Technology Assignments When You Are Not the Expert: Part II

Fuente-Oveja student work
Cover of final student work

Perhaps because InDesign was as new to me as it was to my students, changing a course project by incorporating new software felt like a bold move. With the support of faculty and staff peers, however, I began the project confident and prepared with what I offer to you as recommended practices:

  • Make sure the assignment itself is as clear as possible before adding any kind of new technology. The software you introduce using should facilitate the learning objectives of the project (and the course) without becoming the dominant focus.
  • With the importance of effective imagery established, enlist the help of your library or technology liaison to share visual research methods and resources. Lyndsay Bratton conducted an excellent workshop with my students and created an invaluable online research resource that also included proper citation guidelines for images.
  • Before working with your class, test out a number of introductory videos. Lynda sometimes offers several different videos that serve the same introductory purpose. Find the one that strikes the right tone and goes at the right pace for you. Also, sometimes “introductory” can actually mean “novice” in the world of Lynda; make sure the videos you choose are well-suited to the experience level of your class.
  • Once you’ve selected the Lynda video that’s right for your class, try a practice run with some trusted colleagues to anticipate where challenges might arise. The Advanced Technology Lab in Shain Library is a great place to do this with a small group.
  • Preparing the way for InDesign, share with your students examples that demonstrate the difference between information communicated without much attention to layout and imagery versus those that do. It can be a great opportunity to discuss the power of iconography.
  • Work through the first video as a class, stopping and starting as needed. Allow for plenty of time as it may take much longer than you think it will (this is where that earlier practice session will pay off).
  • As helpful as Lynda is, it can’t beat one-on-one instruction. This, of course, is a challenge if you’re new to the software yourself. Thankfully, the Academic Resource Center may be able to help. Student tutors with experience in InDesign and other programs from the Adobe design suite were available to help, even during the busy final weeks of classes. A tutor came to my class and scheduled meetings with students to help them to stretch the basics far enough so that they could realize their vision for the project.
  • Sometimes nothing beats a clear handout. Whether you make your own or find one online, like this tutorial from Marquette University, it might offer the extra needed perspective that can help students to navigate unfamiliar software early on.

The results were tremendous. Not only were the projects professional-looking, but two students independently commented that they were proud to add InDesign to their resume. View one example in the slideshow below. Work is shared with permission of student creators.

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Technology Assignments When You Are Not the Expert: Part I

As covered previously on Engage, can be a treasure trove for faculty looking to brush up skills in various applications (i.e. Photoshop) and even strengthen habits in life skills such as time management.

Lynda logo

For me, Lynda is like one of those old friends you don’t get to see very often but when you do, it’s like no time has passed. There’s that instant connection. You love catching up but you’re never quite able to make the time for the kinds of meaningful interactions that make the friendship so great. I tend to go to only when I feel like I have time to explore (which isn’t very often).

When using technology in the classroom, I want to be an expert on whatever tool I’m using. This semester, I tried something new.

Through the Technology Fellows Program, I used to incorporate InDesign into a long-established project in a theater history course. I had no experience with the program and only one of my students had used it before, and in a limited capacity.

“Congratulations!” the assignment begins, “Gordon Edelstein, the Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, has hired you and a partner to serve as interim dramaturgs for a production in their upcoming season. [The play is not one assigned to the class as a whole; each team of dramaturgs will draw the title of their designated play at random from a selection of important works emerging from each of the historical periods covered in the course.]

For this project, sometimes spanning an entire semester or, in this experimental semester, concentrated in three weeks, students synthesize historical research in order to provide insight into a play; they illuminate the text by considering the playwright’s biography as well as the social, political, and economic contexts that would have resonated with the play’s first audiences.

Their chief responsibility was the creation of 4-5 pages of content for the production’s in-depth performance guide to enrich the audience experience. The assignment overview concludes, “the guide is intended to be entertaining as well as informative – exercise your creative freedom as you consider the most effective way to communicate your research and reflection on the play. If done well, your work will entice readers to make the trip to New Haven to see the production at the Long Wharf and your career in professional theatre will be launched!”

This kind of creative communication, modeled on examples from professional theaters, is essential to the assignment. In the past, it was often achieved with Microsoft Word or by literally cutting & pasting images before scanning a final product. During my first year at Conn, a team of students produced something so professional looking I had to ask them about their methods; they had taught themselves InDesign.

With some basic research, I found that InDesign and similar Adobe software skills are increasingly in demand, no matter the long-term career goals (and no matter the major of our students). I had a mission for the next time I taught the course.

To find out how InDesign was incorporated into the course, stay tuned to Engage!

Image credit:flickr photo shared by liberalmind1012 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


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