs it. Also, it allows them to easily revise their work later; a poster version of this same thing is done as soon as it’s on the wall. I really went back and forth on this decision, in no small part due to this posting. Using Excel served the same purpose as doing it on paper, but saved time since I don’t have to wait for all students to copy the information down and they can reorder events as they go through this, allowing them to revise their ideas.

    And the gimmick inherent in all this shouldn’t be underestimated. That can go a long way toward saving time and letting students get more from the work. It just needs to become more worthwhile before it wears out. Otherwise it’s *only* a gimmick and not worth our time.

  17. As a math teacher, I think it’s really hard to do. Did you know that it’s standard practice for typesetters to charge double or even triple for math manuscripts because getting all of the math symbols in so they look right takes so long? I make a lot of class web pages, but I don’t do blogs or even discussion boards because they’re just not math symbol friendly enough. It’s possible to work around, but it’s not easy, and it I can’t see how to make it work with the learning/time ratio. Think how much extra fiddling it took to just get your ratio to look right on your blog screen–is it worth the time it would take to teach the kids how to post what you want them to be able to post? I don’t know. I’d have to have a pretty clear idea of what I wanted them to do in the blog and why before it became worth the time…

  18. Uf. That’s an interesting fact — though not at all surprising — about profiteering typesetters. I’m probably just excusing myself, but I imagine a language arts setting, and how easily one could co-opt Google Docs and still pass the ratio test. (Totally inappropriate use of “Ratio Test” back there. My bad.)

    “If only I taught English,” I tell myself, totally wimping out.

    I’d write math blogs off entirely if not for Darren Kuropatwa’s AP Calculus blog, the only site in my feedreader sustained exclusively by high school students.

    I mean it is calculus so we’re talking students who gravitate towards challenges, but still, I fancy myself a pretty sharp eye for halfassedness and his scribes all seem to bring their best game.

    Anyone know how well Scanr would work for us here?

  19. Hi, Dan.

    I appreciated your post re: Web 2.0 and the time/cost factors. I am a Spanish teacher, and while on first blush Web 2.0 may lend itself well to languages, I’m still riding shotgun on that one. In fact, I recently blogged about this. While I do believe that some aspects of Web 2.0 are potentially useful, like podcasting, for example, I also believe in maintaining the integrity of any tool, and using a blog as a classroom management tool or for posting students’ homework compromises the integrity of that tool, IMHO. However, this is exactly how many of my FL colleagues are using blogs. Wikis, honestly, I can’t get make much sense of their use in a language classroom. If I taught an AP-Level course, I’d have every student create a Spanish blog. But I teach 8th, 9th and 10th graders. Some will continue on at my school, some will go on to other independent schools, and others will go on to the local public schools. So, I need to pay attention to what my students should know and be able to do, per the State Standards, and per the curricula of the independent schools in my area.

    Between you, me and a goal post, Dan, I’d rather use my 85 minute block of time getting my students to hear, speak, read and write Spanish. I do pull things from the Web, like authentic language of native speakers, and and video clips of the cultural aspects of the lessons we are studying, so there’s integration on some level. But, I’m sticking closer to shore with my surfboard, and waiting for the right wave to ride.