Category Archives: ISTE Coaching Standards

Coach vs. Expert/Consultant/Mentor/Trainer/Tutor (6105 Module 1, ISTE-CS)

This quarter we are tackling the role of coaching. We have touched on specific ISTE Coaching Standards in past quarters, but this quarter we are really digging into what coaching is. And over the last two weeks, some of my peers and I have been thinking really hard about the distinction between a coach and an expert. In Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Les Foltos talks about how, as a coach, you typically do not take on the role of an expert. After talking a little more about this idea, I realized that I was personally characterizing the role of “an expert” differently than what was meant. …But what was meant? Even after more discussion, the idea wasn’t clear in my mind and I decided that before I can really dig into coaching this quarter, I need to know what others mean when they use these words. So my question became:

What is the difference between a coach and an expert?

In my search for an answer, I found that the dichotomy being described shows up under different names depending on the field (e.g.: education, finances, business, exercise):

  • coach vs. expert
  • coach vs. consultant
  • coach vs. trainer
  • coach vs. tutor
  • coach vs. mentor*

*In my search, the coach vs. mentor dichotomy didn’t seem to describe the same dichotomy as consistently as the others.

To my surprise, despite the different names, many articles tended to describe approximately the same two ideas, and seeing the distinction described in so many ways across so many fields really helped me build the picture of what is being contrasted here.

I should note that I did an informal search to find these articles. Some of them come from organizations which are interested in selling you something (like coaching). But I don’t think that inherently makes the information they have to offer, or the insights I gained, invalid; it’s just something to keep in mind. I was interested in what information is “just out there,” and to my surprise it was pretty easy to find what I was after in a lot of places.

With that in mind, here are the articles that helped me shape a distinction between coach and expert (etc.):

The Coach vs. the Expert/Consultant/Trainer/Tutor/Mentor

Below are two “phrase clouds” that I created based on the articles (I’ll discuss how I created these a little bit later). It’s funny to me, because I feel like the ideas in the clouds are not all that different than what we said in the discussions leading up to my investigation, but my understanding is completely different. Perhaps what helped me the most was defining the role of an expert in a way that highlighted why/when you would want an expert, instead of defining an expert through a list of things a coach should not do. Doing this helped me strengthen my idea of what it means to be a coach. Since the focus for me was really about pulling out and shaping the picture of an expert, I think I’ll start with trying to convey my newly-constructed image of an expert.

There are definitely people in my life that I want to emulate. Whether it’s their subject matter knowledge, empathy, listening skills, critical thinking skills, studying skills, parenting, etc., they embody some thing I admire and would like to be better at. I know that in these kinds of situations, I learn a great deal about how to do the thing by observing them do it, and I try to channel them as I learn to do it too. They are being my expert. I am trying to align to them. I may deviate from whatever alignment, but at the start I’m working towards being more like them. This is essentially social learning.

There is nothing wrong with positioning someone this way and learning from them through that positioning, however it is not the goal of coaching. Instead, coaching is about bringing to life what’s already in you, and helping you discover your own path and solutions. You are the expert when you work with a coach. A coach will help you think about what things to consider, and then you make the decisions. A coach facilitates your growth by teaching you strategies and broad skills to help you succeed. This makes a coach more flexible in terms of who they work with, because a coach is not an expert in your subject area or students. An expert, on the other hand, is an expert only in their field of expertise; they have specialized information and a more narrow focus. It reminds me a little bit of the difference between Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) from the Next Generation Science Standards, where what the coach has to offer is like CCCs, and the expert might teach you DCIs. (The analogy breaks down if I think about it too hard, but the image of skills which are relevant across subjects vs. learning specific information is all I’m getting at.)

When you need someone to provide you with recommendations, advice, or solutions, you are asking them to play the role of the expert. I can think of many instances where Person A asks for advice, and Person B doesn’t feel like they should tell Person A what to do. So instead, Person B will frame their response as “Well, if it were me I would… because…” I now think of this exchange as a mini-negotiation of roles. Person A is essentially asking Person B to be the expert for a moment, but Person B is resisting taking on that role in full. I think a lot of advice happens this way, and I’m wondering how this scenario is related to expertise, if at all. By framing their thoughts in this non-advice way, Person B is sharing some sort of knowledge, but not really as an expert, and definitely not as a coach. The idea of expertise and its role in a coaching relationship are two things I would like to unpack in the future.

I want to reiterate that the role of the expert as the advice-giver or decision-maker is not a bad thing. There are indeed many places in life where experts are needed. When you want to share responsibility for a product, project, or event, you want someone to be comfortable making decisions and operating as the expert. For a brief moment I considered the idea that maybe when you are learning you want a coach, not an expert. But I don’t buy that in full. I think in some situations you want a coach and in some situations you want an expert. (Or maybe it’s more about what you get rather than what you want.) I’m a fan of social learning, which is essentially a “learning from the experts” model, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that learning can only happen with coaching, and I feel like when people are pushing coaching really hard, they sometimes say this (in a nearly identical way that sometimes people seem to say that students only learn from student-centered approaches compared to teacher-centered approaches). Instead, I think we need both types of learning. Sometimes we need to align to others, but we also need people in our lives who help draw the greatness out from within us, and that’s what a coach does.

The ideas here have led me, again, to other questions, including:

  • How does one become a coach for a person – i.e., how do you get others to position you as a coach instead of an expert? Especially when they have a tendency to position you as an expert.
  • Can you really exist in both roles for someone? I think it’s possible, at lease on some level, and indeed, a few articles mentioned how being able to operate as both is extremely powerful. So then how do you do that?

Additionally, I feel like I’m now ready to ask:

  • What is particular to digital education coaching, as opposed to “coaching,” broadly speaking?
Coding for My Phrase Clouds

In order to develop the phrases for the phrase clouds above, I used a qualitative research program called Dedoose (not free) to code for ideas within the articles I read. What do I mean by coding? The process of “coding” as I have done here is similar to highlighting with multiple colors, where each color is highlighting only one category of thing. Then you could count the number of times you used each color to count how many times each category came up. That is essentially what the table below represents, but instead of using a color to tag an idea, I wrote a phrase. (I exported my coding information from Dedoose and put it into Google Sheets.)

This table represents the very first pass at any coding, which essentially means that the numbers don’t fully/accurately represent how many times any given idea came up across the articles. Looking at this now, I can see that the codes with the highest numbers are characteristics of the roles which I was already familiar with, and that may account for why the numbers are so high on the first pass (because I knew to look for those things right away). Codes with very low numbers have a higher chance of being too low because sometimes I didn’t code for it right away.

Despite the table not fully representing how often each idea came up, I thought I would share it with you anyways so you can get at least some idea of how consistently specific ideas from my phrase clouds were mentioned, and to help share my process.

 


References

501 Commons. (n.d.) What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Consulting? Retrieved from https://www.501commons.org/resources/tools-and-best-practices/management-leadership/whats-the-difference-between-coaching-and-consulting

Aguilar, E. (2017). What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring? Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2017/07/whats_the_difference_between_c.html

Big Beacon. (n.d.) A distinction between expert and coach: “I know” versus “I trust.” http://bigbeacon.org/2013/06/a-distinction-between-expert-and-coach-i-know-versus-i-trust/

Financial Mentor. (n.d.) The difference between mentoring and coaching. Retrieved from https://financialmentor.com/financial-coaching/differences/mentoring-and-coaching-the-difference

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Heah, M. (2013). Coaches vs trainers. Retrieved from http://www.nationmultimedia.com/business/Coaches-VS-Trainers-30203957.html

Health Action Inc. (n.d.) Expert model versus coaching model. Retrieved from http://www.healthandwellnesscoaching.org/tools/02Notes/DefinitionofCoaching.pdf

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Levine, T. (n.d.) The difference between a coach and a consultant. http://www.sideroad.com/Coaching/coach-versus-consultant.html

Mrooney. (2017). Are you a trainer or a coach? Retrieved from http://www.trainingforwarriors.com/are-you-a-trainer-or-a-coach/

Rosen, P. (n.d.) The difference between tutoring and academic coaching. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/tutors/types-of-tutoring/the-difference-between-tutoring-and-academic-coaching

The Expert and the Coach

There are coaches and there are experts… This quarter in EDTC 6105 we’re looking at coaching – a logical next step which looks at how we, as ed tech leaders, can help our fellow teachers improve. The ISTE standards this time around (1b and 1d) focus on  “contribute[ing] to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and … Continue reading "The Expert and the Coach"

What is troubleshooting? What is it not? (Module 3, ISTE-CS 3e)

For my last week of exploring ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 3: Digital age learning environments, I focused on indicator 3e – “troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments.” I initially started off with different questions, but they led me to these questions:

What frameworks or models are there for troubleshooting? What counts as troubleshooting? And if it doesn’t count as troubleshooting, then what is it?

What is troubleshooting?

Troubleshooting is one of those things that we often talk about without defining. And even more, specific language might be used when defining troubleshooting in a specific context. So based on the definitions or descriptions of troubleshooting from the resources I found, I feel like this general definition summarizes the idea well:

Troubleshooting: “Effective troubleshooting is a multifaceted exercise in diagnosis and deliberation, analysis and action” (Krieger, 2010) for the purpose of attempting to fix a failing or otherwise misbehaving system (Kuphaldt, n.d.).

What is troubleshooting not?

Debugging. This word came up when I asked my friend what general troubleshooting techniques are used in his discipline, computer science. The techniques he told me about didn’t quite match what I was expecting to hear. To me, he was telling me more about debugging techniques rather than troubleshooting, which led us to this forum response on the difference between debugging and troubleshooting:

The difference to a professional software developer is:

“Debugging” usually refers to the act of finding out what is causing a bug in a computer program, done by a person with the ability and authorization to change the computer program to fix the bug once the problem is found and pinned down.

“Troubleshooting” usually refers to the act of finding out how to fix or work around a problem in a computer program one is trying to get to run. Usually it is done by a person who does not have the option to alter the code, but has a program that is supposed to already be debugged. It involves finding conflicts in configuration or the like.

There are definitely overlaps, but they have different main usages. I would suggest that in your context of classroom work, that you use “troubleshooting” most of the time. “Debugging” would apply mostly when attempting to figure out how to alter the lesson plan so the problem does not reoccur on subsequent attempts to teach the same lesson. (Truffula in Debugging vs. troubleshooting, 2014)

The distinction ends up being important due to its implications for a solution. For example, Krieger (2010) says, “It’s common and understandable for users to blame the software or hardware when something frustrating happens that they don’t understand. For a troubleshooter to do the same, however, is an almost certain setup for failure.” I believe Krieger says this because when we believe a problem is caused by a bug, we give up on finding a solution, and the belief that a solution can be found is arguably a prerequisite for persistence in troubleshooting. See Kayne’s (2017) article What is the Difference Between Troubleshooting, Testing, and Debugging? for more elaboration on the differences between these terms.

Problem solving. When you are troubleshooting you are trying to solve problems, but does that mean you’re problem solving? If you are problem solving, does that mean you are troubleshooting? In academia, I don’t think these two words are interchangeable, though, like troubleshooting and debugging, I think they probably have some overlap. The main idea about troubleshooting that seems distinct from problem solving is that troubleshooting happens when a system is failing, misbehaving, or not working as expected; problem solving seems to encompass more than that. Perhaps troubleshooting is a subcategory of problem solving.

The Weyerhaeuser Company has a nice troubleshooting website which outlines the troubleshooting process at their company (it appears that they manufacture things). On their website they distinguish between problem solving and troubleshooting in the following way:

Problem solving is used for longer-term, more complex problems that require more data analysis and a team approach. Working through a problem may take several weeks but will often lead to major improvements in processes, products, or services.

The Weyerhaeuser Troubleshooting Process is designed for “on the floor” situations where time is of the essence. These problems usually take only a few minutes, hours, or shifts to solve. If it takes much longer than that you might consider using a longer-term problem solving process. (source)

Their definition of problem solving doesn’t seem to strictly match the academic use of the term, but I found it helpful nonetheless.

Troubleshooting: The Process

The resources that I found seem to agree on at least three basic steps for troubleshooting:

  1. Know the problem
  2. Narrow down the cause
  3. Verify the solution

But together the resources create a better picture of what troubleshooting entails. This outline strongly resembles *Steve Litt’s Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP) because his process has the most steps and all the resources I found align with at least one item from the UTP. But this list combines information from Johnson, Flesher, and Chung (1995), Krieger (2010), Davies (2006), Weyerhaeuser Company (2004), Litt (2014), and Kuphaldt (n.d.).

*See the heading titled “The 10 step Universal Troubleshooting Process” for Litt’s elaboration on each numbered step below. I recommend checking it out. There’s a lot he talks about that I don’t mention.

But before getting to the steps of troubleshooting, I think there’s one prerequisite worth listing, which often seems to be assumed.

Prerequisite: In order to troubleshoot, you need at least some content knowledge. Particularly I’m thinking of conceptual understanding of the system and its components (Johnson et al., 1995) and relevant terminology. You don’t need to know all the content, but you need to know enough of something, and obviously, the more the better. It is incredibly difficult to Google something if you don’t know what key terms to use. And beyond that, if you don’t have a conceptual understanding of the system, it can be very hard to use the information you find to answer your own question or to even know to ask a question.

For example, when I was first trying to get my computer to read text to me (see my previous blog post here), I didn’t know the term “screen reader” so I didn’t find that software right away. Then once I found the software, I didn’t have a conceptual understanding of how it worked, so I didn’t know that I should be looking for the “button” command key which will cycle through clickable buttons on a webpage.

1. Prepare: This might require certain tools, software, or setting up your work space. Litt emphasizes having the right attitude and describes that here; I think persistence is one of the things he describes. Krieger emphasizes the importance of always assuming you could be wrong.

I have definitely experienced something like “putting on” a troubleshooting-attitude. I recall a night when my printer wasn’t working. After some halfhearted attempts to get it to work and deliberation over whether or not I really needed to print the thing, there was a distinct moment where I went, “Fine, I am going to commit to attempting to fix this.” After something like 5 hours I finally got it working. I think I cried in celebration.

2. Damage control plan: Litt was the only person I found who mentioned this, but it’s incredibly important! If you’re going to mess with things, make sure you backup whatever content you might affect.

3. Know the problem: You need to be able to clearly state the problem and fully understand the problem. Here are some questions that will help you get a complete picture of the problem:

  • What works?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • How are the working and non-working things related?
  • Have the non-working things worked in the past? Has the problem happened before (prior occurrence)?
  • Have there been recent changes to the system?

I think using the process of Rubber Duck Debugging during this step (and the next) could be beneficial. I say this because the act of trying to email someone about a problem often causes me to refine my answers to these questions.

4. Reproduce the problem: I think being able to reproduce the problem is really a sub-point of knowing the problem because you have to be able to answer the question: Under what conditions does the problem happen? I think sometimes this step might get skipped, particularly if the problem and solution are well documented. But sometimes being able to reproduce the problem is super important.

I can think of a handful of examples off the top of my head when I needed to be able to recreate the problem. Two of my examples involve reaching out to tech support and it’s probably safe to assume that in order to get help from tech support, they will need to be able to recreate the problem themselves (especially if it’s not a known problem).

5. Corrective maintenance: Looking at Litt’s description of this, I think it’d be fair to summarize this as “restart and update” but it includes other things like cleaning terminals. Corrective maintenance includes the things you would typically do for general “system health.”

6. Narrow down the problem: Easier said than done. “Your success or failure lies in what you choose to eliminate, and more importantly, why. It’s a game of Pick Up Sticks where you evaluate, reason, then remove any obstacles that get you closer to resolving the problem without breaking anything else. How you make those choices depends entirely on the questions you ask and how you interpret the answers” (Krieger, 2010). And to pull out some of Litt’s comments from Step 1 Prepare: “Don’t try to fix it, just try to narrow it down. Don’t panic. Don’t get mad. Be patient and don’t skip steps. Practice teamwork. When you get in a bind, just ask yourself ‘how can I narrow it down one more time?'”

7. Solve the problem: Once you think you’ve narrowed down the problem, solve it. Solutions can be broken up into at least two categories: fixes and workarounds. Illig (2010) describes the difference between these two things here. In short, a fix is a solution that will eliminate the problem and a workaround is a solution that will avoid the problem. For example, OwossoBob posted this workaround for the problem of the new Google Sites not (yet?) having a “site comments” feature.

Once you’ve solved your problem, don’t stop here!

8. Verify the solution: You want to make sure the problem is fixed and that the solution didn’t cause another problem. Additionally, Krieger says, “If you don’t know why it works, it isn’t fixed. … If the fix doesn’t work consistently, it most likely doesn’t work at all.”

9. Take pride in your solution! I’m glad Litt included this step because it is certainly a clear stage in the process!

10. Prevent future occurrence: Document your problem and solution and then share the information with your community to help them quickly resolve the problem should they encounter the same issue. This could be a great focus for student blogging on a class blog or website.

Is it Troubleshooting? And does it matter?

Two of my questions at the start of this post were:

What counts as troubleshooting? And if it doesn’t count as troubleshooting, then what is it?

But does it really matter whether your troubleshooting, debugging, problem solving, or doing something else? I think it does because learners will need different kinds of support depending on the activity they are engaged in.

With that in mind, here are three examples of activities I engaged in during my recent “text-to-speech adventure,” which I blogged about here. During that adventure, I did a lot of things, but was any of it troubleshooting? After thinking about troubleshooting more, I decided that a lot of what I did was not troubleshooting.

Not troubleshooting: I’m thinking about everything I went through to learn enough about screen readers so that I could use one to turn on accessibility mode on Ebook Central. And since I didn’t know enough about screen readers in order to have any expectations about how mine should be behaving, I can’t say that at any point my screen reader wasn’t behaving as expected. Therefore, I wasn’t troubleshooting…right? So what was I doing? I think I was engaging in the prerequisite that I listed above: acquiring content knowledge. I was learning the basics of using a specific program, and based on the definitions I’ve read, technically that is not considered troubleshooting. Perhaps this is the kind of activity which would well supported by a “click this button” type of tutorial.

Not sure: I’m having a harder time deciding whether or not I was troubleshooting during a different activity. My favorite text-to-speech reader for Chrome and Safari, ttsreader.com, has a Chrome app (here) for their website. It wasn’t immediately clear to me what the app does because the website works without installing it. So I got on two computers at once, one with the app installed and one without, and explored how the features differed based on which computer I was using. Once I realized that the website “remembers” a setting when the app is installed, I started confirming that it remembers other settings too.

Going through this process helped me prevent “a misbehaving website” down the road, and I can see how I might have needed to troubleshoot in the future had I not realized that you need the app for the website to perform as described by the developers. So was I troubleshooting? I’m not sure. I might say I was preemptively troubleshooting because I assumed that not understanding the differences between with-app and without-app would impede my ability to help others troubleshoot in the future. Thinking of myself as part of a community and wanting to support that community was really what encouraged me dig in and find an answer to my question.

Definitely troubleshooting: However, I was definitely troubleshooting when I was trying to add new voices for MS Speak and I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work. The answer to this problem is that there is no known solution to this well documented problem in Windows 7. (It seems to be a bug!) And I suspect that Microsoft’s workaround to this problem is to continue to allow users who utilize assistive technologies to upgrade to Windows 10 for free (see this), rather than fixing the bug on Windows 7.

Troubleshooting and ISTE-CS 3e

Troubleshooting is one of those terms that gets used so much and so loosely that it can seem to become a catchall word for “figuring things out.” In that respect it reminds me of the word “identity.” And for me to be able to engage in CS 3e, it was important for me to go through this process of thinking about what troubleshooting is and what it isn’t. The next step for me would be to think about what it looks like to teach troubleshooting. I know that modeling the troubleshooting process is one way to teach it, but what other ways can we teach and learn it? In the future I think it would also be nice to make an infographic based on the information I found.


References

Davies, J. (2006). Chapter 16 – Troubleshooting TCP/IP. Retrieved from https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb727023.aspx#EFAA

Debugging vs. troubleshooting [Online forum comment]. (2014, October 14). Retrieved from WordReference Language Forums website: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/debugging-vs-troubleshooting.2909914/

Illig, T. (2010). The difference between a workaround and a fix [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.paraesthesia.com/archive/2010/01/29/the-difference-between-a-workaround-and-a-fix.aspx/

Johnson, S. D., Flesher, J. W., Chung, S-P. (1995). Understanding troubleshooting styles to improve training methods. Paper presented at the American Vocational Association Convention, Denver, 1995. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED389948

Krieger, S. (2010). Troubleshooting 201: Ask the right questions. Retrieved from https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff955771.aspx

Kuphaldt, T. R. (n.d.). General troubleshooting tips: Troubleshooting -Theory and practice. In Lessons in Electric Circuits: Vol. V (ch. 8): Reference. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutcircuits.com/textbook/reference/chpt-8/general-troubleshooting-tips/

Kayne, R. (2017). What is the difference between troubleshooting, testing, and debugging? Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-difference-between-troubleshooting-testing-and-debugging.htm

Litt, S. (2014). The Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP). Retrieved from http://www.troubleshooters.com/tuni.htm#_The_10_step_Universal_Troubleshooting

Rubber duck debugging. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging

Weyerhaeuser Company. (2004). Troubleshooting [website]. Retrieved from http://www.pushmultimedia.com/sites/trbleshoot/default.asp?stra=default.xml&strb=default.xsl

Be Prepared!: Troubleshooting by Looking at Current Issues and Problems in Education Technology (ISTE Coaching Standard 3 E&G)

“Be Prepared!” I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always liked their motto: “Be Prepared.”  And as I was considering this week’s prompt, “Given the opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate globally, how can we help them develop strategies to troubleshoot and resolve issues that can come with increased use of emerging technologies … Continue reading "Be Prepared!: Troubleshooting by Looking at Current Issues and Problems in Education Technology (ISTE Coaching Standard 3 E&G)"

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.

ttsreader.com

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 ttsreader.com, 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 ttsreader.com, 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.

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

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 discussing this, my friend immediately asked me: “Did you Google it?” Yes, multiple times. The information surely exists, but finding what I needed, while not knowing the right key words to use, 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, parades, and confetti falling from the ceiling for about the next hour.

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 ttsreader.com. (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 tssreader.com. 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 tssreader.com 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.


Resources

Carroll, Jason. (2014). Digital supports for English language learners. Retrieved from https://www.texthelp.com/en-us/company/education-blog/december-2014/digital-supports-for-english-language-learners/

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Kirkpatrick, A. (2012). Adobe accessibility: Digital Editions 2.0 available. Retrieved from http://blogs.adobe.com/accessibility/2012/09/digital-editions-2-0.html

Kurzweil Blog Team. (n.d.) The many facets of text-to-speech [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.kurzweiledu.com/blog/2016/05-11-2016.html

The Regents of the University of Michigan. (n.d.) 10 helpful text-to-speech readers for back to school. Retrieved from http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/tools/software-assistive-technology/text-to-speech-readers

 

“All Aboard!”- Accessibilty Guidelines and Digital Leadership Coaching

Equal Access [to Digital Education] for All! When looking at the prompt for this week’s EDTC6104 question, I was struck by a seeming discrepancy in the text of the question for the prompt and that of the coaching standard itself (ISTE coaching standard 3, indicator F). The standard/indicator calls for digital education leaders to “collaborate … Continue reading "“All Aboard!”- Accessibilty Guidelines and Digital Leadership Coaching"

Connecting classroom management to collaboration (6104 Module 1, ISTE-CS 3a Digital age classroom management and collaboration)

This quarter we are addressing ISTE Coaching Standard (CS) 3: Digital age learning environments – “technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.” Each module will look at a different indicator from the standard and for this week we are looking at indicator CS 3a – “model effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology-rich learning environments.” This indicator inspired two questions:

Why does this indicator link classroom management with collaborative learning? How can you promote collaborative learning in an online course?

One thing I’m still unsure about is whether CS 3a is about promoting spontaneous collaboration or collaboration within the structure of assigned group work. My investigation mostly turned up the latter kind of information.

My Resources

During this module, I learned that classroom management is more than just managing discipline. It’s also about establishing expectations and managing the structure, culture, and flow of the classroom, which I think can be seen in this Edutopia blog post by Tyler Hester (2013), here. To develop a better understanding of the instructor’s role in promoting collaboration in an online course, I found these two articles particularly valuable:

  • Sull’s (2007) article, Keeping Teamwork Alive, Motivated, and Enthused!
  • Shank’s (2007) article, Improving results and reducing frustrations from team activities

Sull (2007) gives a nice list of what online course instructors can do to foster teamwork and collaboration, such as: giving students examples of good team work from previous courses (like excerpts of a threaded team chat), being an active part of each team rather than just observing, and answering all teamwork questions within 24 hours. Shank (2007) gives a different set of suggestions aimed more at how to facilitate what the students should do. These things are along the lines of how to set up team agreements and team assessments. Shank (2007) also suggests this online tutorial for students to help teach them about working in teams.

Between reading these articles and talking to my peers, I feel like I better understand how the techniques to promote collaboration in an online classroom are classroom management techniques. For example, having each team decide how they will provide constructive feedback to each other and how they will handle teammates who are not contributing as expected (Shank, 2007) gets students thinking about and discussing, in advance, how to manage such issues. Additionally, posting a list of possible solutions to common teamwork problems, including suggestions for ways to talk to non-contributing team members (Sull, 2007) and how to provide certain types of constructive feedback gives students some common structure for how to handle problems and supports them in managing their own activities.

Thoughts

I initially struggled to understand the connection that CS 3a makes between classroom management and online collaboration – which is likely a result of me having a limited understanding of what classroom management entails – but I’m starting to see how these two things are deeply related. In today’s world of tech, everyone seems to have their own system and set of tools integrated into the way they do things. For example, nearly every Physics Education Research project that I’m a part of in the physics department utilizes different digital tools to store, organize, and share files (e.g.: SmartSheet, Google Drive, DropboxGoogle Sites). Similarly, there are a variety of ways that instructors will choose to have you submit work (e.g.: sent directly to their email, uploaded to the LMS, posted in the discussion forum) and in different formats (e.g.: Word documents, Google Docs, PDFs). There’s really no converging on a single system of digital tools to use, because every situation has unique needs, and that’s okay. But what that means is that, given the plethora of tools and expectations that students experience from quarter to quarter, we as educators need to be clear for students about how we plan to manage our classroom, and how we expect them to manage themselves.

A Suggestion

Obviously, students in an online course need an online space to collaborate, and as a student who has used a variety of LSMs, I would suggest that instructors choose a discussion platform with two key features: threaded conversations and notifications. Threaded conversations really help organization discussion, allowing for multiple discussions to happen at once, and notifications are a must (I think) to keep people connected and the conversation flowing. In the past I have suggested slack.com as a good platform conversation (blog here) but I’ve recently wondered how well Slack would work if I were part of multiple Slack chats. Nevertheless, I envision one of Sull’s (2007) techniques for teachers, “become an active part of teamwork,” happening within a platform like Slack.

References

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Shank, P. (2007). Improving results and reducing frustrations from team activities. In Online Cl@ssroom’s Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom [Online]. Magna PublicationsRetrieved from: http://icoblog.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/ff_online_student_collaboration.pdf

Hester, T. (2013). 7 Tips for Better Classroom Management [Blog post]. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/7-tips-better-classroom-management-tyler-hester

Sull, E. C. (2007). Keeping Teamwork Alive, Motivated, and Enthused! In Online Cl@ssroom’s Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom [Online]Magna PublicationsRetrieved from: http://icoblog.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/ff_online_student_collaboration.pdf

The Worst of All Possible Worlds – ISTE Coaching Standard 3 and the Dystopian Future of Education?

“In a world…” And so begins the introduction to countless movie trailers.  We’ve seen them: psychological thrillers, sci-fi classics, action-packed blockbusters all use that famous three-word tag-line.  It’s become so ubiquitous that it’s become a parody of itself and is often used ironically or in satirical versions of these somewhat-esteemed genres.  And it’s a tag-line … Continue reading "The Worst of All Possible Worlds – ISTE Coaching Standard 3 and the Dystopian Future of Education?"

The Future is Now. Librarians are Ready.

“Information is king” and “Knowledge is power” are how the sayings go. Though Sir Francis Bacon’s knowledge quote still rings true, the first would seem to be a 20th Century adage that should be retired. In the 1900s information was siloed and access was somewhat by caste. There are still remnants of the tiers of […]

Connecting the Dots: Is there room for creativity in professional development?

Dot-to-dot puzzles. My kid loves them. Always has. Now in sixth grade, his favorites still start off 1-2-3, but now they’re cranked up to 11. Extreme puzzles like this one:   This giraffe puzzle (sorry to spoil the surprise… it’s a giraffe) has over 1300 dots to connect, but the concept is still the same […]