Digital Portfolios: Showcasing Both Process and Product

On the last day of class during the final exam period, students enrolled in my Costume Design and Construction course are allotted thirty minutes to get into costume, hair and makeup before formally presenting their looks to the class and posing for a photoshoot. Each student’s best photo is posted, with permission, in an album on the CC Theater Department’s Facebook page, which typically garners between 800 to 1300 views, making it one of the department’s most popular annual postings. These photos, however, only convey a fraction of each students’ journey through the design and construction process, and fail to adequately shed light on the weeks each student spends researching, designing, and constructing their fabulous, conceptually-driven looks.

Enter digital portfolio applications.

My goal this semester is to find an affordable and user-friendly digital portfolio application that will allow students to showcase their visual research, sketches, process shots, and final photos in a visually sleek way. After investigating several options, I plan on sharing my top three choices with students so they can weigh in on which portfolio application(s) they think will work best for them. To keep the class on track, it will be crucial for me to regularly set aside class time for students to photograph and upload images onto their DELI iPads, walk them through the portfolio curating process, and help them with general troubleshooting issues as needed. I’m looking forward to this challenge and am currently investigating the following applications:

Before the break, I revealed to my students that I wanted to add a portfolio component to the final project and they responded very favorably. Many even expressed an interest in including their previously completed costume renderings for Sarah Ruhl’s, Eurydice in their portfolios as well. I am very open to this idea, but will not include it as a requirement. Instead, I will heed the advice given to me by the leaders of the Technology Fellows program and take it slow, especially during the introductory phase of this experiment – wish me luck!

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.

Rubrics for efficiency and structure

*This post was written by Joyce Bennett and Rachel Black

Why use rubrics

We have been using rubrics for the new ConnCourse that we co-designed “Power and Inequality in a Globalized Word.” Joyce first taught the course in the fall of 2016, when she used rubrics for each of the writing assignments and the in-class presentations. She found the rubrics helpful in creating an even set of standards by which to evaluate each work, and it helped her tackle the daunting task of grading more than 50 assignments by streamlining the work, making my time grading more reasonable and focused. Additionally, using rubrics on Moodle allows the instructor to leave specific feedback next to each criteria, which we have found effective for getting students to understand how to improve their work. While it takes time to develop a rubric, the amount of time it saves during grading is well worth it.

How to use rubrics in Moodle

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to create a rubric on a Moodle assignment. Note that Moodle presumes students are submitting the assignment via Moodle. If you prefer paper copies of papers but want to provide digital feedback so that you and the student have access to the feedback, you can still create the rubric but simply ask students to hand in a hard copy of their paper.

  1. In your Moodle course site, but sure you have editing turned on. From there, add an assignment as you would any other assignment.  
  2. When creating the assignment, under “Grade,” look for “Grading Method.” In the drop-down menu, select “rubric.” Once you have arranged everything else you want for the assignment (if it is included in gradebook, feedback types, etc.), click “Save and display.”
  3. On the left hand side of the screen, scroll down to a toolbox called “Assignment administration.” From here, click on “Advanced grading.” A link called “Define Rubric” will appear just below it. Click on that link.
  4. On this page, you can either import a previous rubric by searching for the name of the previously used rubric, or you can create a new one by selecting “Define a new form.”
  5. If defining a new rubric, you will be able to “add criterion” and also “add levels.” Typically, we have found that having more levels of points available to students is better. We recommend having 5 levels for each criteria.

Once you have created your rubric, you can come back and edit it at any time. Be aware that students can see the rubric before they turn the assignment in, so you want to have given this some thought before students begin working on the assignment. Otherwise, you may want to hide the assignment until you are ready for students to consult the rubric.

A few pointers for creating and using rubrics

  • Suggest that students consult the rubric before handing in the assignment. This will help make expectations clear. In addition Rachel has suggested that student download the rubric and have a peer review their assignment using the criteria on the rubric.
  • Be sure that the rubric speaks to all elements of the assignment. The more you can break down your assessment, the more likely this will be helpful to students in understanding their strengths and weakness.
  • Be sure you have enough evaluations points. This is important because you can end up with very low or high grades if you do not add enough variation in points in each category. Keep the final tallies in mind when designing your rubric.
  • Remember that Moodle allows you to add additional comments at the end of the rubric. This is a good opportunity to further personalize feedback.

To each their own

As with any kind of grading, the use of rubrics is relatively personalized. Between the two of us, we each have preferences that work better for us. For example, Rachel likes to include rubric categories that focus on student development of specific skills related to writing and argumentation. She also likes to focus parts of the rubric on the integration of specific concepts related to course materials and discussion. Rachel finds that this helps students focus their work and develop skills that they will use beyond the one course. Joyce likes to take the assignment instructions and break them up into different components of the rubric. She prefers to leave rubrics a little bit flexible so that students can bring innovation and their own interests to the assignments, where appropriate. Joyce finds this approach helps students think about the components their work should include while also keeping them interested because they get to have their own input. It is important to consider your course and assignment objectives when creating your rubric. If you work your objectives into the rubric evaluation, you will be providing your students with a clear framework for what is expected of them.

Image credit: By Cleonard1973 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Building an Italian Virtual City

One of the main challenges that I face in my second semester of elementary Italian is to strike a balance between meeting the needs of the students who want to continue studying the language and the needs of those who are not interested in continuing any further. How do I keep the former motivated and challenged and the latter engaged? Can I use technology to  break up the tediousness of language learning with something that is fun and engaging, that ties all language skills together, and that teaches the students about Italian society and lifestyle?

In the past five years I have fully embraced the concept of blended learning and used a number of different digital tools to accomplish my pedagogical goals. However, every semester, I keep searching for new and fun ways to enrich my courses. This semester, I am experimenting with conversations with native speakers through TalkAbroad. Next spring semester  I want my students to build a virtual Italian city.  I was intrigued by prof. Kronenberg’s similar project at Rhodes College. I want my students to create, explore, and possibly interact in a virtual Italian city by completing a number of tasks that will include writing texts, recording audio and videos, creating cartoons and more, all embedded into an interactive website. For example, some students will be responsible for creating a virtual restaurant, in doing so, they will be responsible for a number of tasks where they can see their language in action. Here is just an example of what these tasks might involve:


Some of these tasks will use familiar technologies, whereas some others will be new to the students and to me, like for example using Powtoon to create animated videos and presentations, or Voki to create speaking characters. Ideas are still floating and open to new possibilities as I explore new tools and technologies. I look forward to sharing my progress in this blog.

Building a New Approach to Online Discussions

working-in-snow-620x826Earlier this semester, I experimented with a “virtual class” on a day when snow closed down the college. Had there been class, students would have discussed a reading in small groups. Typically during these sessions, students spend roughly 2/3 of the class period working through discussion questions. The final 1/3 is spent debriefing with the entire class, hearing from the groups directly and collectively filling in the blanks. On the snow day, I figured that students could use GChat and Google Docs to collaboratively answer these same discussion questions, allowing me to use this time productively and not have to push my course schedule back. Students connected with their groups over GChat and typed answers on a Google document that was shared with me.

Jumping ahead in time, I am currently putting together the first midterm in this course. As I debate the set of questions to put on the exam, I am reflecting on what was actually accomplished during this virtual class. It was a way to get something out of this brief period of time when I knew that students could get together, and it enabled me to keep the course on schedule. But what did the activity accomplish aside from these basic goals? Could I be confident that students understood the key components of the reading? Could I know who was driving the discussion, who contributed to the final answers, and who simply was passively along for the ride?

Upon reflection, I cannot answer any of these questions. While the activity was not a total waste, it did not successfully mimic the learning that would have occurred in a regular class; it did not allow me to assess the degree to which students understood and appreciated the reading. As a result, I do not feel comfortable including questions about this reading on the exam.

I know that I, with the help of technology, can do much better. I am seeking to substantially enhance my approach to online discussions, with the dual goals of “snow-day-proofing” my courses and creating modular discussion-based assignments that can take place in, or out of, class. In the initial stages, I am taking a content-free approach, thinking about general best practices, methods of instruction and tools of assessment that help me think through the various challenges and strategies for dealing with them. How can I assess relative contributions? How can I develop ground rules, and provide instructions to encourage full participation and successful collaboration? How can I use chat transcripts to help me answer these questions without being overly intrusive? What would a successful transcript look like, and how can I model successful collaboration for students at the start of a semester? What kind of rubric can I use to set expectations?

The sheer number of these important questions (all of which have to be answered if this approach is to reach its potential) tells me that this journey will not be an easy one. But the payoffs are potentially high enough to make an initial time commitment well worth it.

Image Credit: Susan Dickerson-Lange

Don’t Yuck Anyone’s Yum*: Using Google Drive and Moodle for Courses

venceslao_gennaio_castello_buonconsiglio_trento_c1400_detailIn 2017, many faculty use an online platform to provide their students with course content and engage with them in or outside of the classroom.  At Conn, we have two major ways to organize such work – Moodle and Google Drive.  As I started to use Google Drive to organize my work from job applications and budgets to collaborating on conference proposals with colleagues across the country, I was drawn to it as a potential course platform.  Its limits could serve my need for simplicity, and while there have been  updates to Google Docs or Forms, I was able to get my approach to using these tools locked down quickly.  For this post, I have been in conversation with colleagues to identify and share some key elements of Google Drive and Moodle, sharing what draws us to one option over another when considering 1) student communication, 2) organizing content, and 3) grading.

Student Communication
Online professor-student contact has become a regular part of class-related work, from updating students about an assignment or snowday plans to fielding questions about a reading.  Sending out messages efficiently is easily handled by Moodle’s quickmail function that sends a message to the entire class.  Working with Google requires more set-up initially, but provides further flexibility.  At the start of the semester, I set up a student e-mail list through Groups.  One cheat is to use the mail students function on Camelweb to grab the set of e-mails.  Once set up, I can have the ability to use Boomerang to send a message to students later or have a repeat message sent their way.  Other functions to explore on Moodle and Google Drive include chat functions, including chatting on a Google Document as students work through an assignment or collaborate on in-class research.

Organizing Content
With the advent of LMSs and websites, faculty now have the opportunity to organize course content in much more complex manner than a syllabus, texts or reader.  With Moodle’s sections, it is simple to create a readings section so students can easily find upcoming readings and download or print them easily.  With Google Drive, it is possible to move or copy a folder’s worth of readings for students to similarly access.  I appreciate the ability to link readings in my syllabus (a shared Google Doc) either to a reading in a Google Folder or to the library’s site to support the tracking of usage of our online journals.  tudents or I set up folders and documents for collaboration or individual work throughout the course.  

Grading
Moodle and Google offer distinctly different opportunities for grading-related work. Moodle’s Assignment activity includes the ability to create rubrics for grading and the gradebook has a wide array of grade calculation functions, it also has a marking guide that you can use to set categories and provide comments. I prefer using a paper rubric that I either upload from my desktop or edit online for paper assessment.  For exams, I create a spreadsheet rubric that I similarly edit and upload to my students’ folders.  These methods are more or less the same ones that I have used for ten years, allowing me to document and back up my grading process in case there are any points of contention.  Moreover, if I find that I am spending too much time staring at my computer screen, I can print out rubrics and/or papers and grade by hand easily.  For the semester’s-worth of grading, I keep a spreadsheet with an attendance page and a total grade page that simply calculates the percentages I have given to different assignments. The limitation of this approach is that students are not able to keep tabs on what grades and attendance have been recorded for them over the course of the semester through the platform. The Moodle gradebook and Attendance modules offer functionality for those faculty who prefer for their grade records to be more transparent to students, including attendance, rather than asking students to track and calculate the value of their own assignments. Through Google, a professor could also use a shared grading spreadsheet with students that is updated throughout the semester if they wanted to provide similar transparency.

Overall, both platforms have something to offer faculty seeking to streamline their online engagement with students. A final factor that has drawn me to Google Drive is that it has value for students embarking on internships or post-graduation jobs, as they will have at least navigated for a semester this platform and learned how to use some of its key components. Meanwhile, as Moodle is our College-wide Learning Management System (LMS), utilizing this platform ensures that students have more ease accessing all materials from the first day of classes.  

*I think it’s a beautiful edict, on par at least with the Golden Rule, and it simply means that no one in that safe space should attack or tear down what brings joy to someone else and which also doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Thank you for input from Diane Creede, Jessica McCullough, Anthony Graesch, and Lyndsay Bratton!

Tools in a Flash Next Week

7044719053_b7dcb4bb0eWe have two Tools in a Flash workshops scheduled next week. Tools in a Flash are short, hands-on workshops with the goal of building confidence and skill in one specific technology tool. All Tools in a Flash workshops are held in the Advanced Technology Lab, located on the lower level of Shain Library. Register or just stop by as your schedule allows.

Moodle Gradebook
Monday, March 6, 9:30-10:00 AM 

Get your Moodle gradebook in order! The Moodle gradebook is a great way to keep students informed about their progress in class, but it is important that it’s set up correctly so that there are no surprises at the end of the semester. This session will go over common gradebook setup scenarios and help you get your own gradebook ready to use for the semester.
Register

Scalar
Thursday, March 9, 9:30-10:00 AM

Looking for an alternative to WordPress for your digital projects? Come learn about Scalar, a free online platform built by the University of Southern California. Great for incorporating multimedia formats into your text, Scalar is easy to use and looks beautiful.
Register

Image: “Infinite Flash” flickr photo by JD Hancock https://flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/7044719053 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Register for February Workshops!

Join us for the following workshops! If you plan on attending, you can register by clicking on the workshop titles and filling out the form. Registration is not required, but it is helpful in knowing how much food and drink to order.

We ❤️ Google
February 14, 2017 at 9:00 am – 10:00 am
Neff Lab, Shain Library
Get the most out of G Suite (previously Google Apps for Education). In this session we will explore some of the lesser known but valuable tools in our suite of Google applications. Topics include citation tools in Docs, Forms, and Google Groups. Breakfast, coffee and Valentine’s Day treats will be provided! 

Tools in a Flash: RefWorks
Thursday, February 16, 9:00-9:30 AM
Advanced Technology Lab, Shain Library
RefWorks is a web-based bibliography and database manager that allows you to create a personal, searchable database of citations.  There is a new version of Refworks which adds increased functionality such as drag-and-drop uploading of pdfs, an enhanced PDF reader, and simultaneous group document editing.  Additionally, there is now a Google Docs add-in to complement the Word add-in for creating in-text citations, footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies.

Research Practices and Media Literacy in a ‘Post-Truth’ World
Tuesday, February 21, 9-10:15 a.m.
Haines Room, Shain Library
The national discussion surrounding “fake news” has thrust media literacy into the spotlight. At this workshop, we’ll consider the relevance of media literacy to student learning and research. Librarians will lead a discussion on how you can help students evaluate resources, provide information on media-related tools and resources, and present some results from the Research Practices Survey we undertook with incoming first-year students. We’ll also suggest and brainstorm assignments that are designed to help students evaluate and use the media sources. Breakfast will be provided.

Tools in a Flash: Omeka and Digital Collections
Tuesday, February 28, 9:30-10:00 AM
Advanced Technology Lab, Shain Library
Do you have scholarly digital collections but no way of managing or displaying them? Interested in having your students create and publish digital archives and collections, or to develop digital exhibitions for the public? Stop by and learn about Omeka, a free, easy-to-use, web-based platform for creating and managing digital collections and exhibitions. Omeka is as easy to set up as a blog, and provides a flexible, powerful suite of features to help foster user interaction and participation with your content.

Bringing Experts into Class to Increase Student Engagement

How do we increase student engagement in a topic that is new to them? How do we promote collaboration between a class and an  invited guest/speaker?

Lecture hall with projected imageThese were the questions that I faced last term in preparing for the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble to be in residence at Connecticut College as part of the Ammerman Center’s Colloquia Series focused on the “Body and Technology.” The Quince Ensemble uses technology to enhance or accompany their voices in performance. Our students would learn about these ideas by learning a new piece prior to their visit, rehearsing with the Quince Ensemble in a short rehearsal, and then performing it in concert together.

Since we would only have one rehearsal together for about 2 hours before the concert, we needed to find a way to make a connection with the new music and Quince well before the residency. We decided to web conference our choir rehearsal with the Quince Artistic Director, Kayleigh, who lived in New York City. The goals of the session were to receive feedback about our work on the choral piece, facilitate a connection between our students and the Quince Ensemble, and learn more about the work itself from Kayleigh. The resulting experience was very positive! Our students felt more connected to the experimental work which involved non-traditional singing techniques. Since they became more excited for the residency and worked even harder to prepare for it in the weeks ahead.

Do you have a guest speaker that will be coming into your class to share about their work or perhaps evaluate a class project? Why not create interest and “buy-in” by having them meet your students via a web conference before the visit? This maximizes their time at CC and students will be more prepared for their visit. Below is my advice for creating a successful web conferencing session between your students and a guest speaker.

  1. Set up a time with your speaker taking into consideration time zones. Suggest that they have a headset, microphone (the one attached to the earbuds is OK) and hard-wire ethernet connection, if possible.
  2. Prepare your speaker by providing background information on the course and the students involved. Establish an outline/agenda for the conversation.
  3. Prepare your students ahead of time. What questions would be appropriate to ask? What is the background of the speaker? What are the goals of the session? Remind them that they will be on camera, too and to look engaged.
  4. Find a room with a hardwire ethernet connection with quiet surroundings that will not interrupt the conversation. Contact Mike Dreimiller mike.dreimiller@conncoll.edu, Instructional Digital Media Specialist in the Instructional Technology Department for assistance.
  5. Borrow a web-conferencing kit from Mike Dreimiller.
  6. BEFORE the session, download Skype or Zoom (if you want to record it.) Create a login and add your guest as a contact.
  7. Do a dry-run without students. Find a colleague with a remote connection or someone in Instructional Technology Department to help test your connection, camera, mic, and lighting.
  8. Have a backup plan. If all else fails, can you do a conference call over the phone?
  9. After the session, ask your students what they gained from the conversation and how it will help prepare them for their future project or meeting.
  10. Take a selfie or screenshot and share it on social media. Share with the greater community the lessons or connections gained from this experience!

Snow Day Plan – Do You Have One?

Snowscape at Connecticut College

As you prepare for the semester, this is a good time to review some of our “weatherproofing” suggestions. What do you do when classes are unexpectedly canceled? Share what has worked for you in the comments!

  • Several low-effort ways to reach students when you can’t come to campus were featured in Snow Day Resources: Don’t Let Snow Stop You! Ideas include recording short, 5-minute screencast videos using Jing or whiteboard apps such as Doceri, Screen Chomp, or Educreations, meeting virtually using Google Hangouts or Zoom, or utilizing the many collaborative features of Drive.
  • We discussed strategies for communicating with students – well ahead of the snow day and during – in our post, Weatherproofing Resources.
  • Have a little more time? Our follow-up post to a weatherproofing workshop included many recommendations, from recording full lectures to facilitating synchronous and asynchronous discussions.

See you on campus soon!