Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Google Chromecast

Although this is not exactly learning technology, I've really been wanting to share my love of the Google Chromecast. It is particularly relevant this time of year as it would be a great gift for Internet video watchers who have an HDTV, which is most people these days. If you're not familiar, the Chromecast is this $35 device (on the left) which makes it possible to wirelessly stream certain apps like Netflix and YouTube and the Chrome browser to an HDTV from lots of devices - iPad/Phone/Pod, Android phone or tablet, and computers with the Chrome browser.

How does it work? You have to go through some steps to set it up and get the proper app on the devices (which my wonderful husband did, so I don't know exactly what's involved but it didn't take long) but when it's all good to go:

1. Plug the Chromecast into the TV or receiver's HDMI port and into the wall for power. Wait till it says "ready to cast" (they use different funky backgrounds for the "ready to cast" screen and switch them randomly).
2. Open up your chosen app to stream such as Netflix on whatever device you have handy.
3. Click on the icon to choose your Chromecast (screenshot on the right).

You just need to make sure the device is on the same wireless network as the Chromecast. I occasionally turn my phone's wireless off to conserve battery and every time I've had a problem, that has been the issue.

Why do I like it so much? 

1. I didn't have another device that did this like a Roku or Apple TV, so it has made my Internet video watching wireless whereas before I had a 25 foot HDMI cable strung across my living room to an iPad or computer make it happen. I used to watch DirecTV out of sheer laziness because getting out the HDMI cable and the right adapters/dongles and hooking up the iPad or computer was sometimes too much work (I'm kind of ashamed to admit that...).

2. I can use the device for other things while it is streaming. Do I need to multitask this much? No. Do I sometimes want to? Yes.

3. Cost & OS agnostic-ness:  I refused to buy an Apple TV because I didn't think it was worth $99 and because I do not live in an exclusively Apple household: we have an iPad, Android phones, and both PC and Mac computers.

I will be the first to admit these are first world problems and I wasn't going to do anything about them, but my husband was really excited to get a Chromecast, I didn't care because it was so cheap ($35), and I totally jumped on board once I understood how awesome it is.

Here's another cool thing: When you're streaming something, all of the devices that are on the wireless that have the app can control whatever's going on. So if I start something on my phone and I can't find it but want to pause it, I can grab the iPad or my husband's phone and control it. It's kind of fun when multiple people want to show YouTube videos or something from their phones because it's really easy to change who has control or to take control from someone else. Also, when my phone (Motorola Droid Razr Maxx) is locked there is still a pause button so it's very easy to access the controls. It's not as nice on the iPad though (surprise!).

What apps does it work with? I mostly use Netflix and YouTube but it works with more apps now like HBO GO and even Pandora. Last I checked, it did not work with Amazon video though, which was incredibly disappointing because I was deep into a Downton Abbey addiction when we got it. If you get one, don't forget about the Chrome browser streaming. We wanted to watch a random show and had to do it via the browser because the app wasn't compatible, which was fine. Every now and then I still need the good old HDMI cable but it's pretty rare.

For people who are used to Netflix: One thing I didn't like about it at first, but I decided I do like is that it sends one video/movie/episode at a time and then you have to make another decision when it's done (it goes back to the "ready to cast" screen). If you are used to Netflix, you know that 15 second window where it just plays the next episode and then you're sucked into a Netflix hole and before you know it, you realize you've watched 25 episodes because you can't stop it once it starts a new one (and even though it stops to make sure you're still watching, it does it during an episode and you can't just stop mid-episode!). I have decided I like it because it gives me a good breaking point to get up and do something other than watch TV!

Since this is a learning technology blog, I will say that it may not have much classroom application because you do have to download some stuff to make it work, and you can't download random programs onto classroom computers here at UWEC anyway. If you bring your laptop, I don't see why it wouldn't work but I haven't tried it. If you're just streaming a video though you might as well open up the website and show it off the computer. The Apple TV is a better option for educational purposes because it has full mirroring so you can use more than just the handful of supported apps.

Final comment: if you live in a mixed OS household like mine, don't have anything similar yet like an Apple TV, and your main goal is streaming content, I highly recommend it.

Images from the Chromecast website

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Types of Instructional Videos

Over the time I've been at UWEC, I determined there are four main types of videos that instructors need to create. There are many technologies; the options provided here are what I've found to be most user friendly, reliable, and cost effective.

1. Record yourself speaking: Sometimes the best way to share information is just by talking. Let’s say you want to elaboration on essay instructions like you normally would face-to-face, or you want to give an overview to a module, or you want to tell a story related to the content. You could just record audio, but it’s much more engaging to include video of you as well. Here’s more information on recording a webcam video.

2. Record audio in a PowerPoint: PowerPoint can be a good medium for sharing information with the students. However, particularly for an online course, rethink how you use PowerPoint to avoid the usual bulleted lists and include more images to help students learn more effectively. It is best to add audio elaboration and publish the video into a video format. If done successfully, the end result won’t even look like a PowerPoint! Here are resources:
3. Record your computer screen with audio narration: Maybe you want to show the students how to do something on a website or how to use a software application. For instance, an English professor wanted to make a short video for his students describing the Purdue OWL website that he commonly refers them to so the students can watch it whenever they want and he didn't have to explain it over and over. This is called screencasting and the main program I recommend is CaptureSpace Lite, which is integrated with UWEC's video storage site, Kaltura.

We also have Camtasia for those who want more functionality. You can do all sorts of cool stuff with it; I use it as my general video editing program. Camtasia can be downloaded for free onto UWEC Windows computers via appstore.uwec.edu in Internet Explorer or in the software center. Mac users can get it too via the Self Service app (search for it in the spotlight if you can't find it).

4. Record your handwriting with audio narration: If you’re in a discipline like math, economics, or chemistry you are probably used to writing on the board. Handwriting digitization options help you record your handwriting and audio to simulate your ability to write on the board. There are lots of options, but two of the easiest ways are on an iPad or by recording under the document camera in a classroom (yes, the doc cams record! And you can write on paper!). Check out this post for more info.

Stream that video! Don't forget that your final video needs to go somewhere the students can view it. Don't just give students narrated PowerPoint files or mp4s; someone will inevitably have a problem. At UWEC, we have Kaltura, but YouTube is also a good option if you already use it. 

Last updated 4/10/17

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I'm Such a Big Fan of YouTube

I spend a big part of my job helping people with YouTube which I often recommend for the following reasons:
  • It's not as public as people think - there is an "unlisted" setting so only people with the link can view your video (it won't come up in searches). 
    • Personally I try to make my videos public so I can give back to the world a little bit in case they help someone else, but it's nice to have options. 
  • It's easy! Many programs have a direct export to YouTube function. For instance, on the iPad you can record a video and then click the share button to send it over to YouTube. Camtasia, Screencast-o-matic, and iMovie all have this, among many other programs. 
  • Again: ease of use. To upload a video, login and click the big upload button on the top. It is very user friendly. 
  • The account and videos are controlled by the user. In other words, you don't have to rely on someone else to put your videos here for you. It is also easy to take your videos with you, should you get another job. 
  • Does YouTube ever go down? I have never experienced that. It's super reliable. 
    • Addendum: the night after I wrote this YouTube did go down briefly. Ha! Thanks universe, for putting me in my place. So, nothing is 100% reliable. 
  • There's a built in video editor. You can trim your video, add title slides, change the lighting - all sorts of fantastic stuff. I took some video at a concert that was a bit jumpy and YouTube stabilize it so I didn't make people seasick. 
  • Many people already have a Google account so they just need to figure out their password! If they don't want to use their current or personal Google account, they can just make another one.
  • Accessibility: If you have the text for a video transcribed and you upload it, YouTube does a fantastic job of timing it with the video so you don't have to go through and click to indicate when the captions come up. This is a big advantage for accessibility since it saves a lot of time. 
    • The creators of the math MOOC from LaCrosse, WI put all of their videos on YouTube, let it take a stab at automatic captioning, and just modified what YouTube came up with which saved them time in creating captions. 
    • YouTube's captions vary considerably depending on the speaker's voice and the audio quality. Sometimes they are hilariously wrong, but other times pretty dang close. 
One thing I'm not a huge fan of is how it seems like Google is learning waaayy too much about me, but that's the cost of something free, I suppose. There are other options if you're not a fan of Google. I mostly use my YouTube account for work stuff and then I use Vimeo for non-work videos. There is also a university server for UWEC. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 Tips for Making a Good Webcam or "Talking Head" Video

For online courses, it's nice to have at least one video of yourself speaking so the students get a feel for who you are. Unless you're making a MOOC, these don't have to be super high quality. In this post, I'll share some tips to help you make, minimally, an "acceptable" video.

Technologically speaking, my favorite ways to record a webcam video (because they're easy) are
  1. On an iPad/phone/other mobile device via the camcorder (camera)
    1. You can ship these videos off to YouTube usually just by choosing it as an option under "Share"
    2. You can also put it on Kaltura, one of UWEC's streaming services, via the browser on your phone (Chrome/Safari/"Internet" on Android).
  2. Using CaptureSpace Lite, the recording tool associated with Kaltura.
  3. If you work at UWEC, the video department can record you (ask me for details). 

Here are some tips on how to create a good webcam video

1. Use a table mic or built-in mic rather than headset. Don't look like a nerd with a headset on - use a table mic or the built-in. On a Mac, the built in is usually pretty good; on Windows, make sure to test it first. If you work at UWEC, we have high quality mics to loan from CETL.

Nerdy                                   Less nerdy
2. Look into the webcam. This may be obvious if you've ever taken a selfie, but make sure you know where your webcam is located and look at least close to it, so it seems like you are making eye contact with the viewer, or at least not like you are awkwardly looking in another direction. You don't have to eerily stare at it the whole time though; in a natural conversation, you'd occasionally avert your eyes and look up or down while thinking, for instance.

This is a screenshot of a webcam video I made showing the size of a "talking head"
 that seems most appropriate. It's an ok video in regards to eye contact, background, and lighting.
Background could be better though. 
3. Make an outline. People learn best from a conversational voice rather than a voice that sounds like it's reading or is overly formal, so avoid reading from a script if at all possible. It's not like you read from a script in a classroom, right? That would be weird. The beauty of recording a video is that if it sucks, you can just try again! An outline is definitely recommended to make sure you hit the main points you need to cover in the video.

4. Position your outline near the recording area. This is a detail, but try not to have shifty eyes while you are recording the video, from looking back and forth from the webcam to your outline or reading across the computer screen. I know one instructor who just wrote some notes on a piece of paper and taped it next to the webcam on her iMac so her eyes only shifted slightly and it worked out well. If that doesn't work for you, it's probably most natural to look down at a piece of paper on a desk than anything else.

5. Position the computer/webcam/iPad for a straight-on shot. You don't want the webcam aiming down at you or the iPad shooting up your nose! (I've seen both.) You may need to prop the iPad or laptop up on a stack of books or something to get a head on shot, like the image of me above. Proper alignment will help avoid a double chin too :)

Using a tripod or otherwise propping the recording device up would improve this situation considerably
6. Act like a normal person. This may seem like a silly thing to say, but a benefit associated with a webcam video is that the students get a little insight into you as a person. They may like you more if they relate to you, and research has found that students perform better for instructors they like (Really! Look it up!)  If you act robotic or overly practiced, that's not normal. Use your hands, smile, reposition yourself a little. It's fine if you misspeak a bit or act goofy if that's how you are. You don't always choose the perfect words in a classroom, so it's fine if you aren't perfect in your video either. I've heard feedback that the students even like it when something happens like a cat meowing in the background. Although that could definitely distract from your instructional message, in an intro video you could go with it and introduce Fluffy (briefly!). This is partly to help you not feel like you need to spend tons of time editing either; know when to leave it alone. Maybe have someone else watch it to see if they notice the things that bother you. I'd rather give the video a try and record it a few times to get a good take than to script it and sound like I am reading or practiced too long.

7. But know where the "too casual" line is. I'm giving you some leeway to be a normal person but still be mostly professional, of course. I'm just saying don't be a robot with no personality. I tend to play with my hair a lot in real life without even realizing it but I focus on avoiding that in a video. Avoid long "ummms" or other distracting behaviors as much as you can.

8. Consider your lighting! Definitely do not record with a window behind you or you will be a shadow. Although I am a fan of low light, it may cause the lip sync to be off when recording (i.e., your lips and voice might not match up), so you may need to turn on all the lights or go somewhere with natural light. Also, if you're recording on a computer, turn down the brightness of the screen to avoid weird lighting or glare if you wear glasses. As in the photo below, avoid having a lamp in one corner if possible.

9. Consider your background. Some people like to have a scholarly bookcase background which can be good, but try to avoid an exceedingly messy office background or something distracting behind you. The stuff in the background of my image above is at the upper limits of what I'd like to see in a background. In hindsight, I should have moved the stuff on the table. There may be some easy things you can do to clean up your background, like shut the door behind you rather than leaving it part way open. But at the same time, a plain wall is pretty boring. Do what you can with where you're at, but think about whether you may need to relocate. I personally would prefer an instructor's office background rather than one of those cheesy backgrounds that professionals use that looks pretty 90's, but I've never found research on backgrounds!

If you have a video camera, laptop, or iPad (ideally with a tripod), take advantage of your ability to be mobile and record in cool places. Make sure the camera is not too far away or you have an external mic so your audio turns out decent though. If you go outside, audio can be problematic due to wind. Do a test first.

Not the best background choice.
Also, try to find someone to take care of the baby if possible
10. Don't over do it. A few webcam videos are nice but don't make too many. Just like standing in front of a room lecturing is not always the best way to convey content, neither is a talking head video. Actually, talking head videos get a bad rap. Make sure they are valuable experiences for the students or they will quit watching and you'll be making them for no reason. Don't always jump to creating a video as you become more comfortable with the technology; text is quicker both to create and read. As with all online digital content, the length of one video should be about 3-10 minutes.


PS: While I was working on this post I googled "introduction webcam" to see if I could find good or bad examples and, wow, did I ever. I'm sorry to pick on this woman because at least she's trying, but here's a good bad example: the background is bad, she's using a sepia tone for some reason, she's clearly reading, and the end is cut off. I thought this was obvious, but don't make a webcam video in a computer lab...

PPS (or is it PSS?): Many times I base my info on research but that is not the case for most of this info. There is no research saying headsets are nerdy or you shouldn't hold a baby while recording a video. However, there IS research that says people learn best from a conversational voice, digital content should be short, and students do better in classes when they like the professor but I don't have the citations handy. Can you tell I'm used to writing scholarly papers lately?! I just want to be clear on that :)

Last update: 4/10/17

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Using Doodle as a Sign-Up Sheet or Registration Form

There are few things more frustrating than trying to schedule a meeting via email. You all probably know what that's like. I now force people to use a Doodle to indicate their availability in a central location. I've found that most people are familiar with Doodle or they figure it out pretty easily.  Of course, the ideal situation is when everyone keeps their schedule up to date in Outlook, but not everyone uses it and I often have to schedule meetings with people outside of UWEC, so Doodle really helps.

Did you know you can also use Doodle as a sign up sheet? When you are done setting the times and days, there is a settings area that is collapsed by default. Click the arrow to show the settings (see the screenshot below). You can limit it so participants can only choose one option and then limit it so that only one person (or however many you want) can choose each option. A faculty member is going to use Doodle to schedule students to meet with her. I also used it to schedule interviews for student workers.

I also like the "yes-no-ifneedbe" option so that when you're doing a regular Doodle to schedule a meeting, people can indicate that they could attend if need be, but would prefer a different time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to Add a Title And Customize a YouTube Thumbnail

I've worked with a few professors who create YouTube video introductions for their online course modules and embedding them in the HTML page is a nice touch so that the students don't have to go out to YouTube to view them. Here's an example:

Unfortunately there is this "mixed content blocking issue" that is not showing the embedded YouTubes in browsers other than Internet Explorer and Safari (as of 10/29/13), so they look like this:

Yup, there's just white space where the video was. I'm not giving up on embedding videos because there still are quite a few people who use Internet Explorer and Safari is a nice browser for Mac and we'll put in quicklinks to go to YouTube for people using Chrome, Firefox, etc. Plus, this may someday be resolved for all browsers.

One thing I learned over time is that when you embed the videos, it is nice to put in a title slide like the top image because, otherwise, you just see a play button in the middle of the person's face, like this:

So, I learned to put a title slide in the video and make that the custom thumbnail on YouTube so it looks like the first example. 

How to Add the Title Slide: 

First, to make the title slide, go into Enhancements under the video (there are probably other ways to do all of these steps): 

Then on the right side, choose "Try the YouTube video editor." 
I'd just like to take a moment to mention how amazing YouTube is. I took some video at a concert last weekend on my phone and although I stood as still as possible, it was horribly shaky. I let YouTube Stabilize it (that's the button on top of all the balloons in the image above) and it turned out great!

When you get into the Editor, drag the video you want to add the title slide to onto the editing area and then to add the title slide choose the a on the top right.
That will bring up some formatting options. I have only used the first one on the left; plain white text on a black background. Classic, never goes out of style. Drag that to the beginning of your video. 

Then click Publish and give it some time. Unfortunately, it creates a whole new video so you need to rename it and I usually remove the "created with the youtube editor" note and tag because it doesn't seem necessary. Then delete the old one once you verify the new one is good to go. (Stabilizing a video doesn't make a new one, FYI). 

How to Add a Custom Thumbnail: 

To have a custom thumbnail you first have to verify your account. This basically means YouTube verifies you are not a robot or something. The first time I did this, monetizing the account was required so it's nice they've relaxed this requirement. Verifying your account also lets you upload videos longer than 15 minutes. Here are instructions on how to verify your YouTube account. It just asks you for a phone number and texts or calls you with a code. Note that this is different from when YouTube prompts you to add a back up phone number. 

On the Video Manager page where you see all of your videos, click Edit. If your account is verified you'll have a Custom Thumbnail button as in the screenshot below, under the three automatically created thumbnail options. 

You'll then have to upload an image. I just take a screenshot of the title slide and upload that. Save it. 

Note that it does take quite a while for the thumbnail to update. I read that it can take up to 48 hours. For me it's usually taken about a day. 

Side note: The video in the screenshot above is one that I mentioned I took at a concert and used the Stabilize edit in YouTube to improve. I admit I'm often confused about copyright and YouTube. So, I probably did the wrong thing by just uploading my videos and seeing what happened. I clearly indicated the name of the song and the artist and in the description included where the concert was and the date; I made no claim that I owned the material. I just wanted to share it with the world (the concert was amazing!). A few days after I uploaded the video, I got a copyright notification in my video manager saying that it matched third party content. I acknowledged the notice and YouTube kept the video up but just put an ad on it. Interesting, huh? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Custom Animations in Camtasia for Mac

Here's a guest post by Kristen Bates in LTS. Thanks Kristen! 

Camtasia 2 for Mac offers a ton of great features for creating and editing screencasts. One of my favorite (and most often used) features is the custom/ blank animation. I use this on all of my screencasts and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. It is just too cool!

Custom animations make your screencast stand out. I’ve used them on everything, from making arrows slide into frame to making a little fish image swim its way across the screen. You’re really only limited by your imagination!

Below is a short video demonstrating a few different things you can do with the custom animation. Please note that because I am using an older version of Camtasia the animations are called “blank.” If you are using version 2.5, they will be called “custom.” I’m still waiting to get my shiny Camtasia upgrade.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Creating Effective Instructional Videos

Most of these tips are based on the research on multimedia learning conducted by Dr. Richard E Mayer. 

Keep it short. People's attention spans are only about 5 minutes long. Really. A 50-minute class session is definitely not ideal.
  • A nice thing about online videos is that students can watch them in small pieces and take a break in between. 
  • With short videos, students can easily review just the concept they need later rather than having to scrub through a long video to find it.
  • You can still share the same content as you would in a 50-minute lecture; just break it down into smaller chunks. 
  • You'll probably find you are more concise when creating videos - there's less misspeaking (or you can fix it) and no housekeeping or questions like you have in a classroom. Questions can be in a Q & A discussion forum.
  • A maximum of 10 minutes per video is recommended. 
  • Short videos are also much easier and faster for your computer to produce and if something happens and your work is lost, it is less traumatic :)
Speak from an outline. If you just start speaking without much of a plan, you are more likely to meander and misspeak and then will have to edit more later, or have not as good of a product. However, you don't want to sound like you're reading because people learn better from a conversational voice, so an outline may be better than a script you'd read word-for-word. People are less tolerant of confusing or meandering online tutorials than they would be if you are presenting face-to-face, so it's important to be very clear.

People learn better from words and graphics/images together than they do from words alone.
Include visuals as much as possible, if you can't find a relevant graphic, do not put in something decorative. People will try to make sense of it, distracting them from learning.

Mayer's research is primarily on words and images -- not always video in particular. So, if text and images are all you need, that's can work fine. Not everything needs to be a video. However, people generally learn better from audio narration than on-screen text, so it is ideal if you can provide audio.

Don't read on screen text out loud. This is called the redundancy principle. If students are reading visually and listening to you, neither is happening effectively. If they have to read something, pause to give them time. It is not as bad to read on-screen text out loud when no graphic is present (but it can get pretty boring to have someone read PowerPoint slides out loud. Maybe just write a document if you find yourself doing this.).
Keep it simple.
  • Background music and unnecessary color hinders learning. 
  • Also, you may be tempted to tell them everything you know, but focus on what they need to accomplish the course objectives and consider providing opportunities for more advanced learning separately.
Provide small self-checks in or near the tutorials. Use it or lose it! In Kaltura, quiz questions can be added that pop up while students are watching the video. These can help students reinforce the main points of your tutorials or at least wake them up a little :) Make sure they are using the content somewhere in your class, or they may quit watching. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Handwriting Digitization Options

Sometimes it is very helpful to record your handwriting when creating a video - for instance, to explain and show how to do a math problem. Here are the main options at UWEC!

1. Have a Videographer Record You. At UWEC, we are fortunate to have videographers who can record you and put the video up on Kaltura for you, so then all you need to do is put the URL in D2L. If you don't want to deal with the technology, this is the way to go. The only downfall is that you have to plan a bit further ahead with this option by scheduling it with the videographer and waiting for it to be edited and put on Kaltura. The rest are all do-it-yourself options (CETL/LTS staff can provide training and some equipment).

2. iPad If you already have an iPad, it presents the easiest option. The Explain Everything app offers a lot of functionality for $2.99 and Educreations is a nice free app. A math professor created her entire online course by making basic PowerPoint slides on the computer, getting them on the iPad through dropbox.com, and using a stylus to write out the problems in her handwriting while recording audio. The video can go right on YouTube. Voila. It is not necessary to first create PowerPoint slides, but it saves time if you don't have to write out everything as you are recording.

3. Document Cameras in Classrooms. If you prefer writing on paper, the doc cam offers a nice option! Find an empty classroom, bring an SD card, and create recordings of your handwriting with your voice. The video files saved on the SD card can be uploaded to Kaltura and then streamed for students to view. CETL has SD cards to borrow. This option also includes recording of your hand, which a study found increased student learning, potentially through the social cues that seeing a person's hand provide. Check out my blog post on this study for more information. Cool, huh?

4. SMART Podiums in Classrooms. While we are on the topic of classrooms, some of the rooms at UWEC have SMART podiums, which are basically computer screens that you can write on with a stylus. Again, find an empty classroom and record away using a program such as CaptureSpace Lite which can be downloaded onto the computer relatively quickly. 

Surface Pro
5. Microsoft Surface Tablet. Windows tablets such as the Surface Pro are more functional than iPads for the work world because they function like computers. They can connect to network drives, run normal software, have internal storage, and run Office products such as Word and PowerPoint. Plus, you get to use a normal stylus, not the weird iPad ones. CETL staff have 3 Surfaces to loan to faculty; contact me if you want to use one.

Wacom pic from http://karachi.olx.com.pk/wacom-bamboo-capture-iid-497208328 
Surface pic from http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Surface-Pro/productID.275287300
Samsung doc cam pic from https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Digital-Presenter-Document-Camera/dp/B003XQVOCQ

Setting up and Orienting SMART Podium ID422W

We have some of old SMART podiums hanging around and I help people with them so infrequently that I have to make a post to remember how to get it set up and orient it. My main problem is that I keep thinking of the word "calibrate" rather than "orient." The new SMART podiums have a hard button on the top so it's easier.

My first step was to figure out what model SMART podium we have. At some point, I figured out it was written on a label in the back.

Then I downloaded the drivers from here after verifying they weren't in the UWEC software catalog. I just downloaded the drivers, not the SMART notebook software. I've found it mostly useless, personally. It is possible to download a whole bunch of stuff if you want, which makes the download excruciatingly long. My recommendation is to keep it simple. This time the download took less than 10 minutes.

I connected the SMART podium to the computer via VGA and there's also a USB connector that makes the pen work. The SMART podium also needs power since it's basically a monitor.

Here is the user manual. Page 23 explains how to orient it but pressing the two buttons together didn't work for me. I opened up the toolbar that will annoy me constantly now on the left side of the screen and clicked the cog for settings. Orient is in there.

I'm hoping to find this thing a home with someone who will use it to make videos for a hybrid, flipped, or online class. It is a very nice way to be able to annotate and record using a program like Camtasia or Screencast-o-matic.

Image from http://blog.svconline.com/briefingroom/2009/06/22/smart-unveils-new-widescreen-interactive-whiteboard-system/

Monday, August 26, 2013

Making the Case for E-Learning

Recently someone said to me "too much great information never makes it out of the classroom" when we were discussing an assignment in which students were going to share their content publicly. [If your FERPA radar is going off, check out this blog post]  So, here's part of a paper I wrote last weekend that I thought may be interesting out of the class environment. The goal was to convince management that e-learning was awesome (my interpretation). The rest of the paper was an implementation plan that I personally would have put more work into if it was real, so I'm not sharing it :)  [I still got a 99%, in case you're wondering!]

Online education presents a new business strategy for higher education institutions. While overall enrollment in higher education fell in 2012, the number of new students enrolling in online courses grew by over 570,000 to reach 6.7 million students learning online (Allen & Seaman, 2013).  Since 2002, when Allen and Seaman began studying online education in US colleges and universities, enrollment in online courses has consistently increased much more dramatically than has overall higher education enrollment.  In 2012, 32% of students were taking at least one online course.

The perception of online learning is gaining favor.  An analysis of research comparing face-to-face and online learning found that the performance of students in online courses was slightly better than those in entirely face-to-face courses (United States Department of Education, 2010).  This finding is not a reflection of the technology necessarily; it is due to the pedagogical strategies used in online and blended modalities.  In addition, Allen and Seaman (2013) have consistently found that online education is perceived by the majority of leaders in higher education as at least as good, if not better, at meeting learning outcomes than traditional education with only 23% perceiving online education as inferior to face-to-face.  The perceptions of academic leaders at institutions that offer courses online is much more favorable than those whose institutions do not offer online courses.

Learning Without Boundaries

A clear benefit of online education is the elimination of geographic boundaries (Lehmann & Chamberlin, 2009).  For a university, online offerings make available an entire world of students, rather than just those who live within commuting distance or those who are willing to move.  Increased student diversity presents additional learning opportunities in an online learning community that may have otherwise been more homogenous.  In addition, online courses also allow for a remote instructor.  This benefit allows current instructors to have flexible schedules and teach from home or remotely during summer session.  In addition, qualified instructors who would not otherwise be available geographically could be hired to teach online, resulting in students learning from experts in the field they otherwise would not be able to access.  The lack of face-to-face contact also makes online learning pandemic proof.

Pedagogical Benefits

When best practices for online teaching are followed, the format presents pedagogical benefits over traditional education (Lehmann & Chamberlin, 2009).  Because students are not physically present, they are required to be active learners online or risk being invisible.  Academic integrity concerns with online testing require instructors to incorporate more authentic assessments such as projects or application based questions.  Rather than simply answering multiple choice questions in which students remain at a low level on Bloom’s taxonomy, online students are often required to obtain higher levels of knowledge such as evaluation, synthesis, and creation.


Many students choose online courses because they are seeking flexibility in their learning (Hrastinski, 2009).  Asynchronous e-learning allows students to do coursework at the time of day they prefer.  E-learning is an alternative to night classes that interfere with family life for adult learners or early morning classes that interfere with traditional age students’ sleep schedules.

Everyone Participates

It takes guts to speak up in this environment.

Asynchronous learning communities also allow students to thoughtfully craft responses to discussions.  This allows students who are not able to quickly think of responses or students who are shy to contribute just as much as extroverted students (Huang & Hsiao, 2012).  Additionally, lack of face-to-face interaction may help some students feel more comfortable contributing to class due to reduced fear of being judged on physical attributes (Lehmann & Chamberlin, 2009).


The environment benefits from online learning (Viscusi, 2008).  Instead of printing, students upload papers electronically and instructors provide feedback and course materials in a digital format.  Online students do not increase greenhouse gases by driving to class and they would not require additional parking or classroom space.  Online courses and programs allow universities to grow without increasing their physical footprint. 

It's Not for Everyone Though 

I've highlighted many benefits of online learning from multiple perspectives, but I would never recommend it across the board. I read research indicating that people with very verbal learning preferences struggle in online courses. My husband fits this description; he is the type of person who can sit in a passive lecture and just listen and actually learn things, but he is not a writer and would rather listen to an audio book rather than read print. On the other hand, sitting in a lecture is the worst way for me to learn; I love online classes because I'm mostly a reader and a writer and I need to be active.

Online classes also require more self-direction and it can be easy to fall behind. I can't guarantee 18-year-old me would have succeeded online due to my intense procrastination. Traditional college aged students get many social benefits from face-to-face classes. An online class here and there, especially in summer and winterim, are great to speed up graduation and hybrid is the best of both worlds. Even with all the love I have for online education at 34, I am happy that 18-21 year old me had a traditional experience. Just last weekend my husband and I  walked around our alma mater and it struck me just how special that university is to me and how many memories I had there.

Student studying from http://www.flickr.com/photos/duketip/5428587298/
Bloom's taxonomy image from http://www.techlearning.com/studies-in-ed-tech/0020/blooms-taxonomy-blooms-digitally/44988
Lecture hall pic from http://blog.syracuse.com/technofile/2007/10/college_kids_dont_use_macs_or.html

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rethinking Synchronous E-Learning

Last weekend as I wrote yet another 5-7 page paper (and lamented my choice to take courses during the short Wisconsin summer), I read some interesting research about synchronous or real-time e-learning. I admit I am not a fan of synchronous e-learning activities. While evaluating PhD programs, I completely disregarded one that required weekly synchronous meetings and opted for one that offered maximum flexibility.

So imagine how surprised I was to find a lot of positive research about synchronous e-learning. Apparently it can increase the sense of community in a course (Hrastinski, 2009) and students  preferred and thought they learned better from synchronous e-learning sessions (Skylar, 2009; Strang, 2012). Instructors reported that synchronous communication allowed them to connect better with their students (Huang & Hsiao, 2012). Communication is more efficient and natural synchronously, resulting in increased physiological arousal and motivation while reducing cognitive effort and ambiguity (Kock, 2005).

I was still pretty skeptical while reading - did these instructors know how to effectively facilitate an asynchronous discussion? It is a skill that takes a lot of effort to master. Most of the articles weren't detailed enough for me to know. Still, they were in peer-reviewed journals, so I accept their merit.

I've been accustomed to focusing on the negatives of synchronous e-learning:

  • Flexibility - What happens a student can't attend a synchronous meeting? It's likely the students expected flexibility from an online course. They probably have other commitments they are working around. Is it fair to require synchronous meetings? I think it's less fair for adult learners who often have day jobs, kids, etc. than it is for full-time students. 
  • Technology - Blackboard Collaborate (our supported web conferencing tool) was very unreliable for quite a while. I had multiple problems getting into meetings myself. Even if Collaborate was working well, there are a lot of technology aspects to learn, not only for the instructor but for the students too: mics (avoiding echoing and feedback), speakers, webcams if used, downloading any required software, etc. If the technology doesn't work for a synchronous activity, you need help ASAP or you have to reschedule. 
  • Disability Accessibility - Students with hearing disabilities would need captioning, some physical limitations and learning disabilities may cause students to lag in a synchronous chat, and visual disabilities may cause difficulty navigating the interface of programs like Collaborate.
  • It's Not That Natural - I personally find web conferencing to be a pretty awkward and artificial alternative to face-to-face group communication (I'm on board with it for 1-1 communication though, since it has more functionality than just a phone call and is easier than writing). For instance, I have trouble getting in at the right time to talk and often start as the same time as someone else and then we awkwardly stammer, figuring out who is going to go. I often observe that people in web conferences I attend seem to have no intention of speaking and prefer chat. I'm also super visual, so having the entire internet in front of me rather than a person makes it difficult to remain engaged. 

What's the conclusion? 

Hrastinski (2009) wrote an excellent, easy to read article for Educause summarizing his dissertation research in which he asserted that asynchronous and synchronous activities should be used to do different things, not the same thing differently. Asynchronous e-learning allows students to reflect, process, and participate on a higher cognitive level, while synchronous e-learning is best for tasks that are less complex and involve more planning and social interaction.  

So why not do a bit of both? Maybe just a few synchronous meetings, with a few options of times to join. 

  • Use synchronous meetings as an opportunity to answer questions live and do some back and forth elaboration on difficult concepts.
  • Definitely use the interactive capacity to do some polls, ask questions, etc. - don't just lecture; you can record that and let them watch it whenever. 
  • Set up the expectation that you're expecting students to participate, not just login and mess around on Facebook for the duration. 
  • Record the sessions for the students who can't or don't want to attend. 
  • Carefully consider whether to make meetings required or not, and be ready to explain the value and have an alternative for students who can't attend or who had technical problems getting in, because it will happen.
  • Speaking of technical problems, have a low or no stakes first meeting to get used to the technology. Maybe do an ice breaker activity since the strength of synchronous is apparently community building. Yes, I'm still a bit skeptical!  I will keep reading though. 


Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronus and synchronous e-learning. Educause Quarterly, 4, 51-55. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0848.pdf
Huang, X., & Hsiao, E-L. (2012). Synchronous and asynchronous communication in an online environment: Faculty experiences and perceptions. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 13(1), 15-30.
Kock, N. (2005). Media richness or media naturalness? The evolution of our biological communication apparatus and its influence on our behavior toward e-communication tools. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 48(2), 117-130.
Skylar, A. L. (2009). A comparison of asynchronous online text-based lectures and synchronous interactive web conferencing lectures. Issues in Teacher Education, 18(2), 69-84.
Strang, D. K. (2012). Skype synchronous interaction effectiveness in a quantitative management science course. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 10(1), 3–23. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4609.2011.00333.x