Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Handwriting Digitization Options

Here is a process to work through when finding the best solution for instructors who need a way to record their handwriting in videos - for instance, to explain and show how to do a math problem. They are organized mostly by price. I say "mostly" because the iPad option isn't really the least expensive if you need to buy something, but it is if you already own one!

1. iPad If you already have an iPad, it presents the easiest option. The Explain Everything app offers a lot of functionality. A math professor created her entire online course by making basic PowerPoint slides on the computer, getting them on the iPad through, 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 she wanted a little extra professionalism.

Woman writing on the Wacom Bamboo

2. Wacom Bamboo. If you have good hand/eye coordination, this could work for you. The problem with the Bamboo is that you write on the device but only see what you are writing on a computer. Many people dislike this. It is the least expensive option though. I used it in my last job and thought it was fine. I had to practice a lot for my handwriting to look good though. The Bamboo requires an additional program such as Screencast-o-matic to actually record the handwriting with audio. 

Livescribe Pen

3. Livescribe Pen. If you need something simpler, the Livescribe pen is a good option because it allows you to write on real paper with a pen and record a tutorial with audio. It is quite simple to use once it’s set up on your computer. However, you have to write everything (i.e., cannot add to a document or write on images) which can take a long time. A drawback is the limited options to share/host videos and the inability to edit. CETL has a limited number of Livescribe Pens for UWEC faculty.

Surface Pro
4. Windows 8 Tablet. Windows 8 tablets, such as the Dell Latitude 10 or 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. If the option is an iPad or Windows 8 tablet in a work environment (maybe not for fun), I'd definitely go for Windows 8 because you can do so much more. Plus, you get to use a normal stylus, not the weird iPad ones.

Dell Latitude XT3

5. Convertible Tablet PC. If you have the money, tablet PCs are often the preferred option because they are truly a laptop with the capability to use a pen. They have the yasta to run whatever you need to run and still have a nice big laptop screen and keyboard (compared to the tablet). They can definitely be your one device. However, they are expensive - $1800 is an average price, last I heard.

6. SMART Podium. There are a few old SMART podiums around campus; for instance the math department shares one and two classrooms have them. I currently have one in my office that is looking for a home. They are basically computer monitors that you can write on. You connect them to any computer. They are crazy expensive though - the new ones in the classrooms are about $1800 and that's without a computer. But, it is possible to go into a classroom when it is not being used and record in there. I don't see that being real popular though.

Wacom pic from 
Livescribe pic from
Surface pic from
XT3 image from

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

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
Bloom's taxonomy image from
Lecture hall pic from

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
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

Monday, August 12, 2013

How to Make Lync 2013 Stop Opening Automatically

I ran into this issue with someone recently and thought I'd share a description with some screenshots. First, you have to be logged in to Lync. Click on the little icon that looks like a sun (I know it's a cog but I prefer to think of it as a sun).

Now here's the part I got stuck on: click Personal on the top left, then uncheck the box in front of "Automatically start Lync when I log on to Windows."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Linking Another Email Address with Your Google Account

If you're just looking for help, follow these instructions to set up an alternate account so when people invite you to a google doc (or whatever it may be), the invite works for both email addresses you may use.

If you're interested, here's my random story about how I thought my accounts were linked but they actually weren't. Why do I want them linked, you may wonder? Because work people will email my UWEC account to add me to a Google doc or something, but then when I login with my Google account (gmail) it says that UWEC me does not have permission. I want both emails to work with the same Google account. In other words, I only want one Google account. No work/personal life separation for me.

So I checked out my account and here's what I had going on:

I blurred out my email addresses (please don't email me)
 but you can see my primary is gmail and recovery is uwec.
I was mistaken that a recovery email actually meant that it was linked with my google account. It just meant that if I forgot my password and couldn't access gmail I could get an email at my UWEC account with a link to reset it.

So I followed the handy instructions on how to add an alternate email and it actually said that my UWEC email was being used for another account. It was ok to use as a recovery email address, but it couldn't be set up as an alternate. I had no idea what was with that, so I tried logging in with it and clicked the link to change my password. Turns out, a long time ago I created another Google account with this email which I completely forgot about! So I had to delete that one before I could make it an alternate. Then it worked. Yay!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Embedding YouTube Videos into PowerPoint 2013 is Kind of Ridiculous

One thing that people really like to do with PowerPoint is embed a video so that when they want to show a YouTube or something in class, it will play right from the slide without opening the YouTube site. I can't even count how many people I taught to do this in 2010. It was a little funky, but do-able.

However, in 2013, I do not recommend even messing around with it. Just hyperlink an image or text. To do this, right click on an image or highlighted text and choose the Hyperlink option. Then paste in the URL.

I worked with someone this morning who is very techy, and she said she is not going to go through all the steps to embed videos. If you really want to know how, I learned from this video. Note that there are a few other videos that make it seem super easy but they are wrong! Here are my comments on the other two top hits when you google "how to embed youtube into powerpoint 2013."
  • One top hit indicates that you can click the insert tab - choose video - then search via bing, but not all videos will work this way. None of the ones I tried did; there was just a preview and it wouldn't play. Plus, it is difficult to see while searching through that area. For some videos this may be a work around if you know exactly the right terms to search to find a video you've already identified. 
  • Another one seems to indicate you can simply copy and paste the embed code as is, which is not the case. 
So, here's the deal. Basically, you have to copy the old embed code, paste it somewhere, and modify the code to remove "version=3" and add the http:// to the URL twice. He said that sometimes you need to change version=3 to version=2. That sounds totally convenient! Just kidding.

I was able to make it work one time, but then later I could not get a different video to embed following these instructions and I don't know why. I would have continued messing around, but then it (Microsoft? PowerPoint? "the man"? I'm not sure) decided I needed to login, so I could access SkyDrive, Facebook, etc. and wouldn't let me just put in a video. No more options to just paste in embed code or search bing. Seriously? No thanks! Plus, my name was up in the top right corner, which seemed to indicate I was logged in. Hmm.

Here's another way I learned from my co-worker Beth Kranz that does work reliably, but also seems like a pain: 

       You must have the Developer Tab on your Ribbon (To get the Developer Tab, go to the File>Options>Customize Ribbon /put a check next to “Developer” in the Customize Ribbon section on the right. Click OK.
       Developer tab>More Controls icon (Hammer and Anvil)
       Select Shockwave Flash Object; click OK.
       Drag a box the size that you want your video to be on your PPT slide
       Right-click on object and select Properties
       Properties Window
       Menu (set to “True” if you want the movie to begin automatically when the slide appears; select “False” if you want to be able to start it at your convenience)
       Movie – Paste in the address of the YouTube (the url)
       Change a couple of things in the url:
-Erase “watch?”
-Replace the “=“ (directly after the “v”) with a “/”
       Close the Properties Box  

A moment of silence while we mourn the loss of somewhat easily embedded videos in PowerPoint 2013.

iSpring Free vs PowerPoint 2013: Not a clear winner

If you've read my blog before you probably know I am a big fan of PowerPoint to video conversion since many faculty already know how to use PowerPoint and I think that PowerPoint itself is not a bad tool if used thoughtfully.

Before we got 2013 on campus, my clear winner for PowerPoint to video converters was iSpring Free. You record audio in PPT, publish into flash via the iSpring tab (super quick publishing), and stick that baby right in D2L because it is so small. This worked very well for a faculty member I assisted in the spring. He even had videos within his videos that worked just fine. His biggest file was 10MB - most were in the 5-7 MB range. However, I did get the videos in for him after he had completed the PPT, so I know exactly what was going on. He also practiced the art of zen powerpoint design to keep it simple, which I believe also helped. However, this summer I worked with someone who experienced some major problems with iSpring Free and my view of it has become a bit more negative.

Problems with iSpring Publishing:
  • File sizes are not always super small (I banked on them being small and they weren't for a person I recently worked with)
  • Laser pointer usage does not save (in case you didn't know, you can use your mouse as a laser pointer while recording a slideshow in PowerPoint. It does save if just published via PPT). 
  • The iSpring website is tricky and a few people accidentally downloaded the free trial of the pro version rather than the really free version, which was a huge pain because they are not compatible and the trial version puts a huge watermark on the video. 
  • iSpring publishes into flash (swf), which is clearly not good. There is an HTML5 converter, but who wants to do that?
  • Although it is possible to embed videos within the presentation, it does not always work reliably. 
  • Just explaining to people why they need iSpring is confusing. 
Problems with 2013 Publishing: 
  • File sizes are never super small and always require streaming (YouTube or university server). 
  • It is not possible to embed additional videos (like YouTube) and have them play back when published. 
  • Hyperlinks do not work (there is no way to even hyperlink to a video to be played within a presentation; they need to be linked separately). 
  • Exporting takes a long time. 

I guess I'm still leaning slightly toward PowerPoint (no iSpring) primarily because it's easier to explain to people, but I miss some of the really basic functionality that iSpring offered, like hyperlinks. I wish 2013 was the panacea I was anticipating.