Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Providing Feedback in an Online Course

I've completed about 60 graduate credits online and, overall, my experiences as an online student have been overwhelmingly positive. However, I recently had a particularly negative experience with an instructor, which I will share here.

I concluded that the main issue was how she provided feedback to me (although not responding to my emails was also difficult!). Most of the right side column of my paper was filled with comments, so I was overwhelmed right away. The tone was often harsh and sometimes condescending. For example, "I don't know what you mean" or "Actually this is incorrect" were typical but I also got a "I believe perhaps you are not aware of what a powerpoint presentation is to consist of" (which is a pretty horrible sentence and we won't even get into how I present on creating effective PowerPoints).

I don't recall ever getting this kind of feedback in all of my years in school, much less as a doctoral student! Ouch.

Coincidentally, I also came across a blog post on criticism and ineffective feedback which I think applies perfectly to this situation. The author, Kate Heddleston, defines criticism as "feedback that finds something wrong with someone, especially without giving them indications about how they can fix their behavior."

The way this instructor provided "feedback" often made me feel like it was about me more than the content. She rarely provided an explanation or suggestion for improvement. This type of feedback made me feel defensive, especially when she just said I was incorrect. I looked back on my sources and, for almost all of her comments, still felt I was right. I thought it was just me, but Heddleston says that this is a normal reaction to critical feedback.

"When people receive criticism, they perceive it as an attack and their gut reaction is to defend themselves....People are so eager to avoid criticism, critical feedback is more likely to make a person quit something than change their behavior."

I emailed my instructor for clarification, but she didn't reply for three days. On Friday, I realized I still hadn't heard back from her so I emailed her asking if we could chat on the phone. She replied to this email uncharacteristically quickly to say she couldn't because she has a full-time job (hmmm?) and she directed me toward her office hours, but they had passed for the week. So, I had to do my next assignment without clarification on the first, which was really uncomfortable.

Heddleston says that critical feedback affects performance negatively. She provided a story about her friend, a motorcycle rider, whose first pit guy told him everything he was doing wrong.  The rider became tentative, got into accidents, and didn't like the sport as much anymore. However, his next pit guy was super positive, emphasized his assets, and helped him understand how he could improve through constructive feedback. This time, her friend performed better and enjoyed it much more.

The weekend I had to complete my next assignment without knowing why I did so poorly on the first was horrible. I had difficulty doing anything and over thought all of my work. I researched and read for hours and hours, with very little output because I doubted most of my conclusions. Eventually I just started to run out of time and submitted something that was mediocre and I knew it. The feedback on this assignment was worse than the first and actually brought me to tears! Then I felt silly for being so upset.

Thankfully, I worked with my advisor and was assigned a different instructor. My classes are all 1-1 mentoring with the instructor to provide maximum flexibility for students and, although I generally like this model, it is incredibly difficult when a situation like this occurs. My new instructor is fantastic and I'm back to being an A student which makes me think the problem was not me :)  She verified that in a few parts of my papers I actually was correct (the other instructor was wrong!) and in a few places my wording was a little strong and I should have hedged a bit more (it may be customary to...). So, at least there is a happy ending to this story!

I recommend reading Heddleston's blog post, especially if you're interested in gender inequality in giving critical feedback (spoiler: women receive significantly more criticism than men). She ends with a suggestion to "Give positive feedback to bolster people's confidence, ask questions when you want to spark a discussion, and give declarative feedback to help people improve and change."

Friday, April 3, 2015

Screencast-o-matic Version 2.0 Webcam Recording

Screencast-o-matic has been my primary recommendation for people who want to keep life simple by just recording a screencast via the browser and not editing, while Camtasia is a great option for people who want lots of options and editing capabilities.

Great news: Screencast-o-matic just updated to version 2.0! It seems much improved and a feature I enjoy is being able to switch the size of the webcam while recording. You can also easily record just the webcam without the screen. If you want to record a webcam with a screencast, at this point I would recommend screencast-o-matic over Camtasia.

I made a video showing what it looks like when you switch the webcam size while recording. Then, below, I share screenshots of what it looks like while you're getting set up.


You can choose to record the screen, webcam, or both. The screenshot below shows what it looks like when you're getting set up to record the screen and webcam with the webcam in the corner.


Below is a screenshot zooming in on the webcam area to show the buttons that allow you to change the webcam size while recording. I have the middle (blue) option selected. The icon to the left of that makes the webcam video bigger in the middle, while the one on the right hides it.


You can also remove the webcam preview altogether, which I have heard some people prefer because they get preoccupied looking at themselves :)

I mentioned in the video that the webcam acted up after a while and wouldn't work, but it eventually just figured itself out. So, I guess if that happens to you keep trying different browsers, restart, and it will hopefully work again. Now it has been working consistently.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Uploading a Transcript File to Create Accurate Captions on YouTube

If you have a video transcribed (meaning the audio has been typed out by a person), YouTube does a great job time syncing the text to create captions. This saves the tedious step of having to click whenever new text should come up (aka, add the time stamps). There are a few odd parts of this process, so I thought I'd write up instructions that are more helpful than what I could find online

1. Save your transcript as a .txt if it's a .docx or something. An important step is to check the box for "allow character substitution" so that your apostrophes, ellipses, dashes, etc. upload properly and don't show up as question marks within black diamonds. I'm using Word 2013.



2. When your video is up on YouTube, click the CC button below the video player (highlighted in yellow below).

This video is about D2L - hope that's not confusing
3. It will prompt you to choose your language. Then click "Add new subtitles or CC" on the top right.


4. You'll be prompted to choose your language again, then choose Upload a File if you do have a file. 



5. On the next screen, choose Transcript if you have a text file without any time stamps in it (just a big paragraph of text). Make sure it is saved as a .txt file with the box checked to allow character substitution as shown above. 


6. Navigate to the correct .txt file and upload it. 

7. On the next screen, scroll through the text that was uploaded to make sure it uploaded correctly and then click the blue button for Set Timings in the bottom right. 

If you see something like the screenshot below, you'll need to save the file as a .txt and/or check the box to allow character substitutions. 


8. This is where it gets weird. You'll click Set timings and think "ok, so I guess that's done?" because it just goes to what looks like a previous screen. Actually, there is a slight change - it now says "setting timings" in the bottom box. 


9. Click on "setting timings" to continue through this process. You can then hit play on the video to preview what the captions will be like and you can adjust them if you want. However, you will probably marvel at what a great job it did. 

10. Make sure to hit Publish in the bottom right. If it's all good, you'll see the blue "Subtitles published" notification as in the screenshot below. 


11. Go to the video's page and check it again.  If you see the three lines on each side, that means your captions didn't work and YouTube is taking a stab at creating captions with their voice recognition software, which is usually not good (I highlighted them in the screenshot below). 



Another option: 
If you don't have a file with your text all typed up, it may sometimes be handy to let YouTube take a stab at transcribing the video and edit what it comes up with. You can do this by clicking on "English - Automatic" up in step #3. If you click Edit you can go through and modify what YouTube has done. If you speak clearly, this may work well. I usually can't have my student transcriptionist do it this way because we don't have access to the YouTube accounts of the videos being transcribed. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tips for Being a Successful Online Learner

Online classes can be pretty different from face-to-face or even hybrid/blended classes. I strongly prefer online classes over face-to-face classes due to flexibility and because I don't learn well from lectures (not that all face-to-face classes are lectures anymore). I've completed around 70 graduate credits online, so I thought I'd share some tips from my experience and the research on online learning as well.

Time Management 

http://chibird.com/post/31765020567/i-tell-myself-all-these-excuses-d-people
Probably the biggest tip I have is about managing your time. It can be very easy to put off an online course and work at the last minute. I get it - I'm a huge procrastinator by nature. However, I learned that being a huge procrastinator and a successful online student don't go together well. First of all, technology problems can occur or you might get sick, and these excuses don't always fly in a class you can take from home, especially if you can work ahead.  

You may also have questions about the assignment and you can't expect an instantaneous reply from your instructor. I like to at least get a good start on an assignment ahead of time to make sure I understand it and start mulling it over. My goal is to finish an assignment at least a day before it is due. 

I basically schedule myself to work on my classes like I would a meeting or appointment. Then my husband knows I am uninterruptible and I schedule other activities around that chunk of time. I find I work best in the am, so I try to get started around 9. If I miss that timeframe and end up working late in the afternoon, things take twice as long because I just can't concentrate as well. Maybe you work best in the late evening, so work then. That's the beauty of online learning. 

http://www.brandinfection.com/
2011/11/25/facebook-procrastination/ 
Maybe you're distracted by your phone or social networking. There are actually apps like Anti-Social that block Facebook and other sites for you! You usually have to restart your computer to get around them once enabled.

Use Otherwise Wasted Time 

http://www.johnlund.com/page/1859/couple-speeding-down-a-road-in-a-convertible-
while-using-computer-technology.asp




I would be interested to know how much of my education has occurred in a car! My family lives around 2 hours away, so I usually take advantage of that time to do school work. My phone can be turned into a hot spot so I can get internet on the road as long as I have a signal. Thankfully my husband usually prefers to drive. So whenever you have time like this, where you can be doing something else, make use of it! 





Find Your Place

Working on an online course at home is fantastic because it's so convenient, but it's also very easy to get distracted. Sometimes fun things come up at the last minute and it's difficult to say no, which is a good reason to work ahead. (Also, sometimes not fun things come up and you now will have an excuse that people cannot argue with! Use it!)

It may also help to leave home and work somewhere else, like a coffee shop or library to appear less available to your family or roommates. If it's nice out, maybe you could work at a picnic table in a park. You might be able to work at a local university or college, even if you don't attend there - just make sure they have guest wireless or you have a hotspot if you need internet. I converted a spare room into an office, so at least I'm not working out in the kitchen, exposed to all the goings-on of the household.

Technology Tips 


It's best to use a reliable computer (Mac or Windows) or a Windows tablet like the Surface to do your school work rather than an iPad or Android tablet or a smart phone. These other devices may not have all the functionality you need to complete a course. 

http://kadvacorp.com/technology/
top-web-browsers-market/
Make sure to have at least two different browsers on your computer because the easiest fix to a technology problem is just using a different browser. I recommend having both Google Chrome and Firefox in addition to the default browser (Safari on a Mac or Internet Explorer on Windows). 

Remember to just restart your computer if it is acting funny and your problem is not fixed by trying another browser. 

Also, if you're not sure how to do something technologically, just Google it or look it up on YouTube and it is highly likely you'll find some information that will point you in the right direction. Remember you can call or email the Help Desk if you're a UWEC student (helpdesk@uwec.edu or 715-836-5711). 

Taking a screenshot when you have a problem is a good idea so that your instructor or the technology person helping you can see exactly what is going on. Here is a video showing how to take a screenshot on Windows 7 and here's one for Mac users.

I Hope You Don't Mind Reading, Writing, and Working by Yourself 


Although it is becoming more common to include videos, movies, and live meetings into online courses, there is usually still a lot of independent reading and writing. For instance, online discussions are usually written. In a face-to-face class, your instructor may go through a lot of the textbook material or course concepts in a lecture, but that is less likely in an online course and you will often be required to read the textbook or other materials to learn the content. If you are a person who really needs synchronous back and forth communication, you may be dissatisfied with an online course. However, if you are a person who is pretty good at working independently, reads quickly, writes well, and prefers time to reflect or digest information, you will probably like online learning. 

We don't want this.
http://www.cguytech.com/why-cgt/
I'm not saying you need all of these characteristics to do well in an online class; it's certainly possible for people to learn in less than ideal circumstances. However, it is something to be aware of if you have the option to take a course face-to-face instead. I personally have found that if I am naturally inclined toward a topic, I can learn really efficiently and effectively online, but in a dreaded statistics class I took recently, I wanted a human! I wanted to hear that material explained a few different ways, to ask questions, and to be able to work on it with the instructor and others nearby so I could get help right when I needed it. My instructor provided good feedback and she answered my questions, but I always had to email her and wait for a response. The key here is that I still learned a lot and got an A; it just wasn't ideal. (This was actually the first time I would have preferred a face-to-face setting in all of my credits taken online!)

On a related note, make sure to read instructions really well in online courses. On multiple occasions, I've emailed my instructor and then realized I actually did have the info I needed. I've worked with many online instructors who are frustrated that students don't read the materials provided and just ask whenever they have a question. However, if you have confirmed you don't have the information needed or you don't understand, definitely ask - your instructor has no idea if you are confused or not. 

It's likely we've all experienced difficulty communicating in writing, whether it's email, social media, texting, etc. I read a study that found it takes 17 times longer to communicate in writing vs verbally. It's easy to misunderstand people or come across abruptly without visual cues and immediate verbal elaboration. Make sure to read over what you write to ensure you are communicating as you intend. My advice is to lean toward giving people the benefit of the doubt and try to be positive. Don't go overboard with the emoticons, but an exclamation point here and there and conversational language can make you seem friendly. I have actually connected with other students better in some of my online classes than I have in some face-to-face classes, so it's certainly possible.

Get the Support of Family and Friends 


I've kind of alluded to this, but research backs up the importance of support from friends and family to be a successful online student. This probably applies more to people who are completing entire degree programs online than a course here and there, but still it's helpful to emphasize to the people around you that this is important and you would appreciate it if they could help you in whatever ways you need it - making supper, walking the dog, keeping it quiet, leaving you alone, or just being supportive. During my dreaded statistics course, I asked my husband to just pat me on the back periodically and tell me this will be over soon and it will all be worth it when I finish my degree :) It actually did help! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Video Streaming Options: A Comparison of Kaltura, V-Brick, and YouTube

Streaming videos via Kaltura, YouTube, V-Brick, etc. rather than putting the video file directly into D2L reduces technical problems for students because these services take in different formats of video and standardize the playback. This reduces problems with downloading, finding the right program to play it back, and browser permission/blocking for all the different types of files. Streaming also helps videos play better on mobile devices.

WMVs (including Desi files - a UWEC thing) are particularly problematic because the free WMV player for Mac is no longer free. However, if you stream WMV files, they will work on a Mac.

Below are descriptions of the main three main options that we recommend for UWEC faculty and staff instructional uses.

Kaltura: new for UWEC in fall 2014 
  • Integrated with D2L – no external sites or logins.
  • Videos "live" on Kaltura's server, rather than in your D2L course. 
  • 2 GB limit per video - that's a lot! Use a wired connection if you have a big file – can take a while. 
  • No quota, meaning no limit how how much video you can have.
  • Offers webcam recording and screencasting, but it's not reliable yet. 
  • Students can upload videos to Kaltura via Discussions, a nice alternative to YouTube or having them upload a file to the dropbox.  
  • Videos are connected with the account of the instructor who uploaded the video, which may be a challenge if team teaching or sharing videos with other instructors - let's chat if you have this concern. 
  • It's currently in pilot mode - contact me or another LTS/CETL employee for instructions. 
  • A downfall is that videos embedded into News, Discussions, or Quizzes do not copy over to your next course via copy components. Videos in Content do copy over. Hopefully this will be fixed soon. 
V-Brick (the university server)
  • The only option for copyright-protected materials such as movies that the video department streams for people, since it can be restricted to require a login. 
  • Videos can be set to public if there are no copyright concerns. 
  • A downfall is that instructors currently cannot upload their own videos, so they need to plan a few days ahead. 
  • The site can be a little slow to load. 
  • If you're looking for a movie, login and search to see what's out there: http://media.uwec.edu (only available to UWEC staff/faculty/students).
YouTube
  • Still a good option, especially if you already use it. 
  • It's easy to share videos outside of D2L or take with you if you get another job (unlike the other options). 
  • Many programs like Camtasia export directly to YouTube, saving a step. 
  • Webcam recording works reliably, unlike Kaltura (http://www.youtube.com/my_webcam) - that's "my underscore (_) webcam" after the url for YouTube  
  • Should not be used for videos of students/clients or copyright-protected material. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Recording Audio into PPT on a Mac...

PowerPoint 2011 for Mac has long been a thorn in my side.  If you're looking to add audio to a slide deck and publish into a movie, it doesn't even come close to doing what PowerPoint 2013 for Windows does. Actually, it doesn't even work. You can record audio into it and set timings, but when you save as a movie, the audio just shows up as an image of a speaker and doesn't play. A brief Google search found that this is a pervasive problem - it's not just me.  There are rumors of Office 2014 for Mac, but I have found no confirmed release date. There's no guarantee this will be fixed, anyway.

So, I decided to look into Keynote instead and I was really excited because I thought this was the answer to all of my problems but it turns out that Keynote records one big audio file for the whole thing, not separate files for each slide. Darn it. Never mind. What people really like about recording audio into PowerPoint 2013 is being able to easily change a slide here and there without redoing the whole thing. A screencast accomplishes about the same as Keynote. (I was recently reminded that Quicktime on a Mac is also a basic screencasting tool that requires no download - cool!)

My answer to Mac users who want to record audio into PowerPoint for years has been "do you have access to a Windows computer?" It seems that recording audio on the Mac and then exporting on Windows in PPT 2013 retains the audio and timings. I haven't done it much to feel very confident with this fix, but it did just work for me now.  If someone wants to do this, I would test just one slide on the two computers the person intends to use, just in case.

Another option is to use a program like VMWare or Parallels to run Windows on a Mac. Back at my old job, I used Parallels and it wasn't great, but that was almost four years ago.  I recently got VMWare Fusion and I love it!  It is so convenient to have Windows easily accessible on my Mac. I just recorded audio into PowerPoint 2013 on Windows via VMWare and it did work. Windows seemed a little confused about my USB mic and didn't name it properly in the control panel, but it did use the correct mic and I got it to sound great.

I suppose the easiest thing to do as a Mac user who wants the ability to re-record a slide here and there is to add the audio in PPT 2011 and just tell the students how to play it right out of PPT.  That's not very elegant though and completely not mobile friendly.  I would, minimally, try exporting it on a Windows computer and then put it on YouTube or Kaltura, and then just give the students the PPT file if something goes awry in that process.


How to Set a Transparent Background on an Image in PowerPoint 2013

PowerPoint is a surprisingly helpful image editing tool. One thing you can do very easily is remove the background of an image. I actually like a white slide background and one reason I advocated for it is because many images have a white background, so they just blend in to the slide like this:


That takes no work. However, what if you want a colored background? You get something like this:


Yuck. Thankfully, PowerPoint 2013 makes it easy to set that background as transparent. First, click on the image. When it is selected, Picture Tools will be available on the toolbar at the top. Then choose Color and Set Transparent Color. 

Sorry for the bad annotation - I wish the snipping tool had built in arrows and shapes. 
Your cursor will then turn into a color picker. Click on the color you want to be transparent - in my case, the white background of the map - and voila!


Pretty cool, huh? Much easier than Photoshop.