A Rose is Best

Student mastery and technology in floral design

GUEST COLUMN | by William J. McKinley

CREDIT William J McKinley.pngEducators, at every level, have changed the way they present information and knowledge to their students to keep pace with the technological expectations of future employers. Predictably, industries that are adapting include manufacturing and construction, but one industry that is adapting may come as a surprise – floral design.

Technology has enabled us, in new ways, to introduce students to the floral industry and prove to them that they not only know a skill, but have mastered specific subjects. In my position as the director of the Benz School of Floral Design at Texas A&M University, I work to integrate a variety of traditional classroom and hands-on instructional experiences with technology to bolster the students’ understanding of floral design.

Our online database and resources are further supplemented with virtual reality (VR) technology.

To share industry knowledge with aspiring floral designers, the Benz School offers two different avenues for students to master the art of floral design: students may enroll in classes at Texas A&M University during the academic year to gain a Bachelor’s of Art degree with an emphasis in floral design, or register for summer courses to earn certification in floral design. These classes utilize both in-person and online CTE courses. Whether through Texas A&M University or online, students are provided with in-depth knowledge of the history of the industry, an introduction to basic skills, an overview of the different design styles, and strategies for running a successful floral design business.

The school takes a unique approach to teaching floral design. Rather than basing mastery of design on a particular style or technique, our approach begins with understanding the theories of floral design: the rules that govern all design. Our concepts and instructional materials are based on the elements and principles of design which allow the students to develop their own styles and techniques within a solid educational foundation of art. This creates students with a better understanding of their work and makes them better professional when they enter the workforce.

When it comes to mastery of a skill or subject, there’s no denying that technology plays a prominent role in today’s classrooms. The use of social media to follow trends or the web for photography and video; communicating with suppliers or other designers through live streaming and 3D visualization are all opportunities for enhancing the educational experience of floral design students.

With a strong online presence for curriculum in the floral industry, our online learning platform provides teachers easy access to the myriad of online and hands-on lab resources available through the Benz program. From designing wedding bouquets to planning an event, the online database provides relevant and applicable materials to the students to enhance their skills.

Our online database and resources are further supplemented with virtual reality (VR) technology. This VR component allows students to see and manipulate a full version of design examples on a computer screen, adding a depth to designs that flat screens don’t show. Through VR, designs come to life, allowing students to explore floral design through a new medium, while engaging them through a new learning experience. The Benz VR components have the added benefit of teaching students how to use this and other technology in their future careers within the industry. VR technology demonstrates, in intricate detail, how designs are constructed, but also illustrate how designs can be marketed using a variety of electronic and virtual tools.

We take a holistic approach to teaching floral design, integrating technology in both the classroom setting and online to create an engaging educational experience for students of all learning levels. This approach inspires students to gain a mastery of skills as they learn the art and the business of the industry while helping them build a strong foundation of the principles and elements of design. Students emerge from this program with a sound understanding of the industry and the artistry involved, making them better professional florists and more valuable employees.

William McKinley is the Director and Endowed Chair of the Benz School of Floral Design at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. The Benz School curriculum is based on the solid foundations of classic elements and principles of floral design theory, which are highlighted through a collaborative effort with CEV Multimedia and their Principles of Floral Design certification program.

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Speak to Me

Language learning technology a booming sector with lots more in store.

GUEST COLUMN | by Luca Sadurny

CREDIT MosaLingua.pngThink back to how we used to learn languages ten years ago. Boring repetition exercises, cheesy audio scripts, and outdated textbooks were the name of the game. With that in mind, it’s not much of a surprise that less than 1 percent of American adults are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a class.

For decades language learning was stuck in a rut. For students who wanted to take their learning home, the methodology of tools like Rosetta Stone and Teach Yourself were held back by the basic technology available. While resources tried to make learning scenarios as ‘real life’ as possible, they were effectively digital textbooks.

A range of new smartphone language learning apps aimed at ‘on the move’ Millennials are taking learning out of the classroom.

However, nowadays the situation couldn’t be more different. The language learning tech industry is booming, and global sales of mobile language learning products are predicted to climb 73% to $14.5 billion by 2019. Smartphones and other portable connected devices are breathing a new life into the way which people learn new skills, but we are on the cusp of a technological revolution as new tech currently in it’s infancy matures.

But while there is a lot of innovation taking place, is it really helping people to learn? And what new technology trends could make the process easier in the future?

Current trends

A range of new smartphone language learning apps aimed at ‘on the move’ Millennials are taking learning out of the classroom, and onto the bus or into the waiting room, and tempting users into learning in their rare moments of free time with gamification.

Whether it be ‘losing lives’ when they get an answer wrong, competing with their friends on leaderboards, or challenging other users, these fun aspects seem to be pressing the right buttons for Millennial users.

However, while gamification might make learning more enjoyable, language experts are dubious about whether this style of learning actually helps users improve their language skills. The addictive nature of gamification makes exercises tempting to try again, but it does little to help with linguistic understanding.

One element of gamification which is proven to improve language skills is making learning a shared experience. Linking to social media accounts makes it easier to market products, and encourages users to learn together with friends. This form of extrinsic motivation allows users to include others in their learning through tandem exchanges, and informal tutoring. Friends can help each other with tricky tasks, and also practice speaking exercises off-app which helps improve fluency. There are also hundreds of language learning groups on Facebook where people can exchange tips, materials, and organize exchanges.

Using ‘old school’ methods were very reliant on intrinsic motivation — motivating ourselves — but a big advantage of the new tools is that they are less manual. ‘Digital coaches’ update users on their progress, prompt them to review problem areas, and highlight the most important vocabulary and grammar points in the same way a real teacher would in a class.

Looking to the future

According to Research and Markets, adoption of wearable technology in schools will grow by 46% per year over the next five years. Devices like VR headsets, Google Glass style AR tools and smartwatches offer a great means of improving language skills both in and out of the classroom.

While professional language trainers often create roleplays which allow students to practice ‘real life’ interactions, this is something which is lacking in the tools available today. However, using technology similar to the AR tools seen in chart-topping game Pokemon Go, or smart-lenses like Google Glass headsets, students could effectively place themselves in imaginary scenarios where they interact with characters digitally.

While it might look strange speaking to an imaginary supermarket cashier in German, or at an empty tourist information booth speaking Japanese, these are the skills which really improve fluency in real life situations and break down the fear of speaking in public.

Advances in the internet of things and big data could soon make it easier to learn about language learning trends by collecting data from millions of users around the world. The majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet survey agreed that the IoT and wearable devices would have widespread beneficial effects by 2025.

Teachers around the world are beginning to encourage students to bring their own devices to class, as it allows them to keep track of materials and their progress, share notes and work together digitally with other students. Smart and connected objects could collect a huge amount of data from millions of students including information about age, location and demographics and teachers could hand pick the methodology which is best suited to their students strengths and weaknesses.

In a recent Business Insider article, Bill Gates predicts that chatbots will soon be used as a teaching resource for students. Gates states that chatbots “dialogue richness,” opens the doors to ‘digital tutors’ which could clearly explain even the most challenging topics using natural language.

As chatbots mature, they could offer more opportunities for students to practice and improve speaking and writing skills, with bots offering feedback and making corrections. IBM’s Watson is already being harnessed for a Teaching Assistant bot that’s designed to answer students’ questions for online courses to take the strain off human teachers.

We are entering exciting times in the world of language learning. Demand is high as millions of  Millennials realize that foreign languages will expand their horizons as part of the emerging ‘global workforce’, making language learning tools a profitable space. Smartphones have already disrupted previous tools, and innovative new technology combining e-learning, the internet of things, bots, and wearable technology is set to build an extremely engaging and powerful language environment in the near future.

Luca Sadurny, polyglot and language expert, is the co-founder of MosaLingua, a startup creating mobile and web apps which have helped more than 2 million users worldwide learn languages.

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Cool Tool | Discovery Education’s Science Techbook

CREDIT Discovery Education Science Techbook Rock-Hill-Boy-iPad.jpgThe first of Discovery Education’s series of award-winning digital textbooks that are now currently used by more than 3 million students in all 50 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces is their Science Techbook™. Originally launched in 2009, the Science Techbook utilizes an inquiry-based format built on the Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate (5E) model. It includes rich, standards-aligned content such as video, audio, text, interactives with hands-on activities, and virtual labs that help educators differentiate instruction and personalize learning. Embracing a philosophy of three-dimensional learning, these techbooks help educators integrate digital resources into their classroom practice.  The Model Lessons within reflect the interconnectedness of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) and Cross-Cutting Concepts (CCC) and illustrate what these mean in practice for educators. Embedded formative assessments help educators monitor student progress. The Science Techbook works on any device and can be implemented in a variety of instructional settings, including the flipped classroom, the one-to-one classroom and the one-to-many classroom. The Science Techbook was recently enhanced to provide even greater support to educators seeking to transform science instruction. Among the enhancements is a new, simplified design that provides all students an even easier-to-follow experience, accessible from any device. There have been numerous additional enhancements. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | ActivPanel with InGlass touch

CREDIT Promethean Activpanel image.pngPromethean recently introduced the new ActivPanel with InGlassTM touch and writing technology and ClassFlow Desktop, an interactive lesson delivery software. With an external accessible and upgradeable Android mini-PC, the new panel can be easily upgraded over time to keep pace with frequent advances. The new touch and writing technology provides:

  • Precise and lag-free writing
  • Simultaneous touch and pen surface
  • Entuitive palm erase
  • Ability to convert handwriting and equation conversions to text

ActivPanel will give users access to both the cloud-based version of ClassFlow and the new ClassFlow Desktop software that can be accessed offline. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Discovery Education’s Social Studies Techbook  

CREDIT Discovery Education Social Studies Techbook.png

Launched in 2012, the Social Studies Techbook™ is among Discovery Education’s series of award-winning digital textbooks currently used by more than 3 million students in all 50 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces. These breakthrough digital textbooks are aligned to rigorous standards, support a comprehensive curriculum, and are updated regularly at no cost. The series empowers teachers to engage today’s tech-savvy students through rich, standards-aligned content such as video, audio, text, interactives with hands-on activities in learning, and features that allow users to change the reading level of text and enable text to be read aloud. The Techbook series saves teachers’ time with a comprehensive design that places model lessons, student activities and assessments at their fingertips. Techbooks are platform neutral and can be used in 1:1 or 1-to-many configurations and in any instructional environment. Discovery Education’s Social Studies Techbook series is organized around complex Essential Questions that students use to guide their inquiry, analyze issues, and propose solutions to better understand their world.  Aligned with the National Council for the Social Studies’ C3 Framework, Social Studies Techbook is designed to develop key literacy and writing skills and provides a multitude of resources to prepare students for college, career, and civic life.  Available courses include:

  • World Geography and Cultures
  • World History
  • U.S. History
  • Civics and Government

The Social Studies Techbook is a unique, web-based teaching and learning resource. Unlike other digital social studies programs that are converted from existing textbooks, the Social Studies Techbook takes full advantage of its digital capabilities to offer multi-modal resources. Learn more.

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