Teaching with Tomatoes

Despite lingering snow on the ground, spring has officially begun. And that means tomatoes! Not the luscious red garden staple, but the productivity technique!

Tomatos

The Pomodoro Technique is a proven and highly favored productivity aid. It helps to focus, avoid distractions, and get things done in short bursts.

As explained on Lifehacker.comThe Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 90s by developer, entrepeneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student. The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes. With time it can even help improve your attention span and concentration.

Here’s the idea:

  • Choose a task you need to accomplish.
  • Using a timer, work intensively on it (and it alone) for 25 minutes (one “tomato”).
  • When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break, resetting your timer. Step away from your computer. Do something different. Relax.
  • At the end of five minutes, start again for another 25 (another “tomato”).
  • After every four tomatoes, take a longer break of 15 minutes.

Here’s a short (2:22) video further introducing the technique.

While you can use any timer, there are numerous apps available. Most often, I use the easy to remember, easy to use website http://tomato-timer.com.

Pomodoros can be remarkably productive when it comes to grading, research, writing, or any other activity that seems to invite distraction. If the timer alone isn’t enough, there are several distraction-free writing applications to help you to work without interruptions. Five popular (and free!) ones, including OmmWriter and Q10 are described here with visual samples.

Pomodoros in the Classroom

Dustin Le wrote an excellent piece for Edudemic on how to use Pomodoros to engage students in the classroom, drawing on a study conducted in the chemistry department of the Catholic University that revealed that attention span is more complicated – and more tenuous – than previously thought. Le explained:

It is true that the first lapse of attention (or first break in attention) occurred at approximately the 10-18 minute mark, but after this initial break, the later attention lapses occurred more and more frequently. By the end of class, attention breaks were cycling every 3-4 minutes. In other words, in the last parts of class, students are only paying attention for 3-4 minutes at a time!

Le incorporated Pomodoros into his lectures and other class activities, noting that “by figuring out ways to improve student focus, we are able to help them retain more information and be more attentive in the classroom.” This emphasis on focusing develops a valuable skill that students will retain alongside course content.

Image credits: Kitchen Timer & No Tomatoes

Facing the Digital Divide

1024px-The_break_water_divide_in_Freshwater_BayI was recently surprised when watching television at home I saw a commercial that uses the idea of “digital divide” as a means to attract new costumers. As I recall, a student, clearly from an underprivileged environment, walks back home talking about the concept of “digital divide”. He mentions that hiring a particular company will bridge this gap since it offers a really good deal that makes the internet affordable for everybody. It is very interesting to see how capitalism is able to use the problems that it created and revert them in a way to gain more money. Anyway, I am not here to talk about capitalism but how we, as an educational community, should consider avoid the digital divide at our institution.

Maybe we think that here at Connecticut College we are alien to this situation and that in our community we won’t find anybody feeling left behind as the protagonist of the commercial, but this is not true. Recently, in one of my classes, a student suggested that we created a group account through WhatsApp. More popular overseas than here, this app allows you to send WhatsApp_logo-color-vertical.svgmessages by phone in a similar way as instant message. The idea was to use this system to get in touch with each other and, from the very beginning; it worked very, very well. I was thinking that we could use this resource not just to socialize but for the students to talk about the class and for me to answer questions promptly outside of class time. I was very pleased with the results, and the students seemed to be happy as well. However, in the second week of classes, another student signed up for the class and, when I suggested that s/he signed up for WhatsApp, s/he told me that s/he didn´t have a smartphone. At that moment, I realized that we need to be very careful with the use of technology and not assume that all students have access to the same gadgets. From that day on, I limited my participation in that group and I conducted all the formal communications with the students by regular email to include all the students in the conversation. I immediately realized that, without that resource, my ability to deal with issues on the spur of the moment was undermined. Even today, when we don’t meet as a class anymore, the WhatsApp group is very active and I sporadically participate sending invitations to have lunch together or participate in cultural activities. But each time I see a message from this group on my iPhone, I can’t help thinking that not all my students are there, and that one of them is always missing from the conversation.

From my point of view, there are some lessons we must learn from these two stories. First, as a community, we shouldn’t assume that every student has the same access to technology, and we need to make sure that, as an institution, we provide everybody with the same tools to succeed in a world that is more and more dependent on technology each day. If we fail in this task, as I mentioned above, we will always have somebody missing from the conversation.

— Luis Gonzalez, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies

A Note from Instructional Technology:

If you are considering using apps in the classroom, contact your Instructional Technology Liaison. We can discuss possible alternatives that will allow you to achieve the same pedagogical goals, share information about technologies available to students through the library (iPad minis can be checked out, for example), or encourage you to participate in the DELI program which provides devices to all your students. We can also teach students to use the devices so they can fully participate in all course activities.

Image credit: By BihnX (The break water divide in Freshwater Bay) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Shain Reopening Events for Faculty

IMG_0255If we have been quiet on the blog it can be attributed to the busy, final preparations to reopen Shain Library a full five months early! We are very excited to welcome everyone back into the building (it is lonely in here!) and share all the new and exciting changes. After break we will offer several events for faculty to show off the new spaces, technologies and services available to you and your students. Register for and add these events to your calendar before the break!

What’s New in the Library!
Friday, March 27, 2:30-3:30 pm -Register here
Thursday, April 2, 9:30-10:30 – Register here
Davis Room, Main Floor, Shain Library
Faculty, please join Chris Penniman, Carrie Kent and Information Services staff for refreshments and a tour of Shain Library. The library will have many new exciting spaces, technologies and services available to you and to your students. We will focus how the renovated library can best serve you in your research and teaching endeavors.

Introducing the Visualization Wall
Wednesday, April 8, 11:30am -1:00pm – Register here
Location: The Visualization Wall, Technology Commons, Lower Level Shain Library
Join us at the brand new Diane Y. Williams ‘59 Visualization Wall for a demonstration of some of its exciting capabilities, including a visually dazzling high-resolution display, touch-enabled interactivity, and simultaneous display of up to five computers or devices. Bring your laptop or mobile devices to experiment with connecting to the wall. We will answer questions, demonstrate various uses, and discuss ideas for projects and events, as well as future capabilities we hope to explore. Organized by Lyndsay Bratton and Mike Dreimiller.

 

 

The Wonder of Wunderlist

Wunderlist

The past month has taken a toll. Between snow days, an extended conference (snow related of course), an ill-timed but much needed vacation, and illness, keeping on top of everything has been a struggle. Enter Wunderlist. Wunderlist is a cloud-based list-making application and I found it especially helpful last month to stay on track despite all the disruptions.

Features

  • Create many different lists – as many or as few that work for you. Here are some ideas (more entertainment than anything), or read below for how I use Wunderlist.
  • Add due-dates and sort by date. You can also schedule reminders for each task. Who can’t use a reminder?
  • For each item, create sub-lists, add notes, documents, even audio notes!
  • Install Wunderlist on your phone, tablet, or access your lists by logging in to the website from any browser. In a meeting and leave with a few to-do tasks? Simply open up the app and add them to a list before you even leave the room! Once in your office open up Wunderlist in your browser and start crossing off tasks.
  • The syncing really works. At first I had some trouble syncing my tasks between devices and computers. This bug has been fixed and my lists sync up beautifully when I need them… even when stuck in Chicago during an historic snowstorm.
  • Share to-do lists with others. Know someone else who uses Wunderlist? Share one of your lists with them and they can also check items off.
  • When you click in the box to record that you completed a task, you hear a very gratifying “ding.” A small feature, but one that I really enjoy!

How I use Wunderlist

A colleague suggested a brilliant idea (thanks, Curtis!) to create a list for every day of the week and assign tasks to each day (ie Monday, Tuesday…). If I don’t accomplish a task, I simply drag and drop it to another day. If I’ve dragged the task around too much, I consider whether it is something that really must be done or if I should break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks.  I usually spend some time on Friday loading up tasks for the following week so when I’m back at work on Monday I am ready to get to work. I also have a few other lists that I use to help me keep track of larger projects or ideas: Summer Projects, Spring Break, Blog Post Ideas, etc.

Need more ideas for using Wunderlist? Just Google Wunderlist and you will find many, many different strategies to use it for enhanced productivity.

Use Evernote to Create a Clean pdf of Your Moodle Syllabus

This semester, I followed Anthony Graesch’s advice and moved my syllabus entirely online. For all the reasons he outlined in his post, the shift from a paper-and-Moodle syllabus to a Moodle-only syllabus has been successful, and I’ll continue to do this in all of my classes in the future.

However, this week I encountered a problem: how could I share the syllabus beyond the course? The simplest solution—right-clicking on the Moodle page and printing to a pdf—created a difficult-to-read document cluttered with Moodle’s navigation bar, calendar, and other widgets.

If you’re an Evernote user, you can use this three-step process to select only the parts of the Moodle page you want to include, and then save your syllabus as a pdf.

  1. Navigate to your Moodle page and turn editing off. This is a quick but important step that makes all the difference in the next part of the process.
  2. Use the Evernote Web Clipper to select the middle section of the Moodle page. Control the selected area with the up and down arrow keys. This can be fiddly, but turning Moodle editing off helps the Web Clipper recognize the middle section as a continuous space. Save to one of your Evernote folders.
    Evernote Syllabus Figure 1
  3. The final step of this process depends on your operating system.
    For Mac users, simply open the note in Evernote and click on Annotate to save the entire note as a pdf. For PC users, this option is not available, so we’ll take advantage of the minimal design of the Evernote web application. Log into Evernote.com and open your note. Click the full screen arrows to expand the note, and right click to print as a pdf.
    Evernote Syllabus Figure 2

Now you can contribute a clean pdf of your syllabus to your tenure file, share with colleagues, or simply add it to your archive.

Amazing New Streaming Media Resources!

Last week we held the last Teaching with Technology workshop before Shain library reopens and we focus on new resources and services in the renovated building. The topic was new streaming media resources available through the library to the Connecticut College community. If you missed the workshop, here are the resources we covered: Kanopy and VAST.

kanopy

Described as a “Netflix for colleges,” Kanopy provides immediate access to 2,249 full length educational and documentary films from BBC, PBS, Media Education Foundation, Documentary Educational Resources, and many other production houses. Some interesting collections include: Education (279), Visual Art (240), Foreign Language Film (638), Gender, Race & Diversity in Media (18), Dance Collection (62), and much more. Here are some features:

  • Each film can be viewed full-screen and includes closed-captioning
  • Create clips from full films (a welcome and easy to use feature)
  • Share clips or full films with students by embedding them in Moodle or provide access via a link or through social media channels
  • Create playlists of clips and/or full films for your students then share playlists
  • Films include public performance rights, so you or your students may host a viewing outside of class time

VAST_Graphica

VAST provides access to thousands of films and is particularly strong in anthropology (1,847) , historic newsreels (3,823), and music and performing arts (526,905 albums and 1,732 videos), education (3,949), and psychology and counseling (1,517). Features include:

  • Each film can be viewed full-screen and includes an interactive transcript and citation tools.
  • Create clips and playlists (free account required)
  • Share video via links, social media, or embed videos or clips directly in Moodle

Feel free to explore these resources and share them with your colleagues and students. If you need assistance locating films or using any of the features, please contact a librarian.

 

Workshop Recap: Students as Digital Content Creators

Camino_de_los_Yungas_Bolivia

Thank you to everyone who attended yesterdays workshop, Students as Digital Content Creators: Benefits and Pitfalls of Multimedia Assignments. A special thank you goes to Karen Gonzalez Rice and Suzuko Knott for sharing their ideas and experiences (good and bad!). For anyone unable to attend, here is a brief summary of the event.

The idea for this workshop came out of discussions among and experiences of the Technology Fellows. We also know many faculty are excited, overwhelmed, intimidated, and/or curious about multimedia assignments, and this was an opportunity to have a frank conversation about them.

Multimedia assignments provide great learning opportunities for students: to strengthen their voices in multiple media, develop new skills, learn about copyright and intellectual property in the roles as consumers and creators, think more creatively about presenting information to different audiences, and work collaboratively. There are more potential benefits than I could list here! We heard from Karen Gonzalez Rice, Assistant Professor of Art History, who presented a digital exhibition project and Suzuko Knott, Assistant Professor of German Students who presented a creative video assignment she incorporated last semester.

Some of Karen’s goals in the semester long exhibition project are to have students interact with lesser-known works of art and to apply art historical knowledge to unfamiliar artists and works. In the past, a semester long exhibition project aimed to meet these objectives and give students experience creating a physical exhibition – from concept through installation – using the Wetmore Print Collection. This semester, she is moving the exhibition online. While preserving the major goals of the original project, the digital exhibit will afford her and her students more time to spend on research, writing (and much re-writing), and exploring the relationships between the works. In addition, the result will be an online artifact available to the world that will also promote one of the very special and unique collections at Connecticut College.

Last semester, Suzuko implemented two digital media assignments in her first year seminar. She hoped that by creating original content, students would feel ownership of their work and express themselves creatively in a medium other than the written word. In addition, students would actually be practicing the concepts that they were studying in class and learn about the New London area. Some challenges she faced were the myth of the digital native (students feeling more confident in the technology than they actually were), time (projects were more time consuming than anticipated), and tension between production value and content. In all, Suzuko’s stated learning outcomes were met but the road to achieving those outcomes had more twists and turns than anticipated.

Thank you again to everyone who attended!

Image credit: By celineo (IMGP5179) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Workshop Tomorrow: Students as Digital Content Creators

If you are curious about, considering, or have experiences with multimedia assignments (video, online exhibitions, blogs, etc.), please join us! Karen Gonzalez Rice and Suzuko Knott, both Technology Fellows, will give informative and frank presentations about their past and current experiences with multimedia assignments. We will have plenty of time for discussion and questions. Co-led with Lyndsay Bratton and Jessica McCullough.

Students as Digital Content Creators: Benefits and Pitfalls of Multimedia Assignments
Tuesday, February 10, 1:30-2:30 pm
Blaustein 203
Register here

More Weatherproofing! Recap II

We continue yesterday’s workshop recap post from the Weatherproofing Your Class event on Tuesday. This post will focus on  technological solutions for student responses, group work, and synchronous video communication.

Lecture
With very little knowledge of audio or video recording, you can record a lecture. We like recorded lectures broken up into smaller chunks so that students can easily navigate them and it makes for smaller file sizes so uploading and streaming is faster. Technology tools include:

  • PowerPoint: Record audio narration on each slide of your existing PowerPoint presentation. You can save this as a video file and upload to Moodle (using the Kaltura Video Resource) or YouTube. Recommended for PC users.
  • QuickTime: Did you know QuickTime also records audio, video, or screen capture? This works great for Mac users, especially if you want to narrate over a Keynote or PowerPoint presentation.
  • Jing: This free download is possibly the easiest of all these options. Jing is a free download that you can use to take screencasts up to five minutes long and easily share with students via a link that is automatically generated.
  • Camtasia: Camtasia is like Jing, but it is a more robust software that includes video and audio editing tools and allows you to create longer videos. It also includes a PowerPoint plugin for easy narration of PowerPoint presentations. The cost for Camstasia may by covered by your department’s software fund.
  • Educations (or other similar apps): If you have an iPad or tablet and want to record a lecture or instruction by writing on a whiteboard, Educreations is a free and easy to use app. Simply record your actions on the Educreations whiteboard, save the video and share with your students through a link. The free version works well, but the pro version includes more features.

Asynchronous Discussions and Group Work

  • Moodle Assignment: Cancelled class is not an excuse for not completing assignments on time. Even if assignments are written with pencil and paper, you can ask students to scan them using the printer/copier and submit them via the Moodle Assignment tool. If you need to see or want a print copy, simply ask students to bring the hard copy for the next class meeting.
  • Moodle Forum: Create a Moodle Forum as an alternative to in-class discussions, as place to answer questions about a recorded video lecture, or as venue for group discussions.
  • Google Drive: As we demonstrated during the workshop, you can use Google Drive to accomplish many goals. Documents, presentations, and spreadsheets can all be edited collaboratively and in real time. The chat feature allows students to discuss as they work. You can also visit documents to engage students as they work or discuss an idea. In addition, you can create separate documents for groups and ask students to work on projects which you can then also access.

Synchronous Discussions

  • Google Hangouts: Google Hangouts allows up to 10 people to join in a video conference online. Because all students have Google accounts, it is an easy way to hold a discussion or lecture from different locations but at the same time.
  • Zoom: Similar to Google Hangouts, Zoom allows up to 25 people to join in on a videoconference. Zoom also includes screen sharing, annotation, and even recording. After 25 people, you will need to pay for a subscription.
  • Google Chat: If you wish to have a synchronous discussion with your class but don’t need or want the video, Google Chat is a great solution. All students have Google accounts, to adding them to a Chat is easy. You can also archive the discussion to maintain a record of it or share with students.

Weatherproofing Workshop Recap I

Thanks to everyone who attended the Weatherproofing Your Class workshop yesterday! For anyone who couldn’t attend, here is the first of two posts with information from the workshop. This post will focus on our discussion, and tomorrow’s will focus on the technology.

Communication with Students

Because of the recent policy change regarding snow days and canceled classes, we suggest creating a snow-day plan and communicating it to students in your syllabus. In addition, faculty found that emailing students early in the day after the announcement is made was helpful, even if it is to let students know that you will be sending more detailed information about assignments or activities later in the day.

Impact of Snow Days

The valuable class time that you lose from a snow day often means that you fall behind in your syllabus. The workshop focused on ways to use technology to reproduce certain class activities: lectures, group work, and student responses/ discussion. The first step to effective planning is to focus on your learning objectives for the missed class(es) and then create materials or alternative activities that will meet those objectives in a different way. In some cases, the change in plans may lead to serendipitous pedagogical discoveries!

Accessibility Issues

As with the integration of any technology, accessibility is important consideration. On a day when the college is closed, safety is the key concern, and students cannot be expected to gather together on campus to meet. And while technology will allow you to accomplish some of your goals, faculty should consider that students may have difficulty gaining access to certain technologies. Encourage your students to talk to you in advance about any limitations or issues they may have. The best way to ensure that all students have access to the resources they need to succeed in your class during snow days is the same as it is under normal circumstances. If you think ahead about the technology that you may use in the course of the semester, you will be able to ensure that students either have access to it or you can make reasonable accommodations.