Tag Archive for books

Faculty Summer Reads

The faculty summer read promotes the sharing of fresh perspectives on education among us when we are away from classes and students. U Prep purchases these books and provides them to all faculty members and those staff members who would like to participate. During opening faculty meetings, the three authors will join the U Prep faculty via Skype for a question and answer session about the readings.

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Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (William Powers, 2011)

A crisp, passionately argued answer to the question that everyone who’s grown dependent on digital devices is asking: Where’s the rest of my life? Hamlet’s BlackBerry challenges the widely held assumption that the more we connect through technology, the better. It’s time to strike a new balance, William Powers argues, and discover why it’s also important to disconnect. Part memoir, part intellectual journey, the book draws on the technological past and great thinkers such as Shakespeare and Thoreau. “Connectedness” has been hconsidered from an organizational and economic standpoint—from Here Comes Everybody to Wikinomics—but Powers examines it on a deep interpersonal, psychological, and emotional level. Readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Outliers will relish Hamlet’s BlackBerry.

Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Cathy Davidson, 2012)

A brilliant combination of science and its real-world application, Now You See It sheds light on one of the greatest problems of our historical moment: our schools and businesses are designed for the last century, not for a world in which technology has reshaped the way we think and learn. In this informed and optimistic work, Cathy N. Davidson takes us on a tour of the future of work and education, introducing us to visionaries whose groundbreaking ideas will soon affect every arena of our lives, from schools with curriculums built around video games to workplaces that use virtual environments to train employees.

Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (Heidi Hayes Jacobs, 2010)

If you believe that an essential role of schooling is to prepare students to be successful in today’s world, then here is a must-read book that makes a powerful case for why and how schools must overhaul, update, and breathe new life into the K–12 curriculum. World-renowned curriculum designer Heidi Hayes Jacobs leads an all-star cast of education thought leaders who explain:
– Why K–12 curriculum has to change to reflect new technologies and a globalized world.
– What to keep, what to cut, and what to create to reflect 21st century learning skills.
– Where portfolios and new kinds of assessments fit into accountability mandates.
– How to improve your use of time and space and groupings of students and staff.
– What steps to take to help students gain a global perspective and develop the habits of mind they need to succeed in school, work, and life.
– How to re-engineer schools and teaching to engage and improve students’ media literacy.

Moodle Administration (Alex Büchner, Packt Publishing)

Moodle Administration

How ironic it is to read a commercial book about open-source software! I was nonetheless intrigued when Packt Publishing invited me to review a complimentary copy of Moodle Administration. Why not give book learning another try? I might find new value and improve my knowledge of Moodle.

Moodle Administration presents a clear and thorough review of essential concepts and tasks for Moodle site administrators. Büchner consistently focuses on his priority audience, staff who are tasked with installing and managing Moodle. He stays away from systems administration or course construction tasks. The guide will make sense in a variety of contexts, from campus-based schools and universities to virtual schools.

Moodle’s own structure guides the book’s organization. Chapter topics include installation, course management, user management, look and feel, security, backup and restore, backup and restore, and networking. This makes the book easy to use for a variety of purposes: an introduction to the new Moodle administrator, a refresher for a current Moodle admin, or as a quick reference for specific topics.

The Moodle community maintains its own documentation for administrators. These freely-accessible, maintained documents also cover the basics of site administration and follow Moodle’s structure. Why buy the book? Overall, Büchner’s focused effort demonstrates greater thoroughness and consistency than does the online documentation. One finds an appropriate level of detail and visuals throughout the book. That said, some explanations of the administrative interface reference and borrow from existing, free Moodle documentation.

The book helped fill a number of gaps in my knowledge, many of them new features in version 1.9 and some older. I will look into the Accessibility Options module as a way to provide screen-reading and high-contrast themes to three of our users. I enjoyed the clear explanation of how to set up parent roles using the mentee function, though I did not find the answer to my longstanding question of how to most easily provide parent access to their child’s courses. I had heard of Mahara e-portfolio integration, but the book’s explanation provided me with more complete context for the relationship than I had previously encountered. I learned a lot about how to synchronize enrollment with our student information system, which we may do one day. I also learned about file access via WebDAV, which could help teachers who maintain large file collections, but I was left curious when the book only demonstrated how to connect a Windows client to a WebDAV-enabled system.

I wish the book had spent more time on year-to-year transitions. Büchner alludes to year-end and start-of-year administrative tasks, underscores the importance of planning your course organization ahead of time, and explains both importing activities and restore from backup. Büchner could more fully explain different ways to help teachers who want to carry their course from one year into the next. I don’t recall a reference to the Reset Course feature or manual approaches that teachers may use to keep some content and remove others from one year to the next.

Ideally, the Moodle community would make this quality of documentation available online. In the meantime, this book should find a receptive audience. I am pleased to read that Packt donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book to the Moodle project. I trust that Büchner’s company, Synergy Learning, regularly contributes core code and modules to the Moodle project.

While academic technology specialists and teachers bear the most responsibility to understand how Moodle may support a constructionist learning environment, the Moodle administrator also plays a role. Moodle Administration misses the opportunity to educate Moodle admins on what makes Moodle different from its peers and competitors. The book could draw particular attention to configuration and maintenance tasks that facilitate student-centered instruction. For example, what block configurations typically accompany the Social Format for courses? How could students use their personalized calendar views to manage their own assignments? How may one allow more student control over course content? What features do students use to monitor course activity, especially in discussion forums? How does one configure inline commenting to provide more opportunities for teacher-student dialogue around completed work? In other words, it is great to know the function of each configuration setting, but should we not also teach the purpose?

The book encourages me to explore two of Packt Publishing’s other Moodle titles, Moodle Teaching Techniques and Moodle E-Learning Course Development. These may provide more of the broader perspective on administering Moodle that I seek. On the other hand, how many school staff would spend about $150 US in order to purchase them all?

Moodle E-Learning Course Development  20081108-moodle_teaching_techniques.png

Moodle Administration fulfills its primary goal, to provide clear, comprehensive explanations of all of the major components of Moodle 1.9 to staff responsible for system installation and maintenance. It should serve as a useful introduction to new Moodle administrators or a reference manual for current admins. Advanced Moodle administrators may find the text useful as a refresher.