PollEverywhere and PowerPoint 2013

PollEverywhere_logo

If you’ve sat through one of my past Faculty Plenary sessions in the last several years, doubtless you’ve seen my use of PollEverywhere. I use their free higher-ed account, and since I never need more than 40 respondents to any poll, it meets all my needs.

If you’re not familiar with the PollEverywhere service, here’s what their FAQ page says in response to the question “What is PollEverywhere?”

On the surface, Poll Everywhere is a simple application that works well for live audiences using mobile devices like phones. People participate by visiting a fast mobile-friendly web page for your event, sending text messages, or using Twitter. Instructions are displayed on-screen. The poll that is embedded within the presentation or web page will update in real time. Advanced uses include texting comments to a presentation, texting questions to a presenter, web voting, and SMS interactivity in print, radio, and TV.

What first attracted me to this service was that the polls allow for audience input via multiple points, such as text messages, tweets, and even a customized web interface. And, best of all, the result graphs would dynamically display from within PowerPoint slides, right in front of the audience during the polling period. (There’s just something… cool, watching your own votes show up on the screen moments after you submit them. It truly does make the audience feel more a part of the presentation, as I can attest from being in an audience using the polls.) My only reservation about the graphing function is that, in recent months, the Adobe Flash tool (which is how the graphs were rendered) was not playing nice with PowerPoint.

Apparently the good folks at PollEverywhere had similar reservations, because they have taken steps to abandon use of Flash, and coincidentally made integrating polls into PowerPoint slide decks easier than ever!

As the below video demonstrates, there is an add-in for PowerPoint (both Windows and Mac versions) which makes adding a poll results screen just as easy as adding any other slide to your presentation. And as the tech which powers the graphs now is purely HTML5, there should not be any security warnings or troubles such as Flash may have inflicted.

So, if you’re already using PollEverywhere with your students, rejoice in the new and improved PowerPoint integration. If you aren’t, maybe this is a good time to consider adding some interactive polling to your in-class presentations.

Student Use of Video Everywhere in Blackboard

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I just got off the phone with a faculty member who was planning to have students use the Video Everywhere tool. If you don’t recall, that’s the simple tool embedded in the Content Editor in Blackboard that allows for easy recording of video from a webcam or embedding YouTube videos into the course. The tool is available for student use in tools like the Discussion Board, so this professor was going to have students record their presentations and grant access to their fellow students that way.

I’m certain the attempt will go off well, as all the Video Everywhere tool truly does is leverage the technology developed by YouTube, and YouTube just… works. That’s the beauty of it. However this professor did have one concern, that of the comfort level of students on posting a video to YouTube. Perhaps some will not want to have video of themselves out on the Internet for all the world to see.

Of course, it’s far more likely that students will already be posting content to YouTube, and that this will be just one more way they include content on their own channels. Still, that’s a very valid concern, and I felt I should discuss the “security” of videos created using that Video Everywhere tool.

By default, when you post a newly recorded video to your YouTube account using the Video Everywhere tool, it’s set to a status of “Unlisted”. (That’s as opposed to “Public” or “Private,” by the way.) An Unlisted video is one that is publicly visible, but not indexed in any search tools. So the only typical way in which somebody is going to see an Unlisted video is if they are provided with a link to it, or see it embedded in a page somewhere. It is, technically, possible that somebody might be randomly typing in URLs and run across it… more on that a bit later.

Now, why would Blackboard not just make the video Private instead? Because Private YouTube videos only allow specific, invited individuals to view them. I suppose it might be possible for a video integration tool to leverage YouTube’s invitation system, but there is a maximum limit of 50 users who could be invited to view such a video, which would certainly make such a tool less than useful for large courses. So instead the tool leverages that Unlisted status, allowing anybody to view the video provided they have the address. This, of course, is all well documented on the appropriate YouTube page.

So what should you tell a student who is nervous about somebody actually finding their video by randomly typing in addresses? For that, I’d turn to the cliché “needle in a haystack.” Actually, it’s worse than a needle hidden in a haystack, that would be a case of a needle hidden in a warehouse piled high with needles, with a constant stream of new needles being dumped onto the pile with each passing moment. Seriously, have you ever considered how much content there is on YouTube? I did wonder, so I tried to find out. The question is posed on the YouTube FAQ page, “How many videos are on YouTube?” They don’t actually answer that question, but instead say that “48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day.”

I’m going to say that if a student is concerned that somebody will randomly URL-type their way to seeing that video, they should rest assured that it is very unlikely, to the point of being somewhat silly to worry about.

Oh, and if you had no idea what this whole “Video Everywhere” thing is, you may want to take a look at this video detailing how the tool works. And yes, this video is hosted on YouTube.

Video Everywhere

Ever wish you could assign your students to leave a video recording of themselves presenting something, right into a discussion board post in Blackboard? Ever have a need to quickly record feedback for a student, so that they can review your comments when looking at their grade?

Blackboard has a way.

Starting with version 9.1 Service Pack 10, a new tool is available which can meet that need. Called, variously, either “Video Everywhere” or “Record from Webcam”, this simple tool leverages the YouTube service to not just allow playback of video (as the YouTube mashup component does), but also allows users in Blackboard to record new video footage into their YouTube accounts and immediately post the recording in the Blackboard content editor screen.

At the moment we only have this tool available on the Palomar Blackboard Sandbox environment, but beginning in early January this tool will be available on our production Blackboard system as well. There is a “Getting Started With Video Everywhere” document available from Blackboard, from among the other resources available on their “On Demand” site. Blackboard has also put together a video to explain how the Video Everywhere tool might be used:

I’ve also prepared a video demonstrating how someone would record and post a video using that tool. The Blackboard documentation does give some caveats about how Internet Explorer and Chrome browsers might need their settings changed, but I didn’t need to make such changes on my own system when using the Record from Webcam tool.

Submitted for your approval: Video Everywhere.

Remote from BbWorld 2012

Blackboard Logo

For fairly obvious financial reasons, Palomar didn’t send any of our Blackboard system administrators to the annual BbWorld conference again this year. However, thanks to the power of Twitter and a whole host of avid convention-goers, we have been hearing some interesting developments coming to Blackboard.

The Blackboard corporate keynote is concluding as I write this, so details on these points are still sparse on the ground from where I sit, but here is a brief overview of the noteworthy things I’ve heard (in no particular order):

  1. Blackboard is launching a content repository system – called xpLOR (yes, LOR, as in Learning Object Repository, presumably pronounced “explore”), so that content may be imported easily into Bb Learn or just about any other learning management system with ease. This system is also to include authoring tools, so it should be possible to create your own content and make it available to the whole world quite easily.
  2. A new service which should be freely available to us called ConnectTxt “empowers you to create a dialogue using two-way text messaging” (as per the website), so once we get that straight here at Palomar it may be very simple to get notifications out to all cell-phone-toting students.
  3. Lots of statements along the lines of “publisher integration is now here” have shown up, which means that if as a faculty member you haven’t heard about Blackboard integration from your textbook publisher rep recently, you may want to ask them what is available. There have been lots of new offerings on the publisher/Blackboard front over the last few weeks.
  4. The Blackboard Collaborate web-conferencing tool (which we’ve had available here at Palomar for quite some time) will now function on iOS, so it will soon be possible for students to engage in web-conference sessions via their iPad.
  5. The Blackboard Mobile app, available for Android, Blackberry, and iOS devices, has received significant updates lately. In my opinion it functions well for student consumption of course content – including discussion boards and blogs – but doesn’t function quite as well for instructors. The content creation tools are more simplistic than what we’ve become accustomed to through the web browsers, but if you just want to post up text the free app does a good job of it.
  6. Also on the Mobile app front, it is now possible to create tests which can be taken using the app. There are some question types that don’t function in the mobile-enabled tests, but certainly the old standby of Multiple Choice works just fine. Of course that doesn’t mean you should offer your final exams that way; use the tools, but use common sense too.
  7. Apparently the Blackboard Mobile app is changing up its licensing schema, too. Looks like there is now an option for students to pay for full Mobile app functionality on their own, even when the school does not… as Palomar does not. (Again, those obvious financial reasons.)

So, overall, my impression from the Blackboard corporate keynote is that the big changes are coming in the products that interface with the Bb Learn system, such as the Collaborate and Mobile devices, and in allowing existing content (from publishers and repositories) to more easily integrate into the course sites.

Again, all this news is second-hand and so new that websites don’t yet reflect the information, but from the sounds of things that’s what is happening with Blackboard.

Group Exams: A Teaching Strategy?

This blog post isn’t about teaching online. It also isn’t about using technology. However, I came across a report about an intriguing strategy designed to engage students and promote learning in a way I hadn’t considered and I wondered what other educators thought of the idea.

Many instructors want to stimulate students to collaborate with each other and suggest that students form study groups, share notes, study together for tests. While students sometimes see the merit in doing those things, unless the instructor explicitly rewards this behavior, it rarely occurs.

A recent Faculty Focus report described one innovative approach to encourage collaboration – group exams or quizzes. The basic idea is that students can sometimes present course material in a way that resonates with other students in a different way than instructor-delivered lectures.

As Weimer (2011) puts it, “Because a lot of education emphasizes competition, students are slow to adjust in environments that value cooperation. They won’t offer help unless there are benefits from doing so or risks if they don’t.” At least three different ways to implement this incentive were presented.

(1) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. students take the test/quiz individually and the score they earn is recorded;
b. if everyone in their group receives an individual score of C or higher, each student receives x bonus points (e.g., 2 bonus points);
c. if everyone in their group receives an individual score of B or higher, each student receives x+x bonus points (e.g., 2 + 2 points).

(2) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. when it comes time to take the test/quiz,one group member is randomly selected;
b. that student takes the test/quiz individually;
c. the score earned by that student is recorded for all group members.

(3) Groups of students are randomly formed. The groups are given some class time to review together for a test/quiz and encouraged to meet outside of class to continue their group review.
a. each group member takes the test/quiz individually. Then they have x minutes to meet with their group to discuss the test/quiz,focusing particularly on questions with which they had difficulty.
b. finally, each group member can revisit his/her quiz and change any answer previously given.

In the scenarios cited above an incentive is provided to students to work collaboratively. In these scenarios students understand the benefit of teaching each other, see the value in working together, and have an interest in all group members doing well on the test/quiz.

Most educators would like to believe that their course facilitates the acquisition of course-specific information, critical thinking, and, perhaps, collaborative learning. It certainly is true that effective collaboration with others is a skill needed in vocational or professional jobs. In the academic arena this skill manifest in many ways.

Many organizations rely on committees to achieve company objectives. For example, currently Palomar College has been authorized to hire a number of full-time, tenure-track  instructors.  In the disciplines affected, hiring committees have been formed to select from the qualified applicant pool. Ultimately, the selection committee must, through a collaborative process reach consensus on which applicants to forward as finalists. This basic approach occurs throughout the hiring process in other professions as well.

So would a group exam or quiz work in my class? My thinking right now is that while I wouldn’t use it for an exam, I would consider using it for a quiz. Educational research as well as my own classroom experience convinces me that more substantial student learning is accomplished when students are actively engaged in a class. To the extent that collaborative activities promote involvement that would otherwise be missing, I think they are worthwhile.

A group quiz? Sure, why not?

Resource:  Faculty Focus