Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Using blogs for classes

Tomorrow I am meeting with faculty who are interested in using blogs for their class. I consulted with Danielle Ryan, resident blog expert, who suggested the following options:
  1. Use one Google blog (this blog is in Google Blogger) that all students can post in as themselves. The professor would create the blog and invite the students as authors. Under Settings - Permission, the admin (professor) could type in the students' email addresses to invite them (they could be copied and pasted from the D2L email area). The students would need to login using a Google account. I'd recommend a test post before an assignment is due to make sure it all goes as anticipated. You can see below this post that I logged in and posted using another Google account (Lirpa Nosreip, which is April Pierson backwards) so this is how you'd see who posted what. You could also require them to add their name in the title of the post.
  2. Have all the students create their own blog. If they are all in Google Blogger, everyone can subscribe to each others' blogs in the Blogger Dashboard. They would all just have to share their URL, maybe on the D2L discussion board. This option is nice if the students are creating work they would want to share with others, sort of like a portfolio. Then the blog is just their work.
Why use a blog over the D2L discussion tool?
  • It can be nice if you want to open it up to an audience bigger than just the class since blogs are generally public. Others interested in the topic could read and comment on the students' blog posts.
  • For some fields, such as communication journalism, exposure to this medium as a student can be beneficial in the workforce.
  • If you want the students to simply share information, not in a formal paper format, without an expectation of scholarly, interactive discussion.
Why use the D2L discussion tool over a blog?
  • I think D2L discussions are best for scholarly, in-depth discussions requiring back-and-forth interaction. For instance, if you require students to post and then respond to others, the response pattern is clearer to follow in the threaded, grid pane viewing option.
  • If you are considering private blogs, maybe just use the D2L discussion tool instead since it is restricted to just the class by default.
  • Another benefit to the D2L discussion is that all posts related to one topic are located in one discussion board. It would be easier to navigate than if everyone had their own blog at a separate URL.

When considering new technology, make sure it has added value. Sticking with tools the students have already used can make life easier for them, so only add new technology tools when they are clearly enhancing the learning experience.

Monday, June 27, 2011

International Institute for New Faculty Developers (IINFD)

At the urging of a colleague who said this was an excellent experience, I attended the IINFD.  Admittedly, I was not excited to travel by myself and attend 4 1/2 days of training over a weekend, but it was the most useful and professional training I've ever attended.  IINFD gets the ultimate compliment: it changed the way I think. 

The typical participant would be someone in a role such as Cindy or Bob's in our CETL - out of all the people I met, I was the only one with a technology focus although a few people were particularly interested in technology.  Most of the 100 or so participants were former or current faculty who were moving into faculty development, so it was really interesting to learn their perspective since I entered this field differently.  Many of the meals were shared and most of us stayed at the same hotel so there were a lot of opportunities to get to know people.  The atmosphere was very collaborative and sharing.  I met people from all different disciplines, experience levels, and sizes of centers. 

Most of the sessions were facilitated rather than presented, so we got to know the people around us by working in small groups.  It was sponsored in part by the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education aka POD Network.  The conference organizer, Michele DiPietro, said that POD stands for many things, including "Participate or Die" which was a nice segue into the first of many small group activities.  In a few sessions, it was hard for me to participate because they were topics I knew little to nothing about, but I was able to learn from others in the group.

Sessions included topics such as course design, assessment, consultation skills, learning communities, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), faculty development programs, evaluating centers, developing our philosophy as a faculty developer, learning theory, and technology (there were others I did not attend).  About half the time consisted of sessions that we all attended and half were concurrent sessions, so we had some choice.

Of course, I was excited about the technology session.  The presenters (this was more of a presentation than a facilitated session) were two instructional designers from the Kennesaw CETL and a dentistry faculty developer from Canada who mostly talked about a specific simulation tool they use at his university.  Unfortunately I think it had limited applicability to the rest of us.  In 1.5 hours, they planned to discuss every type of technology for teaching and even said we could add others if we knew of them.  They got through about half of their content.

The main reason I was excited about this session is because I hoped they would cite some research or link what they were discussing to research, but they focused on Bloom's Digital Taxonomy, which is the subject of my first post in this blog (summary: I'm not a fan).  They acknowledged the lack of research on learning styles and instead cited learning preferences and recommended multiple options to appeal to different learners (I agree). Overall, they spent way too much time on Bloom's and not enough time on the actual technologies. The first thing they mentioned was focusing on the educational use of a tool rather than the tool itself, but I didn't see them follow through with this throughout the presentation. 

I learned about a new tool, Sync.in, which is like Google Docs but (from what I understand) requires users to select a color so each person's additions are in different colors.  This is possible in Google Docs, but people have to add the color manually, like in Word.  There is also a timeline function so you can play a video of all the changes happening in action.

I also observed the effective use of Prezi.  Two sessions used Prezi instead of PowerPoint and I was really impressed with how it showed the big picture and then zoomed in to the pieces - for the content, it worked very well.  It also just seemed a lot more refreshing than PowerPoint.  I was very surprised I liked the Prezi so much.

I left with some solid ideas for technology-related learning communities I'd like to start with CETL, how to evaluate my performance, and a strong reminder that I am very solution focused, when sometimes I need to ask the right questions to lead people to their own conclusions (primarily relating to pedagogical issues, since technology is usually more straight-forward).  Although most of the sessions did not relate directly to technology, I was able to apply them to my role and some of it was just good to know so I understand faculty development, CETL, and how I may complement them better.  Overall, it was a great experience for the information, networking opportunities, and time to reflect. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Video creation via Android

Recently a professor asked if her students could record video on their phone and upload it to D2L.  The short answer is not directly unless they upload it to their computer and then upload it to the dropbox.  My solution was to take video on their phone and share it to YouTube and then share the URL in D2L.

I decided to try this out on my Motorola Droid X and took a minute long video of my dog playing in a kiddie pool in the backyard.  It was 65 MB.  I went to Gallery, clicked the video, and then chose "Share" and the YouTube option.  Unfortunately, it said I needed WIFI to upload a file of this size.  This may sound strange, but I don't have internet at home (my phone does 95% of what I need) so I was unable to do anything with it at the time. 

I thought I had connected my Droid X to the wireless at the university, but it turned out that I wasn't actually connected because I hadn't opened a browser window and registered the device.  Once I registered the phone, it uploaded in about a minute or so.

Then I decided to use the YouTube editor to snip out a few seconds at the end.  It was amazingly easily to use and actually walked me through the process with prompts that came up after each step.  I easily made my edit and added a fun banjo tune (I think banjo music always makes dog videos more fun).  There is an incredible amount of music available right in the editor that is free to use, but advertisements might be displayed on videos that use content in the editor.  For my use, that was fine but I didn't see any ads when I viewed it later.  If you are curious, here is the result.

YouTube also now allows for users to mark their videos with a Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) which means others can use the content with automatic attribution to the creator.  I went into edit mode and found I could not check that radio button; I assume due to the fact that I added music via the YouTube editor so it was not completely my original work.

Here are my conclusions from this experience:
  • Students could be told that taking video on their phone is an option, but they should try it out with a short, insignificant video before collecting something important in case they are unable to get it off of the phone or lose it.  
  • The LTS Help Desk staff are familiar with the university-owned video cameras that students can check out from the library and would more likely be able to provide assistance with them than they would a phone, since there are so many different types of phones. The quality of the university video cameras will almost certainly be better than the quality of a phone, but the quality of the video I took was fine.
  • Regardless of the way the video is collected, the YouTube editor was very intuitive and worked well for the simple video I created. 
  • I certainly could have gone "old school" and connected my phone to a computer and downloaded the video onto the hard drive and then edited it in iMovie or another editing program.  However, I have never connected this phone to a computer and I don't actually know where the cord is :)
Let me know if you have comments!