When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom

As we think about our courses, curriculum, and institution as a whole through the lens of full participation, we should not overlook the additional costs we ask (require) our students to bear in order to successfully complete their education. Textbooks are one such cost that I’ve written about recently.  

Last Wednesday, Joe Schroeder, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Lyndsay Bratton and I traveled to Fairfield University for a very well attended “Workshop on the Open Education Resources (OER) Movement.” The keynote speaker, Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), presented information about the economics of textbooks and the financial and academic impact on students. She shared alternative solutions, such as OpenStax, free, open-source, high-quality textbooks available online and in print sponsored by Rice University. She ended with a call to participate in the OER movement. You can review Nicole’s presentation here.

I would like to thank Karen and Joe, who presented their experiences making the leap from textbook to free online materials. We all benefited from hearing faculty perspectives from diverse fields, especially since faculty are on the front lines of the OER movement.

SmartHistory VideoKaren was able to replace her textbook by using a combination of SmartHistory and ARTstor. These online materials – videos and still images – better support her course goals by modeling how to talk about art, demonstrating that there is disagreement and ambiguity in art history, and showing how scholars engage each other in debate. One important result of Karen’s shift was better, more informed class discussion.  

Joe explained that he has had mixed success and continues to experiment with how best to Image from online textbookprovide required content in an introductory neuroscience course. In his field, the problem with a print textbook is that it does not clearly communicate the complex relationships, sequences and processes that occur in the brain. Recently he found an exceptional online textbook, Neuroscience Online, created at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, that, through  the use of animated images, does this very well. The online textbook also provides the content that students need and that would be found in a traditional print textbook.

One speaker referred to faculty experimenting with OER as brave, and Karen and Joe modeled what it means take risks with their courses. Thank you for your contributions!

Digital Projects and Online Etiquette

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Tweet showing a Connecticut College student using emoji.
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Tweet that talks about Camelympics and asks Japanese students if they have similar events on their campus.

I have been much busier than expected this semester. One of the reasons is my new project, JPN201 Twitter Project. The goal of this project is to create a physical or on-line guide about Japanese college/university students’ lives to prepare students of Japanese for studying in Japan. Before starting this semester, I worked hard to write a description of the project and develop rubrics to evaluate students’ tweets. Before I had asked my students to start the project, I encountered various unforeseen incidents.

Since my students find out how Japanese college students’ lives look like, it is necessary for them to have Japanese correspondents who are college/university students in Japan. The Japanese program at Connecticut College is a part of the Associate Kyoto Program (AKP) through which our students can study in Kyoto. The AKP’s main office is located in Doshisha University. I contacted the AKP office manager and asked her for help to find volunteer students from Doshisha University. They circulated the ad recruiting volunteer students for this project.

As soon as the ad was circulated, I started receiving inquiries from their students. I was excited initially without foreseeing what would have been involved! At our campus, we often discuss manners regarding how students should communicate with us through emails. To my surprise, one after another, I received ill-mannered emails. They addressed me, “Kobayashi-san,” instead of “Kobayashi-sensei.” Sometime they called me “Hisae-san.” I would like to let you know that they are not my peers, but they are college students. Furthermore, I have never seen them. This was their first time contacting me! Some of them did not even say why they contacted me in the first place. They just put their name without providing any proper information.

Although my students always behave appropriately at least when they communicate with me, I was afraid that my students would offend Japanese natives due to their lack of linguistic as well as cultural knowledge. Therefore, I provided the following:


  • Please maintain your cordial, polite, friendly tone.
  • Please be respectful to fellow students.
  • Please be positive when you would like to give feedback.
  • Please avoid making personal attacks in response.
  • Please avoid using Japanese slang you might have found in Anime, Manga, which may easily cause misunderstanding.
  • Slow to anger, abundant in empathy

While I paid my attention to my students’ behavior, I was taken aback by students in Japan! Maybe it is because I live in this country so long and because I do not have enough knowledge of youth culture in Japan.

Suddenly my perspective toward my students has been elevated highly. My students would never behave like them at least toward me. At the same time, I realized that this was one of the negative results of using technologies. Technologies are very convenient as well as beneficial as long as we use them for a right purpose in an appropriate manner. They provide us richer experiences such as my JPN202 Twitter Project. My students can communicate with native speakers of Japanese in the Japanese language while both sides stay where they are. Since I have no control over students in Japan, I decided to use this unpleasant incident to screen the volunteers. I did not respond to ill-mannered emails.  Among those students, one contacted me again to see if I had received her email and to ask me how she would start joining the project. I can give credit to her for willingness to contact me again. I explained to her why my response was delayed. After our appropriate email exchanges, she joined the project.

The project has been going smoothly. I have made many observations about my students’ communication skills. I’ve been enjoying monitoring their tweets and I give them feedback every week. Although it is a lot of work for me, it is valuable experience for my students. I’m looking forward to seeing what they say after the project.

Lastly, I found a way to motivate students in Japan to tweet.  Look at the image below. This photo tells who communicated with whom and who tweets most. After uploading the photo, the number of tweets from Japan increased. They surely continue to surprise me.


Next week is data week!

Next week we are offering two data-related workshops: Working with Data Across the Curriculum and Intro to Data Visualization Tools. Whether you use data in your own research, ask students to use data, or are interested in exploring ways to easily incorporate quantitative exercises into your courses, please join us!

Working with Data Across the Curriculum
Monday, October 12, 12:00pm – 1:00pm
Davis Classroom, Main Floor, Shain Library
The Connecticut College community has access to a treasure trove of data and the tools to use this data through our membership with the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). Use ICPSR data sets and tools to build an exercise in quantitative literacy into your course, no matter your departmental affiliation. The ICPSR database is a one-stop wonder of analysis-ready data collections spanning the social sciences. Take advantage of ready-made learning guides, exercise sets, and connect data directly with the associated scholarly literature. Download data files to be analyzed with SPSS or STATA, or use built-in online data analysis tools without downloading anything and without any specialized knowledge of statistical software. Participants will practice using the ICPSR database and explore opportunities for including it in your teaching. This is a brown bag lunch event, which means you should bring your own, but cupcakes and coffee will be served for dessert.

We do know there is a conflict with the Fall Open House Lunch. Feel free to come late or leave early as your schedule requires. If you are interested in learning more but are unable to attend, contact Andrew Lopez for more information.

Intro to Data Visualization Tools
Tuesday, October 13, 3-4pm
PC Classroom, Lower Level, Shain Library
Research and instruction are increasingly data-driven with the proliferation of both digitized research materials and the digital publication and presentation of research outcomes. Digital visualizations have become a valuable lens through which to make sense of that data. In this hands-on workshop, we will build dynamic story maps, timelines, and graphs, using several open-source tools that can enhance existing assignments and presentation formats in your courses. This workshop will be led by Lyndsay Bratton, Digital Scholarship & Visual Resources Librarian. 

What are the Technology Fellows up to?

Tech Fellows WorkingLast Wednesday the second cohort of Technology Fellows met for a full day of discussion, workshops, and troubleshooting in the Advanced Technology Lab in Shain Library. Three of the five fellows, Luis Gonzalez, Hisae Kobayashi and Leo Garofalo presented their work, shared breakthroughs and challenges, and posed questions to the group.

We will be hearing from the Fellows on this blog over the course of the semester, but if you are wondering what the Fellows are doing, here some themes and a few examples from our day together.

  • Connecting All three fellows that presented are connecting or plan to connect their classrooms to students, professionals and scholars around the world. Hisae is using Twitter to foster dialogue about student life between her students and students in Japan (#ccJpn201). Luis and Leo will have virtual visits and discussions with professionals in Spain and Mexico using Skype and Zoom.
  • Relevance To make learning about culture and history of Spain relevant to students in Luis’s class, students monitor a Twitter list that he and Laura Little created with feeds from local news outlets. Students select articles of interest, read and share summaries of them in Spanish to fellow students. The tool used for the sharing is both Moodle forums and (soon!) Twitter. Hisae’s twitter assignment requires students to ask questions about college life in Japan and share information about college life here – using the language daily and making it relevant to their own lives.
  • Critical Thinking Leo has two upcoming assignments that require students to collect original material, organize it, synthesize it, and use it to substantiate an argument. Material includes images, interviews, ephemera, video, and outside research. In the first assignment, students will create storyboard – selecting material and explaining how they would use it as evidence for their argument. The second assignment, building on the first, requires students to both create a storyboard and create a website that they will present to the class. Students will use WordPress to create the sites.

We will be meeting again for a full day in October when Ginny Anderson and Emily Morash will present their work to the group.

Great Online Teaching Resources! Or, what are OER?

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Hewlett Foundation

As you might know, I am interested in exploring Open Educational Resources (OER) and considering how we might use them to enhance learning. They can be used to provide alternative modes of content delivery, reinforce learning through interactivity such as simulations or other activities, save students money by replacing costly textbooks, or even change how we teach through blended or flipped classroom models.

If you don’t know what OER are, you are not alone. According to this survey, 66% of faculty are “not aware” of OER. In this post I share some examples of existing resources so that we can better understand the potential of OER. Before looking at the examples below, understand that there is a huge amount of amazing material available for you to use; this is only a very, very small sample.


OpenStax College: Principles of Economics is part of the growing OpenStax catalog of professional-quality, open access textbooks that are both customizable and free to faculty and students. Read more here about OpenStax and view the full catalog (titles focus on the sciences and social sciences).

Le Littéraire dans le quotidien is an open French textbook created by Joanna Gay Luks, Senior Lecturer in French, Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University and which takes a “transdisiplinary approach to reading/writing at the first and second year levels.”

Gender and Sexualities: An Inquiry by Jason Gary Damron and Vicki Reitenauer of Portland State University “provides an interdisciplinary and intersectional framework for thinking critically about the historical and contemporary applications of knowledge about gender and sexuality.”

Case Studies, Activities & Simulations

Pixar in a Box, a collaboration between Disney and Khan Academy, is a free online curriculum that shows how Pixar artists use mathematical concepts to create animated films.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one in a multimedia series introducing drama, epic poetry, and novels from many times and cultures brought together by Professor David Damrosch,  Harvard University. This project was funded by Annenberg Media.

Planet Money Makes a Tshirt, produced by NPR’s Planet Money, is a media rich (video, images, text, graphics, and links) series that deconstructs the global supply and production process involved in making a T-shirt.

The Virtual Chemistry Laboratory allows students to virtually mix chemicals “without wearing safety goggles.”

What Next

Next week Lyndsay Bratton, Karen Gonzalez Rice, Joe Schroeder and I will attend A Workshop on the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement at Fairfield University. Follow the event on Twitter using #OERFairfield. You can also expect more information posted to the blog after we attend this event!

Workshop Recap: Teaching with Twitter

Twitter Art

Faculty are using Twitter in very interesting and exciting ways in their classes! This was the major takeaway from our Twitter for Teaching workshop last Friday afternoon. We asked each of our four discussants to discuss three aspects of their Twitter experience: pedagogy, assessment and organization. Here is a very brief summary of how each of our discussants use Twitter.

  • Steve Luber uses Twitter in place of Moodle discussion boards in Art of Protest: Occupy ______ . Students tweet five times per week using the #ccArtofProtest hashtag, at least three of which respond directly to a prompt. Additional tweets may ask a question, share ideas, news stories or related events. In addition, students are reflecting on the use of Twitter in protest movements and their own personal uses of this platform for communication, including implications for surveillance and monetization of data.  For assessing student contributions, Steve found that an existing rubric for class participation is relevant to this assignment.
  • Ariella Rotramel was inspired by Steve Luber’s Twitter exercise, and is using the hashtag #FemTheory in Advanced Readings in Feminist Theory. Students do not have a weekly prompt, but are required to tweet five times per week to address readings, share new information, or have a conversation outside of class. The hashtag is used with GWS classes at other institutions, so students are entering into conversations that go beyond our campus and learning from other classes. Ari shared her assignment via a national women’s studies listserv to get participation from other schools; you can view it here.  The hashtag has been used infrequently in the past and Ari’s call also ended up helping her connect with other GWS faculty involved in FemTechNet.

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    To help with assessment and organization, we set up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets that automatically captures all tweets with the #FemTheory hashtag. The spreadsheet allows Ari to sort by username in order to count and read all the tweets by that user. The spreadsheet we selected, TAGS, also allows us to visualize the conversation. We will be exploring this feature in more detail.
  • Luis Gonzalez is experimenting with Twitter this semester in SPA 250, Spain: Journey, Culture & History. He and Laura Little created the SPA250 list in Twitter, which aggregates content from Spanish news outlets. The Twitter feed is embedded into Moodle where students monitor the the most recent news coming from Spain, select articles to read, and write responses in Spanish. Students have been sharing their writing in the Moodle forum, but will begin to share their writing via Twitter.
  • Hisae Kobayashi started an exciting collaboration between her JPN 201 students and students at Doshisha University in Japan. The goal of the project is for students to learn about college/university culture and lives in each other’s countries using Twitter as the communication platform. Students are encouraged to ask questions of each other and to carry on conversations. All communication is done in Japanese and each tweet must include the #ccjpn201 hashtag. Her students are learning to use emoji creatively from their Japanese fellow tweeters! Hisae created a rubric to evaluate student contributions based on content, organization, mechanics, contributions, and frequency.
    Tweet in Japanese

If you are interested learning more about any of the Twitter projects above, feel free to contact that faculty member directly. To learn more about Twitter for your own teaching, or simply as a way to keep up with the latest news in your field or personal interests, contact an Instructional Designer.

Image Credit: The Art of Twitter from mkhmarketing [cc BY 2.0]

Today at 1:15 PM: Twitter for Teaching

downloadJoin us TODAY for our second Teaching with Technology event, Teaching with Twitter. Hear from four colleagues who are using Twitter in exciting ways: Steve Luber (Theater), Ariella Rotramel (Gender and Women’s Studies), Luis Gonzalez (Hispanic Studies), and Hisae Kobayashi (East Asian Languages & Cultures).

We will be meeting in the Haines Room, Shain Library at 1:15. You are welcome to come to all or part of the workshop. Refreshments will be served.

Are students #TextbookBroke?

Twitter feed of #textbookbrokeWith the rising costs of textbooks (3 times the rate of inflation or over 1000% since 1977), more students choose not to or are simply unable to purchase them. You are probably aware of this phenomenon from recent articles in the Chronicle, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, NBC, or from the hashtag #textbookbroke. Or maybe you, like me, hear new stories from students and colleagues every day this time of year… and again in January. The high cost of textbooks does affect our community. It is time to reconsider the traditional textbook.

Using Open Educational Resources (OER) is one alternative. OER are quality online learning materials (textbooks, videos, games, learning modules), often peer reviewed, that are available through an open license. OER are current, flexible, authoritative, accessible, and have even been shown to have a positive effect on student learning. Here is a great summary of the empirical research published on OER adoption.

To begin this conversation, I invite you to two events scheduled this semester. First, on October 7, Fairfield University is hosting a one-day conference on Open Educational Resources (OER). The workshop will be led by Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).  Additional presenters include Kevin Corcoran, Executive Director of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) and our own Karen Gonzalez Rice and Joe Schroeder.

Because we want to start exploring the possibilities of OER for our community, Information Services will provide support for up to ten faculty to attend this conference. If you are interested, contact Jessica McCullough. I just learned that the conference is filling up very quickly, if you are interested get in touch soon. (We promise you will be back on campus in time for the faculty meeting scheduled on the same day!)

The second event will take place here on Wednesday, November 11th from 10:30-11:30 in the Haines Room. Find more information and register in the IS events calendar.

Workshop Your Assignments with Us on Thursday!


We haven’t even had a full week of classes, but our first Teaching with Technology event is happening this Thursday! The timing is deliberate because we’ll be workshopping this semester’s assignments together. If you are incorporating technology into an assignment, new or old, join us in the Haines Room on September 10th from 10:30-11:30. Coffee, tea, and a midmorning snack will be served. Together we will discuss assignments, give and receive feedback, and maybe even try some of them out! The goal is to leave with assignments that reflect your learning goals, intentionally incorporate technology, and are clear to students. We will also think about efficient ways to grade, give timely and relevant feedback.

Let us know if you can attend by emailing Jessica McCullough or using the online registration form.

Don’t forget about our reading group this semester! Read more details here.

Sign up for our Reading Group!

MindsOnlineWe are excited to hold our first ever reading group! We will be reading  Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology this semester and invite you to discuss the book with us over lunch. Minds Online is “an outstanding new book…for truly effective teaching with technology” (Chronicle of Higher Education). Participation is limited to 10 faculty and staff, and participants will receive a copy of the book.

There will be three meetings this semester (September 21, October 26, and November 16) from 12:00-1:00pm. Contact Jessica McCullough by September 14th if you wish to participate.