Join us for Wednesdays at the Wall

Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology students present their lab projects for AT201: History of Arts & Tech, April 2015
Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology students present their lab project for AT201: History of Arts & Tech, April 2015

Announcing a new short series of workshops from the Digital Scholarship and Curriculum Center in Shain Library! These informal workshops will introduce attendees to the Diane Y. Williams ’59 Visualization Wall in the Technology Commons of Shain. Participants will have the opportunity to see how professors from Computer Science, Gender and Women’s Studies, Arts & Tech, and German Studies have already made use of the interactive, high-resolution display in their courses. You are invited to bring your laptop and/or mobile devices to experiment with the various ways of connecting to the wall. There are also two computers connected to the system (a Windows 8 Touch and a Windows/Linux dual-boot, with a MacPro to come!), as well as a Kinect, a Brio (allowing for wireless display of multiple mobile devices simultaneously), a media player, and more. Digital Media Specialist Mike Dreimiller and I look forward to answering your questions, brainstorming ways you can use the visualization wall in your classes and research, and testing out websites, software, or other potential uses of the system that you might be excited to see on the wall.

Register for one of the workshops below:

Wednesday, April 22–2:30-3:30pm

Wednesday, April 29–4:00-5:00pm

Wednesday, May 6–3:00-4:00pm

We hope to see you there!

Zooming into Language Acquisition

My current Japanese 400C provides students multiple opportunities to study collaboratively with the upper-level Japanese students at Mount Holyoke College (MHC), MA by using technologies. This course employs content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach, and students are expected to gain the new knowledge about the Japanese language through the reading materials, which my friend at MHC has been developing.

The current upper-level Japanese courses at Connecticut College (CC) are facing some administrative as well as pedagogical issues: 1) recent years there are chronically small enrollments; 2) the level of individual student’s language skills varies widely; 3) it is difficult for each student to find a peer who obtains the same Japanese proficiency level in class; 4) there is lack of peer pressure due to familiarization among themselves as well as with instructors, which creates an ineffective atmosphere to motivate the students to improve their language skills.

These issues are not unique at Connecticut College (CC); rather I found that the Japanese programs at small liberal arts colleges faced similar issues. New technologies have enabled us to supply students at both campuses with peer-reading sessions through Zoom, email communication among the students as well as between the students and both instructors, Zoom presentation sessions, and survey after presentation practice as well as final presentation in Google forms. We are also recording peer-reading sessions and Zoom presentations, and uploading them in the shared folder in Google Drive, which we hope helps each student to evaluate her/his own performance for their assignments.

techfellow_blog_hk2 (1)

We have unintended positive outcomes by using technologies. This winter we had more snow than usual, and there were multiple times the college was closed. One cancellation happened on the day presentation was scheduled. In the morning I hoped that there would be no cancellation despite the fact that powder snow started covering the ground. My friend at MHC emailed me, “we don’t have snow here.” I had a bad feeling. An email came telling us the college would be closed at noon. I decided to stay on campus for the sake of presentation. Then another email came telling that there would be a parking ban. “Oh, NO!!!!!” Now I had to leave the campus.

I told my students to stay in the room and to wait for an invitation for Zoom session from me through email. I went back home to send out invitations for Zoom session. Thanks to Zoom we were successfully able to have student’s presentations by connecting five locations; a classroom in MHC; a student’s room at Smith College; two student’s rooms at CC; and my place, and we recorded the session as well!!!

We found another interesting effect of using Zoom. Time to time we asked our students if they would prefer not doing certain assignments or not. The students on both campuses always answer, “I can do this.” They never say to us, “NO.” It seems that they are motivated to show their best to the students on the other campus. We are pleased with our student’s attitude. Probably I will be able to report to you after this course whether they maintain this attitude throughout the semester.

Lastly I would like to share with you what happened last year when we offered the same course. I had one male student in the course at CC. He spent two semesters in Korea when he was a junior. One of the female students at MHC came from Korea. Apparently they had many things to talk about. One day my friend’s teaching assistants said to her, “Today you will have a session with Connecticut College.” My friend asked how they figured it out. Then they told her that they knew because the student wore make-up. Hmm…. It IS indeed interesting!!

Digital Literacy: Talking Teaching Recap (Part 2)

Following up on yesterday’s post, here are three more exciting topics of discussion raised at the Talking Teaching event this Tuesday, April 7, co-sponsored by the Technology Fellows Program and Information Services.

Perkins Library Reference Interaction, 1970s, Duke University Archives
Perkins Library Reference Interaction, 1970s, Duke University Archives, Flickr

Digital Technology and Collaboration/Communication Skills: How are we using technology to replace certain interpersonal interactions, and at what cost? A common assumption is that working with digital technology means working alone. Some professors observe that students interact with each other less when they can complete a group assignment online, which may decrease accountability for some group members.


  • Require group work and face-to-face interaction when using digital technologies—Joe Schroeder’s students worked extremely well together on a collaborative Google Doc while sitting together in person, which begs the question: would they have communicated as well together if they had not been sitting in the same physical space?
  • Require students to meet with relevant people on campus (Information Services, Writing Center, etc.) to ensure that students are aware of the resources available to them.
  • Have students grade each others’ contributions to group work—Joyce Bennett requires students to keep an individual work log throughout a group project, in addition to grading their classmates at the end.
  • The new collaboration rooms on the first three floors of Shain Library and the white boards available in the lower level are very popular among students working in groups.

    Shain Collaboration Room, March 2015
    Shain Collaboration Room, March 2015

Digital Accessibility and Inequality: Not only does immediate access to digital technologies shape a student’s ability to complete assignments and learn new technological skills in college, but inequalities in access to technology before arriving at Connecticut College contribute to variations in digital fluency among the student body. Sometimes students are simply unaware of what is available to them through various campus resources, including the library. Kathy Gehring pointed out that even the use of electronic resources dropped significantly during the Shain renovation when the library was not physically accessible.


  • If you are planning to use an app that relies on smartphone or tablet technology, consider that not all students have access to these mobile devices. Web-based avenues of communication (i.e. Moodle forums, email, social media, Google Drive) may be necessary to ensure that all students are able to participate in the conversation. Luis Gonzalez’s recent post about the Digital Divide sheds light on this issue.
  • Many courses since 2006 have been supported by the Instructional Technology team’s Digitally-Enhanced Learning Initiative (DELI). Participation in the program ensures that all students in a proposed course will have access to the same digital device.
  • Again, requiring that students meet with librarians and instructional technologists, whether in a class session or outside of class, will broaden awareness of the library’s technological resources and assistance, including many workstations with a wide range of software, the Advanced Technology Lab’s digitization equipment, electronic scholarly resources, iPad Minis that can be checked out at the circulation desk, one-on-one training, and more.

Digital Editing Tools and Methods: How can we leverage digital technologies in the editing process for written student assignments? Some professors noted that students have ignored marginal notes in Word documents in the past and resubmitted their work without accepting all the editing suggestions. Is this a case of students not knowing how to use the review features in Word? Many students have expressed that they prefer handwritten comments, and faculty often prefer this tried-and-true method, as well. But do some digital editing tools serve to enhance the learning process for students?


  • Karen Gonzalez Rice has garnered universally positive feedback from students regarding her recorded audio responses to assignments. Using screencapture video recordings might be a great option for evaluations of students’ visual or written works, if digital files were submitted for the assignment. Jing is a free, easy-to-use tool for creating screencapture videos of up to five minutes (encouraging concise feedback!).
  • Joyce Bennett loved using Blackboard at another institution to receive, edit, and return her students’ assignments without any exchange of paper, all within the course website. Moodle offers this option too! Contact your Instructional Technology liaison for assistance, if you would like to experiment with this capability.
  • If you make marginal edits and comments in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, use the suggested edit function, which does not replace the students’ original content. You might also require students to reply to your comments to ensure that they address each one.

Thank you to all who attended Talking Teaching this past Tuesday!

Digital Literacy: Talking Teaching Recap (Part 1)

The Technology Fellows Program and Information Services department co-sponsored this Tuesday’s Talking Teaching event, which focused on the concept of the “digital native”–a term often applied to the Millennial who uses technologies with a fluency not afforded to preceding generations. Faculty shared their diverse experiences, successes, and concerns with digital encounters in their courses. Throughout the discussions, it became clear that there is often a disjunction between what professors (and the students themselves) assume students know about technology and what they actually know. Effective leveraging of digital technologies to enhance pedagogy requires careful considerations of such factors as accessibility, differences in types of digital literacies, and the potentially negative effects of digital technologies on the development of collaboration and communication skills. The following is the first in a two-part summary of some of the important challenges and considerations raised at Tuesday’s meeting. Each discussion point is followed by some of the successes shared and techniques suggested by the group.

Digital Skills Training: When adopting a new technology in an assignment or classroom activity, how do you approach training students?


  • Hands-on work time in class is important to give students the opportunity to ask questions and problem-solve together.
  • Model behaviors—Tek-wah King consistently displays his iPad throughout class across the semester to help students learn over time which applications work best for which tasks.
  • Give students guidelines for how long a task should take to avoid the situation in which, before reaching out for help, they spend four hours trying to figure out how to use a technology that should have taken a few minutes.
  • tutorial videos—Embedding assignment-specific tutorials into your course Moodle page may work better than simply directing students to this vast resource and expecting them to find the best tutorial to meet their needs for a particular assignment.
  • Suggesting or requiring that students meet with librarians and instructional technologists during the semester will ensure they recognize the training services and digital resources that are available to them in the library.
  • Inviting librarians to your class to provide assignment-specific reference instruction sessions helps students learn how to use databases, digital citation tools, and digital collaboration tools that they can apply to many of their courses and assignments.

Digital Literacy is a Process: How do we ensure that students see digitally-enabled activities and assignments as part of a progressive process? Rather than building a broad toolkit applicable to many courses and future endeavors, students tend to approach each technology learned as assignment- or course-specific, often failing to apply these skills and resources in their other classes, or forgetting them by the next semester. Are students struggling with the pace of change? How do we distinguish between discipline-specific skills and more generally-applicable ones?


  • Better scaffolding of technology skill acquisition across a semester and across the four-year curriculum
  • Develop and codify a way to track expected development of digital literacy skills over time
  • Repeat and assignment-specific interactions with reference librarians and instructional technologists help students gain and retain skills and learn to apply them across their coursework.
Photo by Sean MacEntee, 2012, Flickr
Photo by Sean MacEntee, 2012, Flickr

Generational Differences in Types of Digital Fluencies: Students tend to be especially app-savvy, but they do not necessarily understand other elements of computing, such as programming. App user interfaces are designed for “elegant consumption” and assume no user knowledge of the back-end processes. Digital literacy assumes an amount of experience that affords the ability to be able to easily adapt to changes in software and hardware as time goes on; but if students do not have the foundational knowledge, they will be unable to just “click around” and figure out new interfaces and software. Despite students not knowing life before the internet, professors often have more years of experience with a broader range of technologies. A seemingly basic task of creating a PDF may be completely foreign to a student who was never asked in high school to submit a document in that format.


  • When adopting or assigning a new technology in class, always assume that at least some students may have no foundational knowledge. You can always change pace as you learn more about the students’ skill levels.

Further discussion:

Several faculty members wondered how we can leverage digital technologies in the editing process for written student assignments, which led to a robust discussion of digital editing tools and methods. Others wondered how we are using technology to replace certain interpersonal interactions, and at what cost? We also discussed issues of digital accessibility and inequality in the development of digital literacies. Stay tuned tomorrow for a follow-up post on these topics!

From the Archives: Advising Week Tip

By request, I am reposting this information about using Appointment Slots for scheduling meetings with students. The post was originally published on November 9, 2014. Enjoy!

Because it is advising week, and because I had a request (thanks, Emily Morash!), this post is all about automating the process of setting up meeting times with students. I’m using the Appointment Slots feature in Google Calendar that is available to anyone with Google Apps for Education. Appointment slots allow you to create periods of time, “slots,” that you are available, share your appointment slot calendar with students, then students select the times that work best for them. This tool cuts down on monotonous and not terribly productive email communication to schedule meeting times, and it allows students to take responsibility for scheduling meetings with you. With all the time you will save, you may even be able to offer more meetings times!

I created two short (2min) videos showing how Appointment Slots work:

  1. Create the appointment slots in your regular Google calendar. Watch the video.
  2. Share the appointment slots with students and they sign up for a time. Watch the video.
  3. Appointments show up in your calendar and the student’s calendars as regular events.

There are many options for using this tool: office hours, advising, oral exams, small group work, research paper feedback, and more.

The Google documentation available here provides more step-by-step instructions if you prefer written instructions to a video. Let us know how this works for you!

Breakfast and tour tomorrow!

Join us at 9:30am in the Davis Lab on the main floor of the library for a tour of the renovated Shain library. Carrie Kent and Chris Penniman will describe the process behind the design and show new spaces, technologies, resources and services.  You will leave with an understanding of how the library supports student work on campus and how you might also take advantage of the library for your own work.

Feel free to stop by if you have some time. If you know you will attend, please register so we are sure to have enough coffee!

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!


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

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


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.


  • 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.