Viewing entries in
Web tools

Sending differentiated responses to students with a self-grading quiz

In a previous post, I wrote about creating a simple e-learning module with Google Forms. Then I discussed sending students an immediate response when they completed that module, which is very helpful for record-keeping and for worried students who believe their responses are floating somewhere in cyberspace. To continue this line of thinking, what happens if students are required to demonstrate a certain level of competency in order to get credit for the learning module? Is there a way to automatically grade student responses and give them different feedback depending on whether or not they pass? Well of course there is! Keep reading ...

Step One: Create your quiz in Google Forms

This works best with multiple choice items, but you could try to use fill-in-the-blank or constructed response items. Spreadsheets will look for identical matches, so the students' answers would have to match your answer exactly. I suggest multiple choice.

Step Two: Take the quiz and copy responses to adjacent columns

You will need to have a copy of the correct answers to use as an answer key, and the best way to do this is to take the quiz yourself. This is also a great way to catch typos, poorly constructed phrases, and other mistakes that might confuse students. Once you have taken the quiz, click Submit and copy and paste your correct answers into adjacent columns next to the responses, as illustrated below:

Answer Key 3

 

Step Three: Use the IF function to check student responses against answer key

You now use the correct answers in the adjacent columns to check all of the incoming responses when people complete your form. You will use the IF function:

=IF(F2=$AH$1,1,0)

If your quiz has a lot of questions like mine does, this can be a little tedious. Essentially, you are telling the spreadsheet to check cell F2 against AH1, and if they match give it a 1; otherwise, give it a 0. You will need to make sure you include the $ before the row and column address of the correct answer. This will keep the cell constant as new responses come in. If you don't do this, the spreadsheet will automatically add 1 and check the new response in F3 against AH2. Just like in life, $ can be the great stabilizer (except when it's not).

Step Four: Create a cut-off score and indicate if a quiz is passing or not

You will need to create a new worksheet called "Rank" and indicate the cut-off score for each quiz. In my case, it is 80%, so the array looks like this:

Rank array

After this, you use the VLOOKUP function to compare scores to the array. Any score between 0-80% will get a No, and every score 80% and above will get a Yes. Of course, you will need to use a few other functions to calculate the score. They are listed below:

  1. Use COUNTIF to count the correct scores: =countif(AH2:BI2, "1")
  2. Use SUM to convert the raw score to a percentage: =sum(BJ2)/28
  3. Use VLOOKUP to assign a rank based on the score: =vlookup(BK2,Rank!$A$1:$B$2,2,TRUE )

All the VLOOKUP function is doing is comparing the value in BK2 to the array in the Rank worksheet. The 2 means it uses the values in column two as the output, and TRUE means it finds the closest match rather than an exact match.

Step Five: Use CopyDown add-on to automatically score quiz

The CopyDown add-on will do a lot of the work for you at this point. You will simply direct CopyDown to apply the functions in row 2 of your spreadsheet that you want applied to subsequent submissions to your form, and it will perform the calculations automatically.

Step Five: Use FormMule to send differentiated feedback based on score

Now that you have a spreadsheet that automatically scores each new submission and tells you whether or not it met the cut-off, you can assign different e-mail messages for students who Pass or Did Not Pass. The first thing to do is tell FormMule you will have 2 templates:

Send Condition

You will then create templates for each send condition. For my quiz, I send students who pass a certificate, and students who do not pass get a message with the bad news. You can see the templates below (Warning: they contain HTML):

PASS

Pass template

DID NOT PASS

Fail Template

I would suggest you test this a few times to make sure it works correctly. I will warn you, this will make you giddy and you may start doing it just for fun. You may even start looking for excuses to make self-grading quizzes with different templates. Give it a try and be amazed at this little piece of Google magic.

What tricks, hacks, and strategies do you use to give students differentiated feedback? I would love to hear about it.

Create a self-grading weighted rubric with Google Forms

If you have been a college instructor for any length of time, you have most certainly gotten this question from students: "Why did you take points off for _____?" This question is based on their assumption that they start at 100 rather than zero, which is where I believe they start before an assignment has been graded. If they fail to turn in an assignment, they are given the current point value, which is zero. I do not, in fact, take away all of their points as a fiery demonstration of my absolute authority in the classroom. The disparity between the way I see this issue and how my students view it comes down to a difference in understanding about how rubrics work. My students tend to think I am doing math while I read their papers (1 point off for this, 2 points off for that ...), when what I am actually doing is just reading their papers and looking for the things I told them I was going to be looking for. These "things" we will call criteria, and each criterion is explained in the rubric. The criteria are, in reality, my standards for what I expect on each assignment. I understand that some students will meet the standard, and others will fall (either a little or a lot) short of it because they still learning. When they fall short, I give them feedback for what to work on so they can meet the standard. Say it slowly ... l  e  a  r  n  i  n  g. For example, when I write in the rubric that in order to get a 4, "All references to other sources are properly cited using APA (6th ed.) format", that is actually what I am expecting. I will not give a 4 for something that did not match the description for a 4. This is one of my standards for excellent (4-level) work. Their work may be close, but it' s not quite there, hence, the 3 instead of a 4. I didn't take off points as a punishment; they just didn't quite get there this time. 

This gets complicated when I have to take that feedback and turn it into a grade. My hope is that the feedback take precedent over the grade, but I have been in this profession long enough to know that students want a grade. Most of them want to know the market value of their work, and I want to be as thoughtful, accurate, and consistent as possible when giving them both the feedback and the grade. So, how does one go about this?

My solution was to create a self-grading rubric that does all of the math in background so I can focus on the feedback. My tool of choice? Google Forms and Sheets, of course. These two go together like Jenny and Forrest. Here is how it works:

Step one: Create a rubric using Forms

Keep in mind, this is for you, not the students. I provide the students a detailed analytic rubric for the assignment, then I turn that into something usable for myself. Below is an example:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.23.58 PM

You can also add fields to give the students pre-written feedback. I know some people disagree with this, but when you grade 30 of these bad boys and find yourself giving the same feedback on every (freaking) paper, something has to give. Below are some examples of canned feedback I give students. I included an "other" field so I can write in specific comments for students that may not apply to any other paper. And trust me, I use this field liberally.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.30.15 PM

Step two: Format the spreadsheet to automatically convert and calculate scores

Since I am converting the rubric feedback into a grade, I know that some criteria are more valuable than others. I would rather see students supporting their claims with high-quality evidence than putting the comma in the right place. Both are important, but not equally important.

In order to weight a score, you have to multiply it by the percentage that the criterion bears on the overall grade. For example, if Quality of Writing is worth 20% of the overall score, I would multiply this criterion by .2. Here is what it looks like in the example:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.38.09 PM

Basically, what the spreadsheet is doing is converting your score of 4 into a percentage of 5, which is the highest score possible. The spreadsheet then adds all of the converted scores and multiplies them by 20 (which is 100 divided by 5, the highest possible score). The resulting grade is below, I used colored squares in an attempt to show which cells correspond to each other.

Weighted Averages

 

I also checked the appropriate canned feedback and added in my own comments. You will notice below that using the checkboxes puts commas in between each comment. You can get rid of those by using the Find and Replace tool.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.45.50 PM

Step three: Use copyDown add-on to apply formulas to new entries

This is the magic ingredient that helps this rubric keep you very productive. You will need to find the copyDown add-on for Google Sheets and install it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 2.28.26 PM

Once you have all your formulas in Row 2 of your spreadsheet, copyDown will detect those formulas and apply them to every subsequent row that is submitted through your form. In other words, the values you enter will be automatically calculated without any effort on your part. This is what makes the rubric a self-grading rubric. Yes, it's that simple.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 2.31.08 PM

Step four: Send feedback to students

I use FormMule to send the feedback to the students, but you can do whatever you want. I guess this depends on how many students you have and how much time you have. You could copy and paste the feedback into Word and e-mail it to the students, or you could use the comments tool in your CMS. For me, FormMule is the way to go.

The main drawback to doing it this way is that I cannot put my feedback in the form of comments within the paper, which can be helpful. I will have to find a way to do this, but for now I am using this system.

What techniques do you use for calculating student grades on assignments and giving them the feedback quickly?

The Teaching Professor Technology Conference 2015

TPT 2015

This weekend I presented on gamification at the 2015 Teaching Professor Technology Conference in New Orleans. This is my second Magna conference, and it was fantastic. I met some wonderful people and learned some excellent strategies for using tech in my teaching. Below are my presentation materials.

I look forward to participating with this community of learners again in the future!

Here are some other resources I have written on using gamification in your classroom:

7 Steps to Gamification

This past year I decided to use some gamification strategies with one of my classes. I had been exposed to this idea through several articles and conference presentations, and I knew it was something that would help my teaching. After getting a handle on the course design and technical issues associated with gamification strategies, I started to see the benefits for me and my students.

Over the last couple of months, I have been thinking a lot about how to share my experience with gamification with others who might want to learn. After some thought, and a lot of trial and error, I have narrowed my approach to gamification down to 7 steps. These steps are not meant to be a formula because your goals and outcomes may be different than mine. These are just steps to consider as you plan your own gamification strategies.

Step 1: Decide what you want to motivate your students to do.

This may seem obvious, but it is important that you are not just using gamification strategies for their own sake. If you want to get buy-in from your students, you must know ahead of time what you want to accomplish. What is it you want to increase or enhance with gamification strategies?

In my case, I wanted to hold the students more accountable on their professional behavior. I started keeping track of class attendance, preparation before the class meetings, professional behavior in the schools they were visiting, and active participation in discussions. I had found over time that some students were able to do these things without any sort of external motivator, while others seemed to have no sense of professional behavior. Since these are all pretty simple things to keep track of, it seemed like an obvious target for gamification strategies.

Step 2: Figure out what motivates your students.

Next, you have to find out what motivates your students. Some people use experience points (XP) and levels, while others use badges and accomplishments. You have to know the students you are working with and find out what they are willing to work for.

In my case, what my students are willing to work for is a high grade. Other components of my class (exams, writing assignments, etc.) are pretty tough and leave some of the students discouraged. Others excel in these areas and want to stay at the top of the heap. This may seem obvious, but a high grade is quite motivating for students at a highly selective private university. Go figure. So, the students' performance on the professionalism "game" is converted to a grade, which is then calculated into the overall score. These students know that if they do everything they are supposed to, it translates into a high professionalism grade, which can boost their overall average. Before I used to keep track of everything, students just assumed they would get their full participation grade (which they usually did) because there was no way to really quantify it. Now that I can quantify it, students can see their progress and don't seem to argue with me about it.

Step 3: Determine your experience points (XP).

After you have spent some time thinking about (and observing) what motivates your students, you need to determine your XP. I gave my XP the following values:

  • Attendance: 100 pts. per week
  • Preparation before class: 100 pts. per week
  • Conduct and Appearance at schools: 200 pts. per week
  • Discussion after the school visit: 100 pts.

I know this seems pretty simple, but my goal is to keep it simple so I can stay on top of this game and give the students timely feedback. If I create something so complex that it takes hours each week to manage, there is more likelihood I will get behind and the game will lose its effectiveness.

Step 4: Design the rules of the game.

Now that you have your XP, you need to decide how you will keep track of the points and how the students can check their progress. Rules are really important because they give the game parameters. I tend to lean toward consistency and repetition, and it just so happens my students like the predictability of the game. They know exactly what I am keeping track of, and they know what happens if they do not complete one of the requirements. I can't give points for a class they didn't attend or an observation they missed, and they seem to accept this.

Step 5: Update often, give frequent feedback.

I decided to have my TA's enter the points every Monday while I was teaching. They really don't do anything in the lecture hall while I am teaching anyway, so it made sense to keep them busy with updating points. I know, not everyone has a TA, so you may want to keep your game simple until you can come up with a plan that works for you.

I rank the students using a leaderboard. I use Google Sheets, and I have written about how to do this before. My approach thus far has been to rank the students using the leaderboard, and to let their innate competitiveness compel them to do things that will help them move up. Some students are content knowing they are doing everything they need to do without doing the extra things to move up. Others want to be at the top and will work tirelessly to stay there. I am fine with either case, as long as they students are being responsible and, ultimately, professional.

I have been surprised how often the students check the leaderboard. Even though this ultimately only determines 10% of their overall grade, some of them take it REALLY seriously. When there are opportunities to get extra points, they really get after it. I would be willing to bet if I asked the class their current rank, they would know exactly where they are.

Step 6: Provide opportunities to move up, improve, and be challenged.

This was probably the most important lesson I learned from using gamification strategies in my class this semester. The first time I did this, I kept track of the 4 main areas mentioned previously, but there was really no way to move up or improve on early mistakes. The more I thought about it, I couldn't imagine a more demotivating situation. Imagine playing a sport where there was no way to make up for a mistake made in the first quarter. Or a race where you couldn't recover from a bad start. This is essentially how I had this component of my course set up. I calculated the entire semester together, which minimized the value of individual accomplishments. Yes, students could recover if they missed something early in the semester, but that also meant they could skip some things toward the end and it wouldn't really matter.

The first thing I did was made sure there were opportunities for students to move up the leaderboard. I did this in the form of classroom competitions, challenges, and bonus points. Some of the students liked the aspect of competition this added to the class. I also split the professionalism score into three rounds. So, a student could do poorly in the first round, but fix the problem and do better in the next two rounds. While this had little impact on the overall grade the student received, it did help more students get back on the right path. For example, when all of the XP were calculated into one, massive score, students who started off poorly rarely started doing better. I honestly think they believe they had blown it, so there was no reason to try to do better. Conversely, when I split Professionalism into 3 rounds, I was able to say, "OK, on Monday we are starting from scratch. No matter how you did in the first round, you can start over." I noticed that several students who did poorly in the first round actually corrected their mistakes and did well during the next two rounds. There is more value in the possibility of a fresh start than I had previously believed. Even though the students were still accountable for their early mistakes, they were more likely to get on the right track if they knew they would get a fresh start. By the way, I think this is true in life, not just in gamification.

Step 7: Use the data to make instructional decisions.

As a teacher, the most valuable lesson I have learned from collecting data on my students from the gamification strategies is to use that data to make instructional decisions. In some cases, it was clear from the weekly reading assignments that the class was not understanding the course material. When I am able to see from the student responses that many of them did not correctly comprehend the reading assignment, I can address that in class. I can also see patterns in student attendance (especially on Fridays) that I might not have otherwise noticed, which provides me with an opportunity to talk about this with the students. When students miss class or fail to complete a reading assignment, I can automatically send them a follow-up e-mail telling them I noticed they were gone (even if I didn't) and restate the attendance or assignment policy. When students have perfect attendance or complete all of their weekly readings for a round, I can send them a certificate of achievement. I learned from my days as an elementary school teacher that students respond much better when you catch them being good than when you remind them they just screwed up. Accountability is a good thing, but I think it should be balanced with positive news. Finally, I have learned how important it is to have detailed records for each student. Occasionally, students will contact me at the end of the term (or later) and want to know why they got this or that grade in my class. Having a detailed, quantitative report of their performance for the entire semester has come in handy in several instances.

What am I missing? What have you learned from using gamification strategies in your class?

Thoughts on Social Networking

This semester I created a project in which my students built and participated in a personal learning network (PLN). This is something I have done in the past several years, and I have learned a lot about particular digital tools, teaching strategies, and overall wisdom from other people in the same profession.

When something is rewarding, it's easy to assume others will immediately see the same value in an activity as I do. I mean, they signed up for my class, so they must have some interest in using digital tools to communicate and collaborate, right? Well, not exactly. The aspect of a PLN that I neglected to consider is that many of the connections I have made took years to become meaningful. That is, my personal cycle of reading/seeing ideas, trying them, reflecting, trying them again, more reflection, etc., has been a process that started a long time ago, even before I had what I would call a PLN. I became aware of two very important facts regarding a PLN:

  1. Most of the "treasures" I found from sources in my PLN were solutions, or even just tweaks, to instructional problems I had been slowly addressing over a long period of time. Many times, the stuff I discovered and found helpful was just a minor point in a blog post or forum that uniquely addressed one little thing I had been wrestling with. What I considered a major discovery amounted to little more than "what's the big deal" to other people.
  2. This was going to be a very difficult thing to sell within the course of one semester. 16 weeks. 15 class meetings. Less than 45 hours. I have easily spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours skimming, sometimes perusing, resources from people all over the world. It may be wishful thinking to expect that 45 hours spent doing something that is meant to take much longer will actually make a difference in a student's professional thinking.

Being the adventurous type, I forged ahead knowing the results may be less than convincing. My first step was to make some suggestions for the students about which sources they include in their PLN. Building the network is the hardest part, and I knew most of them did not know how to get started. Based on my own experience, I suggested the following sources, along with their possible affordances and drawbacks.

Facebook

A hodge-podge of life events, shared videos and articles, and pictures from people who I may or may not have known in person at some point. The things they post sometimes make me want to respond, then I'm like "I haven't seen that person in 20 years! And even then I hardly knew him." There are professional groups and pages on Facebook, but I find they get buried by all of the random things people share. The few professional pages I have "liked" do not seem to be updated very often, and I end up just being distracted by cat videos.

Twitter

Twitter is like candy. It seems fulfilling at first. I read quotes and re-tweets and people's random (very concise) thoughts, and it almost seems like I am learning something for a second. And then it's gone, but I still want more. So I keep scrolling. I have found some excellent resources that consistently link to good articles and posts, which has caused my attitude about Twitter to improve in the last couple of years. Some people who I follow tend to share too much, and there does not seem to be a good way to filter. The stuff I am looking for gets buried by the people who share too much.

LinkedIn

This social network tool has always been a mystery to me. I would say about three-fourths of my LinkedIn contacts are people I know, with the remaining quarter being people I have never seen in my life. Occasionally I will get a notification that one of my "contacts" recently joined LinkedIn, yet I have no idea who this person is. Other times, I get contact requests from people in my geographic area who are clearly just trying to, well, network. I usually add the person if there seems to be some common interest, whether it is our city or field of expertise. Then there is this strange thing called Skills and Endorsements. I understand the premise behind this feature (people are willing to vouch for my skill set), but I always chuckle when I get an e-mail telling that so-and-so has endorsed me for a skill in which so-and-so knows absolutely nothing about. You mean this guy I have never met just endorsed my skills in curriculum development? He must know something I don't!

In terms of using LinkedIn as part of your PLN, they do have many Groups you can join. Some of them are centered around an organization (alumni of a particular college or another professional organization), while others are based on interests (e.g., designing innovative higher ed. learning spaces). If you want to stay caught up with the discussions, you can opt to receive updates and digests via e-mail. If you want to participate, you have to go to the website. The groups have a discussion board/forum look and feel, which is not my preference. Of all the social networks in my PLN, this is the one I refer to the least.

Google+

My first thought was, Why do I need another place to waste my time. How in the world is this going to be different from Facebook? Well, Google+ has surprised me. I have found some very active and interesting communities, and I honestly say I find something of interest every time I scroll through my feed. I have also become pretty active in my sharing within these communities. I have made some good connections, gotten good feedback, and found the experience to be enriching. (Not all of my students felt this way about Google+, but I did not consider that when giving them a grade ... ha ha.)

Blogs

I still like to follow several blogs, but I have found that sound bytes from Twitter, Google+, and Facebook have squeezed them out a little. I used to follow blogs through Google Reader, which disappeared, and now I use Feedly. I do not really make time to check in that often, but I still log in about once a month. I end up marking whole sections "as read" because I know I will never read most of the stuff. I will skim the headlines and make sure I am not missing something really good.

Here is the list of my PLN that I share with students to get them started. I have also started to dabble with Reddit and Scoop.it, but I have not used them enough to speak to their suitability to this project.

    • G+:
      • Appademics
      • Open Source in Education
      • Google Docs and Drive
      • Best Educational Apps for Kids
      • Higher Education & Technology
      • Technology in Education
      • Technology & Innovation in Education
      • EdTech and Professional Development
      • Educational Apps for Kids
      • ISTE Teacher Education Network
      • Educational Technology
      • Gamification in Education
      • EdTech
      • Connected Learning
      • School Technology Leadership
      • Google Apps in Education
      • Google Hangouts in Education
    • Twitter:
      • Edutopia (@edutopia)
      • EDpuzzle (@EDpuzzle)
      • Socrative (@Socrative)
      • Wesley Fryer, PhD (@wfryer)
      • WeAreTeachers (@WeAreTeachers)
      • TechSmith (@TechSmith)
    • Blogs:
      • Alice Keeler
      • Tony Vincent
      • Two Guys and Some iPads
      • Moving at the Speed of Creativity
      • Daniel Willingham

So, what are your thoughts on different social networks when building a PLN?

Managing Learners: Tools for organizing your class

Of the many ways ITC has changed (and is changing) education, none seem more obvious than e-mail and learning management systems. It seems students these days expect ubiquitous, continuous access to course content and their teachers. How do I know this? Well, for one, I commonly get e-mails from students in the middle of the night. I am no longer surprised when I wake up in the morning to e-mails from students, most of them sent well past midnight. I do not think they expect an immediate response, but it reveals a student's mindset when you see he has sent a message in the middle of the night the instant he had a question about an assignment or grade. Second, my students are quick to let me know if they cannot access a course document or cannot see their grade. If the gradebook in my LMS were a section of the Oregon Trail, it would look like this.

The course syllabus? It probably looks more like this.

I am digressing. Anyway, teachers these days must anticipate the "right here, right now," mindset of many students and parents. Over time, report cards were augmented by weekly take-home folders, then daily homework planners, and now the LMS has crept into K-12 schools. Some schools have adopted an LMS that every teacher is expected to use. This was the case at the private school where I worked a few years back. Teachers at this school were expected to post grades, assignment details, worksheets, and other announcements each week. In other cases, a teacher may choose, independent of the rest of the school, to use an LMS in this way with students and parents.

This past week in my class, we explored various options available to teachers who want to use an LMS for managing learners and organizing content for their class. Before we looked at any platforms, we discussed the features one would expect to see in a LMS, and we listed them on a shared Google Doc, which the students filled out as they explored. Here are the results of our exploration.

Features Edmodo Chalkup Homeroom
Upload course materials
Upload materials in a variety of media (e.g., post a video for students to watch)
Discussion tool
Message tool
Announcement tool
Dashboard with upcoming assignments
Submit assignments
Submit using a variety of tools
Quiz tool It may be there, but we couldn't find it
Embed content from other sources Only from pre-selected sources
Features of this tool that may be particularly appealing. Links to Google Drive, Archives class data, calendar linked to assignments for multiple classes. Teacher can annotate papers, messaging feature, flashcards Interfaces with Apollo (the BYOD presentation tool). Quizzes can be tracked in realtime using a simple dashboard.

There are some obvious omissions on this list: Schoology and Google Classroom. This is mainly because we only had 2 hours and 40 minutes, so I had to make some choices about what to analyze. We already had someone demonstrating Edmodo, and I felt like Schoology was similar enough to skip past it. Some of the students actually mentioned it as we discussed Edmodo, and they were able to identify the similarities and differences themselves. I would have LOVED to show the class Google Classroom. I would love to see Classroom for myself, for crying out loud! Yes, most of their tools and features are available and free to everyone, but there are some that are not. This is especially true of GAFE, where if you are not in the club, you are WAY out of the club. So, this class exercise was not exhaustive, but I believe it gave the students an in-depth look at different ways to design an interface, features to include and leave out, and how easy different tools are to use.

What am I missing (and don't say Google Classroom!)? Are there features or whole platforms I didn't address?

Give students timely feedback with a leaderboard

Turning something into a game does not necessarily mean people will suddenly like it. Atari learned this the hard way with their E.T. video game. It turns out that betting the farm on a mediocre video game based on a blockbuster movie is bad business.

The same is true with gamification, a term being thrown around a lot these days in education circles. The general idea behind gamification is that game mechanics can be used in non-game environments in order to get some of the same outcomes typically associated with games, such as engagement, problem-solving, cooperation, and motivation. Many teachers are applying the principles of game mechanics to course design in order to motivate their students in ways traditional instruction does not.

If a teacher wants to be successful at implementing gamification mechanics in the classroom, there are a few principles that must be addressed. Foremost, the game must be well designed with clear goals, rules, and roles. Kind of like teaching. In my own experience, another aspect of a successful game (and teaching) is timely feedback. In order to make good decisions that help the player keep moving forward, they need to know where they stand. There are many popular activities that rely on the concept of leaderboards, which have the dual role of informing players where they stand and creating drama for both players and observers. Figure skating, gymnastics, X Games, freestyle skiing, golf, and diving are just a few of the sports that use leaderboards.

Leaderboards can be applied to educational settings as well, but there are very few tools available that teachers can use to create and use them efficiently. One such tool is Leaderboarded, but it is not free and seems be designed more for business than education. After looking around and not seeing many options for my own leaderboard, I decided to do what I do best: build one using Google tools. Below are the steps to help you get started on your own leaderboard. You can also view an example of my leaderboard spreadsheet, and feel free to copy it into your Google Drive if you want to see my formulas for each column and worksheet.

Step 1: Create your point structure

Before you can have a leaderboard, you have to decide where the points are going to come from. You have lots of options for students to earn experience points, quest points, or any other kind of value that can be added to the total. I kept it simple and based my point total on attendance and modules completed. Every time a student is on time to class, they get 100 points. They get 50 if they are late, and zero points for missing class. Even if the student is sick. I'm playing for keeps here, folks.

Step 2: Set up your spreadsheet

I have found that I am more likely to keep my leaderboard updated if I have very few values to keep up with. The more complicated the "game" becomes, the more there is to enter. Personally, once I start feeling overwhelmed I am likely to get behind on entering values. The more behind I get, the more irrelevant the leaderboard becomes. So, keep it simple.

As you can see from my example, I created a separate sheet for each set of points. One for attendance and one for modules. I used the SUM and COUNTIF functions to tally the values for each sheet. I chose to use the digit 1 instead of 100 or 50 because it is easier to enter. I can have the spreadsheet multiply by 100 on the Participation worksheet so I don't have to.

You will use the Participation sheet to add up all of your totals from attendance and modules. This worksheet is important to include because you will use a pivot table to create the actual leaderboard, and you must have all of your points on one sheet to do that.

Step 3: Create a pivot table

What is a pivot table, you might ask? Well, it is a data analysis tool built into most spreadsheets that lets you sort, add, average, or do other functions with the data in your spreadsheet. For this example, we are going to use the pivot table to display each student's total points and rank them from highest to lowest. Here is a screenshot of what this pivot table will look like when it is all set up.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.05.54 PM

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets_and_Pictures

Make sure every student in your leaderboard has a unique name, otherwise the pivot table will combine the totals for both students with the same name. I used numbers to keep the first initial separate. You will notice I have a battery icon for each student. I did this by creating a Rank worksheet and using the VLOOKUP function to apply the correct icon based on the student's total points. I did this more as an experiment. If you embed this spreadsheet using HTML, the images will not show up, so don't get your hopes up.

Step 4: Share the sheet with students

At this point, you have several options for how to share your leaderboard.

Option 1: The Whole Spreadsheet

The simplest option is to share the link with the class or embed using the iFrame code Google gives you. If you share the entire sheet with the class, which I DO NOT recommend, you will want to protect your functions and make sure it is only viewable to those with the URL. If you choose to embed the entire spreadsheet, go to File --> Publish to Web. This will share your entire spreadsheet, so you need to make sure there isn't any sensitive information that you don't want the whole class to see. If you use icons for levels like I have done, they will not show up when you embed.

Option 2: One Worksheet from the Spreadsheet

If you only want to embed the leaderboard, you can use a special URL to show only the page you want. It looks like this, and I will show you how to plug in the appropriate values.

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/[Spreadsheet ID]/htmlembed?gid=[worksheet ID]&amp;single=true" height="1000" width="100%"></iframe>

Here is where you find those values in RED:

Google_Drive_--_Page_Not_Found

 

This will embed only the sheet you want to share, but it will not show any images you have in the cells.

Option 3: Interactive graph from Spreadsheet

A final option for sharing the leaderboard is to create an interactive chart from the leaderboard and embed that wherever students will be looking for updated results. Here is how you do this:

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 2

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 3

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 4

 

Screen_Shot_2014-06-22_at_11_07_11_PM

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 5

 

And that is how you do it. This will take some tinkering, especially if you are not familiar with spreadsheet functions or pivot tables. I spent quite a bit of time messing around with this until I got it to work just how I wanted. I need to give credit where it's due for giving me this idea. I got the original idea from the EIPS Technology Blog, and I modified my leaderboard based on this design.

 

 

5 Ways to Find Out What Students are Thinking

Bored Students Student participation typically falls into two extreme ends of the class discussion continuum. Some students raise their hand every time I ask a question. These students have an opinion on just about everything, and if I'm not careful they will dominate class discussion. I have had experiences where the same 2-3 students will talk so much during discussions that the other students will stop raising their hands. As a teacher, this is definitely a scenario you want to avoid. The end of the spectrum is characterized by a roomful of students who are so disengaged they will barely make eye contact. Maybe they didn't do the class reading, or perhaps they think that avoiding discussion will shorten class time and end in an early dismissal. Perhaps the class is large and students are intimidated speaking in front of the group. Either way, it makes for a very awkward and aggravating situation.

The longer I have taught, the more strategies I have discovered for getting the entire class involved in discussion. Early in my career I would just pose questions to the entire class. I eventually learned simple strategies like using cards or popsicle sticks for calling on students who don't raise their hands. This helped me get more students involved. Still, getting called on was a game of chance and some students would tune out in hopes that their number wouldn't get called. I eventually started using some different pedagogical strategies such as Think, Pair, Share, Numbered Heads Together, Jigsaw, Jeopardy, or Fishbowl for engaging students in discussion prompts. Each of these techniques for facilitating discussion got everyone involved and had more accountability than sitting in class hoping not to get called on.

Even with great discussion strategies, there are times when I want to know what the students are thinking. This isn't always possible when the majority of the discussion is a verbal exchange. I have used chart paper or construction paper to have students summarize their thoughts, but this is not always easy to present and when it's all over I'm stuck with a bunch of chart paper.

With the emergence of free (or kind of cheap) web-based and mobile apps, teachers can find out what students are thinking in a variety of ways, and all without using up all the consumables. I will describe five tools I have used in my classes to put student thinking at the forefront of the discussion.

Socrative

This is a free app that has iOS, Android, and web-based options. Students enter in the class code then wait for a prompt from the teacher. Results are instantly aggregated on the screen, giving everyone real-time results from the prompt. There are several options for prompts teachers can send the class, including T/F, Multiple Choice, and Short Answer. Prompts can be generic (i.e., A, B, C ...) or prepared in advance with specific answer choices. Results from saved quizzes can be downloaded as a spreadsheet for further analysis or grading.

Socrative is a great tool for quick discussion questions where you A) want students to talk about a prompt and B) get fast statistics on what everyone is thinking. I have had students use the mobile app on their phones many times, and it almost always works like a champ. I just post the question, students grab their phones, and within minutes you have a bar graph populated with student responses. This can actually prompt further discussion.

ActivePrompt

Another way to find out what students are thinking is to have them place a dot on an image. When enough people do this on the same image you can start to see trends and hotspots. I have done this with continua (e.g., Place a dot on the continuum where you believe the responsibility lies for a positive classroom: Teachers or Students), maps, quadrants, or other diagrams.

When you upload an image to ActivePrompt, you are given two prompts: one for the students to place their dot, and one with all of the dots displayed. You can try this using the following URL:

http://activeprompt.herokuapp.com/SBGWN

You can see the results here:

http://activeprompt.herokuapp.com/TWBUN

I have used this tool in class several times, and it has always been reliable. Students will typically discuss a prompt in pairs, place their dot based on their discussion, then we will discuss patterns and themes as a class.

InfuseLearning

This tool has many of the same features as Socrative, but it has the extra benefit of the InfuseDraw tool. Teachers send students a prompt on which they can draw, annotate, or label an image. Results are saved in the teacher dashboard and can be downloaded as a PDF. Like Socrative, the students do not need an account to log in. They just enter the class code and they are ready for the teacher to send the prompt. The few times I have used this tool it has worked great. Since Apollo, my class-syncing tool of choice, has some of the same features I tend to use that tool instead. However, if you are looking for straight prompts without having students follow your presentation on their screens, InfuseLearning is the way to go.

Google Presentation

I have already written about how to use this tool before, so I won't spend a lot of time explaining how I have used this activity in class. You can do the same thing, or something similar, with Google Docs or Draw, but I like the features in Presentation and the fact that you can assign each group a different slide in the same file.

Google Forms

If you are wanting to get more extensive feedback from students, Forms is the way to go. Results from the forms are instantly sent to a spreadsheet. We all know that spreadsheets are like magic because of all you can do with them. With the emergence of Add-Ons, you can now do even more. Some examples of ways I have used Form data: display the automatically-generated pie graphs, randomly choose responses directly from the spreadsheet, cut and paste the responses into Wordle for an (almost) instant word cloud, or e-mail the students a badge once they complete a set of prompts or an activity (this is not done in real-time ... usually after class).

Since the types of items you can use in a Google form are so diverse, there are many opportunities to use this tool to facilitate discussion in class. Responses are anonymous by default unless  you include an item for names. This tool will require some preparation before class, but that is true of most that I have mentioned here. It's one thing to send out an impromptu poll using Socrative. It's something quite different to make my students sit and watch me create a Google Form. Overall, this is a great tool to keep in the box and use when it fits your instruction.

The importance of discussing and reflecting on learning experiences is pretty well documented. When we give students the opportunity to verbally process their thinking, we increase the chances that they will be able to retain and apply skills and knowledge after the fact. Discussion and reflection helps us give new information personal meaning. Good class discussion starts with good pedagogical practice, but with new tools there are even more opportunities to make it relevant, engaging, and active.

What tools or strategies do you use to facilitate class discussion and find out what students are thinking?

Ripple Effect

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 9.00.09 AM Last fall I taught a class on Digital Communication and Collaboration. We talked about, among other things, the power of creating a PLN (personal learning network). We read a book on this topic, shared a few articles, and had some interesting discussions. What we never really did was create or participate in a PLN in a meaningful or transformative way. This included me, who had always been a solitary and introspective kind of guy. I followed a few blogs and tweets, but I was not an active participant in any kind of PLN. This makes teaching the benefits of a PLN a really hard sell, to say the least. At the end of the semester, I was determined to change that.

I started this blog in 2009, and until this January had never had more than 20 views in one day. I would post sporadically and rarely shared anything I wrote. The blog, for all intents and purposes, was a sandbox for me to kick around ideas and journal some of my experiences as an instructor, faculty member, and techie. My total number of views (if those analytic statistics can be trusted) from 2009 to 2013 was roughly 1,800. My point is, I was not breaking any kind of internet records with my blogging skills. On a side note, let me just tell you that keeping a blog going is hard work. This is due to the fact that:

  • I'm one guy
  • It's not my job
  • TCU and my family keep me quite busy
  • I am not a fount of awesome ideas

Having shared this, you can see that the baseline was quite low and any movement of the needle would be easy to detect.

Coincidentally, around the beginning of the spring semester I shared some tech ideas with my college in a faculty meeting and decided to write them up in a series of blog posts. Based on my experience the previous semester in my class, I was already connected to several communities and groups on Google+ and Twitter. So, I thought why not share my posts in those communities and with a few folks via strategically placed tweets. What happened next really opened my eyes to the potential of connected learners and social media.

On the image above, you can see in green where I wrote something new on my blog. I blurred out the dates and stats because I guess I'm kind of self-conscious and it kind of feels like taking a screenshot of my bank account. Anyway, as soon as I was done with my blog post, I would send it out to a few different Google+ communities and on Twitter. The orange arrows represent the activity around that post from those communities. This consisted of sharing, retweeting, scooping, e-mailing, Facebooking, etc. my  content with others. Since I use Wordpress, I was able to see the source of my web traffic. The buzz would wane over a few days, then sure enough someone else would pick it up and share it again, causing my stats to spike again (though never as much as the first time).

An interesting observation from this is the 3rd green arrow. I posted this but decided not to share it with my usual peeps. It was more introspective and not really that interesting to most people. Someone who follows my blog, however, shared it on Google+ and Twitter a few days later, causing quite the spike in traffic for a couple of days.

This has been an interesting and serendipitous experience, to say the least. I am a self-described technology ninja, an emerging technology samurai, and not really a technology shogun (leader) at all. Jumping into the world of sharing, re-sharing, and joining the larger ed. tech. conversation has definitely let me see firsthand how powerful this can be in a person's personal and professional life.

And yes, I plan on sending this out for the masses to read, share, and re-share. If you want. No pressure.

Some Bullet Points and a Picture

As a teacher, I am always making instructional decisions. More often than not, these decision manifest themselves as questions. What do I want the students to know, understand, or be able to do at the end of my lesson? Who will do most of the talking, me or the students? Where does this lesson fit in the big picture of the class? Will I use technology? Will the students use technology? In addition to asking myself these questions, I am also continually looking for ways to teach better. That includes instructional strategies and technology. In some cases, the stars align and I discover strategies in which technology allows me to teach a lesson in a completely new way. For those SAMR enthusiasts out there, this would be R, or redefinition.

One such idea I recently came up with is an activity I call Some Bullet Points and a Picture (SBPAP). Yes, I have a dry sense of humor. This activity builds on the time-tested teaching strategy of having students work in groups and put their ideas down on chart paper. I love this activity, especially for class reading activities. I will assign an article, divide the class into groups, have them read a specific section of the article, then summarize and share their section with the rest of the class. This is a great way for the students to take ownership of the article and teach it to each other. It also gives them an advance organizer for when they go back and read it again for the exam.

SBPAP is the same idea as using chart paper, but the students summarize their group discussions on separate slides in a Google Presentation. I did some minimal setting up before class by creating the presentation, making it editable for anyone with the link, and creating a separate slide for each section of the article. The students then went to the Google Presentation, found their slide, and began summarizing their section of the article. The only two rules were 1) they had to paraphrase every main point in their own words, and 2) they had to find a picture that characterized their main points. The students used the research tool to find their images so they did not have to leave Google Presentation. Overall, the students loved the activity and we had a lot of fun seeing everyone's slides get edited at once.

There are some obvious advantages to doing this activity with a Google Presentation instead of chart paper:

  • The summaries are all in one place, so I can see which groups are making progress and who is not
  • Since the students are all working on the same presentation, I can project it and have each group present their ideas
  • The research tool allows the students to search for images, videos, quotes, charts, facts without leaving the presentation
  • After the activity is over, I can export the presentation as a PDF and post it to my LMS
  • The slides give me a record of what we covered in class, especially for students who missed and want to know if we "talked about anything important"
  • I don't have to figure out what to do with the chart paper after the activity is over

SBPAP was a great way to engage the students and have them actively learn the content. I will definitely do this again, and I may even think of some other ways to modify this activity and leverage more features of Google Presentation.

What are some innovative ways you have used Google Presentation in your classes to facilitate group work or engage the students?

Move over LiveSlide ... Hello Apollo

Apollo IconA few weeks ago, LiveSlide got a complete overhaul. So complete, in fact, that it was given a new name. I have written before about how much I enjoyed using LiveSlide, and I am happy to report that my overall satisfaction with this tool has not changed at all since I first started using it. I would like to go over a few of the new features that I really like about Apollo. First of all, Apollo is a classroom presentation/engagement tool. Imagine a classroom full of children with devices or computers, such as iPads or Chromebooks. Imagine instead of projecting your content on one big screen and requiring students to follow along, you could project your content onto every screen at the same time. This is exactly what Apollo does, but the newly updated version does so much more.

Slide Sharing

The main feature of Apollo is that it lets the teacher set up classes and share presentations with students on multiple platforms. Since this tool is completely brower-based, students can access the content from phones, tablets, and computers. Students can create an account in minutes, and for a small subscription they can access all of the decks from a class anytime they want. The free account allows students to follow along while the teacher is presenting, but they don't have access to the decks outside of class.

The teacher can set up the decks to advance all at the same time, or students can browse the slides at their own pace. There is also a tool for taking notes, though this would only be necessary if the student has the subscription. Several of my students have paid for the subscription, and they have liked being able to review their notes and the slides (with my annotations from class) when preparing for a test.

Annotations

The teacher screen features several different tools for annotating slides during a lesson. The tool I use most is the pen. I have surprised myself at how often I write things down on the slides, or draw arrows and circles for emphasis. I guess I have used PPT for so long, I forgot this is what teachers actually did when chalkboards were cutting edge technology! The eraser tool from LiveSlide is gone, which is a little annoying. I do like to be able to erase things when I make a mistake, so hopefully that feature will come back.

Control

The feature with the most promise is the ability to hand over control of the slides to a student. The student must be signed in to the class to do this. Once there are students signed in, I can pass off control and they will be able to annotate the slides for everyone or advance the slides. This has a lot of potential for group work and gathering formative assessment about their progress. In the past, I would have groups stand up and share what they talked about. Now, I can give them control and let them show their work instantly on the big screen.

Assessment

A new feature to Apollo is the ability to quiz students on the fly. The multiple choice tool has been there all along, but now you can turn a slide into an assessment by having students annotate or draw an image. Their drawing is instantly saved to the deck, and you can get quick feedback about their understanding of a concept. For example. you could create a slide with an image of a plant cell. While you are on that slide, you add a Drawing Quiz. When the students get to that slide, they will be prompted to draw on the image (e.g., label the parts of the cell) and submit their answers. The images then show up in a dashboard for you to look at. You can also add the student submissions to the presentation if you want to show it to the class.

Web Content

One of the hardest things about teaching in a BYOD environment (at least for me) is deploying links for everyone to view. In a computer lab, I can use SMART Sync or LANSchool to send content to all of the students, but this is much harder in a classroom where everyone is on their own computer. I have tried shortened URLs with bit.ly or goo.gl, but I still have to stop what I am doing and write the address on the board. With Apollo, I can add a URL to a slide, either in advance or on the fly, and it instantly creates a link in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Students can then click on that link and view the content I have pushed out with minimal disruption to instruction.

I can do the same thing with videos. By simply adding the video URL, Apollo identifies the video and embeds it into the deck. So, rather than put a class full of students asleep watching a video on a big screen, I can have small groups of students huddle around a small screen and discuss a video. I have already done things like, "Stop the video every time you see [blank] and discuss what you think the teacher will do next." It's much more active than just showing the video and trying to discuss it as a whole group.

Recording

One feature I have not used yet is the ability to record a presentation while I am presenting. In order to do this, you have to download the native app and present from a laptop. I haven't really had a reason to do this yet, but I will play around with it this summer when I have some time.

There are many things I like about Apollo. I like that their team is so responsive. One of their reps actually drove to my campus to watch me use it in action, and gave me some feedback for adding students to the class. I like being able to wirelessly control the slides from my iPad and walk around the room while the students have the same content on their screens. I love being able to add links, blanks slides and video on the fly for students to view. Even more than that, I really, really love being able to annotate the slides in real time. No lag, no awkward angular lines ... just my good ole' terrible handwriting for the students to behold in all its glory. Apollo really is a great tool for teaching in a BYOD class. You can learn more about Apollo at their YouTube channel.

I would encourage you to give Apollo a try. I am also interested in hearing about other strategies for keeping students engaged and active in a BYOD environment. Let me know of your ideas, I would love to hear them.

Outsmarting the LMS: Creating a DIY Learning Module

Everyone is talking about the "flipped classroom." I just attended a conference where this term was used approximately 57 times every hour for 4 days. My first response to this term was positive when I heard it a few years ago.  The flipped classroom is a teaching approach where teachers provide resources for students to build their background knowledge outside of class and use class time on activities that leverage face-to-face interaction, such as discussion, group problem-solving, and collaboration. This contrasts with the "traditional" model, where instructors spend class time transmitting information, and then require students to engage in the aforementioned higher-level learning tasks on their own outside of class. This concept has so much curb appeal because students, generally speaking, don't like lectures, and instructors don't really like the behaviors associated with lecturing (e.g., falling asleep, playing on phones, doing homework for other classes). Once you strip away the buzz words, the descriptions of "kids these days and their mobile computer thingies," and a mish-mash of learning theories, you realize the basic premise is the same model teachers have used for years. My teachers assigned reading outside of class, my coaches required me to lift weights and do endurance runs (yes, I'm a runner) on my own, and my music teachers expected me to practice my part so that group rehearsals were about dynamics, tempo, and other music terms I can't seem to recall. The difference, of course, is that technological innovations have changed the variety and delivery method of learning materials being pushed to students before they come to class. Teachers can compile videos, readings, simulations, quizzes, games, and other media to communicate the same concepts that were traditionally transmitted in class via lecture.

There are many tools on the web that help an instructor facilitate a flipped lesson. EdPuzzle, eduCanon, and Ted-Ed come to mind. Each of these tools has its unique affordances, but they require students to have an account and to sign in. What if you want to avoid that part and skip straight to the learning module? This is where Google Drive comes in. I will briefly demonstrate how to build a DIY learning module with Google tools and add-ons.

Step 1: Create a Google Form

Google Forms is an excellent tool for creating web-based surveys. Users can add a variety of questions, from simple text to a grid. There are also some simple media and layout tools, such as adding images and video, page breaks and section headers. These are all great tools if you want to manage the flow of the survey. Google has created some excellent tutorials on how to create and use their forms. Below is an example of one of my forms I created a for a learning module in my college. The videos were created by a state agency for the purposes of a required training that is no longer supported by said agency. In other words, they gave us the videos and want us to handle the training in-house.

Texas_Ethics_Online_Training_-_Google_Drive

Step 2: Set up the spreadsheet

The results from this form will automatically feed into a Google Spreadsheet. This is a great way to keep track of who has completed the training, but by itself a spreadsheet is not very useful for grading the quiz. Using a simple script for Google Sheets called Flubaroo, you can create a key and automatically grade the results. The scored quizzes are put in a new sheet within the spreadsheet, and it will also e-mail the results to each student, if you choose that option. I have the spreadsheet set up so I am notified every time there is a change. Here is a example of a graded quiz.

Texas_Ethics_Online_Training__Responses_

Step 3: Create a certificate of completion

In my case, the students and faculty who complete this training need a certificate. The state agency used to do this automatically through their training module, but now we have to do it. Since there are so many people completing this training, I needed a tool to automate most of the process. My tool of choice is the Google Docs add-on Merge by MailChimp. To do this, you first add the add-on to your Drive account. You then create a merge template, like the one below:

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive

Next, you open the Merge by MailChimp panel.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 9.36.06 AM

You will need to do some clicking to merge your two documents by:

  1. Choosing the spreadsheet you will use as your data source
  2. Choosing the sheet from within your spreadsheet
  3. Identifying the header row (which will determine the names of the merge tags)
  4. Identifying the column with e-mail addresses, where the merged documents will be sent

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive 2

You will also need to add merge fields to the document, which will pull data from the spreadsheet and input it into the template. You do this from the Merge Tags section in the MailChimp panel by simply placing the cursor in the document where you want the merge tag and clicking  the merge tag in the panel.

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive 3

The form that is mailed to each person in your spread sheet will look something like the screenshot below. Notice, the person's e-mail client may strip out some of the formatting, such as fonts or colors. The details at the bottom of the merged document were added from the Email Info tab in the MailChimp panel. Also, the merge fields in the actual e-mail will not have brackets.

_Test__Texas_Educator_Ethics_Training_Course_certificate_-_curbyalexander_gmail_com_-_Gmail

And there you have it. Yes, it is pretty involved, but not much more than doing the same thing through SoftChalk or iSpring or any other eLearning tool, and it is totally FREE! This method could be used to give students survey or test results with feedback, digital badges, or progress reports. I should add one final word, which is that there will be some tinkering along the way. Each tool I presented here has a learning curve, and unless you have used mail merge in MS Word before, this will take some patience and repetition. Coming from someone who has done this using just about every possible method and tool, this process is pretty slick once you get used to it.

So, what tools do you use for this type of learning object? Is there a step I am missing or an easier way to do this? Let me hear from you.

Outsmarting the LMS: Download Links for Google Docs

As I have stated before, embedding a Google Doc in your LMS is infinitely more efficient than yo-yoing documents up and down from the server every time you must edit the document. You paste the embed code one time, make a couple of minor modifications, and every edit from that point on is made directly to the Google Doc. It really is that simple. The main downside to this method is that students have a hard time printing the document. Remember printing? Paper? That strange material formed from mushed up trees that can tear, slice your finger and never seems to run out of battery? Yes, many students still like to use it, and unfortunately the method I described in my previous post does not lend itself to printing at all. In fact, it is quite frustrating for the students, not to mention wasteful. Basically, your browser will print the entire web page as it displays on the screen, not just the document.

So, how does an instructor address this? Well, you could always upload a PDF or Word version of the document to the LMS that students can download and print. But wait? Doesn't that put you back in the same dilemma of uploading a new version of the document every time you make a change to the Google Doc. That actually seems like DOUBLE the amount of work!

Wouldn't it be great if you could create a link for students that lets them download the most recent version of the document in a format that is easy to print? Thankfully it is possible, and I will show you how.

Step 1: Locate the Document ID

Each file hosted in Google Drive is given a unique (ungodly) ID, which can be found in the URL of the file. See the example below:

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-9

Step 2: Create a download link on the document

You will need to create a link on the document that students can click to download a print-friendly version. I put the link at the top of the document because students ... well, many of them aren't fond of scrolling. Here is an example of the download link. I tend to type the text first, then I add the URL next.

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-5

Step 3: Add download URL to the link

Now that you have a link for students to click, you need to add a URL that will prompt the browser to download the most recent version of the document. This URL will vary based on the type of Google file you are working with (e.g., spreadsheet, document, drawing, presentation). The code for each type of URL is below:

  • Google Document : https://docs.google.com/document/d/[FILE_ID]/export?format=[FORMAT]
    • FORMAT : docx, odt, rtf, pdf, txt, html
  • Google Presentation : https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/[FILE_ID]/export?format=[FORMAT] 
    • FORMAT : pptx, pdf, svg, png, jpg
  • Google Drawings : https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/[FILE_ID]/export?format=[FORMAT]
    • FORMAT : pdf, svg, png, jpg

You will modify the text in bold to fit your particular situation. For example, if I want students to download a PDF of my example document, the URL would be:

  • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Srfb6GX2SqTyMqioS81a-aK88EHUNIExGMap5BYxu6s/export?format=pdf

In case you are new to this, here is how you add the URL to the download link you created:

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-15

 

This may seem like a lot of steps, but it is pretty easy once you have done a couple of them. As always, you only have to do this once for every document, and the link the link and document ID will stay the same. Let me know if you have any other helpful tricks for embedding Google Docs in your LMS, and happy coding!

Outsmarting the LMS: Embedding Google Docs

I generally love all things Web-related: social media, digital media, coding, learning management systems. You name it. But there are two things I absolutely hate and will avoid whenever possible. Uploading and logging in. I hate them both. They use up valuable time. They're obnoxious. So, I'm left with two options. I can either bite the bullet and just put up with both of those feudal tasks, or I can find a way around it.

Obviously, I chose the second option.

I have been doing this for a few years now, and it really has saved me a lot of time and frustration. This is why I would like to pass on the golden nugget known as embedding Google Docs in your LMS.

Step One: Convert to Google Docs

Before you can embed a Google Doc in your course shell, you have to have a Google Doc to embed. Most of the docs I  use in my class (e.g., assignment descriptions, syllabi, tutorials and FAQs) originally existed as Word docs. Google makes it really easy to convert Word docs into Google Docs. You simply to go your Google Drive, click upload, and choose to convert the document (see below)

TCU_Shared_-_Google_Drive

TCU_Shared_-_Google_Drive

In the event you want to create a Google Doc from scratch, you can read this help document directly from Google. They've already done the work so I don't have to!

Step 2: Grab the Code

After you have created your Google Doc, you will need to grab the HTML code to add to eCollege. You can see this process in the images below:

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-5 Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-2 Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-5 2

Step 3: Paste and Modify the Code

Now that you have the code in your clipboard, you need to go to the page in your LMS where you want to embed the Google Doc. The following screenshots are taken in eCollege, but there is probably a similar feature in all LMS products.

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_-3

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_-3 2

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_

Notice the extra code I added to the original iFrame code in order to make sure the entire document displays in the LMS. If you do not add the width and height code, it will show up as a small box on the LMS page you created. The width should always be 100%, but the height may vary to ensure the whole document will fit in the frame without extra scrolling.  The end result looks like this below:

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander__and_Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-4

The beauty of this technique is that when I make a change to the Google Doc, it immediately shows up in eCollege! No uploading and replacing old documents each semester. When I copy my course shell each semester, the HTML is still there so I only have to modify the original Google Doc. I don't think I will ever go back! So, give this a try and see how it works for you. You can also watch an archive of this Google Hangout where I showed this technique to some colleagues. Good luck!

Studying with Google Hangouts on Air

A few months ago I wrote about using Ustream to broadcast an online study session with my large class. I used it twice, and it worked pretty well both times. The main hangup I had with this tool was that I had to download a separate program to display my screen to the students. I was able to figure it out pretty easily, but I prefer tools that do not require any downloads.

This semester when I was planning the different activities for the students, I thought about trying Google Hangouts on Air. I actually thought about using it last semester but there were a few issues that made me gun shy. First of all, there is a significant lag between when I show something and when the audience sees it. This isn't a huge deal, but I was worried it might be a distraction to the students. What I discovered is that this is not even noticeable to the students because they don't know when I start speaking. The other issue I had was that students had to have a Google account in order to post questions. Honestly, I did not want to manage everyone getting a Google account, so I opted for Ustream and TodaysMeet for students to post questions.

After some thought, I jumped in with Hangouts on Air, and I could not be happier about this decision. First of all, students who really want to ask a question will figure out the Google account thing. I did not have one complaint or issue arise over this detail, so it turned out to be nothing to be worried about. Here are some of the features that make Hangouts on Air perfect for an online study session:

  • Q&A: Students can post questions to the Q&A tool, and I select them as I answer each question. The beautiful thing about this tool is that once the session is over, the Q&A tool becomes like a set of bookmarks that will snap to the exact part of the recording that addresses each question. Students to have to be signed into Google to post a question, but as I said before this did not prohibit students from asking their questions.
  • Screen Sharing: Hangouts comes with a lot of built in tools, one of which is screen sharing. This invaluable when it comes to putting up slides from class or drawing diagrams. I mean, who wants to just listen to me talk and see my face for an hour? I would much rather hide behind my bullet points.
  • Browser based: Hangouts is also completely housed in the browser, so there is nothing to download (other than the plug-in which accesses your mic and camera).
  • Scheduled Events: You can actually set up the hangout in advance and invite people to view it. This is very helpful for people like me who tend to forget things because Google will send reminders that the event is coming up.
  • Session Recording: This feature only applies to Hangouts on Air, but once you go live it starts recording. This is also a great way to create screencasts with book marks to different steps in the process.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy this tool is to use, and how many features it has built in. I will definitely use it for future study sessions, and I may even find ways to do it better. In case you are interested. Here is a link to the recording from a few nights ago: Online Study Session.

Video Conference Tools: Choices, choices

Tonight in my graduate technology class, we spent most of the meeting testing and discussing a variety of video conferencing tools. I had a few criteria for choosing the tools we would demo:

  1. The tool had to have at least a free entry-level account
  2. The tool had to stream a video feed in real time
  3. The tool could not rely on installed software on both sides of the call (I strayed from this criterion with Skype)

So, my criteria were pretty simple, but considering the context of my learning environment, each of these was pretty important. I teach in a computer lab, and the computers do not allow installations. I did not have time to install software ahead of time, so I stuck close to applications that don't require a download and installation. The tools I chose were:

You can see the detailed results of our class meeting on Video Conferencing document.

Skype

The first tool we looked at was Skype. This video tool has been around for quite awhile, in tech years. I remember using it in 2006 to conference with people at different universities all over the country, and even then it worked pretty well. The main problem then was the hardware. Webcams were clunky and unpredictable. They required extra drivers and programs to work. But for a free tool, it was pretty amazing. Well, it hasn't changed much since then, and all changes have been for the better.

Because the lab computer did not have Skype or webcams and microphones, I had to demo this tool using to of my devices. So, I displayed my MacBook for the class using the projector, and I called myself using my wife's Skype account on my iPad. The students could see both ends of the call with the devices in the lab, and we were able to discuss most of the features of the tool. Even though this tool requires each user to install the program, it is quite easy to use and has several applications in schools. My favorite is Mystery Skype, which I have not had a chance to do yet. Skype allows for conference video call with up to 10 users.

Google Hangouts

The next tool we looked at was Google Hangouts. I had never actually used this tool before because, well, I don't really have a reason to. I had looked into using it with a different class I teach, but it was not a good match for what I was trying to do. So, I was excited to see how this would work with a class of 7 people. Each person had a Google account for other projects we have been working on, so I knew everyone would be able to join the session.

The process for joining the Hangout was a little more involved than I had thought it would be, but I pointed out to my class that it gets easier after they have done it a couple of times. One everyone was in, we were able to test the different features of this tool. We looked at screen sharing, chat, YouTube sharing, and I even tried on a few of the silly masks and hats. Since the students did not have webcams, we were not able to share control of the meeting, but I think they got the point. One constraint to this tool for large classes is that only 10 people can join a Hangout at one time. Hangouts on Air allows unlimited viewers, but as I will discuss, there are some limitations

After using Hangouts for a few minutes, we switched over to Google Hangouts on Air. I showed them my screen as I set up the live broadcast, then I showed them how to find the live feed. I enabled the Q&A feature (which in order to use, users must be logged in with a Google account)  before I broadcast the meeting, and we were able to post a few questions and answers, which when clicked snap directly to each response without watching the entire video. We also used a stopwatch to monitor the lag time between when I did something on the screen and when the viewers actually saw. We determined that it was about 45 seconds, which was better than the first time I used Hangouts on Air.

One feature I personally like about Hangouts on Air is that the broadcast is automatically recorded and sent to my YouTube account. This removes the Q&A responses from the video, but it quickly creates an archive that others can watch within minutes of the original broadcast. If viewers access the recording from my Google+ profile, the questions and answers are still there. Overall, I am impressed by the many features of this tool. Logistically, I will need to think through how to use the Q&A tool with my class, but compared to other tools it is pretty easy to set up and use.

Join.Me

I first found out about this tool a few years back when I had to train a new instructor in a different state how to use Moodle. Even though she could not figure out the audio call feature and we had to use the phone, it was a great way for me to walk her through the LMS and answer questions about the course. Since then, this tool seems to have gotten even better and it is a great way to communicate with people, especially if you are helping them troubleshoot a problem on their computer or performing a demo of some software that runs on your machine.

Of all the solutions so far, this is the easiest one for collaborating or conferencing with a small group of people. The person who initiates the call is given a 9-digit code, which users can enter to join. The session can either be hosted directly through the browser, or users can install the join.me application on their computers, which allows the extra benefit of different people taking turns sharing their screens. The browser option only allows the session initiator to share his screen, which in this case was me.

Join.Me also has an audio feature where attendees can talk using an internet connection or phone call. Since no one in the class had a microphone, we were not able to test this feature, but when I joined the session from my iPad, the call feature worked great. This tool also has the ability to allow different attendees to control the host computer, and you can send files to the users from your computer. In terms of attendee engagement, there is a chat feature for questions or backchannel jibber jabber. Each session, when using the free account, allows 10 people to join a session.

Ustream

The final tool we looked at, which I have written about before, was Ustream. This is similar to Hangouts on Air, but there are some unique differences that make it better suited from some types of presentations. There are two ways to broadcast to a large audience: Broadcaster and Producer. Broadcaster works directly through the browser and only shows video from the webcam. There is no way to share your screen, which may be a limitation for some types of presentations. Producer is a free application you can download from Ustream, and it does enable screen sharing using yet another downloaded app. This option was a little hard to figure out the first time I was testing it, but it was pretty simple once I got used to it. Compared to Hangouts on Air, the lag time is much better. We tested it a couple of times, and it was around 15 seconds.

This tool does not automatically record broadcasts, but you have that option if you want. The presenter can turn the record feature on an off during the presentation, which might be a good way to break it up into smaller segments for later viewing. Whereas the landing page for Hangouts on Air is the presenters profile on Google+, Ustream lets you set up a "channel" that serves as a hub for all of your presentations. I like this better than the Google+ profile page, which serves as a hub for all my posts and updates. Ustream would definitely be easier to navigate as a student who is trying to find an archived recording because the broadcasts are not crowded out by other content. Recordings can also be migrated to YouTube if you want to embed it in a web page or blog.

Each broadcast also has a Social Stream feature, but users must be  logged into Facebook, Twitter, or Ustream to post questions. I am pretty sure my students don't want their questions showing up in their Twitter feeds, so this may not be a great feature for all people. Just like Hangouts on Air, an unlimited number of users can view the presentation, but it is a one-way conversation. If you are collaborating with a small number of people, I recommend one of the other options.

And the winner is ...

Clearly, each tool we tested in my class has its unique set of features and some limitations. Some are good for small group collaboration, others are good for large presentations. Some are better for screen sharing, and others are good for performances. Just like with all technology solutions, you need to analyze the context in which the tool will be used before you settle on a tool. The context should dictate your choice of tool. This was a great experience for my students, and the whole process was actually pretty fun. I think 4 different tools is the ideal number to test in a 2-hour class meeting, and each student walked away with some good information about the affordances and constraints of different video conferencing tools.

One to Many: Using Ustream for an online study session

I try to be responsive to my students each semester and make adjustments to my courses that let them know I value their opinion. There are some things I don't change, such as assignments or due dates, but there are other areas in which I can be responsive. One such area is providing the students with resources that will help them be successful on the exams. After the first exam, some students were freaking out about the sheer amount of information I was expecting them to remember. In order to focus their efforts, I began sending out learning objectives after class. I think this helped, but some of them still felt overwhelmed.

This is when I decided to hold an online study session. I had been playing around with Google Hangouts, and I thought this would be a great tool to facilitate a study session. However, after some testing and investigating I realized this was not the best tool for what I was trying to do. Google Hangouts only allows 10 people to join, and I have over 100 students. There is also a 2-minute lag in the Live Broadcast between what I am saying in real-time and when the audience actually hears it. This may work well for some types of broadcasts, such as a live event or a performance, but this does not work very well for a question and answer session.

After some exploring, I found out about Ustream. This tool is very much like Google Live Hangouts, in that someone can set up a broadcast and allow viewers to watch through a Web browser. I set up a channel for my class, which I sent out to the students the day of the study session. Presenters can either broadcast from the browser, using the iOS app, or download Ustream Producer and broadcast from their desktop. The browser and mobile app use the camera on your device, and you can only show your face. The Producer program lets you also share your desktop, which is what I used to share documents and slides from the class.

Once I had everything set up, I started broadcasting and recording the review session. The hardest part of this session was speaking to an empty room. Ustream is different than Google Hangouts or Skype in that only allows one-way communication. This caused some awkwardness because I did not get any feedback from the audience. I kept checking to see if the presentation was still recording, which made it even more awkward. The students sent me their questions using TodaysMeet, which is a simple, impromptu chat room. There is no sign-in required, and the room can be saved indefinitely. The recorded presentation is embedded below:

Video streaming by Ustream

The feedback from the students was quite positive about this review session, and the whole process was quite easy. This took about an hour of my time in the evening, and this is something I an easily incorporate into my class each semester. I hope to find more creative ways to host study sessions, but this was a good place to start.

TCU Lyceum 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to speak about educational technology to a group of 26 principals from around the state. When I say a "group of principals," what I really mean is "some of the very best principals" in the state. All of the superintendents in the state were contacted and asked to recommend their highest performing principals for the TCU Educational Leadership Lyceum 2013, and these principals were among those recommended and accepted. To say I was intimidated would be a huge understatement. I have taught classes to large groups of people virtually everyday for nearly 10 years, so it would stand to reason that I was up for this task. The truth is, I analyzed, planned, re-analyzed, over-planned, and perseverated over this presentation for weeks.

I will be the first to admit my presentation was kind of all over the place. I started with something about the past and future of educational technology ("Let's start by talking about the invention of fire ..."), then I mentioned something about the myths and actual findings of ed. tech. research, and I ended by showing them a few tools/activities that I like to use in my classes. Since this was my first presentation like this, I made the common rookie mistake of trying to do too much within such a short time frame. The presentation was scheduled for 3 hours, which seemed like a lot of time, but once I got the participants involved in some activities, it flew by. As usual, I left the presentation with a pretty good idea for what went well and what I would do differently if I were to get this opportunity again.

Here are my main lessons from this experience:

  1. Less is more. People can only remember a certain amount of information, and they are probably more likely to remember a handful of compelling activities than a bunch of information.
  2. There are no style points. Actually there could be, but if they distract from the One of the main mistakes I made was trying to switch between too many programs. I was projecting my main points using the Broadcast feature in SlideShark. I was mirroring the display of my iPad using AirServer when I wanted to demonstrate something. I was pulling information from several different browser tabs. It got confusing for me, which means it was definitely overload for the participants.
  3. Use activities to illustrate a point rather than making them the point. I knew this as I planned the presentation, and I still gravitated to this error like a moth to a porch light. I usually like to arrange a presentation around 3-4 big ideas, and I have activities that make them come to life. This time, I did that for 2 out of 4 of my main points, so it should come as no surprise that only half of my main points went over well. Anyone who has done this sort of thing for awhile knows you can't just show people tools. One fourth of the audience is two steps ahead and bored, one fourth is with you, and half of them are totally lost. I had to re-learn this lesson the hard way.

Overall, I feel very fortunate to have been included on the program for this amazing group of principals. Their energy and love for students was evident in just the brief time I was with them. They asked great questions and willingly participated in the activities I had set up for them. Many of them followed along and took notes on their personal devices, which I believe increases the probability some of these ideas will live on beyond the short workshop. I am also thankful for my colleagues at TCU who invited me to be part of their team. I look forward to many more excellent experiences in the future.

Lecturecasting with a Bamboo

I recently got a question from a teacher about recording mathematics explanations using a Bamboo from Wacom. I have never used a Bamboo before, but I know people who have and I've seen other tablets like it, so I knew what this teacher was asking. When using a Bamboo, you project your computer on the screen using a digital projector, and the tablet is essentially a big mouse pad that lets you draw or write with a stylus. I have used similar tools before, and there is no projection on the tablet itself. You can just see your marking on the computer or projector.

Since the computer is the "brains" for the Bamboo, rather than an app on an iPad or other tablet, Bamboo users must use a program that runs on their computer. To my knowledge, the are not many computer programs that function as a whiteboard AND let you record your explanation. One would have to use a whiteboard app concurrently with screencasting software. This may become more trouble than it's worth, in my opinion. There is, however, a web tool called Educreations that works as a whiteboard that records pen strokes on a virtual whiteboard. The developers really push the iPad app, but there is a web component to it as well. I have used it with my students, and it works pretty well when there is no iPad available.

Using this tool, the teacer would project the browser page using the computer, and the Bamboo would be the writing tool. I wanted to walk myself through the process and recorded a demo, seen below (Note: I am not using a Bamboo; rather, I am remotely accessing the screen from my computer on my iPad using SplashTop. The iPad is acting like a Bamboo ... complicated, I know.)

The teacher to whom I was explaining this process bought his own Bamboo and teaches in a school devoid of many technological tools other schools have access to. My goal was to point him to something free that offered most of the things he wanted to do. Conceptually, this teacher understands the value of digitally recording complex explanations to students. He can go back and revisit old problems without having to rewrite them on the board, and since the entire explanation is recorded the students can watch it later when they are working independently. I tip my hat to teachers like this who catch a vision and seek out information to make it happen given the resources they have access to. iPads and other tablets are slick, trendy, and honesty, quite powerful, but they are not the only way to implement innovative teaching strategies with technology. No matter what the tool, there is no replacement for persistence and creativity.

Projecting lectures with SlideShark

As I mentioned in a previous post, I used my iPad during the Spring 2013 semester as a control center for displaying images, video, and (don't judge me) bullet points. In my imagination, this made me the coolest professor on the planet. I oozed awesome with every gesture and swipe of the iPad. My students thought I was a dork.

I don't know if that word actually came to mind, but the vibe was definitely tangible in the room. My protocol for projecting the iPad display was pretty reliable, but I was using AirServer over a Bluetooth connection that could only handle a small amount of data at once. There was often a delay between what I was doing on the iPad and what the students were seeing, and sometimes the connection would freeze altogether. This connection would also not handle video or any type of animation. Personally, I did not see this as a big deal, but my students did and said as much on their course evaluations.

This prompted me to re-think how I was going to use my iPad as a portable lectern, or if I was going to do this at all next semester. I revisited a few different options I had explored before, and nothing seemed to do what I wanted. That is, of course, until I happened to read the SlideShark blog. I had used this app a few times already for presenting slides, and I liked it quite a bit. I was able to monitor my presentation with a timer, see my presentation notes, and quite importantly, preserve any animations I had embedded in the slides. The app also handles embedded video pretty smoothly without the need to include the video file somewhere on your device. Everything is computed in the cloud and is downloaded to the mobile app.

Until recently, I still had to mirror my iPad display onto my MacBook via AirPlay by way of AirServer in order to use SlideShark. Even though it was a step up from some other apps I was using, it still got hung up sometimes and would stop advancing the main points I was covering in the class meeting. Apparently this is quite exasperating to undergraduates (though they expect me to be "cool" with their "multi-tasking").

SlideShark has now added the Broadcast feature to it's app, which lets a presenter remotely control slides through the cloud from an  iPad. This means I do not have to connect my device to my MacBook via AirServer. I just have to make sure my iPad and the computer connected to the projector are both online. Here is a brief rundown of the workflow:

  1. Upload the presentation to your SlideShark account
  2. Open the SlideShark app from your iPad
  3. Download the presentation to your device
  4. Open the presentation and click Broadcast
  5. Open a browser on the computer connected to the projector
  6. Go to: www.slideshark.com/meet/username
  7. Your slides will be remotely controlled with your iPad and displayed through this browser window. You can expect a 2-4 second delay between the device and the browser. When you stop to think about it, that is FREAKING AMAZING! 2-4 seconds?! Are you kidding me?!

Of course, this method is not perfect. You can't ...

  • Show the iPad display. This will only show your slides. If you need to switch between apps, you will still need to use something like Reflector or AirServer.
  • This option is not free. After June 15, when the trial period ends, the ability to Broadcast slides will set you back to the tune of $95 a year. That is not chump change in my household, but I think it will be worth the money if I use this tool as much as I think I'm going to.
  • I have still had some problems getting videos to play. The FAQ section says that any format of video other than AVI or WMV will not play in-app. Since I'm a Mac user, this is a problem. I am still testing it out with .mov format, since that seems to be the .wmv equivalent on a Mac. You should also be prepared for a very lengthy upload time, depending on how many videos, and of what size, you include. Additionally, this will eat up your storage space if you upload too many large files with embedded video.
  • You will encounter problems if you try to include active links to web pages. Since the slides are running within an app, the link will open a browser but it won't be visible through the Broadcast meeting in the browser. Oddly, hyperlinks within the document, such as Action Buttons, still work. This enables users to create non-linear presentations, if that's what they prefer to do. I rarely use this feature myself.

If you are interested in using your iPad as a mobile lectern for teaching, I would recommend  testing this and other methods of remotely controlling your iPad in order to see what works best for you. If your school/workplace does not block AirServer over WiFi, this by far the best way to go. If that is not an option, SlideShark may be a pretty dependable workaround.