Friday, June 29, 2012

Chunking Your Content

I highly recommend "chunking" multimedia content for online courses into pieces that are 10 minutes or less. That's primarily because of the common notion that peoples' attention spans are about 10 minutes. If you want the students to learn well, let them apply or somehow use the content after introducing about 5-9 new items - the "7 +/- 2" rule. Programs like Camtasia and Articulate allow you to add quick self-check quizzes to the end of your videos for immediate use of the info.

I just read an article about increasing engagement in a 50-minute face-to-face presentation by simply allowing the audience to "reset" every 10 minutes or so by moving, changing something in the room, getting them to talk, etc. An advantage to online learning is that you don't have to fill up a certain period of time; you can easily give your learners a chance to "reset" by chunking your content into short periods of time. They automatically get a chance to reset when your video ends and they decide what to do next.

Here are some additional advantages of short videos: 

It's easier for students to be able to find content later to review. Rather than having one 50 minute video that the students would have to open and fast-forward through to find the info that they want (while waiting for it to load), five 10 minute segments would allow them to more easily navigate to the right video.

It takes less time to publish/produce/render so you don't have to sit there and wait for it to go into YouTube or wherever you are putting it. I hate the feeling of waiting 10 minutes for something to produce and wondering if it should take that long or if there's something wrong and I should force it to quit and try again. Also, YouTube has a 15 minute limit; you can increase it but use the power wisely!

It gives you time to refresh in between segments, to avoid getting fatigued as you are creating the content. Recording can be exhausting, since you don't have the excitement factor of being in front of a group to keep you going (assuming you are creating the content specifically for online rather than recording a live lecture, which I usually recommend). Sit up straight and smile as you are recording - it makes a difference. If you're powering through the video just to get it done, your audience will be able to tell.

Recently I've been seeing studies about how taking breaks or microbreaks (just standing up or looking at something else) can increase productivity at work. Here's one synopsis. It's likely that your students will have Facebook open in another tab anyway - they can either 1) check it during your long video when their attention is fading and miss what you're talking about because multi-tasking is not really possible or 2) wait until after your video if you keep it short and, hopefully, engaging.
A way to keep your audience/students engaged is to tell a story. 
Our brains are hardwired to pay attention to stories. The professors I remember best were the ones who told lots of stories - relevant stories about their practice or clients they worked with. You can probably think of a book you read that started off with a story to hook you in. Take advantage of storytelling to help students learn.

If you have other tips or rationale for short videos, please share.

Article about increasing engagement

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Livescribe Pens Aren't Meant to be Loaned Out

A Livescribe smartpen is "a ballpoint pen with an embedded computer and digital audio recorder. When used with Anoto digital paper, it records what it writes for later uploading to a computer, and synchronizes those notes with any audio it has recorded. This allows users to replay portions of a recording by tapping on the notes they were taking at the time the recording was made. It is also possible to select which portion of a recording to replay by clicking on the relevant portion of a page on-screen, once it has been synced to the Livescribe Desktop software." (thanks Wikipedia)

I have two Livescribe pens for testing and loaning to faculty. Unfortunately, they are meant to be individual, personal devices. They have worked fine for demos but recently a faculty member was interested in using one to create content for his online class. Since I have two and rarely use them anyway, I said he should just use the one I had to make sure he likes it and wants to continue with it and, if so, we could look at getting him his own.

Of course, anyone is able to write with the pen and record. The problem is getting it to work with someone else's computer to download the pencasts and put them online to share with students. I thought I could download the Livescribe Desktop software on to his computer and have him create his own account and be able to transfer the content. The problem I didn't realize is that the pen itself is linked to my Livescribe account. I vaguely recall having to register the pen. So when we tried to make an account for him and connect my pen, weird things happened and we were unable to get it to work even when I figured out what the problem was. At that time, we weren't sure if he was going to use it, so we didn't stress.

However, he did decide to use it and I had to try and remember what we did before and determine how to fix it. To confound matters further, his Mac was just upgraded to Lion. In the end, I don't think that was a problem for this particular program though. We tried a bunch of random solutions, fully expecting that something would eventually work and we wouldn't know what it was. Here is what I can remember of this process:

  • First problem: apparently before I had changed my password to a generic one so we could share the account but I couldn't remember what it was. Of course. So I clicked "forgot password" and unfortunately it is one of those systems that takes about 10 minutes to send the email. Funny thing is that I just kept trying different options and eventually figured it. 
  • When we did authorize the computer and plugged the pen in, it didn't transfer any of the data, so we removed the pen (under Tools) thinking we could re-add it but either that is not the case or it took too long and we deemed that ineffective. 
  • We also tried uninstalling and reinstalling Livescribe Desktop with no luck.
  • On my computer (Mac with Snow Leopard), the pencasts did transfer but I couldn't get them on the Livescribe site. I hadn't put any pencasts on the site since changing the password, so it kept telling me that it was working but it wasn't doing anything. I had to go into Livescribe Connect and change my password when I finally figured that out. It would have been nice to get a prompt somewhere about that!
  • Since this process took a long time, I offered to get the pencasts off using my computer until we resolved the issue and do some additional research on my own to avoid wasting more of his time. I tried Googling but Livescribe's help info on this topic was outdated and not helpful at all. So I called Livescribe support and got some additional instructions on how to de-authorize and re-authorize Livescribe Desktop and a zip file I could run to remove a corrupt authorization certificate, just in case. Interestingly, if you hold down Control and click on Tools, you get additional functions that allow you to de-authorize the pen without wiping it of the data. 
  • Today I met with the professor and we were all ready to follow these instructions and the darn thing worked! He plugged it in and it brought up a prompt to name the pen, as if it had not seen it before. Interestingly, there was a pen already in his list of pens in Livescribe Desktop which had to have been this one. So he named it something slightly different and did update the firmware of the pen when it prompted him to (I said it would just keep prompting, so we might as well). I don't recall getting that prompt the other day. 
  • So, lessons learned: 
    1. Just keep a generic account for testing and always use that. Get people their own pen as much as possible. 
    2. Update everything.
    3. It may take a while for changes to happen with Livescribe. I wonder if some of our other attempted fixes may have worked, but we moved on too quickly. So, I guess the lesson is be patient. That's really hard when you're tying up someone's computer though. 
Image from the Livescribe website. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mobile Device Security

Enjoy a guest post by UW-Eau Claire's Mobile Technology Specialist, Matt Sias, about security for mobile devices.

UW-Eau Claire is seeing a tremendous increase in usage of smart phones and tablets by students, faculty, and staff to access email and other web services. It is great to see people using these devices for school and work, as they are often times the best tool for the job. But using these mobile devices for both personal and professional purposes presents new and unique security challenges.

A recent study done by the security company Sophos found that 22 percent of all mobile phone owners have lost a phone in the past. An additional 12 percent have had a mobile phone stolen. And 67 percent admitted to not having a security lock on their phone. Since many mobile devices contain a great deal of sensitive personal and professional information, security and the risk of loss and theft become major concerns.

To be fair, in the information technology realm, security can be the enemy of utility. Here are some general recommendations for keeping the data on your mobile device secure without causing you too much trouble:

1. Make sure the data on your device is encrypted. Encryption will obfuscate the information on your device. If an information thief were to gain access to your device, they would be unable to decipher the stored data. Devices running iOS (iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches) are automatically encrypted. Most devices running Android must be encrypted by the owner. This can be done using third-party apps (such as Droid Crypt and AnDisk Encryption), or done through Android itself in newer versions. In order for encryption to be of any real use, though, you will also need to implement screen lock security.

2. Require screen lock security on your device. Most mobile devices, including iOS and Android, offer a variety of options for screen lock security, including passwords, PINs, and drawn patterns. Typically, the longer and more complex your passcode or pattern is, the more secure it will be. Realistically, no one wants to type in a long and complex password each time they access their mobile device. A four digit number or four point pattern is generally viewed as acceptable.

3. Enable a geolocation service on your device. Geolocation services allow you to see where, on a map, your device is at any given time. This can help you recover a lost or stolen device, as well as erase your personal data if your device is not recoverable. iOS devices can use a geolocation service through iCloud called Find My iPhone. Android devices can use third-party apps such as Plan B, Locate My Droid, and iHound.

4. Keep your device up-to-date with operating system and app updates. Updates for both iOS and Android are released from time to time. Third-party apps are often updated by their developers, as well. These updates often include enhanced security features or fixes for security vulnerabilities.

5. Be vigilant of phishing scams. Phishing is when someone attempts to trick someone else into giving up personal information. Phishing comes in many different forms on mobile devices, such as emails, text messages, and even phone calls. Never give out your passwords or other sensitive personal information through these media unless you are certain of the recipient.

6. Be prepared for viruses and other malware. Viruses are not quite as common on mobile devices as they are on computers, but they do exist. A variety of virus protection apps exist for Android (such as Lookout). Apple, however, does not allow antivirus apps in the iOS App Store. This means that extra care must be given when visiting untrusted websites, apps, or services.

7. Make regular backups of your mobile device. Hardware failure and software crashes can cause loss of your data, just like on a computer. iOS devices can be backed up onto a computer through iTunes or online through iCloud. Android devices can use a Google service to automatically back up settings and other files can be saved to your Android device’s SD card.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CourseSmart vs Nook Study

CourseSmart and Nook Study (from Barnes and Noble) are platforms that allow uniform access to e-books and use a standard reader. So, instead of going to McGraw-Hill directly for an e-book, then Cengage for another and having to remember multiple usernames/passwords and how the sites work, many of these e-books can be integrated to allow students to just access one place for multiple books and use a consistent product to reduce the learning curve.

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI): Both platforms can integrate with Desire2Learn (D2L) and many other learning management systems for a single sign on and access to the book right through D2L. This further reduces the number of sites students have to go to. The D2L integration would would allow instructors to link to specific pages to guide students and instructors using Nook Study could also see the students' progress and share annotations. D2L integration basically allows more online interaction with the textbook. Also, CourseSmart provides instructor access to all of their textbooks for previewing if it is integrated. We currently do not have LTI enabled and are looking into it. It seems to present significant advantages.

There is no cost to CourseSmart or Nook Study; the cost is reflected in the books purchased through them. Although they integrate all of these textbooks into one place, each individual book still has to be purchased to keep or rent and the cost is still substantial.

It's important to clarify a few things about e-books before getting further into the comparison:

There is currently no direct electronic replacement for buying a physical book and lending it, like the UWEC textbook rental system. "Rental" does not always mean the same thing. There is no way for a university to purchase an e-book and give it out and take it back 6 times like we do with paper books. My guess is that there never will be either. 

Rented e-books are not much of a cost savings over purchased e-books (maybe 10%) so it usually makes sense to purchase the e-book - however, not all platforms provide the option to purchase. CourseSmart is rental only while NookStudy provides all of the options when available. 

UWEC students pay about $98 per semester for all of their rental paper books. That is approximately the cost of one e-textbook. 
THEREFORE, our exploration of e-books at UWEC is for use in situations where a book would have to be purchased anyway because the cost of textbook rental (for students) cannot be beat.

If students have to purchase a book not available through rental,
the e-book will probably be a cost savings over paper, but it may not be as much as expected. CourseSmart indicates e-textbooks are 60% less than paper and Nook Study clearly lays out the cost of paper purchase, e-rental, and e-purchase which usually shows a significant savings with the electronic versions. At least, the cost differences are clear up front. 

You may have heard about the
 Daytona State study highlighted in a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "E-Textbooks Saved Many Students Only $1." The longer Educause article actually indicates that cost savings ("although variable and sometimes small") is still the first benefit of the Daytona pilot. It seems the publisher reduced the price of the print version and increased the price of the electronic version during the four-semester pilot: the savings were substantial early in the pilot, then evened out by the end. I wish Daytona would have elaborated on what happened rather than just saying it was due to "publisher purchasing decisions." Regardless, I do not see this one pilot as a reason to abandon e-books or make a blanket statement that they are not less expensive. It does bring up a good point that prices should be examined closely, the price of either version of the book can change, and it would not be advisable to require the electronic version unless it provided a substantial price break to offset the inability to sell it back (assuming student satisfaction is a concern!). 

Most of the articles I read indicate that our current college students prefer print. That's probably because they are used to print and aren't used to annotating electronically. This will change as more students grow up reading electronically and realize it can be efficient. We need to be ready for them. In addition, current e-books are just "paper under glass." There will be more of a reason to use them when they provide additional benefits by integrating multimedia. The literature indicates that it is a good idea to offer students the option of paper or electronic - at least at this point, with these students. 

To address a common instructor concern, I know that e-books on 
both platforms retain the same pagination as the print versions. Yippee! 
Although there are many options for e-book platforms which I will continue to explore, here is what I've gleaned so far in comparing these two:

How Books are Accessed
I may not fully understand all the details or use the correct terms, but here's what I understand:
  • CourseSmart is web-based and offers apps for mobile devices. Books can be accessed offline by caching them; they are not really downloaded. I think that means a "downloaded" book is available through the browser you used to make it offline until you clear your browser history (?).  Their video explains it well.
    • CourseSmart would allow integration of learning objects, such as McGraw-Hill Connect in the same way as the book is integrated. 
  • Nook Study is more traditional - you download the book and you need the software to read it on the computer. Nook Study is only accessible on a computer; there is talk of an iPad app but recently Microsoft purchased about 17% of them so maybe they will hold out for Windows 8. You can archive the books so they do not take up space on your computer though. 
  • CourseSmart only offers rentals. The length of time can be a semester or a year, or they can work out something custom if necessary. Even notes go away after the rental period. 
  • Nook Study offers purchase or rental. I find this to be a significant advantage, since many of the purchase books at UWEC are for classes in the major, which are the books students are more likely to want to keep. Also, Nook Study offers novels whereas CourseSmart is textbooks only. Notes taken can be downloaded as a Word file. 
The Reader
  • I'm not an experienced user of either, but based on what I know so far Nook Study seems to have an advantage because it has a built in text-to-speech tool and it allows for more interaction (sharing annotations and seeing student progress) if we have LTI enabled. The main disadvantage of Nook Study is that it's only available on a computer whereas CourseSmart is very mobile, so people with tablets cannot read their Nook Study textbooks on them. Oddly enough, not even the Nook device allows access to Nook Study e-books. I understand lack of access via phone and kind of respect Nook Study for not allowing customers to be dissatisfied since reading a textbook on a phone is probably going to be a dissatisfying experience, but I'd be disappointed if I couldn't read my e-textbook on my iPad. 
Aspects I'm still looking into include book availability, cost, and support/training. Regardless, we at UWEC are not locked into e-books from any one provider, so we could try out a few options with different classes in a pilot. Stay tuned!

Here are some other good articles relating to e-books:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

PowerPoint/iSpring Free Audio Issues

I've been a big fan of PowerPoint and iSpring Free lately, so it kind of figures I'd have a problem with both! I found a professor's iSpring Free tutorial did not include audio and the speaker indicating PowerPoint audio was still visible in the published version. I tried it myself and - sure enough - same issue.

To fix it, we had to click on the speaker icon on each slide and new tabs come up with options. The default is apparently for the audio to start on click but it needs to be changed to automatically. Also, the "Hide During Show" box needs to be clicked for the speaker to go away.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to retain these properties from slide to slide, so you have to change these options for every slide with audio. Four extra clicks per slide. Not cool.

In addition, PowerPoint audio is just not very good. It sounds like it picks up a lot of background noise. It's not my mic though; it is fine in Camtasia and Screencast-o-matic. These factors are causing me to reevaluate my recommendation of iSpring Free, unless I can figure out how to make the options stay.

Here's a screenshot of the Playback tab with the correct options. I'm having trouble making it a decent size for the blog, so click on it for a larger version.