How is your class going? Tools for mid-semester feedback

Join Diane Creede and me on Thursday for a new workshop, Tools for Mid-Semester Feedback.  In this hour-long workshop, we will discuss the purpose and goals for collecting mid-semester feedback, demonstrate and teach several tools you can use, and help participants select the right tool too meet their goals. Details are below. We look forward to seeing you!

Tools for Mid-Semester Feedback – Register (or just drop-in!)
Thursday, February 22, 3:00 – 4:00 PM| Advanced Technology Lab
How is the semester going so far? Join us as we discuss technology tools including Moodle Questionnaire and Google Forms, that can provide information on students’ progress in your course and give you valuable insight to guide your teaching through the rest of the semester. This workshop will include hands-on practice and discussion.

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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.

Student View: Apps for Accessibility and Productivity (1 of 3)

This post is written by Kristen Szuman, Instructional Technology Student Assistant

The first of three posts exploring productivity and accessibility apps, this series will focus on apps that have practical application in anyone’s life, but are especially helpful for students with difficulties focusing and learning. This first post focuses on Tide, a Pomodoro timer app, and the graphic on the right presents some of the apps that will be discussed.

Technology is frequently referred to as “the great equalizer,” able to remove the barriers of distance or physical and sensory abilities. For many people, the way technology has evolved in the last few decades has provided them a way to dramatically improve their quality of life, opening doors to opportunities and experiences that were previously inaccessible. However, in practice, discussions of the ability of technology to improve accessibility remain fairly limited. This series of blog posts will present apps for iOS and OSX that can aid in productivity for everyone, especially those with learning difficulties and/or focus issues.

Tide (Moreless, Inc., $Free)

What Is It? Tide is a Pomodoro timer app. For those unfamiliar with this method, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the 1980s (described by Professor Anderson in this post). The method itself can be modified to fit individual needs, but traditionally you break down your work time into 25 minute intervals, with short timed breaks (often 5 minutes) in-between. The more consecutive working intervals completed, the longer your breaks become. Tide not only works as a timer, but also allows you to pick from various color schemes, white noise options, integrating your own music, or using the ‘Music Fusion’ feature which allows you to play white noise and music simultaneously. Additionally, the app boasts an “Immersive Mode,” which, when activated, makes it so that exiting the app results in ‘Focus Failure’ (failure to complete a full working interval) and disables the ability to pause during a Focus period.

How Is It Helpful? While timer apps may seem a bit redundant given the built-in timer most devices have, Tide does provide a much easier way to manage your time. Essentially, the convenience lies in the ability to set the timer on a loop and get on with your work without the worry of timing the intervals yourself. With the Pomodoro Technique being a fairly common system of time-management, there are many apps that provide a similar service. Tide sets itself apart not only due to the convenient built-in features like Music Fusion, but also because of its well-crafted, minimalistic design. For a free app, the app itself is free from clutter or intrusive advertisements. Additionally, once you download the app, you have access to its full range of features with no specific features you need to pay to unlock.

Weatherproofing Workshop Recap

*This post was scheduled for later in the day, but we are publishing it now due to the weather!


Did you miss the weatherproofing workshop last week? We focused on three types of activities you can do with your students if you are unable to attend class. Here are just a few ideas we shared. If you want more information or need step-by-step instructions about anything mentioned, contact Diane Creede or Jessica McCullough!

  1. Record mini-lectures or a full lecture. This can be so easy and done on the fly! Record audio directly on PowerPoint slides, or make mini-lectures and share with students. Students can listen/watch from any location, and you can include some of the more participatory ideas below to hold discussion and check for understanding. Technologies we demonstrated are PowerPoint (Insert Audio feature), QuickTime audio/screen capture, Jing, and whiteboard apps such as Educreations.
  2. Hold discussion, collect responses, and continue group work.  Students can participate in discussion and participate in group projects just as they would during class. Use a Moodle Forum to elicit responses to readings or your recorded mini-lectures, or to hold (asynchronous) discussion. Google Docs can be used for group work – ask students to add you as an editor and check in, answer questions, and provide feedback as they progress.
  3. Meet virtually. Have an exam coming up and want to be available to answer questions or hold a review? Hold virtual office hours using a tool such as Zoom. A free license allows for a 40-minute virtual meeting. We have a limited number of Pro licenses that we can distribute for longer meetings. Other options are Google Hangouts or Skype.

Weatherproofing Your Class

We are excited to offer our Weatherproofing Your Class workshop again for those who have missed it or need a refresher. Join us on Wednesday at 1:30 in the Advanced Technology Lab and learn how to employ technology creatively so you don’t have to cancel class. We will discuss tools and strategies for modifying your class in response to last minute events. You will leave with hands-on experience using communication and collaboration technologies, such as Moodle discussion boards, Google hangouts and Zoom, screencasting and recording tools, that will help you achieve your learning goals despite the snow. Hot chocolate will be served!

Registration is recommended but not required. Register by filling out this form, or email Jessica McCullough. Drop-ins are always welcome if your schedule frees up!

In Search of Video Content?

Are you looking for that perfect film that will inspire discussion? One that will serve as introduction or closure to a topic, or perfectly demonstrate a concept? Searching Google and YouTube may not be the most effective way to find great educational films. Here are some free, online video resources that you may not know about. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention Kanopy, a resource with thousands of full length films, funded by the library, available to Connecticut College students, staff and faculty. 

Warning: Exploring these resources may take you down long and winding rabbit holes!

Searching for native speakers for video-chats with students: Free and risky or costly and safe?

Previous posts in this blog have reported on the use of videoconferencing in foreign language classes in order to provide students with authentic experiences that can bring a completely new dimension to the language learning process. See my previous post  and Luis Gonzalez’s post for details.

When video-conferencing is used with the main purpose of providing out-of-class opportunities for the students to practice the target language, one of the main issues and challenges we face is finding native speakers who will engage with our students in a meaningful way.

For my elementary class project in Spring 2017 I used Talkabroad. Although this platform comes with a cost, I highly recommend it with elementary level students. The platform itself is very user-friendly both for the instructor as well as for the students. The instructor can create a classroom where students register, and design one or more assignments for the students to complete within a set deadline. The instructor can track the assignments and review the students’ performance as it records the audio of the video-chat. The technology is quite reliable and good quality, out of 25 conversations only 2 were cut off after 15 minutes (each conversation lasts 30 minutes), which was more due to the partner’s connection than to the technology itself. The conversation partners are all native speakers residing in the foreign country and are trained to be kind, patient and to never use English when talking to the students. My experience with this platform has been very positive and has resulted in a successful final project last spring. One complaint I have, though, is that the pool of native speakers for Italian is a little small. There were only 5 partners to choose from and my students ended up interviewing mostly 3 of them based on their profiles. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend it for elementary level students because the sheltered experience guarantees success, necessary to boost their confidence at this stage of their language learning process and increase motivation toward the language.  

For intermediate students I think this type of hand-holding is no longer necessary. These more mature language learners can safely venture into one of the free online language exchange communities that connect people all over the world to practice language with native speakers.  Years ago, I tried to direct my students to using The Mixxer, a free site hosted by Dickinson College, but the technology at the time was not well developed and the community of Italian speakers was extremely small and unreliable.

Next Spring, I am planning on incorporating video-conferencing with native speakers in my upper level conversation class again as I find it an invaluable tool, and I am optimistic that this time around things will work better.  I did a quick Google search to see what other language communities are available, besides The Mixxer, and I found quite a few. Of the many that came up, WeSpeke seemed the most promising of all. I decided therefore to test its reliability and the community that uses it.

First step to access a language community in WeSpeke is to create a profile and specify your native language and the language that you want to practice. You can also write a little bio for other people to read. Based on your preference it will match you with a community of speakers that have similar preferences. You can always reset your filters so that it will narrow down the community even further. Once in a community you can then directly message people that you want to establish a friendship with. I must admit that this is an extremely active community, as soon as I signed up people started messaging me and had 4 friendship requests in the matter of a few minutes. I had to switch my profile to offline because I couldn’t keep up with the messages. I, however, didn’t go past a few introductory greetings with other people as my focus was to just test the platform for future use.

The messaging system is not perfect. Some chats are saved but they do not show up in the chat window for some reason. There is also the possibility of doing audio and video chats once you have established friendship with your language partner. The bar at the bottom of the screen has a number of interesting features. There is a quick dictionary feature, and you can also send an image or URL. The community seems quite active but, I was told by one of my new acquaintances, it is also a little volatile. Establishing a contact is extremely easy as the community is very large, but maintaining the contact and laying down the grounds for a video-chat is a little harder, according to some.

With this in mind, I have, nevertheless decided, to give WeSpeke a try for my intermediate conversation class for next semester and see how it will work in the context of the assignment that I will design over the winter break. 

Virtual Discussion: Take 1

In my last post, I described how, from a hotel room across the world, I was getting ready to launch my “virtual discussion” in class the next day. Students had to complete an assigned reading before class and then spend class time in a Google Hangout (1) addressing a set of initial prompts in an open-ended discussion and (2) collaborating on a set of written responses in a Google Doc.  

Overall, it was fascinating to have such a clear-eyed view of students’ responses to the reading. I enjoyed reading the Hangout transcripts more than I imagined. While performance varied across groups, I got deep insight into what makes for a successful chat: thoughtful initial responses that followed from a careful reading; inclusively bouncing ideas off of each other and responding to each other’s points; and staying on task and mindfully proceeding through the set of prompts. Groups who successfully did these things tended to also have more thorough and thoughtful answers to the collaborative questions. Groups who were less successful had some of the following issues:

  • Some groups, going against the instructions and the criteria listed on the rubric, adopted a divide-and-conquer approach to responding to the collaborative discussion questions. These same groups tended to abandon the discussion in Google Hangout when they shifted to writing responses to the discussion questions.
  • Some groups had uneven participation. One student failed to participate completely, while another group had one student deeply invested and two students unwilling to work hard during the class period or meet outside of class to finish the assignment.
  • Some groups mismanaged their time and failed to address important prompts in the initial open-ended discussion. A couple of groups were late getting started due to confusion about how to start the Hangout, and this set them back for the entire period.

Feedback from students indicated that the discussion allowed them to better understand the reading and appreciate its insight. Unfortunately, however, due to constraints set by my travel, I was unable to read and grade the work before soliciting feedback. So I was not able to provide an immediate, meaningful debriefing session.

Overall, I was encouraged by this initial experience. I see five immediate steps that I should take to make the discussions universally more productive in future sessions:

  1. I should devote some class time to going over the instructions and the rubric.
  2. Since some students also indicated that there were unexpected challenges associated with communicating in a chat, I should develop a set of best practices for productive, inclusive and meaningful dialogue in Google Hangouts. At the top of this list will be advice to either write in short statements rather than long paragraphs, given the asynchronous nature of typing responses, or to let group members know when a long response is coming so that the discussion doesn’t pivot while someone is typing.
  3. While I was unable to be present during this class, in the future I will drop in on chats as they occur in real time to provide feedback, clear up misunderstandings, or highlight questions that may not have been adequately addressed.
  4. I should grade discussions immediately, and start the next class with a debrief to reinforce the main ideas and clear up common areas of misunderstanding.
  5. I should develop a more formal method of assessment.

I knew that learning-by-doing would be essential with this assignment, so I am pleased by the outcome of this initial attempt and hopeful that I can work out the kinks as I refine the assignment going forward.     

Teaching with Wikipedia, the Fall 2017 Edition

Image from the Eli Coppola Wikipedia article created in Fall 2016 ; Polaroid photo of Eli in 1992, captioned by Eli

This fall I am again working with Wikipedia in my Feminist Theory course (check out: Why You And Your Students Should Work To Improve Wikipedia, Feminist Praxis and Wikipedia in the Classroomand Adding Voices to Scholarship: Wikipedia Editing). It’s the second time that I’m mixing the Wiki Education Foundation’s online dashboard with our Linda Lear Center’s archives. This Wikipedia-based assignment continues to be a uniquely engaging for students because they are not only able to contribute to public knowledge, they become Wikipedia editors. They shift from being passive visitors to the Wikipedia site to editors with a working knowledge of the principles and culture of Wikipedia and an ability to add and edit Wikipedia pages.

In this blog post, I want to offer up a few key reasons to consider using Wikipedia in your class:

Ubiquity

As of As of Friday, November 10, English Wikipedia had 5,491,385 articles and is estimated to be the seventh most popular site in the United States, and the fifth most popular in the world. I have yet to teach a student who has not visited Wikipedia. While there is a longstanding skepticism of the reliability of Wikipedia, students are often unclear about how the encyclopedia works and yet often use it for information. Through a Wikipedia-engaged assignment, faculty can assist students in learning when Wikipedia could be useful and when it is not an appropriate source.

You can do it!

Thanks to the Wiki Education Foundation’s development of an online dashboard, there is an increasingly easy to use and nicely scaffolded way to plan out an assignment. My dashboard allows me to draw on the trainings provided by Wiki Education to help students learn the basics to Wikipedia as a community, as well as how to edit, conduct research, write an article, and provide substantive feedback to their peers. It also harnesses the transparency of Wikipedia to make it easy to track students work throughout a project. Plus, each class gets connected to a Wikipedia content expert who can provide additional support to students. I have asked my content editors to video chat with students the past two years and that has been helpful for establishing rapport. All in all, while I don’t ever feel like I’m an uber-Wikipedian, I know that I have the basic knowledge needed and when I hit a roadblock, I have the support I need.

Built-in Motivation

Students respond well to the challenge of a Wikipedia assignment because it engages with a public-facing platform. In this case, it’s a site that possibly everyone they know has visited at some point. As a result, they care more about doing high quality work because they have a sense of responsibility towards a public audience. They also look forward to sharing their work with friends and family. Finally, I already have had a student be asked to do Wikipedia work during a junior year internship, and she surprised her placement supervisor by already having this experience.

Student Feedback & Assessment

This fall in their reflection essays, students noted that this assignment allows them to engage with a mainstream audience.

As a student argued:

In 2017, in a climate of extreme political polarization and turmoil, as well as an increasing sense of distrust in news and credible sources, assignments such as the Wikipedia Project are exceptionally valuable, in terms of the content they produce, as well as the online communities they form and support.

Another observed:

Student created content creates a sense of accountability and agency within learning. Producing knowledge is empowering. It gives students a sense of greater purpose within the classroom, creating a conversation in which students can be critical of information and its production. Instead of simply reading about theories about voices being left out and that there is not enough content written by women, I was able to learn transferable skills and add to the voices on Wikipedia that are written about and by women.

Overall, while they noted some limitations of both Wikipedia (an important element to the assignment to develop their understanding of concepts like positivism, objectivity, situated knowledges, and standpoint epistemology) and working with materials from the archives, students reported that this was a particularly compelling assignment unlike a standard research paper.

In regards to assessment, Wiki Education provides suggestions and an assessment rubric that can be repurposed for your own needs.

Interested, but not sure about all this? Drop me a line and I will be happy to meet up to look through the dashboard with you.

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Getting It Together! Teaching with Digital Portfolios: Part 1

An excerpt from Misao McGregor’s ’18 journal

In this 2-part blog series, professors Ari Rotramel (GWS) and Sabrina Notarfrancisco (Theater) team up to share their experiences teaching with digital portfolios. Together, they hope to offer readers insights into the possibilities for portfolios in their work with students.

Digital Portfolios in the Design Classroom

In a blog post last March, I shared my goal of incorporating digital portfolios in my Costume Design and Construction course as a way for students to document and reflect on their process in conjunction with showcasing their completed work. I tested a variety of applications before discovering Morpholio Journal, an innovative app for the iPad and iPhone that allows students to combine sketches, thoughts, and images in a virtual Moleskine® Notebook.

I was instantly drawn to Morpholio Journal –  it has a clean and customizable format that is easy to use and my students quickly figured out how to draw, write, and create dynamic layouts with the aid of their DELI iPad loaners. They particularly liked the virtual page-turning feature, a small but splashy detail that made their portfolio-journals appear almost analog. Currently, the app only allows screenshots of individual page layouts to be shared digitally, an unfortunate drawback that diminishes the curated journal experience, but I enthusiastically recommended the app as an option to my class nonetheless. Several students took the plunge and thoughtfully chronicled their design process using Morpholio Journal while others opted to use traditional platforms such as Google Slides and Docs with similar success.

Before realizing how important a journaling feature was to meeting my pedagogical goals, I tested several “photo album” style portfolio applications including:

Foliobook – a highly customizable iPad portfolio app with a minimalist interface. This app looks great and it made my presentations look really polished. It didn’t take long to figure out how to import backgrounds, add labels, control the transitions between slides, add music, etc. I highly recommend Foliobook to both student and established artists wishing to create professional looking and shareable portfolios.

Minimal Folio – an inexpensive application that allows users to create galleries that can be viewed by not only swiping images from right to left but also by swiping up and down, similar to a tile board game. It is a minimalist and elegant platform without a lot of bells of whistles, but still solid and visually compelling.

Morpholio – developed by the Morpholio Journal team, this is another stylish portfolio app with a minimalist interface. It is shareable and allows collaborators to write and sketch suggestions directly onto images. I found this intriguing app to be less intuitive and there are a few features that I still can’t figure out, so if you go with this one be prepared for a learning curve.  

As a result of these explorations, I learned that digital portfolio apps are an effective way for students to document, showcase, and reflect on design projects and can be particularly beneficial to those wishing to impress graduate schools, potential employers, and clients with their visual artwork. However, for pedagogical applications, familiar (and free) platforms such as Google Slides and Google Docs can be equally effective. Nonetheless, I highly recommend exposing students to a variety of portfolio options, especially as they near graduation.