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Archive for February, 2010

Mark Coppin, a distinguished Apple educator who focuses on assistive technology, spoke Wednesday at MU on the uses of assistive technology to help children with disabilities learn and connect to the world around them.

Coppin said he uses special software loaded on Macs to give kids opportunities they would otherwise not have. At a summer camp every year in North Dakota, he teaches kids with cerebral palsy, autism and “fragile mental states” to take photographs, make slideshows in iMovie, and create songs in Garage Band.

Coppin uses a universal design for learning theory to guide him in educating his students. He defined this universal design as a curriculum with multiple ways of getting information to students, multiple ways for students to express that information and multiple ways of engaging the student with that curriculum. This ideology, he said, is what drives him to try and find ways to make creative expression by his students in any medium they wish possible. First, he needed a platform to accomplish this goal.

SwitchXS, an assistive software, allows a user to use a single contact point to control their computer. This may be in the form of a switch the user taps with a finger or a button on the headrest of a wheelchair the user must bump with their head. Through the use of this software, students can type, play and create music and do just about anything a fully-capable person can. Despite the simplicity, users who become proficient with the software use it as naturally as I can type on this keyboard.

“It allows everyone to take advantage of all software,” Coppin said.

And for those who cannot speak, there is software that reads text back to the user, regardless of whether it is from a Web site or if the user wrote a note in a word processor.

In some special cases, Coppin explained, users become so savvy that they are able to play online computer games. One video framed the story of a boy named Bryan who is an avid gamer and game reviewer, hobbies he is able to accomplish with only the use of a thumb.

Coppin outlined a plethora of great uses of this software, but the examples focused mainly on creative expression, leaving a significant chunk of material in the classroom out of a talk on “the future of assistive technology in the classroom.” In addition, the lecture seemed eerily like an Apple plug in vague disguise. A plug, no less, that failed to show attendants any software or teaching devices that reach too far, if at all, into the future. All the software besides SwitchXS, which is the door for these kids into a world of computing, was not standard Apple software.

Putting that aside, it was certainly encouraging to see Coppin’s efforts to engage a section of the population that could easily be given up on in terms of computing.

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As I was browsing the New York Times Web site (as any good journalism student should do, right?), I came across an article that almost made me want to try my luck at Tufts University. I mean, how can anyone go wrong with a university that encourages prospective students to submit imaginative YouTube videos as part of the application process?

The article outlined several students who took advantage of the option, like the student who sent in a video of a remote-control elephant helicopter buzzing around. Yes, you read that right — an elephant helicopter. (I recommend this video.)

Search for “Tufts application” on YouTube and peruse the different choices — students sing, dance, rap, twirl flaming batons and, my personal favorite, give a lesson on “how to raise your street cred.”

The YouTube idea was great by itself, but the New York Times article also said the university was “known for its quirky applications.”

I think we all know where I went next.

In addition to the typical requests for information about extracurricular activities, honors and awards, etc., the essay topics actually made me laugh out loud (and outed me for slacking at work).

Soon, though, my coworkers were reading and laughing with me.

How could we not laugh at the idea of high schoolers writing 250 to 400-word optional essays on topics like: “Kermit the Frog famously lamented ‘It’s not easy being green.’ Do you agree?” and “Are we alone?” I’d love to read some of these.

Or how about taking a predetermined story title like “The Getaway” or “Drama at the Prom” and writing your heart out? The journalist in me wants to sit down and try my luck just for the fun of it.

Tufts kept non-writers in mind, too. In addition to the YouTube option, students can choose to use an 8.5 by 11-inch piece of paper to create something — anything.

The reasoning behind these optional applications, according to the Tufts Web site, is that “critical thinking, creativity, practicality and wisdom are four elements of successful leadership,” and these essays would offer a chance for students to demonstrate these traits.

I’m pretty settled here at MU, but I do know one thing — if journalism doesn’t work out for me, I’m heading straight for Tufts to join their admissions team.

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COLUMBIA — Mizzou Wire, an MU publication, is recognizing 12 faculty members for their quirky teaching methods, even to the point of wearing superhero capes and clown costumes. Whether it’s wearing a superhero costume or dancing around the classroom, these faculty members are using creative teaching methods to inspire their students.

Last year, based on nominations from faculty, staff and students, the publication picked a nerd each month, creating a calendar of sorts. Now, the votes are in for which of the 12 is 2009 Nerd of the Year. The winner will be announced next week.

“Nerds tend to have a negative connotation, but in this situation it’s a flattering status,” said Bobby Torres, professor of agriculture education. Torres has been known to wear a monk’s robe during lectures and to dance in front of the class.

Jo Stealey, a fiber artist and an art professor, called her nomination a little ironic. She has a passion for her art and thinks being honored as a nerd has been a wonderful experience.

However nerdy these faculty members may seem, they are well-respected in their classrooms and in their fields. Many have won awards for their work and have been recognized nationally.

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It turns out Google is not trying to take over the world in a ruthless quest for search engine domination.

Or at least that’s what Google representative Jake Parrillo said in his presentation “Google 101 for Journalists” this morning at a Missourian budget meeting. (Parrillo also gave an earlier presentation at Reynolds Journalism Institute.)

Parrillo stressed that Google has a slightly more practical mission in mind for its users:

Google mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Whatever Google’s intent, you don’t need to be a journalist to have a thirst for information. Sometimes you just want to find out as much as you can about a random topic. For example, you might (hypothetically, of course) have an undying crush, obsession, appreciation or love for Bruce Springsteen, who is only the greatest music artist — let’s say — ever.

Here I’ve incorporated some of Parrillo’s Google tool suggestions to help me find out as much as I can about my favorite music artist:

GOOGLE SIDE BAR:

  • Type “Bruce Springsteen” into the search box.
  • Click the plus sign. (It is usually collapsed)
  • Click the category of your choice.
  • Location: top left bar, next to the word: Web
  • Why? To obtain a more stratified search. Do I want to search blog posts only on the Boss? Just images? This is where to go.

THE MINUS FUNCTION

  • Take any topic of choice: Bruce Springsteen.
  • Insert a minus sign with an aspect of that topic you don’t want to hear about.
  • Why: To get a more refined search.
  • NOTE: I can’t even fathom a situation where I would Google Springsteen and not want to hear about Bruce, but on the slim chance this horrific situation might occur, I might type: springsteen — bruce.
  • Other example: Interested only in Paris the city? Type paris — hilton to eliminate results concerning America’s favorite socialite.

THE COLON:

  • Add a colon between your search and the sole source you want to obtain information from.
  • Why: To specify your desired source of information
  • Example: I only want Bruce Springsteen coverage from the New York Times. Springsteen:nytimes will automatically sort this for me.

(more…)

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I spent this afternoon in Fayette, Mo., at Central Methodist University talking to students about Valentino Achak Deng.  Deng is one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” and was the focus of Dave Egger’s book “What is the What.”

Deng began life in the U.S. with $800 in his pocket and not much else.  Through a tremendous amount of hard work and his partnership with Eggers, he has been able to give a lot back to his home country. He and Eggers established the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation with profits from “What is the What,” and the organization has been so successful that in May 2009 it opened the Marial Bai Secondary School, the only high school in this entire region of Sudan.

People from all walks of life bonded over Deng’s story. Students, faculty and staff at CMU are employing personal skills and organizing fundraisers to benefit his foundation, and students gather in book clubs to participate in open conversations about everything from strength and hope to a changed perspective on one’s own life.

I had the opportunity to speak with Carrie Flaspohler, the information services librarian at CMU and the woman responsible for bringing Deng’s story to CMU. She first read the book three years ago in a book club, and it touched her so much that she was compelled to share it with as many people as possible.

Her passion for the story is apparent when talking to her, and she has a unique ability to inspire similar enthusiasm in students all over the campus.

Deng’s story is so inspirational — I recommend that everyone reads “What is the What.” Not only will it make you grateful for your own blessings, it will leave you with a powerful message that no matter what happens to you, hope can keep you going.

Keep an eye on ColumbiaMissourian.com to read more about this inspiring story and how it has touched the lives of so many CMU students!

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Last week, I attended a forum on MU’s General Education Program on campus. As faculty members discussed ways to revamp the program, some asked about the Advanced Placement and dual credit systems, which allow students to earn college credit for certain high school classes. These credits often cover some general education requirements. One professor brought up an interesting idea.

Should there be a standard for the number of general education hours a student is required to take on campus?

One faculty member said MU recently admitted a student with 50 (yes, five-zero) AP credit hours. My ears immediately perked up. That kid will enter college with nearly a junior standing.

Like many other students, I started college with AP and dual credit hours. As a journalism major, I’m constantly reminded of how wonderful AP Chemistry credits are as I watch my math major roomie trudge off to her three-hour chemistry lab every Monday. I have nothing against chemistry, but I’m not particularly interested in studying it now. I think other students can relate. AP and dual credits allow many students to complete general education classes in high school so they can take more challenging major-specific courses sooner in college.

But wait! What if there’s a limit on how many credits from high school classes will count towards Gen Eds?

The forum didn’t hold an in-depth discussion on this proposition, but it is something the General Education Task Force is looking at.

What do you think? Should higher education institutions require students to take a certain amount of general education classes on campus? Are AP and dual credit hours getting out of hand? Fifty does seem like a lot of credit hours for an incoming freshman to have, right?

Here are the current AP credit policies at MU, Stephens College and Columbia College. The Missouri Department of Higher Education also has a policy concerning dual credit courses.

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Looks like there will be some new faces at Stephens College. According to  a news release issued by Stephens College,  three new people are joining Stephens’ staff.

  • Director of Development: Allison Ricks is a Stephens alum and has also served as the director of development for Citizens for Missouri’s Children
  • Security Officer: Luke Sherrill is a student at Columbia College studying criminal justice
  • Student Services Coordinator: Erin Zevely was previously an admissions counselor at Columbia College.

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