Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Educational Use of Yammer

Recently LTS started exploring Yammer as a communication tool and knowledge center. Yammer is basically Facebook for work. It looks and functions very similarly to Facebook. Below is Facebook on the left and Yammer on the right.

I am a Facebook junkie, so it was very easy to just jump in and start communicating. Here are some of the main differences I've noticed, most of which are great enhancements:
  • You follow people instead of friend them.
  • On Yammer, when someone comments on a post someone else wrote, that whole post will show up on the commenter's profile and in their followers' newsfeeds. On Facebook, this type of interaction is deemphasized and would just partially show up under "recent activity" only on the commenter's page (not their friends' newsfeeds, but it does show up in the new real time activity thing on the top right of the computer screen).
  • The phrasing is a bit more work oriented - instead of "What's on your mind?" it says "What are you working on?" and there are some work-oriented features like praise. I know there are more but I haven't used them.
  • You can upload files!!!!
  • Did I mention you can upload files???
  • The organization of the News Feed is a little funky. It defaults to "Top Conversations" which seem a bit arbitrary (which, I guess, is like Facebook's Top Stories but then at least you have recent stories right below). You can choose "All Conversations" from the drop down which (I believe) brings them up in chronological order with the most recent at the top.
  • And finally, you can reply specifically to another person's comment to a post (see below)

As with Facebook and Twitter, you can use an @ mention to get someone's attention (I also did that in the above comment to make sure Matt noticed my reply). One feature I really like being able to use in a work setting is "liking" things! I am so used to the "like" button that sometimes I want to like unlikeable things, such as emails or documents, so this is a step in the right direction for me! I personally think "like" is much better than"+1" but that's probably just my personal preference (Google+ is another post entirely).

Ok, so I need to get to the point here! Educational use.
  • Yammer functions basically the same as Facebook so it is a very easy learning curve, but it's not Facebook. So it could be used the same way anyone uses Facebook academically, which is often a venue for students to communicate informally, in relation to a class, to increase a sense of community (ask questions about homework, due dates, etc. or set up study groups).
    • Even though faculty can say that class use of Facebook does not mean anyone needs to be friends and the school/personal line will not be crossed with the use of Groups, there is still some hesitation. With the frequency of Facebook privacy setting changes, that is understandable. I thought I was a Facebook privacy settings pro, but yesterday someone I am not friends with (my sister's friend) was able to comment on a picture I posted of my sister, although my album is set to friends only. Hmmm. 
  • One positive aspect I have cited in the past about using Facebook for class is that students are on it anyway, but I don't think it's a huge deal for students to navigate to another site to relieve privacy concerns if this functionality is needed (don't forsake D2L discussions, which is still the best option for scholarly discussion). 
  • There is a mobile app, but I find the Android version a little confusing because posts are listed in chronological order and comments are listed the same way as original posts. I don't really like how the Android app notifies me every time anyone posts. If it picks up, I will look into the possibility of changing my notifications or possibly uninstalling it. There is also a desktop app (Mac & Windows) but I prefer the website.
  • It is also nice that Yammer does not have advertisements on it (not yet anyway). 
  • Just FYI, we have a verified UWEC network, so only people with uwec.edu email addresses can join our network. However, it is possible to create an external network and add others.
So what are you waiting for? Make a Yammer account and follow me! It's available and free, at least for now!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Our Mimio rep, Brianne, did a demo for us on Monday. She showed us MimioTeach, MimoCapture, and MimioPad. I'll focus on the MimioPad for this post.

I've posted in the past about the search for a good way for educators to digitize their handwriting using a wireless tablet. This is useful for disciplines like math, chemistry, economics, etc where they need to be able to write out numbers, problems, or graphs but they may want to project it rather than write on a whiteboard (maybe they have a big class who couldn't all see a whiteboard or they want to be able to capture it electronically to share later). The wirelessness frees up the instructor to walk around the classroom and use the stylus and tablet to control the computer like a mouse and continue to annotate from anywhere. The HP Digital Sketch was a poor contender for quality and the Wacom Intuos was a fine device, but the need for Bluetooth made it difficult to use in classrooms where the teaching stations do not have Bluetooth.

Here's why the MimioPad is my #1 choice for a wireless handwriting digitizing tablet (I'm still not sure what the best term is for these things!):
  • It uses a USB RF receiver, not Bluetooth. On the teaching stations I tried, it worked as a mouse and pen tool (in Word, for instance) without the MimioStudio software installed. I just needed to use a USB port in the tower rather than one on the monitor.
  • The MimioStudio software makes it an amazing device: it can record an avi, reveal the screen (the modern day equivalent of pulling down a piece of paper to reveal a transparency on an overhead), spotlight, capture, and it allows annotation on anything – not just digital whiteboards and programs with pen tools, which is the case without the software. 
  • I haven't been able to get far enough away for it to quit working wirelessly and still communicate with people in the room to know whether it was working. It still worked down the hall from the room it was in. I haven't been able to get into a big lecture hall to try it out yet but I anticipate it will be acceptable for most situations.
  • I was able to write as clearly and legibly on it as I recall writing on the Intuos.
  • It's actually about $30 less than the Intuos. 
  • Local tech support: the Mimio rep lives right by campus :)
We have a winner! I'll write more about the additional Mimio products as I spend more time with them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

McGraw-Hill Online Materials

Today our McGraw-Hill (MH) rep Amanda came to talk to us about their online instructional materials. They recently made some changes including an integrated D2L/MH logon and no requirement to use MH texts.

First, they have a few different services to distinguish between:
  • MH Campus is a repository of free instructional materials such as tutorials (aka animations), PowerPoints, and test banks. They can only be linked to in D2L if we have the D2L integration complete.
  • MH Connect is an interactive platform where students can complete activities and assessments. A really cool aspect is that quiz feedback can link to the area in the text where the concept was discussed for instant remediation (details were a bit fuzzy though). In early 2012, they will roll out D2L gradebook integration - the bugs should be worked out by fall 2012. Connect has a cost of $10-45 per student, per course. Sciences are more expensive.
  • MH Create is a way for faculty to basically make their own textbook by choosing chapters out of one or more textbooks and even including their own content. It can be a black and white, color, or e-book. The cost accumulates at the bottom of the screen while material is added. How this works with a text rental campus is a little fuzzy. 
  • Tegrity: MH acquired the lecture capture technology Tegrity and offers it through Connect. There is an additional cost to use Tegrity, separate from Connect. From what I know, Tegrity is a straight forward lecture capture option without editing capabilities. An advantage is that it is searchable, meaning it can find words spoken in the lecture. I wonder if this means it can produce good captions like the youtube transcription feature? Regardless, I'm not excited about Tegrity since there are so many free screencasting programs available and we are doing a Camtasia pilot. I talked with a faculty member about this a few months ago who was concerned about whether it was possible to download the captured lectures to save for later or view outside of Connect.
Right now accessibility is an issue since not everything is captioned and content is primarily in Flash which is not screen reader or iOS friendly. Amanda said that by the end of 2012, everything should be accessible and in HTML5. 

How we actually get D2L and MH to integrate is unclear right now so we need to contact the right person to figure out if/how to make that happen. The biggest unknown I see is whether the content available in MH Campus is going to be helpful to faculty. I'm sure it will vary by discipline and personal preferences, but it could be a good option for some. The search function seemed to leave something to be desired, so that is a bit of a concern too. It's hard to tell a lot without being able to actually try it, but from my perspective it's worth continuing to look into. I don't think there needs to be a big rush since MH is still working out some of the bugs. However, it could take a while to get the D2L integration worked out so trying to make progress on that front for a pilot in spring or fall of 2012 would be great.