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Don't Just Remake, Innovate!

This week marks the opening of Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven. It is a remake of the 1960 film of the same name which was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.  It may be a matter of subjective opinion, but neither of these remake’s provide an improvement on the original masterpiece. As defined by George Couros, neither are "innovative".  In chapter 1 of The Innovator’s Mindset, Couros defines innovation as “ as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” So while these “Magnificent” films might be newer, they are not by definition innovative (in my opinion).  Even the very good Japanese remake 13 Assassins can’t top the original masterpiece.

Some innovations require time to tell the tale.  Will be getting rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 prove to be better?  Time has not judged “New” Coke or Crystal Pepsi kindly. I didn’t need much time to determine that one of my favorite classroom tools I discovered last year was an innovation.

In 2010, I go a class set of SmartResponse remotes.  At the time, they were a great innovation for my classroom. They allowed me to make my lectures interactive for all students, not just those who raised their hands. Over time, a few of the remotes broke. At first I was able to get a replacements.  But then, I was no longer able to get replacements. It got to a point where I no longer had enough remotes for my all my students in a class of 30. They no longer gave students the voice I had hoped.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered lots of new ways for students to supply instant response via their phones, but I wouldn’t consider most of them a clear step forward.  Many increase access to all, but in terms of providing the teacher with student specific feedback, they are not better.  One of the truly innovative systems I did find is Pear Deck. I hope to explain how I consider it innovative, but I am not trying to sell you something.  I am not getting anything in return for my praise.

How is it better than a SmartResponse clicker? Well, It allows students increased access. Students can respond from any web enabled device from a browser window.  This includes smartphones, tablets, chromebooks, and laptops.  In terms of types of questions and responses students can interact with, the doors have been blown off. In the old system, I could do multiple choice, numerical, and typed responses.  But in the typed responses, students had to respond using old school texting on a 12 digit keypad. Now students can use their keyboards or keypads to type in free form responses.  They can also interact with images using draggables to pinpoint things such as locations on a map. The greatest though is the ability for students to draw on an image or a blank canvas.  It opens the windows to true creativity in responses.

What are some other “betters”? Pear Deck is a Google App.  This means that teachers can save all of their presentation and student responses in the cloud to review at anytime anywhere. Since students log in with their Google Accounts, students receive a Google Doc containing all of the slides from the presentation with their responses.  Pear Deck is a “fremium” service.  This means teachers can take advantage of most of the features of Pear Deck for free.  For those who want it all, teachers pay $10 a month for access to premium features.  The students don’t pay anything.

I could keep going on about what I enjoy.  But is it worth it? It may be new, but is it better? Better for the users both learner and teacher.  Often what is efficient on the teacher side may not be from the student side. Just because a teacher doesn’t have to grade online quizzes doesn’t mean they are necessarily better for learning or the learners. Ultimately for a classroom tool to be innovative it comes down to the learning. 90% of my students state that Pear Deck is the number one classroom tool that helps their learning.  So, I’d say Pear Deck has been a huge innovation in my classroom.

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