Friday, September 5, 2014

Embedding Twitter into a D2L Widget

A professor asked me about embedding a Twitter feed into a D2L widget on the course home and after googling it for help we both ran into the same problem - it was just showing a link to open Twitter rather than actually embedding it.

The solution was that the Twitter code was not including a "data widget ID" when you first create a new widget, but this ID is in the Url, so you can copy and paste it out of there.

The code should look like what I have below, but with the parts in red replaced with the twitter handle or search you want and the appropriate data widget ID. 

<a class="twitter-timeline" href="" data-widget-id="507604658731220994">Tweets by @edutopia</a>
<script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");</script>

Now here's the really weird thing.  When I went into Twitter today to write this post, the data widget ID was there! What the heck!

I made a video showing this:

And if you want info on changing the course home page and creating the widget, we have documentation on this webpage.

NOTE: You can actually tweet right from the widget in D2L.  There is a box at the bottom of the feed that says "Tweet to @lirpapierson" above that would then send me a tweet. If you instead have a hashtag feeding into it, it would say "Tweet #aphasia." The professor I assisted clicked here and it brought up his Twitter account, making him worried that students would also have access to tweet from his account. However, when I clicked there, it brought up my Twitter account. So if the students are logged in, it will be very easy to tweet, and if they are not it should prompt them to login or create an account. It just seems kind of odd at first.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI)

This week I attended the Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI), which is a hybrid event that involved three half-day streaming sessions from Harvard and two half days of face-to-face sessions in Madison.  There are local events all over the globe that center around the Harvard streams.  If you are completely unfamiliar with Learning Analytics, this information from Educause is a good foundation.  It's been very exciting to learn about Learning Analytics (LA) on the big scale from Harvard and the smaller scale from the UWs - mostly Madison.  Below are a few major general points. I'll also write a post on ethics and one on two specific tools used in the UW system, MAP-Works and the D2L Student Success System (S3).


There are a lot of terms used in this area and I realized that I wasn't 100% sure what they all meant, so here's some info for those of you who may be in the same boat:

Analytics: "the use of data, statistical analysis, and explanatory and predictive models to gain insights and act on complex issues." (Educause, 2012, p. 1).

Learning Analytics (LA): "a genre of analytics that entails the collection and analysis of data about learners" (Educause, 2012, p. 1). LA can consist solely of data generated by learners as they work on a course, or it can be supplemented by information about the learner like demographics, previous course work, high school information, standardized test scores, self-report data, etc.

Predictive Learning Analytics: obviously, LA that helps predict things like student success/risk, course recommendations, paths through courses, etc.

Educational Data Mining (EDM): "EDM develops methods and applies techniques from statistics, machine learning, and data mining to analyze data collected during teaching and learning. EDM tests learning theories and informs educational practice" (US Dept of Ed, 2012, p. 9).

EDM vs LA: "Learning analytics draws on a broader array of academic disciplines than educational data mining, incorporating concepts and techniques from information science and sociology, in addition to computer science, statistics, psychology, and the learning sciences. Unlike educational data mining, learning analytics generally does not emphasize reducing learning into components but instead seeks to understand entire systems and to support human decision making." 

Basically, my interpretation is the EDM is more granular and LA is bigger picture. 

Big Data: Well, obviously big data refers to lots and lots of data - the type of data that Amazon has, for instance. What we are working with in D2L is "little data."

Open Learning Analytics: Similarly to open source software, open LA provides access to source code, algorithms, and whatever other back end info is there (I have no idea).  The opposite would be proprietary or commercial systems, like D2L's or MAP-Works.  The presenters on the D2L tool said that they don't know exactly how the D2L tool comes to the conclusions it does - they set up a model, it's fed data, and it spits out judgments. Not open.

What Learning Analytics is not: One or a few "surfacey" measures, like test statistics or number of logins to the LMS.  Although that information can be useful, it's not big picture enough to really be considered LA because it's not predicting anything in comparison to anything else nor is it combining data to look at a bigger picture.

Learning analytics is a legitimate, emerging field on its own

Maybe that's an odd thing to say, but I didn't realize that LA was so big. I guess I thought it was a part of educational technology, but it's more aligned with computer science and data analytics.  Educational technologists would probably be the intermediaries to get a system set up and support it to get the information to faculty who provide the interventions based on the conclusions of the data.  Either a proprietary/commercial LA system or a LA professional (ideally, both) would be needed in addition to an educational technologist.

LASI was a big conference for the field of LA.  There was a focus from the Harvard sessions on the field in general, other professional development opportunities, and journals/publications.  A big part of it seemed to be building a community of LA professionals. I did not feel like the intended audience for the Harvard sessions (I got kind of an awareness-level of absorption - "oh, that's a thing?") but I learned a lot from the Madison sessions and it was interesting to get a peek at the more hardcore aspects of the field.

Learning Analytics Professionals

There was an entire session on LA professionals, many of whom work in private industry (rather than academia) making excellent salaries.  The owner of Structure (Canvas) described the main skills he looks for in a learning analyst:
  • Project management
  • Agile/rapid prototyping (create something quickly to start playing with it - also a desired skill of an instructional designer)
  • Communication 
  • Education theory (varying degrees of specialization depending on the specific application)
  • Statistics
  • Data retrieval (SQL, CSV, JSON)
  • Rudimentary/functional scripting
  • Visualization ("Make it pretty")
  • Data storage & management
  • Knowledge management ("How did we do that thing we did?") 
There was another Harvard session in which 30 doctoral students in LA introduced themselves and some shared their research, very briefly.  I think it's interesting that there are at least 30 doctoral students doing research in this field.

Emerging Field

So the emerging part is important. There's not a lot of info or structure to data governance, for instance.  There is a LA pilot happening in the UW-System with D2L that has been pretty rocky.  A master's program specifically in LA is in the works (Penn State, I think?).  A journal just started this year.

Kimberly Arnold, UW-System LA guru, shared the Gartner Hype Cycle which is just fascinating. Here's the one from 2013. Click to make it bigger if you can't read this.

Big data is at the peak of inflated expectations, while predictive analytics is predicted to reach it's plateau of productivity in less than two years.  Wikipedia tells me that the plateau of productivity means that "mainstream adoption starts to take off." Starts to take off. I'd agree with that it's starting to take off.

Then she shared the diffusion of innovation figure. You've probably seen this before:

She said that people ''in the know" about LA indicate believe that LA is in the innovators to early-early majority area, which might be a stretch.  It's new - we're just figuring this out.  So the thing to think about here is what kind of school are you in - an innovator, early adopter, early majority, late majority, or laggard?  Is the culture welcoming of bleeding edge technologies like this?  Probably more importantly, are there people who will do something with the data that's collected?  Do you want to spend time figuring things out, or latch on once the bugs have been worked out?  Oh, there are some up I'll share what I learned about the D2L Student Success Pilot.  To be continued!


Educause. (2012). Learning Analytics: A Report on the ELI Focus Session.

US Department of Education. (2012). Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Creating an Accessible PDF

I am certainly no expert on creating accessible PDFs, but here's what we figured out today.  A PDF we scanned resulted in two columns of text that were being read across the columns, rather than going down one column and then moving on to the next, as it should.  For instance, it was reading the text below as "At age three Katherine Schneider discovered An expert living on disability, she has she was blind" rather than "At age three Katherine Schneider discovered she was blind."

My amazing student used his Google skills to learn that first we needed to add the Accessibility panel in the right side of Acrobat Pro by going to View, then Tools, then selecting Accessibility, as in the screenshot below.

Then under Accessibility, "TouchUp Reading Order" allows you to select text in the order you want it to be read.  There was an image, so I added alternate text describing it.  I will send it to Katherine in the hopes she can now read it with a screen reader and update this post if necessary.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Online Grading via D2L (mostly)

Grading online offers many benefits: students like seeing their grades in D2L and it helps you so they don't continually bug you for updates, you're being environmentally friendly by saving paper, and it can save time once  you get your workflow down. Recently a professor told me her biggest reason for grading electronically is that she can look back at her feedback to students and see how they've grown, versus when she gave them paper feedback, only one of them got to keep it.  Personally, I prefer reading electronically because I can sit in a more ergonomic position looking forward at a screen rather than down, but I know not everyone is sold on reading digitally.

If you're new to grading in D2L, be aware that there are an amazing amount of functionality in the grade book and a few unexpected twists. UWEC educators can contact our D2L admin or me for help (I mention myself second since I am not as knowledgeable - yet). There is also D2L documentation for instructors here.

I have spoken with some instructors who grade via email rather than D2L. I don't know about you, but email organization is not my strong suit, so I'd like to keep everything I can in the D2L site for that course. Some universities actually restrict grading information from email due to FERPA because the email of state employees (which UW instructors are) is considered public. As far as I know, UWEC does not have a restriction on what grading information can go in email.

Anyway, let's get to it! I've categorized some tips under a few main categories below.

D2L Grades in General: 

  • Weighted categories can do work for you if you are currently backing into a 100 point course. Categories are great, because you can still pick any arbitrary point value within a category, but it's still only worth whatever percentage of the grade you choose. So rather than something being worth 20 points to equal 20% of the grade, you could still make it worth 100 points. 
  • "Switch to spreadsheet view" allows you to type right in the Enter Grades page, but text feedback must be left under "Grade all" (the drop down next to assignment name)
  • A tricky little thing that not everyone realizes is that students can't see their final grades unless you set D2L to calculate and release them. More info here
  • You can verify exactly what a student sees! Here's a video. Text is on this page
  • If most students will receive the same grade, you can set them all to that grade and just change the few that are different. That's under Grade All - then choose the drop down next to the assignment title and then Grade All again. Make sure to change the different ones right away! 
  • You can grade over time and release the grades at the end via the dropbox and discussions. 
  • It is probably a good idea to export your grade book here and there in case something odd should happen. (There's a Export button on the Enter Grades page)

Grading Papers in the D2L Dropbox:

  • The Dropbox is an efficient place to grade because you can see the paper on the left and type in the feedback box on the right. You can also record up to 5 minutes of audio. 
  • Downloading files, typing your feedback in them, and reuploading can be very time consuming. An alternative would be to have students number their paragraphs so you can easily refer to them in the feedback box. 
  • If you want to provide feedback via iPad, I wrote a blog post on that here

D2L Rubrics Tool: 

  • The dropbox is probably the most advantageous place to use D2L rubrics because this is the only place students can see them before and after use. They are also available in grades, discussions, and quizzes but students only see their final score through these tools. They may save you time in grading, however.
  • It's important to get them just the way you want them before associating with a tool and starting to grade. 
  • The "custom points" option allows you to choose a number within a range rather than having to identify the exact points per option ahead of time. 
  • The documentation on rubrics can be helpful, but feel free to ask for help. 
  • One tip a participant offered was to have your rubric created in Word or elsewhere before putting it into D2L. 

Grading Short/Long Answer Quiz Questions: 

  • This is the only place in D2L you can grade all responses to one question without seeing student names (called "blind marking") recommended here
  • Go into "Grade" in the drop down next to the exam/quiz and then click on the Questions tab (below). Check the "blind marking" box and then click on a question to begin grading that question. 

Grading Discussions: 

  • You can associate a discussion topic with the grade book under the Assessment tab when editing the discussion topic. 
  • However, this does not work if you are using group-restricted discussions, because they are all separate topics. 
  • It can be helpful because you can click on a student and see all of their posts in the discussion at once to grade them on their initial post and replies. 

D2L News: 

  • It might seem odd to include the News in grading, but the News is a good place to provide general feedback to an online class about assignments, much like you might do at the beginning of a face-to-face class. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Embedding a Blog into the D2L News Area: Optimal Blog Settings

A question arose about whether it was possible to have a blog in D2L for the instructor to post news, updates, etc. and allow the students to reply. Well, D2L does not have a blogging tool, but it is possible to add a blog to the course home page via an iFrame. Here's what a very simple Google blog looks like within D2L. Keep scrolling to learn about the settings I chose for the blog.

I just kept the default template which is called Simple, but I went into Layout, then Template Designer and reduced the right sidebar to as small as possible and increased the "Entire Blog" area to 1030 px.

I anticipated that instructors would not want to have sharing buttons on their posts, like the screenshot below, so my next task was to figure out how to get rid of those.
Eventually I figured out from the help of a blog post I would credit if I could ever find it again that they need to be removed from the HTML via Template. 

After clicking Edit HTML, I found the area that said "shareButtons" and deleted a bunch of stuff after it. The first try, I deleted too much and got a warning (HTML is not my forte). So I tried again and learned that I needed to keep the end </b:includable> and then it worked. (click on the image below to see it better along with my note) 

This is a cool idea, but we'll see if it presents any funkiness in actual usage! I'll report back if so. 

I will also write an additional post about how to add the iFrame to the Course Home page since this one has gotten rather long. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Record Audio in PowerPoint 2013 and Publish Using iSpring Free

1. Design your PowerPoint following best practices, such as one concept per slide, the use of graphics/images that back up your point, very limited text on the slide, etc. Here are PowerPoint Design Tips.

2. Important Note: Make sure your PowerPoint is .pptx NOT .ppt or the audio will not save. 

3. Record audio on ONE slide to make sure it works properly. 

3a. Under the SlideShow tab, choose Record Slide Show. You can record from the beginning or from the current slide (you'd have to click on the slide you want to record before doing this). This is a fantastic feature because it is easy to edit slide by slide later, since PPT breaks the audio down into individual slides.

Leave the settings on the next dialog box both checked. Let me know if you want more info on that.

3b. Click Start Recording. It will automatically start recording, so make sure your headset is all ready to go. (You can trim the beginning or end of your audio afterward via the Playback tab when you've clicked on the speaker. Cool, huh?)  Keep your slides short.

A recording short cut menu appears at the top left of your screen. Below is a screenshot with a description of the buttons typed in blue.

X: Click the x on the top right to save your audio and get out of recording mode.
Redo: if you mess up and want to start over click the arrow going back.
Arrow: Click the arrow to go to the next slide.

4. Listen to the slide you just recorded. Click on the speaker icon to listen.

WHY? I have experienced a lot of problems with the correct mic working in PPT 2013. It is often necessary to disable the internal mic and the doc mic on laptops in order for them to use the headset mic. Regardless, I highly recommend recording just one slide and then listening to it and making sure all is well. Recording an entire presentation with horrible or no audio is very frustrating.

5. Record the rest using the slideshow tab as described above.

6. Save it.

7. Publish using the iSpring Free tab. Choose where to save it.

8. It will create a folder with three files in it. Upload just the .swf to D2L as you would upload any other file, like a word document.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why Universal Design?

I recently wrote a blog post on universal design but I don't think that I made a compelling case for why it is important so I want to elaborate. After the universal design webinar, a faculty member shared that she had a student who was deaf who actually dropped out of the program because she couldn't get the accommodations she needed. There was one general course in particular that included a lot of video that was not captioned. I don't know the details, but providing disability accommodations is a legal requirement. Universities can get sued for not being responsive to the needs of a student with a disability. Since I'm interested in people, I mostly wondered what it was like to be that student. It must have been very disheartening to realize that it was not going to be possible to take these courses. Did he or she totally drop out? Change their vocational plans altogether?

I have a student transcriptionist who is making a dent in the large pile of instructor videos that need transcripts. A big area that I think we can improve at UWEC is providing captioned versions of Hollywood movies that we stream (streaming is ok'd by our copyright office because they are in a password protected server). In the past, the answer to captioning was to provide the DVD to the student so he/she could watch the captioned version individually. I think we need to do better, especially for online courses. Online students are often not on campus so they may not be able to run over to McIntyre Library to check it out or stop by the instructor's office to pick it up. Also, what if it is checked out of the library? What if the instructor had purchased it and can't find it? This can put the student behind in his or her coursework, singles out the student as being different, causes the student to put in more effort than other students to obtain the same content, and gives the message that accessibility is not an important consideration.

Captions Help Others Too

The key with universal design is that these design strategies (captioning, in particular) help many people such as...
  • Students who may be hard of hearing but do not officially identify as having a disability; think about non-traditional, returning students in particular. 
  • Students who have not disclosed their disability, hoping it will not be a problem. Stigma is still an issue. There are definitely more students with disabilities on campus than those registered with the SSD office. 
  • International students who are good at comprehending written text but struggle with understanding native speakers of English. 
  • Anyone watching videos in which the speakers have strong accents. I use captions frequently when actors have accents to help me understand better and I do not have a hearing disability. Also, I recently met with a professor who was reluctant to create videos because of her accent, but when I said we could caption them she felt much better about it. 
  • Anyone in a situation where it is not possible/awkward to turn the audio on or up loud enough: sleeping roommate and no ear buds, in a computer lab with no speakers, on a bus, etc. I often use captions when I'm watching shows while exercising because I can't turn it up loud enough to cover the noise of the elliptical machine. 

What About a Transcript? 

Transcripts are often a good option: they can be helpful students are studying for exams after having watched the video, offer a different modality for students who prefer reading over listening/watching, and provide access to students who have slow internet or who have to pay for their data usage. However, DVD movies almost always need to be captioned because a transcript by itself is probably not going to be very meaningful.


Another universal design strategy is to provide options for students to meet course outcomes; does a student need to write a paper or could they respond with audio or video? The example that quickly came to mind here is my husband (who does not have a disability) has always been a strongly auditory person. Throughout college, I helped him with his papers, not because he didn't know the content but because he struggled with writing. For an English course, writing is important, but is it always necessary for biology? Could he provide an audio file instead with the required information? On the other hand, I would choose a written assignment over other modalities if given the choice.

An additional option is to provide just an audio file for a video, so that students could download it and listen while driving, for instance. Of course, the audio would have to stand alone from the visual aspects which may involve more words to describe visuals, or simply may not work well depending on the content. This also could be an accommodation for someone who is blind or who has low vision.

Making the Case for Universal Design

Sometimes it's difficult for me to stand up for these strategies because "real life" is usually not very accessible. For instance, we don't have every classroom session captioned or interpreted into sign language. We don't even have microphones in most classrooms. Many instructors say "well I've never had a student with a hearing disability, so don't bother with transcribing my videos." I've begun saying "you haven't had any students with hearing disabilities that you know of." It is important to note that students with disabilities may emanate more toward online courses in the hopes that their disability requires less accommodation in this modality. In this regard, I believe it's especially important to focus on universal design for online learning and ideally for hybrid courses since it can be a natural step to move to online or back to hybrid once instructional materials are created.

My hope is that eventually it isn't even necessary for most students with disabilities to disclose because courses are created using universal design strategies and that these strategies help students who do not have disabilities succeed as well.