Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weekly Due Dates are Good for Procrastinating Online Learners

In past posts, I've mentioned that I am completing my PhD online in Education with a specialization in e-learning. Well, I made it through all my regular classes and am now in my Comprehensive Exam aka Comps class. Rather than sitting in a room for many hours writing long responses to questions that determine whether I continue to the dissertation process or not, I am in a 10-week long class that accomplishes the same purpose. I've heard that many programs both online and face-to-face are moving toward this multiple week process instead of the high stakes exam. Anyway, this has presented unique challenges that I thought I'd reflect on here (as a somewhat legitimate way to procrastinate!).

A primary difficulty for me, as a huge procrastinator, is that nothing is due until 10 weeks, which is January 3rd, 2016. We had unseasonably warm weather in October which made it extremely difficult to work on an assignment not due until January, so I didn't. Submitting outlines for feedback is recommended, however, so I've submitted them every other week which has actually split up my work oddly because I start one question's outline before I've completed writing the previous one (I have to write responses to four questions). Although it has been somewhat helpful to start mulling over a question, it has been more difficult to move into a new topic and then try to get back into the previous one again later. I also work on school only on the weekends, so with five days off, the content gets shelved in the back of my mind and each weekend I have to dust it off again.

I also don't use outlines in my writing normally. I just write and things work themselves out. Of course, I have some sort of plan going into it, but not an organized outline. I know this is not how you are supposed to write, but it has worked for me so far. So it feels inefficient for me to write an outline, then next weekend start on another question and submit an outline, then have to go back and interpret a previous outline when I'm actually ready to write.

Another difficulty for me is that I am struggling to develop interest in the questions. They're about the research process and theories that I didn't study earlier and my dissertation idea does not tie in, so that's been tough. I'm hoping that the dissertation process will be less painful because I will be interested in researching my idea.

There is also a lot of anxiety associated with a course called an "exam" that is pass or fail when nothing is due until the end (especially when the cost of retaking it is almost $3000). In the past, I quickly whipped up a 5-7 page paper each weekend because there was a clear due date each Sunday night. I had lower stakes ways to test the waters and I got to know the expectations of the instructor. Each week I thought I could do better if I tried harder or had more time, but I did fine. Now, with 10 weeks to write 40-60 pages, I am nearly paralyzed with perfection. Must have the best primary sources! Must use the perfect words! Seriously, I have had days where I stared at pdfs, unable to comprehend the words, because I was working myself up about it. My previous plan of just writing something to get it out there isn't working.

So what would work better for me? I wish this course was five weeks long rather than 10: a question per week with a week to look it all over and DONE. I'd take a few days off of work and just immerse myself in it. 10 weeks is too long. I told myself that after last weekend's torture when I was finally being productive on Sunday afternoon, that I needed to start working on it during the week too. I did well with that on Monday and then...not so much the rest of the week. I had stuff to do after work and thinking is hard after working all day. By the time Thursday came around I actually forgot that was even my plan.

At this point, if I could go back in time to when I was contemplating a PhD, I'd tell myself to not do it. Really. It has taken so much time and money that I can't guarantee will benefit me. However, last weekend I had an epiphany and thought that (hopefully) future me will look back at current me and say, "That wasn't so bad! Aren't you glad you did it?" Let's hope so anyway! I am way too far in to quit now. Better get back to it!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Uploading a Published Video Output Folder to D2L

Most of the time I recommend for instructors to produce their videos as a mp4, upload to Kaltura or YouTube, and give the students a URL but sometimes the functionality of the video requires it to be uploaded directly to D2L. In this case, there is usually a whole output folder to upload. Here are instructions on how to do that.

1. Zip the folder that was created by the program when you produced/published
  • On Windows: right click on it and choose "Send to" then Compressed (zipped) folder
  • On Mac: right click and choose "Compress [name of folder]"
2. Go into the appropriate D2L course.
3. Go to Manage Files by going to Content, then Table of Contents, and Related Tools (screenshot below).

4. Click Upload

5. Search for the zipped folder, upload, and Save.
6. Put your cursor in the white area next to the folder title to enable the blue drop down menu.
7. Click the downward facing arrow in the blue area for more functions. Then choose Unzip.

8. Go to the Content Page and under the Module which you would like the video to appear, choose New and Add from Manage Files.
9. This will open up the Manage Files area. Enter the folder you just unzipped (they should be in alphabetical order). The specifics will vary in the next part, but you will probably want to choose the file that includes the word "player" and ends in .html.
10. Click the blue Add button.
11. It will call the item (in this case) "excel error bars_player" so you will likely want to change the name to something more like "Excel Error Bars Video."
12. Make sure it works!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

404: Professor Not Found - Planning Ahead for When You Will Miss Class

Class doesn't have to stop if the professor isn't able to be there. Maybe you have a conference, family event, or want to be prepared for the inevitable snow/polar vortex day that will happen in Wisconsin. Here are some ideas.

Non-technological options: 

You could have the students...
  • Work on a group project or big assignment & submit an update or draft
  • Meet with a writing center tutor & submit a summary about the meeting
  • Field experiences related to the class & submit a write-up
  • Have them prepare something for the next class meeting such as a jigsaw activity in which they teach each other course concepts  
    • Make sure to include accountability so they do it. 

But this blog is about technology! 

  • Often the same objectives from your face-to-face class can be met online via D2L
  • You could also prepare an online "floating" module important to the class that can be done anytime
    • You could use it for an unexpected absence as well, or just have an online week
    • CETL/LTS Instructional Designers (April & Avonlea) can provide individual help and training         

Ideas for content the students can absorb:      

  • They can read: Textbook, articles, websites, etc. 
  • They can watch videos online: YouTube, Google Videos, we can stream DVDs, etc. 
  • They can watch a video you made: Audio in PPT, Screencastomatic, YouTube Record Webcam 
  • They can do a combination of these things (very common)

Ideas for activities students can do online: 

  • Reading or video guides: answer questions while reading or watching to ensure they get main points. Submit to dropbox for grading or just check off. 
  • Quizzes: can create a pool of questions and randomize so students get different questions or allow them to take multiple times for mastery (don’t provide answers at first)
  • Discussions - SO many options of how to do discussions! 
    • Tips: "Must post first" option in D2L discussion & grading (sorting by name, associating a grade item)


  • Make sure to include grading criteria
  • If you will not have time to grade, maybe use something automated like a quiz
  • Students' technology skills are often overestimated
  • Disability accessibility 

Avoid (usually): 

  • Filler activities such as having a guest speaker on a tangentially related topic 
  • Assigning busy work  
  • Meeting online via web conferencing at the same time you would have had class  
    • Technology problems are common & lack of visual cues and delay make it much less natural than f2f

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why and When to Create Instructional Videos

When moving to online, hybrid, or flipped teaching, it can be difficult to identify when to create an instructional video. Many students will not watch 50 minute lectures online; instead, it is much more effective to create mini lectures around 10 minutes or less when needed. If it is necessary, you can have multiple shorter videos, but try to break them into specific topics so students can easily review them if necessary.

If instructional videos aren't necessary for completing assignments in the class, many students will figure that out and stop watching them. If your lectures are a summary of the text, many students will also figure that out and probably choose to either read or watch your videos. Consider the use of reading guides with questions the students answer while reading to ensure they get the main points. Also, encourage students to take notes on instructional videos. Sometimes students can go into television mode when watching an instructional video when they should treat it more like a face-to-face lecture.

It is completely acceptable to link to materials you've found online rather than create everything yourself. The role of an instructor in the digital age has moved more to someone who has the expertise to curate online information. You can add your perspective in the course through introduction videos, feedback, news items, and the creation of content you cannot find online.

Here are some suggestions on when to create instructional videos: 
  • To fill gaps in available content - If you can't find what you need, then create something yourself. If you are able to find online materials that meet your teaching objectives, use them. Creating high quality multimedia content is very time consuming.
  • To make connections between materials - It's ideal if you can set up low stakes assessments such as discussions where the students can make connections themselves, but sometimes they still need you to make the connections.

  • To clarify the materials or elaborate on difficult concepts - If you've taught the class before, you know where the students struggle and will need extra help. Sometimes they need to hear the same information in a few different ways, but save your effort for when it's really necessary. Consider using videos created for this purpose in your face-to-face class as well, so they can review.

  • To emphasize very important concepts - There are probably some concepts in your class that are so important that you really want to emphasize them - those are the things that could be digital content.  Don't spend a lot of time creating a video about something that isn't particularly important in your course.

  • To add your own stories and personal experience related to the content. People learn particularly well from stories but adding too much extraneous information can inhibit learning of the core content. Although it is possible to just provide audio, including a visual of yourself speaking adds interest and holds students' attention better.

  • Introductions - Creating an intro video of yourself and the course can personalize you to the students and allow you to share your enthusiasm, although you may not actually be sharing much content. You can also create introductory videos showing the layout of an online course or describing the syllabus. However, these may need to be changed each time you teach.
  • During the class - Although it is recommended for an online class to be all ready to go before it begins, you may think of things later or want to create feedback videos. With Kaltura and CaptureSpace Lite, it is not too difficult to create videos while you are teaching. They can be added as news items to make sure students see them.

  • When it can be reused - Try to create videos of concepts that don't change regularly so you can use them for a long time.
    • If you use an example, use a generic one rather than a very time-specific one. You can also include a time-specific example in a medium like text that can be changed more easily.

    • Don't specifically reference the time of year, or the class you're creating it for. You may be able to use your videos in multiple classes - maybe as a review for a more advanced class.

    • Don't talk too much about the book, in case it changes.

    • Try not to reference assignments or discussions because you may decide to change them later, unless you are creating an introduction video you anticipate changing for each class.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Providing Feedback in an Online Course

I've completed about 60 graduate credits online and, overall, my experiences as an online student have been overwhelmingly positive. However, I recently had a particularly negative experience with an instructor, which I will share here.

I concluded that the main issue was how she provided feedback to me (although not responding to my emails was also difficult!). Most of the right side column of my paper was filled with comments, so I was overwhelmed right away. The tone was often harsh and sometimes condescending. For example, "I don't know what you mean" or "Actually this is incorrect" were typical but I also got a "I believe perhaps you are not aware of what a powerpoint presentation is to consist of" (which is a pretty horrible sentence and we won't even get into how I present on creating effective PowerPoints).

I don't recall ever getting this kind of feedback in all of my years in school, much less as a doctoral student! Ouch.

Coincidentally, I also came across a blog post on criticism and ineffective feedback which I think applies perfectly to this situation. The author, Kate Heddleston, defines criticism as "feedback that finds something wrong with someone, especially without giving them indications about how they can fix their behavior."

The way this instructor provided "feedback" often made me feel like it was about me more than the content. She rarely provided an explanation or suggestion for improvement. This type of feedback made me feel defensive, especially when she just said I was incorrect. I looked back on my sources and, for almost all of her comments, still felt I was right. I thought it was just me, but Heddleston says that this is a normal reaction to critical feedback.

"When people receive criticism, they perceive it as an attack and their gut reaction is to defend themselves....People are so eager to avoid criticism, critical feedback is more likely to make a person quit something than change their behavior."

I emailed my instructor for clarification, but she didn't reply for three days. On Friday, I realized I still hadn't heard back from her so I emailed her asking if we could chat on the phone. She replied to this email uncharacteristically quickly to say she couldn't because she has a full-time job (hmmm?) and she directed me toward her office hours, but they had passed for the week. So, I had to do my next assignment without clarification on the first, which was really uncomfortable.

Heddleston says that critical feedback affects performance negatively. She provided a story about her friend, a motorcycle rider, whose first pit guy told him everything he was doing wrong.  The rider became tentative, got into accidents, and didn't like the sport as much anymore. However, his next pit guy was super positive, emphasized his assets, and helped him understand how he could improve through constructive feedback. This time, her friend performed better and enjoyed it much more.

The weekend I had to complete my next assignment without knowing why I did so poorly on the first was horrible. I had difficulty doing anything and over thought all of my work. I researched and read for hours and hours, with very little output because I doubted most of my conclusions. Eventually I just started to run out of time and submitted something that was mediocre and I knew it. The feedback on this assignment was worse than the first and actually brought me to tears! Then I felt silly for being so upset.

Thankfully, I worked with my advisor and was assigned a different instructor. My classes are all 1-1 mentoring with the instructor to provide maximum flexibility for students and, although I generally like this model, it is incredibly difficult when a situation like this occurs. My new instructor is fantastic and I'm back to being an A student which makes me think the problem was not me :)  She verified that in a few parts of my papers I actually was correct (the other instructor was wrong!) and in a few places my wording was a little strong and I should have hedged a bit more (it may be customary to...). So, at least there is a happy ending to this story!

I recommend reading Heddleston's blog post, especially if you're interested in gender inequality in giving critical feedback (spoiler: women receive significantly more criticism than men). She ends with a suggestion to "Give positive feedback to bolster people's confidence, ask questions when you want to spark a discussion, and give declarative feedback to help people improve and change."

Friday, April 3, 2015

Screencast-o-matic Version 2.0 Webcam Recording

Screencast-o-matic has been my primary recommendation for people who want to keep life simple by just recording a screencast via the browser and not editing, while Camtasia is a great option for people who want lots of options and editing capabilities.

Great news: Screencast-o-matic just updated to version 2.0! It seems much improved and a feature I enjoy is being able to switch the size of the webcam while recording. You can also easily record just the webcam without the screen. If you want to record a webcam with a screencast, at this point I would recommend screencast-o-matic over Camtasia.

I made a video showing what it looks like when you switch the webcam size while recording. Then, below, I share screenshots of what it looks like while you're getting set up.

You can choose to record the screen, webcam, or both. The screenshot below shows what it looks like when you're getting set up to record the screen and webcam with the webcam in the corner.

Below is a screenshot zooming in on the webcam area to show the buttons that allow you to change the webcam size while recording. I have the middle (blue) option selected. The icon to the left of that makes the webcam video bigger in the middle, while the one on the right hides it.

You can also remove the webcam preview altogether, which I have heard some people prefer because they get preoccupied looking at themselves :)

I mentioned in the video that the webcam acted up after a while and wouldn't work, but it eventually just figured itself out. So, I guess if that happens to you keep trying different browsers, restart, and it will hopefully work again. Now it has been working consistently.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Uploading a Transcript File to Create Accurate Captions on YouTube

If you have a video transcribed (meaning the audio has been typed out by a person), YouTube does a great job time syncing the text to create captions. This saves the tedious step of having to click whenever new text should come up (aka, add the time stamps). There are a few odd parts of this process, so I thought I'd write up instructions that are more helpful than what I could find online

1. If your transcript is in a Word file (.docx), save it as a .txt (go to "Save As" and it will be an option in the list). When you do this, an important step is to check the box for "allow character substitution" so that your apostrophes, ellipses, dashes, etc. upload properly and don't show up as question marks within black diamonds. I'm using Word 2013. Took me a while to figure that out.

2. When your video is up on YouTube, click the CC button below the video player (highlighted in yellow below).

This video is about D2L - hope that's not confusing
3. It will prompt you to choose your language. Then click "Add new subtitles or CC" on the top right.

4. You'll be prompted to choose your language again, then choose Upload a File if you do have a file. 

5. On the next screen, choose Transcript if you have a text file without any time stamps in it (just a big paragraph of text). Make sure it is saved as a .txt file with the box checked to allow character substitution as shown above. 

6. Navigate to the correct .txt file and upload it. 

7. On the next screen, scroll through the text that was uploaded to make sure it uploaded correctly and then click the blue button for Set Timings in the bottom right. 

If you see something like the screenshot below, you'll need to save the file as a .txt and/or check the box to allow character substitutions. 

8. This is where it gets weird. You'll click Set timings and think "ok, so I guess that's done?" because it just goes to what looks like a previous screen. Actually, there is a slight change - it now says "setting timings" in the bottom box. 

9. Click on "setting timings" to continue through this process. You can then hit play on the video to preview what the captions will be like and you can adjust them if you want. However, you will probably marvel at what a great job it did. 

10. Make sure to hit Publish in the bottom right. If it's all good, you'll see the blue "Subtitles published" notification as in the screenshot below. 

11. Go to the video's page and check it again.  If you see the three lines on each side, that means your captions didn't work and YouTube is taking a stab at creating captions with their voice recognition software, which is usually not good (I highlighted them in the screenshot below). 

Another option: 
If you don't have a file with your text all typed up, it may sometimes be handy to let YouTube take a stab at transcribing the video and edit what it comes up with. You can do this by clicking on "English - Automatic" up in step #3. If you click Edit you can go through and modify what YouTube has done. If you speak clearly, this may work well. I usually can't have my student transcriptionist do it this way because we don't have access to the YouTube accounts of the videos being transcribed.