Snow day planning…

Due to demand, we are re-publishing this post from earlier in the year!


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.
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Can Virtual Discussions Inform Face-To-Face Discussions?

My Technology Fellows project involved developing a framework for digital discussions. My main goals were to make my classes “snowday-proof” and find a way to hold class if emergency or travel prevented me from getting to campus.

After a lackluster small-group discussion session in one of my courses, I am now thinking about whether it would be worthwhile to use my framework for digital discussions in class. Students were working hard during the class period, but the work was mostly independent — there was minimal discussion and collaboration. Any communication seemed aimed at comparing the answers that they already wrote and making adjustments if needed. My pleas to collaborate and discuss responses seemed to have minimal impact.

Regardless of any future success that I will have with my framework for digital discussions, the whole exercise has forced me to think carefully about what successful collaboration entails. The rubric that I developed establishes aspirational standards for (1) reading, (2) an open-ended initial discussion, (3) a discussion that precedes written collaborative responses and (4) the collaborative responses themselves. Why not broaden my approach and extend my aspirations to discussions in class?

As I think about methods for improving the quality of collaborative work in class, one option would be to present the rubric as a set of best practices that they should emulate as they have face-to-face discussions. A second option, if they have not yet had a digital discussion in the semester, would be to have them actually participate in a digital discussion in class, on their own laptops. In this case, they would be learning how to effectively collaborate by actually doing it — not just reading about it. Additionally, doing it in class would give me the opportunity to comment on successful (or unsuccessful) practices and take advantage of “teachable moments.” Together with the class, we could also troubleshoot in real time the challenges that emerge during typed chat-room discussions. Hopefully the lessons and values can then be internalized and carried forward into future face-to-face discussions.   

Two Opportunities from Instructional Technology

Did you miss our most recent Call for Proposals? In case you did, see both below! Contact Jessica McCullough with questions about either opportunity.

Instructional Technology Mini-Grants

The Digitally Enhanced Learning Initiative (DELI) MiniGrant program provides funding for faculty members to explore and experiment with digital technologies to enhance teaching and learning. Faculty members may request up to $300 (per academic year) to support the purchase of software or hardware that will be used in one or more courses.

Proposals will be accepted on a rolling basis year-round, and decisions on awards will be made once a month by the Instructional Technology team. Funds are limited. You are encouraged to consult with a member of the Instructional Technology team when crafting your proposal. View the full Call for Proposals.

Tempel Summer Institute 2018

The 19th Annual Tempel Summer Institute will be held June 4-8, 2018. Faculty participate in group discussions on pedagogical challenges and teaching and learning goals, and learn about instructional technologies that can be used to address those challenges and goals. Sessions are hands-on and ample time for course development is built into the Institute, enabling participants to make significant progress on redesigning courses and creating course materials with the assistance of faculty and staff.
Find more information and the call for proposals on the Tempel Summer Institute webpage.

WeSpeke Follow-Up

In my last post I talked about using a social media site for my upper level conversation class as a way to connect to native speakers. The main purpose of this experiment was to have access to native speakers for text/video-chat on some of the topics discussed in class. This exercise would give my students the opportunity to hear unfiltered opinions from native speakers beyond the class discussions and ask questions. Topics for the class are drawn from current news articles and are chosen so that they not only generate conversation but also inform on modern Italian society. So, hearing the perspective of Italians directly seems like an excellent exercise for the students both culturally as well as linguistically. For this purpose, I decided to try out WeSpeke, a social media site that connects speakers from all over the world to practice world languages. I chose WeSpeke because of its user-friendly interface and good online reviews.  

After setting up the account in class and restricting the community to Italian-English speakers, the students spent time on their own on the site in multiple occasions. Unfortunately, even with the Italian-English setting, many of the students reported being bombarded by people seeking to learn English and not Italian. These same students also experienced some type of predatory behavior at first. However, once the students figured out how to avoid irrelevant partners, most of them reported establishing at least a couple of connections with which they could engage in a fruitful conversation. Unfortunately the conversations were just limited to text-messaging and didn’t go much beyond first introductions and superficial exchanges. Some of the students responded positively to this exercises, and thought it was an interesting twist for the class.

From my point of view, however, and from what I have read from the students’ reports so far, I have become skeptical about the pedagogical value of this site, or similar ones, in a structured course. Although the site seems to promote “long lasting friendships”, the reality is that most people on sites like this are not reliable, not consistently active, or willing to commit or engage in a meaningful conversation. Even my students reported some sense of discomfort with these interactions and they themselves were not ready for video-chats or discuss more complex topics. Although I asked my students to write reports about their activities as a way of documenting their interactions, I have no way of properly monitoring the exchanges and evaluate their relevance to the topic.  Moreover, and most importantly, very few of the people that post their profiles on this site are college students, which made my students even more uncomfortable to move beyond a text chat.

In conclusion, although these types of sites might have some appeal for teachers and students because they seem to solve the native speaker problem, I would not recommend investing too much time and energy on them. A structured course needs a structured platform whereby both sides are fully engaged and invested, and equally accountable.

Workshop for students at the Walter Commons: Digital Portfolios

Are you teaching a thematic inquiry course, or are otherwise involved in a pathway? If so, encourage your students to attend this workshop being held at the Walter Commons on Thursday, February 22nd (tomorrow!). I will facilitate a discussion of the importance of reflection and integration in the pathways, particularly how that work relates to global-local engagement. We will use Digication as a personal space to record, curate, and archive their work and experiences as they progress through the pathway. See and share the details below.

Reflect, Integrate, Demonstrate: Portfolios to Support Global-Local Engagement in Pathways
Thursday, February 22 | 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Walter Commons, Global Learning Lab

Integrated Pathways ask you to intentionally select a course of study, regularly reflect on your curricular and co-curricular activities, global-local engagement, and integrate these learning experiences. Digital portfolios are an easy tool for you to practice these activities regularly, document your progress, archive important work, and make connections. In short, a portfolio can capture the magical moments, the defining moments, of your education. Come learn about how you can use Digication, a multimedia-friendly, easy-to-use, digital portfolio platform, to create a personal space that supports your work in the Pathways!

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.

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

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

The third of three posts exploring productivity apps, this post will explore IFTTT, a chain-based events service; Vault, a password keeper; and Forest, a sustainable take on the classic timer app.

IFTTT (IFTTT Inc, $Free)

What Is It? IF This Then That (IFTTT) is a free, web-based service designed to execute chains of events based on simple conditional statements (referred to as applets). For example, if you wanted a rundown of tomorrow’s weather,you could set up an applet that sends you a text message every night at 8pm.  Or, if you dread coming home to a dark room or house, you could pair IFTTT with a smartbulb app so that the bulbs would turn on automatically when the sun set. However, while the app itself is incredibly useful, especially if you are often forgetful or easily-distracted, you are limited in what you can do by what other services or products you already use.

How Is It Helpful? Aside from the many niche chains you could trigger with this app, some of the more useful ones involve: daily weather forecasts or inclement weather notifications, automatically recording daily activities (such as workout times or work hours) to a Google spreadsheet, receiving a notification when you a specific person/company emails you, sending a message to your roommates when you arrive at a particular supermarket/Target/Walmart, automatically saving attachments received by email to your Google Drive, syncing Google emails with receipts or orders or invoices to a Google spreadsheet, automatically curating a Discover Weekly archive with Spotify, or unmuting the ringer on your Android phone each morning. However, those are just the applets you could set up with some other common and free web services; if you have an Amazon home service, a smart thermostat, smartbulbs, or are interested in syncing or archiving different social media activities, there are many more applets available for use.

Valt (Valt Inc, $Free)

What Is It? Valt is a password-keeping app with a visual approach. Available as a desktop app, mobile app, and Chrome extension, Valt allows you to store all of your passwords behind a automatically generated “master password.” That password is represented by a series of images generated by the Valt app. When you first download Valt to use, you are given a brief training session which takes you through a series of photos used to represent your master password; this way, you use your visual memory to access your account and your passwords and because Valt works across platforms, remembering the series of images allows you to access your passwords to accounts anytime. Additionally, when in the process of making a new online account, Valt provides you with suggested passwords that are automatically generated strings of characters and symbols, designed to be random and secure.

How Is It Helpful? Password-keeping apps can be tricky– there is always the worry that the app may not be as secure as it claims or that you may forget the password to the app that is meant to help eliminate such problems. As far as security concerns, Valt claims to not store your master password on any server, thereby reducing the risk of your Valt account being hacked and your information being stolen. Additionally, relying on visual memory is intended to be easier for users to remember, and more difficult for others to simply guess. Valt claims that it is unlikely you will forget your images if you are accessing your account regularly (about every other week or so) and these claims are even backed by academic research that has found you can easily recall “hundreds of images, even without seeing them for a month.”

Forest (Seekrtech, $Free)

What Is It? Forest is a sustainable solution to your productivity problems. Available as a mobile app and Chrome extension, Forest allows users to earn credits and plant trees around the world. When using the mobile app, a tree will grow so long as you do not exit the app. Forest uses a manageable 30 minute timer to start with, and as you earn more credits, you can also unlock different tree species and time intervals to choose from. As a Chrome extension, the app prompts you to add distracting websites to your Forest Blacklist. Once you start your timer, a tree will grow as long as you refrain from surfing the sites listed on your Blacklist. Forest partners with Trees for the Future (TREES), an agroforestry NGO with (currently) 14 projects underway in 5 Sub-Saharan African countries: Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and Tanzania. As you grow more of your own virtual trees, you earn coins you can use to help farmers plant real trees chosen to thrive in their given environment. TREES partners with local farmers to help revitalize degraded lands. Each farmer is trained directly by TREES staff and technicians in necessary agroforestry techniques and technicians make yearly visits for the four-year Forest Garden program. While TREES provides the seeds, nursery materials, and training, the farmers in the Forest Garden program do retain full ownership of the trees they grow.

If you would like to read more about Trees for the Future and the work they do, you can do so over at their website: http://trees.org/

How Is It Helpful? While there are many productivity/timer apps out there, Forest not only helps you to be more productive, but also more present in your daily life. The app can be used for studying or homework, but it can also be used if you are trying to check your phone less often while out with your friends, to not use your phone during a movie or while reading, to not browse social media sites while at work, or even setting a longer timer to allow a tree to grow while you sleep. Overall, if you are looking for a way to stay focused while working, you can do so with Forest while also making a meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

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.