Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Social Media Enters the Classroom

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant

I only graduated high school two years ago, but my learning experience has already become outdated. In a classroom at Emerson College this past year, I was asked to use social media, much to my bewilderment. My professor set up a crowdsourcing website—a form of media I had never even heard of—for us to compile each day’s notes. Crowdsourcing has been used for many outlets, but most notably by businesses to project problems to the public and encourage crowd participation to gain solutions.

Social media, once an enemy of teachers, is now slowly filtering into the classroom. While cell phone use, specifically texting, had become a large source of distraction to students, laptop use is now being encouraged in some settings. Students participate using features similar to text messaging; the only difference is that the entire class, including the teacher, is viewing their comments. Educators are finding that letting students engage in social media keeps their attention focused on the lesson at hand and even prompts more students into a discussion, albeit, silently.

There are various types of social media being indoctrinated in daily lessons, and this isn’t happening just in America: teachers all over the world are inviting social media into their classrooms, from the elementary to the college level. In K-12 classes, such as the 11th and 4th graders from Sioux Rapids, Iowa, educators have been not only satisfied with the efforts of social media interaction in the classroom, but also impressed with how well their students used it. Universities in Sweden, Great Britain, and Wales have met similar success.

Twitter and other similar technologies, such as Google Moderator and Today’s Meet, allow students to participate in a class discussion, eliciting answers from even the shyest students. They provide a forum for feedback, allowing teachers to respond to posted questions and comments. The set-up of many of these “backchannel” programs, most of which are free on the Internet, is similar to a private “chat room.” Google Moderator, in addition to providing a forum, has areas for voting boxes and brainstorming ideas. Today’s Meet allows for a live streaming of comments so educators know which points of their presentation need clarification.

However, this innovative style of teaching does not go without its naysayers. Any time laptops are used in the classroom, there is a good chance that students will be using them inappropriately, whether they are checking their email, playing games, or instant messaging each other. But teachers looking to find a home for social media in the classroom argue that giving students a productive method to use their technology prevents inattentiveness. Some educators are even creating their own type of social media, like the Hot Seat, which was developed for Indiana’s Purdue University. The Hot Seat is a personalized backchannel forum for posting questions and comments during a lesson. It is accessible by laptops and other handheld devices, and also can be projected onto a screen. This way, the Purdue staff can see how the lecture or discussion is progressing. Although only twelve courses took advantage of it this past semester, the educators who did found promising results. More students “spoke up” during class, and questions were dealt with quickly and efficiently.

While having social media in the classroom is still an experiment, it is clear that there are some positive results. In some cases, students are more familiar and at ease with the technology than are the teachers, which is maybe what makes its appeal so great. Whatever the changes in technology, look to PSG to help guide you through them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The 10-Minute Rule

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

Parents are making their voices heard regarding the amount of homework their children are bringing home each day. Many school officials are starting to listen. How much is too much? A Duke University psychology professor says students should have 10 minutes of homework each evening for each grade they are in school. So a fifth grader would have 50 minutes of homework a night.

As I helped my own three kids do their homework (and lots if it, at times) I saw examples of worthless, time-consuming assignments as well as assignments that really got my kids thinking and motivated. The good homework helped extend the instructional day (a topic for another time) and kept me informed as to what my kids were studying in school.

Publishers need to be sure the homework components of their programs are succinct, focused, and motivating. The professionals at PSG can help create just such components.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

College Students Push for Congressional Reform

By Jordan Koluch, Intern

The American Student Association of Community Colleges (ASACC) seeks to enhance student leadership by helping student governments at member schools address issues that affect students. Founded in 1984 by nine community colleges in the Great Lakes area, ASACC has been steadily growing and making a tangible impact on education legislation. On its website, ASACC credits itself with the passing of Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Service Code, which provides full tax deductibility for employers paying for employees’ college expenses. The organization also supported the Direct Student Loan Program, SAFRA, and increases in Pell Grants.

Students at member colleges play an active role in the organization’s success. Twice a year, ASACC facilitates a meeting between student senates and members of the US Congress or their staffs. According to Allen Rauth, the ASACC Great Lakes Region representative, these students have important voices because “technical and community colleges hold the same power that four-year colleges do, and…community colleges should be recognized on the same pedestal as four-year universities.”

At the meetings, students discuss between three and five key points set by ASACC, compiled from a list of the most important issues sent in by all ASACC member student senates. This list often includes Pell grants, the value of which does not often increase at the same pace as college tuition. Most recently, issues such as lowering the price of textbooks and lowering the age at which students may be considered independents have risen to the forefront of the list.

Rauth emphasizes that students are an investment in the future and should therefore be taken seriously by the legislators they visit. He believes that it is important for lawmakers to see whom their legislation affects and hear the opinions of the country’s next generation of leaders.

Monday, July 18, 2011


By Annette Cinelli Trossello, Project Manager

As my husband and I were driving through the tunnel on our way home from the airport, we saw a light flash. "What was that?" he wondered. I shrugged and continued flipping through the radio stations. "I hope it wasn't a camera taking a picture of my license plate because it thinks I'm speeding!" I glanced over. "I'm sure it wasn't. I don't think the tunnel has those kind of cameras." He paused. "I'd contest a ticket if I got one." "You do that," I replied with a smile. A few more minutes went by and I heard him muttering under his breath. "Contest, contest, contest, contest." "What are you doing?" I finally asked, turning down the radio. "Isn't it funny how words can be spelled the same, but pronounced differently, and mean completely different things? 'I want to contest the ticket.' 'I hope to win the contest.'" "They're called homographs," I informed him.

Since that night, we (along with friends and family) have made a game of naming all the homographs we can think of. The rules are fairly simple. It has to meet the definition of a homograph, and you have to have thought of it on your own; no googling "homographs!" I love language. For me, thinking of homographs is fun. I also keep a mental list of favorite words (the top one being defenestration, It amuses me to no end that there is a word that means "the action of throwing something or someone out of a window.") There's nothing better than learning the etymology of a word (did you know the earliest use of unputdownable is from a letter written by Raymond Chandler in 1947), bemoaning the ridiculous words added to the OED (Bling and D'oh OED?! Really?), or hearing a witty pun (for example the email with 10 lame puns that ends with "Finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did."). As a copyeditor, writer, and avid reader, words are not just my work, they are my life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Limits of Educational Gaming

By Courtney Landi, Intern

An extremely popular topic among the education community at present concerns new developments in technology and their implementation in American classrooms. Most media coverage on such topics cites computerized textbooks, electronic homework platforms and instructional video games as the teaching methods of the future. To this end, many public schools are beginning to embrace these new methods as their sole educational tools, even going as far as supplying entire student bodies with Apple iPads and the educational applications that go with them in lieu of traditional textbooks. But to what extent is this restructuring of traditional teaching methods beneficial to all students?

In general, such advanced technological systems cater to eager, fully capable students, tending to marginalize children with learning difficulties or special needs. However, electronic programs that accommodate these unique students should ideally capture the most attention and demand the most continued development.

Despite the overwhelming need, and what seems to me to be the obvious need, for electronic programs designed with special needs students in mind, such tools are tremendously lacking in both application and media attention. One successful campaign, although very small in scale and poorly publicized, was recently conducted by Jacqueline Egli, the director of Bridges Academy, a private school for students with disabilities in Winter Springs, Florida. In her study, she measured the speech improvement rate of her students after using the computer based fluency programs Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant created by Scientific Learning. The latter is a program that records students as they read a story aloud and tracks their mistakes as they go along in order to help them realize and improve upon their weakest points. Through this interactive medium, children with learning disabilities are better able to track their progress and more accurately sharpen their basic skills.

By utilizing technology in this specialized manner, educational tools can be expanded to include not only capable children, but children who are struggling as well. And while it is important to utilize everything at our disposal to improve the educational process for students, it is vital to ensure that the tools at our disposal include students with more specific needs. Although electronic platforms are abundantly available and continue to be implemented to a greater extent, not enough applications are being produced to address particular learning circumstances.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Proposed Funding for Online Education

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

President Barack Obama is proposing a multibillion-dollar investment in the nation's community colleges, a $12 billion effort over ten years to help the two-year institutions reach, teach, and train more people for "the jobs of the future." Some of the money could be available by the 2010 budget year that begins Oct. 1. Half a billion, or $500 million, would go toward online education for developing online courses.

In the 30-plus years I’ve been in educational publishing, our industry’s transition from print to digital delivery has been relatively slow when compared to that of other industries. However, we can now safely say that education has accepted the digital world, and a great deal of effective educational content comes to us via a variety of electronic devices every day. It’s time for a concerted effort to get this critical content into the hands (and minds) of our students.

PSG can help you prepare your content for digital delivery online, by creating new content with authoring systems or reformatting existing content.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Literary Nonfiction

By Alyssa Guarino, Editorial Assistant

What is literary nonfiction? You may have seen it under different names; in addition to literary nonfiction, it has been called narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, narrative journalism, factual fiction, documentary narrative, and “the literature of actuality,” according to the University of Oregon’s definition. While we tend to equate “literary” with “fiction” and not truth, this genre of writing is all about the facts. It is the style that is creative, literary, or narrative. Many pieces of literary nonfiction read like novels, but tell stories of true people or events. However, nonfiction writers must be careful not to dip too closely into the fiction realm—they must rely entirely on facts, and craft them in an engaging manner.

This type of nonfiction has shown up in the news, in the nonfiction publishing industry, and even education. Elizabeth Partridge, the author of Marching for Freedom, an account of children protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and took a place on the School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Nonfiction books have been winning awards left and right the past few years, including the 2009 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Award.

As Partridge notes, nonfiction is changing, certainly losing its stigma of “boring.” Perhaps you’re most familiar with this type of writing in journalism. The Atlantic Monthly is just one of many publications that has literary nonfiction pieces, a welcome relief from the onslaught of news written in the traditional inverted pyramid style. Unlike most articles, you won’t be able to find out the core information in the first sentence of a literary nonfiction piece. Instead, much like with a thriller novel, you will have to read to the very end to find all the facts.

But this writing movement has become popular with a younger crowd, too. Literary nonfiction is now read by students in grades K-12. Students may be surprised to find that a good story is made up entirely of facts. Although this type of writing is popular as a listening device—the better to engage young readers—teachers are encouraging their students to take the writing initiative as well. Third graders from the Alain L. Locke Elementary School PS 208 in Manhattan, for instance, were assigned literary nonfiction essays this spring. Pieces included subjects such as sharks and snakes.

Literary nonfiction is popular with the older students as well—and now some schools award students for their essays. In Texas, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference awards fifteen scholarships and provides a forum for students from all grades to interact with writers experienced in the field. The Norman Mailer High School and College Writing Awards for Creative Nonfiction encourages students from high school, two-year, and four-year college institutions to try their hand at literary nonfiction.

Be on the lookout for literary nonfiction—it’s guaranteed to be entertaining!