Bb Student app for iOS and Android phones

Bb Student logo

Not sure how many Palomar students have tried out the Blackboard Mobile app for accessing Blackboard courses, but recently the Blackboard company launched another phone app which may be of interest. Called “Bb Student,” the app is for iOS and Android phones. Continue reading “Bb Student app for iOS and Android phones”

PollEverywhere and PowerPoint 2013


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.

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

Teaching With Technology

A few months ago I took an online class called Social Media that focused on using Web 2.0 tools for education. One of the most potentially useful and impressive tools we used in the class was something called Voice Thread. In a future blog post I’ll describe how I’m using it in my online class but here I want to just explain what it is and then show a more interesting example of the tool than my own.

VT image
Voice Thread

Imagine sitting with a group of students while you project a Power Point slide or perhaps a short video clip. Further imagine that, while you are all watching (or looking at) the media, anyone can make a comment to call attention to some aspect of the slide or video or simply pause it while a discussion ensues. This is what is possible online with Voice Thread! The instructor or students can create the media to provide as the stimulus for discussion and everyone can join the discussion. Some will choose to write comments, some will make vocal comments, and still others may choose to use a web cam to make their comments. Voice Thread accommodates all of this.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using Voice Thread is the social engagement it facilitates. Everyone is involved. And students can drive the discussion by presenting their own artwork, poetry, writing, or by uploading Power Point slides or a video. Voice Thread can help to overcome a major obstacle online students complain about: social isolation. Hearing their classmates or seeing them also when a web cam is used, can go a long way to bridging the social community gap that often exists when on-campus classes and online classes are compared. With an on-campus class Voice Thread could be used to provide peer review or feedback instead of taking class time to do it. Voice Thread has been used in many creative ways as you’ll see if you visit the links below.

When you first sign up for a Voice Thread account you are given three free voice threads. If you try it I bet this is one social media tool that both you and students will find both educational and fun to use!

Entertaining Example that illustrates the potential of Voice Thread

Students discuss art

Video, Video, Video

video image

Videos, particularly short videos can be excellent devices to engage students but where are some good sources for appropriate video material? And how do we use them in our Blackboard classes? This second question has become very important as of this writing because the You Tube Mash-up tool in Blackboard that generated a lot of excitement is now not working correctly. In fact, using it can cause some major problems (see Terry Gray’s tutorial below).

Listed here are a few of the many video sources available to us. Most can be easily placed into Blackboard as a web link and some can be embedded. Most of the links on this page go to video sources that are keyed to education. The last three illustrate how videos can be used to (a) introduce the instructor, (b) provide guidance to students, or (c) wrap an assignment around a short video.

Terry Gray’s Description And Solution To You Tube In Bb Problem

YouTube Videos Chosen For Educational Merit (You be the judge)

TeacherTube – Videos Picked By Educators

iTunesU – Apple’s Site For Higher Ed Content

UC Berkeley – Web Casts That May Appeal To Some

The Slap – An Example Of Incorporating A Video Into An Assignment

graphic of roomClick Here To See Renee Barrett’s Video to Students – She used the XTRANORMAL Site (You write the text, the site makes the video)

Rob Mustard’s Welcome Video to Students

Social Media and Education (it’s not an oxymoron)

social media toolsMaybe I’ve been too influenced by a social media class I took recently but I’ve become determined to implement some of the Web 2.0/Social Media ideas to which I’ve been exposed. BTW, for those who think the title of this blog post does constitute an oxymoron, you might appreciate some better ones as contained in The Internet’s Best List of Oxymorons . But seriously folks . . .

Blackboard 9 has recognized the utility of including Web 2.0 ideas by providing easy ways of including tools such as Slideshare, You Tube, and others right in their newest version of the course management system. Take a few minutes to review the excellent tutorials about how to use some of these new Blackboard features by checking out the Academic Technology web page (thanks, Terry).

Another really useful resource for using these ideas is contained on the Online web site, in the blog titled 100 Inspiring Ways to use Social Media in the Classroom. This is a compilation of some terrific ideas about how to incorporate social media – all the way from K-12 to Universities.

I imagine that more instructors than before will begin to use various Web 2.0 tools in their classes and I would love to hear from any of you who do it now or who anticipate doing it in the near future.

Twitter Revisited

A blog post back in January was about the use of Twitter in academia. Just recently I came across a Faculty Focus survey, Twitter in Higher Education 2010: Usage Habits and Trends of Today’s College Faculty, which reported on the current use of Twitter in higher education.

This report is informative and worth reading as it provides a background and context for each of the survey questions and, particularly helpful, provides the reasons the respondents gave for their responses. The survey found that more higher education professionals are using Twitter compared with last year.

From the report: “Of those who currently use Twitter, the most common activities include to share information with peers and as a real-time learning source.” While some do use Twitter in the classroom or to communicate with students, these are less popular activities – although this use has seen an increase from 2009 to 2010. Another finding was that 57% of those who use Twitter now plan to increase their use in the coming academic year. The report also sheds light on why many educators do not use Twitter; currently some 35% of those who responded to the survey use Twitter in some capacity and 65% do not.

Any educator contemplating using Twitter will find this report on Twitter use in education valuable reading.

Wikipedia in College: A Bad Idea?

I have had recurring discussions with my colleagues regarding our students’ use of Wikipedia in their writing projects. Some of my colleagues, whose opinions I respect a great deal, categorically forbid their students from using Wikipedia in research-based writing projects. Others will allow some use of Wikipedia references provided those are not the majority of references cited by the students. Still other professors take the position that Wikipedia articles are more likely to be accurate than other encyclopedias because of the open and ongoing nature of the way content in Wikipedia is edited, so, to the extent that encyclopedias are ok, Wikipedia is probably the best choice.

With these thoughts in mind, I was particularly interested to read an interesting report by John Orlando, Ph.D. titled “Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use”. Dr. Orlando begins his article by stating: “Most academics consider Wikipedia the enemy and so forbid their students from using Wikipedia for research. But here’s a secret that they don’t want you to know—we all use Wikipedia, including those academics.” I think he’s probably right that most of us in academia do use Wikipedia – at least occasionally. And why not? After all, Wikipedia is constantly being scrutinized by knowledgeable people, many in academia, who are eager to ferret out any inaccuracies.

In a widely publicized report,the well respected journal Nature compared Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica online and found that “In the end,the journal [Nature] found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.” Not surprisingly, Encyclopedia Britannica objected to the results and Nature responded by saying they stood by their results and would not print a retraction.

The part of Orlando’s article that was of most interest to me was his report of how Professor Beasley-Murray used Wikipedia with his class. Professor Beasley-Murray challenged his students to create articles that would be accepted by Wikipedia and – this was a key part of the challenge – students whose articles earned a Wikipedia rating of “Good Article” would receive an A in the course and any student whose article received a Wikipedia rating of “Featured Article” would receive an A+. This was a pretty high bar as, according to Wikipedia, 1 in 359 articles reach “Good Article” status, as judged by impartial reviewers and only 1 in 1150 is given the “Featured Article” designation. The students in Beasley-Murray’s class were clearly engaged by the project as, Orlando reports, “The students, who worked in groups of two or three, produced three Featured Articles and eight Good Articles, an exceptional result given how few articles achieve these levels.”

Also, with respect to building student interest and engagement by employing Wikipedia, Orlando describes other Wikipedia projects: “One interesting site is Wikiversity, which provides a space for hosting courses or other content. An instructor can build a course page with syllabi, lesson plans, and other material for the students to access whenever they need it. That page can also be linked to other educational material such as videos.

Best yet, students can be given editing access to the page to add their own material. Groups can be assigned to add material to the course, such as resources for further exploration of the topics. Another option is to have the students build self-tests on the material using free web-based quiz functions for future students. This will enlist the students in an ongoing project of developing knowledge that outlives their particular class and is passed on to future generations of students.”

Wikipedia in the classroom – maybe not for everybody, but maybe an idea worth considering. What do you think?

Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use
Researching With Wikipedia
Nature responds to Britannica’s claim of bias