Why I Allow Technology in My Classroom

This January, the Center for Teaching & Learning teamed up with the Instructional Technology team here at Connecticut College to put on a Talking Teaching event called “Digital Devices in the Classroom.” I was fortunate to attend the event; I had admittedly been thinking a lot about devices in the classroom this semester. Traditionally, I do not like students to have devices in my classroom unless it is for a particular activity. I often go technology free myself, often writing on the chalkboard when I lecture. It helps slow me down so students have time to take notes, and I feel like I am engaging more with the class. This is especially true for my introductory course: in a large room with many students, I did not want devices to distract students.  

This semester, things have changed. I have several students with learning accommodations allowing them to have technology in the classroom for note-taking and to be able to increase the font size on materials I pass out in class so they can see it better. This alone got me thinking about accessibility issues and pushed me to make my teaching more accessible via technology. Now anytime I lecture, I make sure to have slides. I create them in Google Docs and link them to the course Moodle page. Students are welcome to bring up the slides in class on their computers as we go through them. I do not put “all the answers” on the slides; students still have to take notes. Students who need the visual accommodation are not alone in having their devices out, and since most students do, it becomes normalized behavior. No one is squinting at the board, moving to get out of the glare from the overhead lights, or trying to decipher what can be poor handwriting on my part.

The other reason I started encouraging the use of devices in my classroom is because of the limitations of one of my teaching rooms. The room I am in is a common room for a dorm; it has its upsides, including mobile furniture that is great for discussion. The problem is that we have one large board-room like table, and the “projector” (a large screen TV) is behind half of the students at this table. It turns out that posting the slides on Moodle solved the problem with the location of the TV: students whose backs are to the slides I am projecting just pull them up on their laptops and follow along that way.

Discussing all of this at the Talking Teaching event, several colleagues noted that the key to success when using digital devices in the classroom is having a technology policy. Even better is to include it on the syllabus and actively talk about it in the classroom. Other key ideas were reminding students of the technology policy periodically, and being willing to experiment and adjust as the semester progresses. This semester’s policy is a big experiment for me, but it is certainly helping me create a more inclusive learning environment.

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Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (2 of 3)

This post was written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant. 

The second of three posts exploring productivity apps, this post will explore Bear, a note taking app; and Adobe Scan, a mobile PDF scanner.

Bear (Shiny Frog, $Free) / Bear Pro (Shiny Frog, $1.49/month or $14.99/year)

What Is It? Bear is a minimalist note taking app compatible with Markdown note taking. The app boasts a Markup Editor supports over 20 programming languages, in-line support for images and photos, cross-note links that help you build a body of work, multiple different themes to choose from, multiple export options for formatting your notes, a Focus Mode that hides other notes and options to keep your workspace distraction-free, and multi-device sync using iCloud. If you want to access to Bear’s advanced features (which includes the aforementioned multi-device sync, certain application themes, and various export options), a Pro subscription is required. However, Bear does offer free trials to test out the features, and the free app itself could stand alone if needed.

How Is It Helpful? Aesthetically, Bear stands out from other note taking apps and platforms due to its simplicity. With its focus on plain text, there is little to distract you from whatever task may be on hand. For me, the benefit of Bear lies in the various themes you are able to choose from. With the free app, you have access to four different theme options including the classic Red Graphite, Solarized Light, High Contrast, and Charcoal. The ability to switch between these themes not only provides a way to personalize the app, but also a way to keep yourself focused by not becoming too accustomed to the view. Additionally, while the app itself is incredibly clutter-free, the enhanced Focus Mode helps to keep your field of vision clear of anything but your writing.

Adobe Scan (Adobe, $Free)

What Is It? The Adobe Scan app allows you to use your smartphone as a portable scanner that recognizes text automatically. Adobe’s image technology automatically detects the borders of your document and captures the image for you, sharpening the scanned content. Once scanned, the app allows you to easily touch up your new PDFs by reordering pages, cropping or rotating images, and adjusting the color as needed. Though you need to sign up for an Adobe account (free) in order to properly use the app, linking your account to Adobe Scan allows you to save your documents to Adobe Document Cloud which lets you search and copy text or open your documents in Acrobat Reader in order to highlight and annotate your newly scanned PDFs.

How Is It Helpful? Being able to keep a digital library of readings for classes or research projects is incredibly beneficial, and taking the time out of your day to scan at one of the campus printers is not always convenient or possible. Once your documents are scanned to a PDF, you are able to catch up on class readings or look over your notes on any device you wish. Aside from being an overall easy to use and well-designed app, the real benefit of Adobe Scan lies in it being an Adobe app. With Adobe Acrobat Reader being such a popular choice for a PDF-reader, the linkage Adobe Scan provides by allowing you to store documents in the Adobe Cloud means you do not need to worry about searching for PDFs in various file folders. Additionally, Adobe Scan’s border detection makes it possible to scan any kind of document (forms, book pages, notebooks, business cards, receipts, etc) with ease and still get a quality PDF.

The perfect textbook is possible! Tools for creating or customizing textbooks

American History textbook based on American Yawp and created using iBooks Author

We’ve written a lot about open educational resources (OER) on this blog, in addition to presenting at regional, consortial, and national  meetings. One area we could explore further is the ability to customize true OER. Don’t like a chapter? Edit it, or simply remove it. Don’t like the order material is presented? Reorganize it so that matches the way you teach. Like some parts of one text, and parts of another? Mash them up to create your own.

A quick Google search reveals that there are hundreds of platforms and software options that allow you to create your own textbook from existing OER. This post focuses on four inexpensive (or free) tools that we have experience using. We also want to point out that this is only one step in successfully implementing OER into a course, and that members of the instructional technology team are here to assist you through the entire process!

  • iBooks Author is a free app that allows you to create ebooks and either export them as epub files and share with students, or make them available through the iBooks store. This software makes it very easy to incorporate multimedia content – image galleries, movies, multiple-choice questions, and more. You can even add interactive widgets to your books such as maps, 360 degree panoramas, and timelines. Note that your students will need to have software that can read epub files, but there are free options we can recommend.
  • Scalar, a free online platform built by the University of Southern California, is a favorite authoring platform of digital humanists who wish to create long-form, born-digital content. Its structure is flexible, allowing for multimedia-rich, non-linear texts. Scalar does not require you to install or use any specialized software – all editing is done online. If you want students to access your course materials online and you have a lot of multimedia content, this is a good choice.
  • Pressbooks is book production software, but you don’t have to create a print book. If you have used WordPress, the learning curve will be small. I found the different templates to be attractive, and was pleased with the ease of reorganizing my book’s content and the ability to select page-level copyright licenses. Also exciting is the Hypothesis plugin so students can highlight, add comments, and take notes while reading! While it is free to use the platform and distribute your text online, it does cost money to publish your book in epub and pdf formats without watermarks (from $19-$99). There is also an option to order printed copies.
  • Blurb is an inexpensive option for creating professional-looking books that can be easily shared as pdfs. Blurb also has many print options if you wish to professionally print copies of your textbook. The free online editing tool, Bookify, is user friendly and offers many different page templates. The cost to create an ebook is free, but to export it as a pdf, you will pay a one-time fee of $4.99 per book. Note that every time you update the book, you’ll need to pay $4.99 for a new pdf version.

P-Card Accounting On the Fly (or in Vietnam)

Institutional credit cards, or purchase cards (‘p-cards’ for short), are quickly becoming part of the routine work habits of some faculty and many staff in higher education. Although the adoption of the p-card has obvious benefits to an institution, it can also create more work for more people, resulting in a net uptick in time allocated to accounting-related matters.  In an effort to reduce some of this work, most of which is attendant to digital processes, I have advocated for the use of mobile scanning apps that convert images to PDF and then archive files in the cloud.  

CamScanner is still my go-to, timesaving app for these basic tasks. At the point of purchase, I capture and upload an image of my receipt to a folder that can be easily accessed when I later reconcile expenses online. This approach saves me considerable time at the departmental copy machine, sorting email attachments, etc., but also is solid insurance against losing that precious receipt.

Google Drive screenshotHere, I offer an addendum to this strategy that may be useful to colleagues whose p-card expenses must be reconciled with more than one pot of money and/or who work closely with someone else who does much of the actual reconciling. For example, the Director of the Office of Study Away first approves my p-card expenses relating to SATA Vietnam. Given the SATA travel schedule as well as the exigencies of working in a lean country, she is skeptical (for good reason) of my ability to meet accounting cycle deadlines.  As such, she is managing the online reconciliation process. My job? Send the receipts.

Uber receiptCapitalizing on CamScanner’s agility at uploading PDF images to the cloud, I now direct all of my receipts to a shared folder on Google Drive.  In this folder, I created a dozen or so subfolders, each of which is labeled to reflect a two-week accounting period at Connecticut College. Digitized receipts are directed to the appropriate folder and easily accessed at the convenience of the Office of Study Away.

Overall, this innovation in workflow has saved us much time, time otherwise spent with redundant digital processes, such as uploading, sending, downloading, and re-saving attachments via email. This is especially so in recent weeks when I adopted Uber as a cost-saving mode of transportation in Ha Noi. SATA-related Uber rides are charged to my p-card, and the digital receipts – perhaps as many as 8-10 a week – are directed to the shared Google Drive folder.

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.

The Printer Ate My Homework: Turning Assignments in Online

-No_excuses^_Watch_your_waste.-_-_NARA_-_515081.tifAre students claiming printer problems as an excuse for late assignments? Collecting papers and other written assignments online through Moodle can be an efficient and effective way of avoiding that problem. Not only do students avoid printing, and the associated financial and environmental costs, but collecting assignments online can provide benefits and efficiencies for the faculty member as well.

The Assignment Activity in Moodle works as an electronic dropbox for virtually any type of assignment. Students can submit Microsoft Word documents or PDF files for written assignments, but other file types can be collected also, including PowerPoint presentations, Video, or Audio files.

As a faculty member, you can download the assignments submitted by students and print them yourself to grade the old-fashioned way (if you must!), or read the papers online and provide grades and comments to students through Moodle. By collecting the papers through Moodle, you no longer have to physically carry them with you to grade, or worry about misplacing them. And you’ll have a record of who turned in assignments and when. You will also be able to collect and return assignments on whatever schedule you like, without regard to class meeting times.

For more detailed information, see our detailed instructions or contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

Image credit: “No excuses! Watch your waste.” Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945)

Going Paperless V: Paperless in Practice

Chantier_de_fouilles_à_Morigny-Champigny_en_juin_2012_60In our post introducing this series, we mentioned that there are many possible tools and workflows you can employ to achieve a paperless office. We asked Anthony Graesch, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Technology Fellow, to share his favorite tools and to describe how they fit into his own workflow. Here are his recommendations.

1. ReadCube is perhaps THE go-to app for finding, organizing, and citing published research available as PDFs.  Check out this quick demo.
2. Scrivener is my go-to app for brainstorming, organizing, and executing writing projects.  This app was developed by writers for writers (~$40) and allows me to drag and drop any file – image, PDF, Word doc, etc. – into one desk space: I never have to bounce between windows, and I can annotate and organize all of the various media in situ.  Importantly, it is a word processor.  Although it is not as powerful as Word, it does exactly what it needs to do and has greater flexibility for organizing components of a writing project, whether they be ideas, chapters, articles sections, or whatever.  As such, it meets my criteria for effective workflow: (1) it is not a cloud-based app (and thus is sophisticated software and not impacted by delays attributable to refreshing web pages, overly simplified tools, etc.); (2) it keeps my attention focused on one workspace- with all project-related media accessible in one app, there is no reason to bounce around my file directory, which is usually a major source of distraction.  Lastly, I keep my Scrivener writing projects on Dropbox [cloud based storage, similar to Google Drive] and can access from either my laptop or my desktops.  Excellent workflow.

3. A stand-alone PDF annotator is Skim [available only for Mac].  When you highlight text in Skim, it automatically copies that text into a note. Later, you can search your highlighted text! Or export it as notes. And you can add comments. This allows for maximally efficient note-taking and reviewing articles for seminar, writing projects, etc. I typically recommend Skim to my students.

Image Credit: By Lionel Allorge (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Going Paperless IV: Scanning

76209257_6fdb46d302_bIn this series we’ve covered tools to maintain your digital files, Moodle for online assignment submission, and PDF mark-up tools. Now we’re turning our attention to digitizing your old files. Each of the following tools can help.

  • Canon Multi-Function Devices (MFD) located around campus allow you to scan one item at a time, or multiple items using the feeder. Scans are saved as pdf documents and are sent to you via email. See this document for step-by-step instructions.
  • If you have an iPad, there are many scanning apps you can install that use the iPad’s built-in camera. Genius Scan, for example, allows you to scan documents, export them as JPEG or multi-page PDF files, then export files by email or save to Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and more. Other options include TurboScan or Scanner Pro.
  • If the apps mentioned above do not give you the quality scan that you need, you need a feeder to scan many documents at one time, and need to be mobile, there are portable scanners on the market worth exploring. Scanners that connect to your iPad include Evernote ScanSnap ($495) or the Doxie Go ($199). For more, look at Lifehacker’s five recommended “Best Documents Scanners for Going Paperless.”
  • Have large format material or books that you need scanned? The Linda Lear Center has a BookEye 4 scanner which features fast scans of large format material with high resolution. To use the scanner, schedule an appointment with Becky Parmer or Ben Panciera.

Image credit: A pile of paper

Going Paperless III: Mark up PDF documents

pdfannotate

PDF annotating tools are a great step forward in working paperless. Whether you are editing your own work, marking up a research article, or grading student papers, PDF annotators have a wide variety of mark-up tools.

To get started, you need to save and gain access to your PDF documents (see previous post). Simply open the document you wish to work on and begin highlighting text, adding call-outs (shapes like squares, cirlcles and arrows), editing text using strike-through and pen tools, and commenting in the margins. Here are few tools we like:

For mobile devices:

  • GoodReader ($4.99; iOS): Access and sync a variety of document types from Google Drive (and many more cloud storage options). You can use GoodReader to simply view files, but you also have extensive mark-up tools. After marking up a document, you can save it back to Google Drive, automatically sync the document to avoid multiple versions, or email the document with a summary of your changes and additions.
  • PDF Reader (Free; iOS): Not quite as robust as GoodReader, PDF Reader is straight forward and easy to use. Connect to Google Drive or other cloud storage to access documents. The free version only syncs documents to iCloud, not to Google Drive (although you can upload documents back to Google Drive).
  • iAnnotate ($9.99; iOS & Android): Another popular annotating tool, it has many of the same features as GoodReader. In our experience, the interface and syncing is easier than GoodReader, but comes with a bigger price tag.

For your laptop/desktop:

  • Preview on the Mac does have some PDF annotating tools, including highlighting and adding notes. Macworld has a good article on how to use these tools.
  • There is nothing native to the PC that includes PDF annotating tools, but you can find software to do this. A lifehacker article mentions PDF-Xchange Viewer and FoxitReader.

Are there other tools you use and would recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Image credit: Wesley Fryer. Document editing on an iPad using iAnnotate PDF. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/6281755151/

Going Paperless II: Student Assignments

4527144772_822cda1fc9_bOne way to go paperless in your courses is to have students submit papers electronically, rather than in hard copy. Moodle’s Assignment activity facilitates the collection of student papers by providing a space for students to upload their work, and for professors to return graded work to students. Not only are students saved the time and expense of printing, instructors never need to worry about misplaced student papers or grades, as they are all stored online in Moodle. The Assignment activity allows faculty to download student papers, either one-by-one or as a set, and then upload marked-up versions of the paper as feedback for the students. Faculty can mark up papers by using the ‘track changes’ feature in Word, or any of a number of PDF annotation tools (look out for our next post in this series on PDF annotation tools). Other feedback, in the form of comments and grades, can also be provided to students, and any grades are delivered directly to the Moodle gradebook.

Need some help getting started? Contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

Image credit: RLHyde, Flickr, CC:BY-SA