Summary of Learning

Thank you to everyone for the fantastic experience in EC&I 833.  It has been a privilege to share ideas and thoughts with everyone.

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My journey through school with colour-blindness

I’m colour-blind. Although this is a minor disability, it has affected me quite often throughout my childhood and even today as an adult.  One can take for granted the use of colours in the world we live.  Here are a few examples that can lead to frustration for colour-blind people on a daily basis:

  • Traffic lights
  • Colour coded systems in books and activities
  • Using colours to divide teams in sports
  • Using colours in art (I hated when teachers asked me to colour my art as I didn’t have the ability to pick proper colour combinations and always had people commenting on how bizarre it was that I chose certain colours.)
  • Choosing clothes to wear every morning (I’ve received many comments on my “interesting colour combinations”)
  • Cooking food (Make sure to check the colour of the meat for doneness)
  • Measuring pH as a science teacher using colour pH strips
  • Identifying minerals and rocks when teaching Earth Science 30.
  • Using colour codes when working on electronics (resistor codes are based on colours)
  • Fixing my car/home wiring
  • Making puzzles
  • Describing and object and being asked what colour it is.
  • Purchasing furniture or objects where colours is key.
  • Painting walls.
  • Cleaning certain things.
  • Constantly being asked what colour things are because people know you’re colour-bling. (Nothing is more stressful and anxiety inducing.)

As one can attest, we use colour every day in hundreds of ways.  Experienced colour-blind people are almost totally unnoticeable in society due to learning tricks and using certain technologies to adapt and make sure their disability doesn’t become an inability to function.  In this post, I’ll be sharing a few of my experiences with my disability and how I’ve used this experience to help some of my students who are also colour-blind in my classroom and school.  Some of these technologies are very simple and, in many cases obvious, but we must be careful not to ignore simple solutions in terms of accessibility.  Solutions and tools can be everywhere, and we must keep our mind open to new solutions that aren’t necessarily high-tech software and hardware solutions.

Situation #1

Colour coded activities and learning resources. Many teachers use colour codes when teaching grammar and writing structure.  Colours can also be used separate students in groups, mark sections in an assignment or even be used as a formative assessment tool.  Imagine a student knowing certain answers but having to result in guessing the right colour as they cannot distinguish the right answer. An excellent example of how to go about solving this problem is the use of shapes and symbols in conjunction with colour.  Providing an alternative makes the activity more inclusive to all students.  An excellent example of this method what presented by the team of Mélanie, Sage, Sonja and Justin during their presentation on assessment technologies.  Using Kahoot, they posed a question to the group and displayed on the screen were colour coded answers linked to a chart of results that was also colour coded.  Linked with each colour was a shape which I really appreciated as it allowed me to confirm the link between my answer and the displayed result.  This was a great example of using an assistive technology in a simple yet effective manner.

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Situation #2

Traffic lights. Traffic lights are built in such a way that the coloured lights are always in the same order.  When the lights are vertical, red is always at the top, yellow is always in the middle and green is always at the bottom.  When traffic lights are in a horizontal configuration, the red light is always on the left, the yellow light is in the middle and the green light is on the right. Of course, this situation doesn’t present itself often in the classroom, but I’ve met many teachers who use traffic light images or traffic light analogies as tools to teach certain concepts in the classroom.  On occasion, I’ve seen handmade posters of traffic lights on classroom walls that were incorrect to the standard.  Although this is a small detail in the eyes of a person who is not colour-blind, it can be a large source of stress and frustration for a student who suffers from colour-blindness.  Imaging how a student feels when he or she knows how to answer but simply cannot get it right due to not being able to pick the right colour.  By observing the standards of traffic lights and being consistent, the traffic light analogy can still be used in the classroom by everyone, as longs as the colour-blind students know of the standard and it is applied properly.

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Situation #3

Cooking class. Nothing is more frustration than trying to cook a steak for guests on a beautiful summer day and trying to see if a steak is rare (red), medium (pink) or well done (grayish?).  This is only one example where colour is used in the world of cooking. I’ve had students express their frustration while attending cooking class as they felt like they would never be able to gain the skills required to excel in the kitchen.  Let’s also underline the safety factor in consuming unproperly prepared foods.

In this situation, science and technology come to the rescue as assistive technologies.  Thermometers (especially electronic thermometers) are becoming the tool of choice in judging the doneness of meats and many other food items.  Over the past few years, their low cost and their ubiquitous availability has made their use almost universal in most home and commercial kitchens.  Most renowned chefs now encourage people to abandon the use of colour in judging food preparation in favour of thermometers as they are more accurate and increase the safety factor in cooking.  In addition to thermometers, using mass/temperature/time charts can also be used to help all students. The kitchen in my school uses electronic scales on a daily basis to measure the mass of certain ingredients which allows students to determine the temperature and the time needed to cook things by using a variety of standard charts.

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Once again, these are not high-tech solutions in the world of assistive technologies but are another example of technologies that can help everyone and make the world a better and more inclusive place.

Situation #4

Teaching electronics and learning resistor colour codes.  The Saskatchewan Grade 9 curriculum has a unit on electricity and in this unit, colours are often used to distinguish parts of a circuit and in certain situations electronic components such as resistors.  As resistors can be quite small, writing their values on the component itself would not work, as a result, colour codes are used as a way to identify their resistance value.  Students and teachers who are colour-bling are at a big disadvantage.  In my amateur radio class, we were even requited to memorise resistor colour code despite the fact that I could never use this concept in the real world.  To overcome this situation, I purchased very inexpensive digital multimeters, around 10$ each, as a way for students to measure the actual value of the component without having to guess using colour codes.

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This technology has an additional benefit that it allows us to more completely and thoroughly analyse circuits using actual numerical data which removes ambiguity for everyone involved.  In addition, the kids love using electronic test equipment!  In the past few years, inexpensive component analyzers have become available through internet resellers directly from China. These fantastic little tools allow students to test electronic components within seconds and verify their type and their values.  Once again, technology provides a level playing field for those who don’t have perfect colour vision.

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Conclusions

I remember being in elementary school as a colour-blind student and having large amounts of stress associated with art projects. I guarded my coloured pencil crayons with vigilance as the shared crayons provided by the teacher often didn’t have the name of the colour on the pencil.  Some students sharpened the pencils from the end where the colour was identified and with wax crayons, the paper wrappers that had the name of the colour was often removed and lost.  I cannot convey the stress associated with trying to find a colour and not knowing if it even was available in front of me due to unavailable labeling.

Assistive technologies are fantastic, and many people rely on them with many people not even noticing their importance.  I urge every teacher to keep in mind my experiences when considering activities and tools for learning.  I acknowledge that many students have much more severe needs than the examples I have provided related to colour-blindness, but we must not ignore mild and light needs related to assistive technologies.  For the well-being of everyone we must remain attentive to the needs of all students and recognise that adaptive technologies can assist students that don’t need them and provide and richer learning experience in each case.

Education 3.0 – I’m not a futurist, but I’ll take a shot

In application programming, upgrading versions to a “x.0’ step is a giant leap in functionality and features.  Accompanied with this technological leap in software are often many bugs and problems that make transition to new promise-filled software difficult and at times purely frustrating.  Over time, these bugs and problems come to pass through new releases of software in x.1, x.2 and x.3 releases.  Personally, I always dread x.0 releases and often wait for x.1 and x.2 releases before updating software on any of my computers, phones or tablets.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), the paradigm shift that took us from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was not as drastic as in the software world.  As we were prompted by the presentation team of Jana, Katie, Brooke and Kyla O., to recall our personal experience of the shift between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, I had a difficult time identifying any drastic transitions that changed the way I used the internet.  My experience was so gradual over time that the paradigm shift was not evident in my experience.  Perhaps due to living in rural Saskatchewan with internet access over a 28,8 Kbps modem and eventually a 56kbps modem, my experience with the web was very limited and lagged by many years those whom lived in more urban areas of the province. Although not software related, the big shift I remember as a child at the time of the transition between the Web 1.0 and the Web 2.0 was the arrival of broadband internet in my community. Having a 1.5 Mbps always-on ADSL line changed the way I was able to use the internet.  My life changed from using the internet with specific tasks in mind and maximizing my time online as to be as efficient as possible to “Browsing” the internet in my free time and exploring every nook and cranny the web had to offer without worrying about tying up the phone line in the house.  The internet became a utility as opposed to an occasionally used service.

The world of education has also witness large shifts much like the web and I would argue that as the internet shifted from web 1.0 to web 2.0, the world of education also changed forever.  As the new “social” web evolved as mentioned by Daniel Nations, so did the relationship students and teachers also had with technology and the internet.  The internet was initially used as source of information that tried to emulate libraries and did fairly well to a certain extent, however, once the internet became interactive, it transformed into a versatile tool where the possibilities are endless.  From enabling effective communications to opening new windows into the realities of the world, students have never had so much power and control over their education. As it is said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Our students have grown up as digital citizens and have been thrust into the world of the social internet without necessarily having the tools to cope and navigate this vast world.  As a result, our jobs as teachers has transitioned from being transmitters of information and knowledge to being stewards and guides in deciphering the firehose of information that is constantly entering the minds of our students through social and traditional internet media.

What is the future of education?  What will education 3.0 look like?  While teachers in Saskatchewan contemplate exactly these questions through the reimagine education campaign, we are evolving our methods of teaching by keeping in mind the relatively “new” approaches related to learning theories like constructivism and connectivism.  To me, the future still looks a bit fuzzy.  I’m certain that technology and the internet will play an increasing role related to how we as teachers accomplish our mandate.  My initial thoughts lead me to believe that like Tim Berners-Lee eloquently agues in his TED talk about the future of the web, we will be in a world of linked data.  Companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook are gathering such vast amounts of data that interpreting and using that data can become extremely complex.  Finding links in data is the future of how we will use the internet and make new discoveries. I believe we as teachers will become facilitators for helping our student acquire knowledge by assisting them in making these links in data that will be freely available with technology.

An excellent example of how we need to help our kids think is presented in the following podcast by Adam Sage where Joe DiRisi goes through his scientific discoveries and how they are all done by finding links in data.  Enjoy this one, it’s an awesome episode!

Reaching More Students Through Blended Learning

I’ve always dreamed of teaching a distance education course and perhaps in the coming years, I’ll have the opportunity to realize that goal.  Having been a student of many distance education courses at a high school level and this being my 5thdistance course at the university level, I’ve been part of many different formats and have used a panoply of technological tools to assist in my learning experience.  I’ve used tools like Moodle and Blackboard as content management systems.  I’ve used Hotmail, YahooMail, First Class and Gmail as email systems for communications. I’m used ICQ, MSN and Gmail for instant messaging.  I’ve used scanners, digital cameras, faxes, e-mail and the postal service to send and receive assignments.  I’ve used Tandberg video conference systems, Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom to interact visually with my teachers.

Through the use of all these technologies, I’ve come to realize that there are pros and cons to every tool we use as teachers. EC&I 833 has introduced to me even more tools that could prove useful in the context of both distance education classes and also traditional face to face classes.  As I evolve in my teaching career, the more I tend to lean towards teaching in an environment that resembles Blended Learning.  Although there are still many technological challenges related to availability of computers and reliability of said technology, I’m finding increasing amounts of success in integrating varies technologies within the courses I teach.

Communication technologies

As communication is essential in the context of efficient learning, this is the domain in which I see most progress in my teaching practice.  Although my school still encourages the use of paper agendas as a tool for communicating with home, I find it more efficient to move towards online calendars such as Google Agenda.  The sharing of dates and important time sensitive information through a public online calendar has proven quite effective as it removes many of the mistake factors associated with paper agendas.  The ability to subscribe to online calendars and receive notifications though email or smart phone apps makes distributing information very efficient.

Although email is not as prevalent with newer generations of students, I find it is still quite efficient for longform communication and to distribute electronic documents.  The ability to retain a history of communications with students, parents and colleagues is very important when evaluating the progression of students.  Perhaps in the future, I’ll progress to using an online collaboration tool such as Slack or dig into the world of Google Classroom.

A newer tool that I would like to integrate in the future is Remind. As more and more of my students now have Smartphones in their pockets, it’s only natural to utilize a tool like this to once again, keep open then lines of communications with students and parents. With all these technologies at our disposal as teachers, there are no excuses for lack of communication between teachers, parents and students.

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Assessment technologies

Tools that have been presented in EC&I 833 that have drawn most of my curiosity are some of the formative assessment and data collecting tools that are being used every week.  Mentimeter, Padlet and Polly are all interactive data collecting visualization tools that provide an unequalled amount of interactivity between students and teachers that otherwise would be difficult using traditional classroom activities based on pen, paper and oral communication.  Although I have yet to integrate any of these technologies in my classroom, they will definitely be part of my teaching in the years to come as they provide extremely valuable feedback that I would otherwise not be able to collect.  Their use during our weekly class has opened my eyes to their usefulness and their power.

Other Learning technologies

Technologies I have been exploiting regularity over the past years has been things like YouTube, Kahn Academy and Google Docs.  I often use YouTube as a source of content for explaining certain concepts that are extremely difficult to explain using a whiteboard or even words.  The visuals that accompany an online video or animation is priceless when trying to understand certain concepts.  I acknowledge that finding and vetting content can be time consuming and frustrating at times, but on occasion, nuggets of gold can be found and become an essential part of your pedagogy.  When I find a great video or clip, I don’t hesitate to download it (I know we aren’t supposed to do this as it violates the terms of service or certain companies, therefore I won’t be mentioning any tools that accomplish this task.) so as to never lose it.  In addition, at times, I created my own videos for when I’m away from the classroom or when there is a concept that I would like to review but would take too much time to redo in class.  I can simply send the link to students and they can view the video on their own if they think they need it, thus allowing everyone to spend their time more efficiently.

Online collaboration tools like Google Docs/Slides represent a central part of how I teach my classes.  Sharing live documents and having students work collaboratively on projects provides great value that could otherwise never be accomplished.  As witnessed in our own EC&I 833 course, these tools allow student to work together not only in the context of the classroom but also at home.  I’ve witnessed many students collaborate together over weekends and many evenings on projects which is impossible otherwise.  In parallel with Google Docs/Slides, video conferencing software such a Facetime, Skype or Zoom has allowed me to break down barriers related student isolation.  Although I do not use these videoconferencing tools often as I teach face to face 99% of the time, the occasions I’ve had to utilize them has been a lifesaver in terms of efficiency of communication.

One Special Mention

Dropbox is the first application I install on every computer I get.  If contains my life’s work as a teacher and without it, I would be lost.  The ability to jump from one machine to another and having your work and your content be everywhere is priceless.  Too many of my colleagues rely on USB keys and one hard drive to contain all of their teaching data.  (Exams, presentations, handouts, etc.)  The tears and the sadness I have witnessed over the past few years related to people losing all of their data due to horrible backup practice has led me to believe that a service like this one is ESSENTIAL to all teachers.  The automated backup of my data is of such great value that I do not hesitate to pay a yearly subscription for 1TB of storage.  There are other companies that offer similar services, but Dropbox is the one that I have been using for almost a decade and could not live without.

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As I reflect on my practice as a teacher, I am tending to believe that using distance education tools and techniques in courses that have a face to face context is a winning combination.  As Scott mentions in his blog: “The flexibility that online courses provide is the #1 gamechanger for me.”  Blended learning and the use of varied technologies provide flexibility that is helping us reach students that we would otherwise not be able to reach.

A few thoughts that you won’t believe are going to change your life! #Clickbait

When contemplating if the internet is really a productivity tool, the first thing that comes to mind is the world of education prior to the advent of computers and the internet.  Prior to computers and the internet, knowledge was primarily contained in book form or in the minds of teachers through their education and experience. Students were exposed to limited sources of information based on the diversity of their school libraries and the teachers they had in their environment.  Deciphering and interpreting information was done using specific methods that were taught and there were not many choices in how students work was to be done.  I see in my mind, a student sitting at table using a pencil and a paper to write their interpretations of what is written in books that are sprawled around his workspace.

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Today, students do not even consider using books when trying to kind information for an assignment.  When asking my students to find some information, their first instinct is to retrieve their smartphones or a computer and start a search using a service like Google. After exploring a few sites related to the topic and starting to grasp the idea of the concept, it’s time to open some type of productivity application like Google Docs or Microsoft Word and start writing.  (In some cases, copying and pasting directly from a website.)  In the midst of this workflow, the attention of a student is immediately being pulled in a myriad of different directions by online advertisers, clever attention-grabbing headlines and carefully constructed media architectures.

In the TED Talk performed by Tristan Harris, the methods used by large internet companies to get and retain the attention of internet users are exposed. As time advances, the fight for attention is becoming increasingly competitive and methods are becoming increasingly sophisticated.  So be clear, these internet-based companies aren’t vying only for the attention of students, they are vying for the attention of everyone.  From my personal experience, they seem to be winning when looking at my iPhone usage statistics from the past week.

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As we explored the pros and the cons of productivity sweets in the group presentation this past week, I came to the realization that in many cases, productivity is associated with computers.  We cannot deny that computers have the ability to make many tasks related to ‘knowledge work’ more efficient.  I still remember writing draft after draft of an assignment by hand before committing to taking out the pen and paper and constructing the final draft of my work to be handed in to the teacher.  Today, using a computerized word processor, more time can be devoted to style and content rather than physically writing and formatting assignments.  Imagine the time saved when using modern spreadsheets with integrated formulas as opposed to good old tabulation sheets and a manual calculator.  Group work has gotten much more effective with the advent of e-mail, video conferencing and tools like Google docs.

With all the advantages of productivity tools associated to the internet and computers, it’s easy to assume that we can always “do more with less” as mentioned in the suggested reading: The state of productivity suites in the workpklace.  However, in the mist of all the distractions that are forwarded by our connected world, we must stay vigilant in reminding ourselves that productivity don’t always have to be associated with computers and the internet.  The good old “hipster pda” can be a very effective tool to stay organized in everyday tasks.

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As David Allen extols in his book: Getting Things Done, productivity is more associated to a mindset and a philosophy than the availability of productivity tools. All the tools in the world are useless unless they are properly used and effectively integrated into the various workflows that compose our “working” environments.  Certain tools like DF Tube and uBlock Origin can provide a certain amount of relief to the distractions of internet life, but I’m of the opinion that good digital citizenship and education are the key to reducing the influence of internet advertising and less than honest headlines on the lives of the future generation.

Our attention is very valuable and companies like Google make profit by exploiting it.  Specifically, in the case of Google, their productivity tools are a fantastic hook into the ecosystem, once they have your attention, all of their auxiliary services can now compete for time.  Being conscious of this situation is the first step towards helping people focus and be truly productive.

The role of AV in the greater context of education

Although I do remember watching Sesame Street as a young child, I find it difficult to evaluate the impact it had on my relationship with the world of learning and school.  From my perspective as a parent and a teacher, watching Sesame Street with my kids has given me a totally new viewpoint related to media and education.  When evaluating the Postman quote : …We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.””, what immediately comes to mind is the term: control.

When watching polished media presentations like an episode of Sesame Street or any well produced educational content show for that matter, I can’t help but think how things would be different given certain elements of control were removed from the equation.

Control over content and delivery:  As a teacher in a publicly funded public education system, my obligation is to teach my courses based on curriculum established by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan.  I must make sure that my students achieve the outcomes set by the curriculum I have been assigned to teach.  (For those who work with older curricula that has yet to be renewed using the new framework, I’m referring to learning objectives.)  Although some teachers have the privilege of teaching curriculum that has been developed by themselves under the structure of a locally developed class, most teachers in my circles do not have that opportunity.  I can only imagine the experience I could offer my students if I could teach any outcome I desired at my own whim.

An educational television show like Sesame Street has the luxury or deciding what content it will be integrating into their narrative.  As the show is planned and produced, there are no restrictions on what can be added or removed from the final version of the show.  The final product is effectively a version of entertainment for kids in an educational context.  They do not have the restriction of needing to teach specific outcomes and making SURE their audience has demonstrated a sufficiently good understanding of that outcome to be successful.

On the front of content delivery, this is where teachers have the ability to make a difference in children’s lives. This is where the flexibility of a teachers shines, there are very little restrictions on how content can be delivered. A variety of frameworks can be used to involve students in their education.  Here are a few suggested in a blog post by Kelly Walsh

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The majority of these types of learning tools and approaches could never be utilized in a televised or video format.

I would akin a show like Sesame Street to a form of linear programming suggested by B.F. Skinner in p.40 of Education Technology Historical Developments.  The lack of reciprocal interaction between the learner and the “teacher” in this case represents a large weakness that must be overcome with how the content is delivered within the restrictions of the medium.  Compared to other educational television shows, Sesame Street seems to maximize the medium and makes it the class of the field in that particular type of programming. This might be a hint of what Postman is trying to convey.

Control over audience:  I don’t pick my students and my students don’t pick me.  The teacher must make the best of the situation and do their very best to make sure EVERY student makes progress and makes positive strides in the right direction.  A television show has much more control over their audience.  Although they might want to, they don’t need to reach every child in every socio-economic background.  Television shows mold their programming to reach large groups in hopes of maximizing their viewership.  There is no need to worry about those kids that will fall between the cracks that inevitably appear in society and in many school systems.  If I had the freedom to teach to only the students that were interested in my content, my life as a teacher would be quite different.

Control over resources:  If I had the time, the financial resources, the technological resources and the human resources that are invested in making television programming, I can only dream of how amazing my classes would be!  Unfortunately, we as teachers have to live in a world of limitations, as much as I would love to use the latest and greatest the world of educational technology has to offer, schools have limited budgets and limited resources.  My school has 40 computers for 150 students, time is often lost trying to login to the machines that experience network problems and sometimes the internet is so slow that it becomes unusable.  As a result, I must weigh the pros and the cons of technology use and always do what is best with the resources that are at my disposal.  Reading the required articles: The pros of AV, The importance of audio visual technology in educationand Can you AV it at all?, I developed a sense of resentment and jealousy in that in these articles, ideal situations are presented that I will never be able to achieve in the context of a severely underfunded educational system where I’m always asked to do more with less.  I really hope that someday I will be asked to do more with more.

Control over expectations:  Television production companies don’t have to contend with the pressure of making sure that every student needs to achieve certain learning outcomes.  Production companies aren’t judged when Johnny Student is not achieving his potential.  They don’t have to contend with kids that have severe learning disabilities.  They don’t have to contend with students that have lived traumatic backgrounds that need emotional and psychological support.  The don’t have to contend with children that arrive in a new country and have to adapt and learn a whole new language and a vastly different culture.  All of these expectations that are placed on a formal educational system adds a whole new dimension to teaching concepts that are but a side thought when making a show like Sesame Street.

Control over the human connection: In the end, it doesn’t matter to which learning theory one adheres, one common factor in all theories of learning is the importance of teachers and the human connection they have the ability to cultivate over time.  Learning theories are useless without humans to facilitate them.

To me, the undermining of traditional schooling with the advent of AV technologies that have become ubiquitous such as smartphones, computers, YouTube and Apps is nothing but an evolutionary step in refocusing the place and the role traditional schooling has in our society.  Referring to Postman’s quote, with regards to Sesame Street, when looking uniquely at Sesame Street and the effectiveness of its methods related to the medium it exploits, the results are excellent.  However, we must always be aware that looking at specific technologies or educational practices by themselves does not make for success in education.  A larger perspective must be taken and a broader view of what is accomplished by these technologies must be analyzed to truly comprehend its place in the larger context of educational technologies and learning theories.

We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket when it comes to education, the world of education, like the world of technology is in constant evolution.  Continual adjustment, evaluation and the creation of new methods is a must to assure that we give learners what they need to contribute positively to society.