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 Universities.com 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.

Web 2.0 Tools

As social networking and Web 2.0 continues to grow in popularity, some are asking: What is Web 2.0 anyway? From the Teaching Without Walls website:

Web 2.0 is a common term used to describe “version two” or the “second generation” of the internet. Web 2.0 is distinguished from web 1.0 in one very simply [sic] way: content may be easily created by users who are no longer required to be technical experts. Thus, web 2.0 is exceptionally promising and liberating for educators who too frequently feel trapped or overwhelmed by the speed of technology. Further, web 2.0 tools cultivate participatory, active learning activities and/or environments for students, facilitating exciting new ways to assess learning and engage students.

In this blog post I want to describe one Web 2.0 tool that, at first, I dismissed as frivolous. I may still come around to that opinion but, for now, I’m being more open-minded about it as several colleagues see a lot of value in the tool. The tool is Wordle which is described as a tool that automatically generates a word cloud from a word list you provide. Wordle has the attraction of being the simplest tool to use you could imagine. Just enter words and Wordle generates the word cloud and shows you which words were used most frequently. The more a particular word or term is used, the larger it appears in the word cloud. The interpretation is up to you. This has some potentially interesting and educational uses. Maybe. One way I used Wordle was to capture all the student posts in a Blackboard Discussion Board Forum as you can see in the graphic below. If there is interest, I can detail how I did this in another post.

Discussion Board Posts

The word cloud of student posts on the subject of discipline brought up some intriguing discussion connections that I could use to get students engaged with the topic. For example,while the word “parents” was the largest word in the Wordle,implying it was the word most often used in the student posts, the word “mother” was much larger than “dad.” This could lead to a consideration of the relative influence of mother and father in the students’ discipline histories. Other word comparisons could also lead into deeper discussions such as the word “children” being much larger than “adolescents” – is it true for most that more discipline is required when we’re younger? But aren’t we more confrontational with parents as teens? And what do we make of the fact that spanking, spanked, and punishment were fairly large and hence more frequently mentioned? And I couldn’t help feeling somewhat reassured that words like hurt, slapped, belt and so on were not evident.

So, while Wordle is not for everyone, it may strike some as an engaging way to get students interested in examining an issue or topic

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.

The Course Syllabus

hammockMost full-time faculty, at Palomar College anyway, no longer teach summer school classes. Now I’m not suggesting that they are spending the summer resting comfortably in a hammock – with a tropical drink close by – but it’s probably safe to say that most are not thinking of their fall semester syllabus right now!

With fall semester about two months away, though, now may be a good time to reflect on changing our syllabus for next semester. This post doesn’t really feature technology or relate to online education, instead, this time I want to comment on two very different approaches to structuring a course syllabus. While each approach was highly successful, according the the respective authors, the approaches differ in tone and emphasis. I’ll attempt a brief description of each and list the links to the resource for anyone interested in following up.

In A Behavior Contract That Made A Difference, Lori Norin and Tom Walton describe their list of behavioral expectations that they ask students to read carefully and then sign. Norin and Walton reported that ” . . . the contract positively impacted retention and behavior in the classroom as observed by us and noted by our dean.” Students, too, reacted positively,because the contract spelled out the rules of the class as well as consequences for not following the rules. The authors state that colleagues of theirs began using similar contracts and have also reported better retention and classroom behavior as a result. What is this “contract?”

The contract Norin and Walton distribute to their students consists of some 21 rules or expectations that the professors have regarding student behavior. The contract reported in their report was a departmental one and individual instructors have the right to revise the departmental one (item 20: “I understand that each professor may add additional rules in writing to this departmental document.”). Rule 17 specifies that cell phones must be turned off or turned to vibrate and the professor may enforce a consequence for ringing or texting during class. Rule 18 prohibits iPods or MP3 players in class. Other rules cover attendance,assignments, electronic communications, and plagiarism. While expectations for student behavior were explicitly identified, I did not see any comparable statement regarding the instructor’s behavior. Maybe in another document? If not, I think students could justifiably request a similar statement of expectations regarding the professor’s behavior for the class.

The second approach as detailed in Making A Syllabus More Than A Contract by Roxanne Cullen was very different. Cullen’s motivation for revising her syllabus was “to create a more learner-centered academic experience.” In this approach the syllabus became a document with three main categories and several subcategories. The first main category, Community, “includes subcategories that relate to the accessibility of the teacher, the presence of learning rationale, and evidence of collaboration.” The second category is labeled Power and Control and “the subcategories focus on teacher and student roles; use of outside resources, and the general focus of the syllabus . . .” The intent of this part of the syllabus is to focus on student learning outcomes. Here some accommodation to students is evident: for example, opportunities may exist to negotiate “policies, procedures, assignment choice, etc.” The third category Evaluation and Assessment, “subcategories examine the use of grades, the feedback mechanisms employed, types of evaluation, learning outcomes, and opportunities for revising or redoing assignments.”

The tone and emphasis of these two different approaches to communicating expectations to students couldn’t be more different. The first is a tough love approach – we know what works best, here are the rules, follow them and you’ll be successful – that provides clear, precise guidelines for behavior and asks students to sign a behavior contract. The second is far more democratic and collaborative. At one point Cullen states that she wanted her guidelines to “look less like arbitrary laws set down by the teacher and more as though they served enhanced learning.” Significantly, Cullen states that “The most significant change I made was in the area of power and control. Instead of establishing an attendance policy, class participation rules, or penalties for late work, I indicated that all of these would be negotiated by the class.” Would this approach encourage more student ownership and buy-in and, therefore, more engagement and commitment? Or would it encourage an attempt by students to make the class as easy as possible?

Well there we have it – two very different attempts to create a classroom conducive to student learning and higher retention. Both are reported to work well. Which approach seems more sensible to you? Or can we combine the best of both approaches?