Thursday, July 26, 2012

Using Facebook Groups for Class Communication

Academic use of Facebook at UWEC is not very common, but it can be a good way to connect with students where they are. I wouldn't recommend it as the main place where the class is conducted, but it can be an effective way to share updates, news, due dates, reminders, etc. and allow the students to ask questions or communicate informally as a group.

I recently met with a faculty member who seems genuinely concerned about communicating with students. He observed they do not respond to email and do not check D2L. He took an additional step to text students from email if they gave him their phone number and provider, which I didn't know about. Here's some info on that. I just emailed myself a text and it was truncated to 140 characters, but it was something at least. We discussed the option of Broadtexter, which allows students to sign up for text notifications and would probably turn out more elegantly, but he was really interested in Facebook for interactive communication. Since it's a field seminar class in which they all would be traveling, the use of Facebook made even more sense to me.

I recommend that educational Facebook use occur in a Group. The instructor and students do not need to be friends to interact in a Group. I do not recommend being friends with current students. If you are friends, this means you can see each others' updates, photos, etc: you will probably get more information than you want. When I taught, I told students I would be happy to connect with them on LinkedIn since that is a professional network, but Facebook is for my personal life.
Most students don't want to be friends with their professors anyway. If you decide to create a Group for a class, start out by saying your policy is to not be friends with students (at least current students).
Here are the group options (from Facebook's help site): 

  •  Open: Anyone on Facebook can see and join the group. Open groups will appear in search results and all content that members post (ex: photos, videos and files) is visible to anyone viewing the group. Friends can see that you've joined an open group in their news feed.
  •  Closed: Anyone on Facebook can see the group name, its members and people invited to join the group, but only members can see posts in the group. To join a closed group, a friend needs to add you, or you can ask to join. Your friends can see that you've been invited or added to a closed group in their news feed.
  •  Secret: These groups cannot be found in searches, and non-members can’t see anything about the group, including its name and member list. The name of the group will not display on the profiles (timelines) of members. To join a secret group, you need to be added by a member of the group.
We set up a Closed group in which the admin (the instructor) can only approve requests to join and add new members. Note that this is a setting that has to be changed; by default any member can approve requests to join and invite others. A Secret group would be fine too, however, I find the use of the word "Secret" to describe it kind of strange. 

Note that in order to create a group, you need to add at least one person you are friends with. However, you can remove that person after the group is created. I use my husband in this situation and just let him know what happened. 

To invite students to join the group, you can copy the URL in the address bar when you are on the group's page and distribute it to students however you prefer (email, D2L, etc). 

FERPA concerns? Here are a few things you can do: 
  • Avoid using UWEC or UW-Eau Claire in the name of the group. 
  • Use a Secret group to maximize privacy; you may just want to explain to the students that the group isn't really a secret and that it's just a strange Facebook term. 
  • Let students know you are willing to set up a different communication method if they do not have Facebook or do not feel comfortable joining the group. 
  • Assist students in securing their privacy settings. Share this blog post I wrote and encourage them to look each other up and verify the settings. Students are not as tech savvy as they may seem and may not realize how much of their information is public. 
This professor explained to the students that his use of Facebook for their class is experimental and he encouraged feedback about how it was going. I look forward to hearing about it. He reported a few days later that the students were already joining the Facebook group, but they weren't responding to his emails, so it seemed to be already working. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Take a Screenshot of a Drop Down Menu

One thing I love about my Mac is the ability to just click Command + Shift + 4 to take a screenshot. It will even take screenshots of right click menus or items I am hovering my mouse over. Sometimes those things are really important! I had difficulty figuring this out on Windows 7 because Print Screen did nothing, but the amazing Beth Kranz knew how to do it!  Here you go:
  1. Open up the Snipping Tool.
  2. Hit the Escape button. 
  3. Bring up the info/text you are trying to grab (right click, hover, whatever you need to do). 
  4. Press Control and Print Screen at the same time. You should get the same crosshairs you normally do with the Snipping Tool. Use your mouse to select the area you want to grab and work as usual with the Snipping Tool. Voila! 

How to Record Audio into PowerPoint 2010 and Publish into a Video File

There are two ways to record audio in PPT 2010 for Windows: 1) via the Insert Tab - Audio - Record Audio, and 2) via the Slideshow Tab, Record Slideshow. #2 is recommended because audio quality is better and it is fewer steps. You can still re-record a slide individually via #2. Below are instructions to do this and publish it to a video using iSpring Free. iSpring is only available on Windows, but you can prepare and record audio in PPT for Mac and then just publish it on a Windows computer with iSpring.

Here is a YouTube video I created showing how to add audio and publish. (I forgot to include the mic check part though - sorry about that!)

Here are text instructions explaining the same thing:

1. First plug in your microphone and ensure it is working -  go to Control Panel -> Sound -> Recording. You should see your mic listed - it will probably say USB device and the brand name (Plantronics, Logitech, etc). If it is the default, there will be a green check mark next to it. Ensure that the green lines move when you speak into it. If necessary, you can double click on it to increase the level or unmute it if the green lines are not moving.

2. Ok, back to PowerPoint: click the Slide Show tab.

3. Choose Record Slide Show (for some reason, the audio quality is significantly better when recorded through here).

4. You have the option to record from the beginning or from the current slide. The current slide option is helpful, because you can just redo one or multiple slides; you do not have to redo the remainder of the presentation if you choose this option.

5. On the next dialog box, leave the default boxes checked to record slide and animation timings as well as narrations and laser pointer (I have not yet explored the laser pointer, but you definitely want narrations).

6. Click Start Recording. The PowerPoint will go into full screen and will automatically start recording, so make sure your headset is all ready to go. I don't know of a way to edit these files in PPT. 

7. A recording short cut menu appears on the top left of your screen. Here is a poorly annotated description of the buttons: 

8. FYI, you can record your animations - just click on the slide to make them appear. 

9. To end recording, you can either click the X in the short cut menu or right click and go to End Show. It takes a few seconds for it to save, so be patient. Then save your PPT. The audio is saved within the PowerPoint presentation, not as a separate file. 

10. Go to the iSpring Free tab (I'm assuming you have iSpring Free installed - if not, do so here or if you are a UWEC user and do not have administrative privileges on your computer, you can download it via Run Advertised Programs - here are instructions.)

11. I always choose Publish rather than Quick Publish so I know for sure where it is saving the project - I recommend using the Projects Drive or Archive Drive to store these files. 

12. Upload the .swf file to D2L to share with your students. It will have created a folder with multiple files, but all you need for D2L is the .swf. I don't normally recommend uploading media directly to D2L, but there are currently no other options due to the .swf format. 

Why use iSpring Free to publish your presentation? 
  • The file size is significantly smaller. I recorded just 4 minutes of audio into a PPT and it was 10 MB. The version published with iSpring Free was 2 MB. It will take less time to load and will take up less space in D2L. 
  • Your students will have a more consistent experience and you will get fewer questions. If you just upload the PowerPoint file, it will function differently for students based on the browser they are using (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari). They will usually have the option to either save or open the file, in which case it will open as a .ppt and they will have to put it in full screen to hear the audio - some students may not even realize they are supposed to listen to the audio. They are also more likely to get pop-up blockers and have to click multiple times to access the file, resulting in frustration. 
Note: Links to websites in iSpring presentations do not seem to work, unless the students go through 20 steps to allow them via their Flash player which is very confusing. If this is a big problem for you because you want the students to visit websites during your presentation, I'd recommend saving your PowerPoint as a PPSX (PowerPoint Show). This will prompt it to open in full screen mode automatically, rather than edit mode like a normal PowerPoint opens. However, it will open inconsistently for the students based on their browser - some will still require the file to be downloaded. So, saving it as a PPSX will help in some browsers, but not all. I would ideally recommend providing the links outside of the presentation. 

Remember to provide a transcript or some sort of alternate way for students with hearing disabilities to access the audio content you are providing. It doesn't have to be captioned or word-for-word, but there should be some way for them to access the content.