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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?

Campus Technology 2015

CT15 Slides One of the main responsibilities I have in my profession is to keep inquiry, knowledge, and skills moving forward. My particular slice of inquiry, knowledge, and skills that I am committed to moving forward is the use of technology in higher ed teaching and learning. One channel for doing this academic and professional development conferences. I had the opportunity to speak at one such conference this week in Boston. The conference is Campus Technology Summer Conference 2015. I gave a talk about using technology effectively in large lecture classes where students bring their own devices (bring your own device, or BYOD). Here are the slides to my presentation, and here is a recording of the presentation (slide capture only). Overall, it was a good conference, and I made some great contacts. I look forward to returning to CT Summer Conference in the future.

Using Gamification to Get Buy-In From Students

I think a lot about gamification. Not because I consider myself an expert, or even particularly good at it. I am obsessed with this concept because I think it actually works. This morning as I drove to work, I was thinking about why a person would want to spend time and energy learning about, developing, implementing, and improving gamification techniques in the classroom. After some thought, and skimming a few blog posts later in the day, I think I know what attracts me to gamification:

Buy-in

This is an essential piece of the teaching puzzle that hardly ever gets mentioned. We talk about learning activities, aligning learning objectives with assessment, making thinking visible, timely and targeted feedback, and differentiation (all of which are undeniably important), but rarely do I hear people in my profession talk about strategies for gaining buy-in from the students. Maybe we use other terms to express the same concept: engagement, motivation, fun. But to me, what I am really trying to achieve with my students is buy-in. Yes, I ultimately want them to learn, learn how to learn, and learn to love learning, but what influences my day to day experience more than anything else is buy-in.

Here's an example. When I was a school teacher, I learned quickly that what I called "classroom management" was less about me controlling the students than it was about students choosing to cooperate with me. Once I figured this out, I no longer exerted my control over students, and spent more time creating an environment where students were motivated to cooperate with the expectations I had set. Early on, I used The Book, where students would write their name if they got in trouble. As in, "Johnny, I told you to stop talking. Go write your name in The Book." Or, "Suzy, you are supposed to write in your journal as soon as you hand in your homework. Go write your name in The Book." If multiple infractions occurred, students would put check marks next to their name. One check mark meant missing 5 minutes of recess (which really just delayed my bathroom break by 5 minutes). Two check marks meant a whole recess, and so on.

I hated this technique because it placed too much emphasis on the behaviors I was trying to eradicate. I noticed bad behavior, and then I called attention to bad behavior, then I virtually rewarded it by letting the student stop working long enough to walk to the front of the classroom to write in The Book (which for some students might as well have been called The Big Badass Book of Awesome Badassses). This was not the kind of buy-in I was looking for. Some students were actually motivated to do the wrong thing as a way to build their classroom mojo.

When I finally was able to see this, I knew I had to add some dimensions to my classroom management that took the focus off bad behavior. What if, I thought, I put effort into catching the students doing the right thing? Would this make a difference, or did being bad just feel too doggone good? I had to find out.

So, I added two things to my classroom management repertoire that absolutely changed everything. First, I started passing out Aggie Bucks (because I went to Utah State and we're the Aggies, and I shamelessly promote my school at every opportunity). If students came in quietly in the morning, handed in their homework, and wrote their assignments in their planner, they got an Aggie Buck. If they worked quietly on their Do Now activity, they got another one. There were about 3-4 times throughout the day where students would get Aggie Bucks for doing what they were supposed to do without being reminded. They could spend their Aggie Bucks in the classroom store before or after school on things like pencil sharpeners, books, erasers, and throwing knives. I just wanted to see if you were still reading.

From this point on, I don't remember having to threaten or warn students about The Book. I would just skip over kids who had not done their morning procedures and give an Aggie Buck to the student who had. The student would eventually self-correct so he could get his Aggie Buck. It was like magic, and suddenly I had children in my classroom willing to cooperate with me.

The other thing I started using was the Pizza Board. No, I did not start giving my students pizza parties. I had a cardboard fraction board that looked like a pizza. There were 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and whole pieces. Anytime I caught the class being good, like when they got a compliment from another teacher for being quiet in the hall or letting someone go first at the drinking fountain, I would give them a pizza slice. If they got two, they had to exchange it for an equivalent fraction. I only had two rules: they couldn't barter for a pizza slice, and I did not take them away once they were earned. That would be like taking away another teacher's compliment. How dare I?!? If the class earned the whole pizza, they would get to do a fun activity on Friday for about 15-20 minutes (which, according to the students, was ALL DAY).

Here's the point: Both of these strategies, which rely on game mechanics, were able achieve buy-in from the students.

Gamification works when what you offer aligns with what they want, and you all work together to achieve it.

I faithfully made copies of Aggie Bucks and looked for opportunities to catch the students being good, and the students fervently tried to get caught being good. It wasn't rocket science, but it worked. It was a two-way street, and neither me nor the students could slack off if this system was going to work.

I don't have a crystal ball, so I do not know what each person reading this post is trying to accomplish with gamification strategies in the classroom. Maybe the students are motivated to move up to higher levels. Perhaps they are motivated to earn paper money so they can buy things. My students are willing to demonstrate professional behavior in order to stay on top of the class leaderboard. This is how I get buy-in from my students. I am offering what they want, which is status, bragging rights, and ultimately, a good grade. I have structured it in such a way that they earn it through good actions rather than losing it through mistakes.

I encourage you to try using game mechanics as part of your teaching and classroom mechanics. It's not magic, but with some persistence it can be a lot of fun. You have to be committed in order for it to work. Remember, frequent reinforcement is how you show the students you have bought into your own program, which fosters trust and buy-in from them.

What about you? Share some of your classroom techniques that utilize game mechanics.

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?

Guest Post: Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

This guest post is written by TeacherJ. She is a blogger and edtech enthusiast, and in this post she explores the similarities and differences between gamification and game-based learning. Watch out for her blog!

What is More Effective Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

Photo Credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via Compfight cc

The increase in ownership and usage of mobile devices by students led to a change in the way educators deliver their learning materials and handle their classes. Research from McGraw-Hill Education and Hanover revealed that smartphones and tablets usage in 2014 skyrocketed among college students, where more than 80% were said to be using mobile technology to study. The number has jumped by 40% in total since 2013.

The trend in mobile learning (mLearning) has led to two kinds of eLearning methods: Gamification and Game-based education. You may have come across these two processes before, but you may be unsure of which is the better method to apply to your class. This article will detail you everything you need about Gamification and Game-based Learning.

Defining Terms

Before we dwell on the effective nature of the two learning methods, we will define the difference between Gamification and Game-based Learning.

Gamification: This process applies game-like features to your usual lessons, by including rules and mechanics from certain games to encourage behavioral patterns in your students. The use of a leaderboard is one of the most common gamification styles applied by many educators and even businesses today. Enterprises use the process to boost customer interaction and increase employee participation. It is expected that 50% of institutions will gamify their processes this year, as reported by Gartner back in 2011. Apart from using a leaderboard, educators can apply gamification by turning achievements into rewards such as badges, progress bars, or through a point system.

Game-based Learning: This is a learning procedure whereby participants play games to learn and understand their subject and topics better. Many educational apps for students apply game-based learning, especially for younger students who require a more interactive approach to education. One of its known benefits is its ability to enhance learners’ problem solving skills. For the younger students it has been proven to enhance their cognitive skills.

The common ground

Although gamification and game-based learning are different from one another, the two have common variables in terms of usage and their platforms. The two learning processes are very relevant due to the increasing adoption of mobile devices by students and educational institutions. The numbers presented by McGraw-Hill Education is expected to grow in the future, as more portable devices such as wearables, are set to revolutionize the classroom environment. However, the supply-side complexity becomes a common problem for many as there are various devices running different operating systems, making it difficult to create a learning process that fits all mobile users. Today, we have smartphones that have curved, large 5.1-inch screens such as the Galaxy S6 Edge which O2 says runs the latest Android 5.02 Lollipop OS, while there are handsets with smaller 4-inch screens running older Android OS.

Final Question: What is more effective?

Both learning methods appear to be highly effective for students, especially since it makes the usual boring classroom into an interactive and fun environment. As technology in the classroom changes, educators and their processes will have to evolve, too. The important matter that we have to take note here is that the two-game inspired processes aim to promote mastery of academic content. Educators will have to ensure that they apply the 3 E’s in mLearning (Engaging, Effective, and Easy) to make the most of their eLearning sessions.

What are your thoughts on the affordances and constraints of gamification and game-based learning?

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?

Learning How to Learn: Growing a PLN

As a teacher, professor, or instructor at any level, one of the keys to survival is knowing how to continually learn and grow. Personal learning is one of the characteristics of teaching effectiveness. It is easy to get stuck in a rut in any profession, but teaching is especially vulnerable to this tendency because teachers are continually having to adapt to new students, new materials, new mandates, and new approaches to learning. It's surprisingly easy to just find a comfortable middle ground and float along, usually at the students' expense.

One of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever pursued as an instructor is connecting with other educators in my PLN (personal learning network). Learning from other instructors, most of whom I will never meet in person, has expanded my knowledge, skills, and understanding of the teaching and learning process in amazing ways.

What do you mean by "connect"?

Over the past several years, I have participated in communities of practice with other educators around the world. Some of them live in my city, others live on the other side of the planet. I have used a variety of digital tools to create my PLN, all of which have contributed to my professional growth in some way.

Blogs

Over time I have created a list of blogs by like-minded educators who have a similar goal: design and implement innovative teaching strategies to increase student learning, engagement, and motivation. I use tools such as Feedly and Flipboard to aggregate blogs so I only have to look in one place to see updates and new content. Most of these blogs are focused on educational technology and classroom teaching, but just because I use technology to stay up to date does not mean I am only learning about technology. I have learned strategies for facilitating discussion, embracing diversity, addressing cheating, and many other teaching topics.

Communities

In addition to following a collection of blogs, I also participate in different communities. These communities are hosted on social networking sites, and they are pretty easy to follow. For example, I am currently in about 15 Google+ communities, and I can get updates on new posts by scrolling through my news feed. I also follow about 30 different educators and innovators through Twitter, and it is pretty easy to scroll through updates to see their latest ideas and discoveries. Finally, I have joined a few different LinkedIn groups, and I get a weekly digest of anything that has been happening there. The point is, I do not have to spend a lot of effort staying updated on what is going on in these different communities, and when I do get updates I almost always learn something new.

Participation

The final way that I have gotten involved in my PLN is to actually participate and be a contributor. This blog has become my channel for processing, sharing, and reflecting on my own teaching ideas. Most of my posts would just sit isolated in cyberspace if I did not share them with my communities. By not only learning from others in my PLN, but also sharing my own experiences, I have become an active participant in this global experiment known as the World Wide Web. It's one thing to try other people's ideas, but it is downright exciting to find out other people are learning from me and trying MY ideas with their students.

Casting the Vision

This semester in my graduate-level technology class, I decided to do something new. I created a semester-long project where my students would build, engage, and participate in their own PLN. The first phase required them to join various communities of interest and follow different folks on blogs and Twitter. I gave them some suggestions, but I know some of the students have already branched off into their own interests. The second phase was for them to share what they were learning within a private Google+ community that we all joined. This way we could share what we were learning in a safe, secure place. The last phase, which is still underway, will be for the students to share what they are learning within the communities they have joined. This may mean sharing items they find, writing and sharing their own blog posts, or participating in discussions online. Since this project is currently underway, I can't really measure whether or not it is going well. It's going better than I anticipated, but I will not know the extent of everyone's participation until a few more weeks have passed. It took me a few years to become fully immersed in my PLN, so I can't expect a full conversion from my students before we've even reached midterm. But I'm committed to see this through. I cannot understate the value of my experience learning from and engaging with other innovative teachers. It has been transformative and deeply rewarding, even though some of those other educators have no idea I am learning from them. I would be remiss not to provide the same opportunity to my students.

So, what strategies or projects do you use to get teachers immersed in their own PLN?

Gamification: A semester in the trenches

My reasons for wanting to use gamification strategies in my large Intro to Education course were obvious: student accountability, timely and continuous feedback, and better motivation to do otherwise rudimentary activities. I learned pretty quickly that implementing gamification strategies was more difficult than I initially thought. First, I had to figure out the instructional design aspects of gamification. How many points are different experiences worth? What do I count and what do I leave out? Second, I had to figure out how to keep track of all of this and communicate it back to the students. As I have written about before, I used Google Sheets to do this.

Overall, I would say I am pleased with how my first attempt at gamification turned out. Was it perfect? No way. Did the students like it? Mostly, but I'm sure I will hear from those who didn't on my course evaluations. Did these strategies help me reach my course goals? Absolutely! Class attendance was the best it has ever been in the 3 years I've taught the course. I regularly had over 90% of the students completing the weekly readings every week. That is unbelievable! I actually had students competing to complete extra credit so they could move to the top of the leaderboard. I did not see that one coming. Even though the course outcomes associated with these gamification strategies were successful, I learned a lot about how to do it better next semester. I will discuss these lessons in more detail.

More Competition

One of my goals in using gamification strategies in my class was to increase engagement and not give students a laundry list of things to do every week. Well, the way I structured the points, it turned out to be just what I was trying to avoid. Every week the students had to complete a module (video and/or reading + short quiz) before class on Monday. Then they went to schools on Wednesday, and there were points associated with that. On Friday, they participated in small group discussion, which had even more points. Everything was recorded on a big spreadsheet, and students were ranked on a leaderboard. What I discovered was that most of the students completed all of the requirements each week. Basically, there was no way to really move UP the leaderboard. Students could only move DOWN if they failed to complete a requirement. Believe it or not, that is not very competitive, and therefore, isn't all that much fun.

There were minimal opportunities for students to do extra and move up the leaderboard, but they were in fact so minimal that it hardly made a difference. This didn't keep the students from trying to get more points here and there, which was my first clue that there needs to be more competition. Some ideas I am playing with include:

  • Using Kahoot for discussion questions
  • Students voting for "best" responses to questions
  • Competitions between discussion groups (attendance, challenges, completion rate, etc.)
  • Challenges during class

I do not want to overdo this, but I think a little more competition would make this aspect of the class a lot more fun.

Reboot

Another flaw in my approach this semester was that the "game" lasted all semester. I gave the students monthly feedback in the form of a points sheet, which led many of them to just see it as a big assignment. I would venture to guess that they viewed this experiment as a big ole' laundry list because I treated it like one. In the end, there was no way for students who had gotten behind early in the semester to make corrections and do better the next time around. Students could recognize the impact of their choices on their point total and start to do better, but it did not erase early mistakes. This goes against the nature of most competitive endeavors, where players can overcome early mistakes later in the competition and keep themselves in the game.

I am thinking about splitting the game up into three smaller games this spring, and starting the points and leaderboard over each time. This will allow students who get off to a bad start to do better the next time. I can still keep track of completed assignments and attendance for the purposes of grading, but I will link other incentives to the leaderboard. What are the incentives? I have no idea, but I have a few weeks to think about it.

Better Feedback

Another issue I ran into this semester was getting feedback to the students on a weekly basis. I did pretty well at first, then some of my TAs got behind on entering scores and I went a few weeks without sending updates to the class. Once everything was updated and I got around to sending the updates, some of the students were like, "Whoa! How did I lose all these points?! I thought I was doing OK!" And I was like, "How can you not know if you missed class or an assignment?!" And they were like, "Hey man, we're too busy to remember all that!" And I was like ... OK, you get the point.

This observation has less to do with the game itself and more to do with giving more timely, detailed feedback. Some of the students felt like they were in the dark all semester and did not know they had missed 6, 7, or 8 classes until the end of the semester. I was never the kind of student to miss class, but I can see how it might be easy to lose track over such a long period of time.

I have a plan for keeping the spreadsheet updated better, but it is not really worth writing about here. Needless to say, I think weekly updates will help quell some of the panicky e-mails at the end of the semester.

What am I missing?

I am pretty sure my second attempt at gamification will go much better than the first, and I'm looking forward to putting some of these ideas into practice. For those of you who have been doing this for awhile, what are your suggestions? Am I missing something obvious? Am I making assumptions with potentially disastrous consequences? I would love to hear from the true game masters!

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?

Schoolification

Pac-Man (1980), will go on show at MoMA in New York in 2013 I have been thinking about gamification a lot lately. I teach a really big class full of energetic undergraduates, and I want to make the class better. It is already pretty darn good, but there is always room for improvement. One way to do this is to add game elements to some of the more mundane aspects of the course.

As an aspiring Teaching and Learning scholar, I dug into the literature on gamification and game-based learning (and trust me, there is A LOT of it!) to investigate possible frameworks and suggestions for a successful implementation of game-based learning. One framework that has been really helpful for me as I plan some game-based elements into my course was proposed by Bunchball, a corporate gamification company. As stated in one of their white papers, there are 6 elements that serve as the building blocks to all successful games. Coincidentally, these game elements interact with game dynamics that are associated with basic human desires that tend to motivate and engage people within a gaming experience.

[table id=1 /]

When I look at this table, I see many similarities and natural applications to education. The way the education system is currently structured, there is already a pretty heavy dose of competition, achievement, reward, and status. There is also some possibility for self-expression and altruism, depending on the way a course is set up. So, I understand that education and gamification go hand-in-hand quite naturally.

So what happens when an instructor takes activities that students might naturally enjoy and make them just another assignment? I call this "schoolification," which is when a teacher deflates student interest in an activity or project by assigning points, a grade, or any other requirement that students might otherwise resist.

The first time I encountered schoolification, before I even had a name for it, was in a conference presentation where a professor described his use of Facebook in his classes. Each student in the class had to join his group on FB, they were required to comment on his posts, and they would "lose points" if they didn't do either of those things. My first thought was, wow, that's a great way to make students hate Facebook. Take something they like, make them use it in a way they don't want, then hold their grade over their head of they don't do it.

If the instructor is not careful, I think the same thing can happen with blogs, digital stories, flipped lessons, and cooperative learning (or any other activity for that matter). Students have to be held accountable for their professionalism, but how do we do this without schoolifying activities they might otherwise enjoy? This is a challenge I would like to learn more about.

How do you hold students accountable for their participation in class activities without schoolifying those activities that are intended to be engaging and fun.

Gradenomics

It's that time of year again, when I spend a lot of time reflecting on the semester and academic year. I have already posted once about this, and I have at least two more ideas incubating in my mind. The idea that came to me today as I graded final exams, calculated final averages, and entered final grades into "the system" is that universities - or perhaps my university - put a lot of emphasis on finals. This led me to consider whether or not there TOO much emphasis on final exams. As it is now, we set aside an entire week, shuffle the schedule, and give each professor 2.5 hours to administer the exam. Yet, I have not given a comprehensive final since my 2nd year of teaching higher education. Is this really worthy of its own week?

My first college teaching assignment was as a Master's student, and I taught public speaking. It was a massive faculty-directed, TA-taught course where they basically told us what to do. We had some freedom to teach any way we wanted, but we had to give the same assignments and grade using the same rubric. If our overall GPA was too high, we got a personal note from the course director telling us to grade harder. We also had to give a comprehensive final, which seemed totally ridiculous for a public speaking class.

Since those days, I have jockeyed between giving a final project (portfolio, paper, etc.) and giving the last test during the final time slot. My current university is adamant about professors doing something during finals week, so I have been using that time to give the last exam. I have also used this time to have students present their final projects, but it just seems contrived to me and seems to always fall a little flat. Some of the more adventurous faculty have the students bring food and they have a party.

My point is, there is a certain amount of hype associated with finals that I am starting to think is unnecessary. Whereas my students typically cram for the first two exams, they spend days and days studying for the last exam. And what is the payoff? Actually, the course average was lower than the second exam even though the exams were about at the same level of difficulty. I have exams weighted so that each test accounts for about 13% of the final grade. I did this a few semesters ago because I wanted the exams to mean something. Before I weighted the exam scores, a student could do poorly on exams and still eek out a decent grade by getting some of the "sit-and-get" grades, such as attendance or participation. Basically, taking the exam counted the same toward the course average as showing up to lecture and surfing Pinterest for an hour. So, what does this mean in terms of the last exam's impact on the overall grade? Here are some points to consider (remember, this is based on a scale where each exam contributes 13%, or 39% total, toward the overall grade):

  • 35 out of 53 students got a score on the final within 2 percentage points of their current average. Mathematically, this had absolutely no impact on the final grade. For example, if a student was sitting at 91.21% and got a 93% on the final, the overall average was raised to 91.55% (I'm making these numbers up, of course, but they are pretty accurate to what I observed). Unless a student was a fraction of a percentage point from the next grade, this had no impact. It was just damage control.
  • If a student scored 10 percentage points higher or lower on the final than the overall average, it meant a difference of 1 percentage point either way. In fact, this held true for every 10 percentage point differential. For example, getting a 75% on the test would lower the average from 85 to 84. That also means that getting a 100% on the test would only raise the average from a 85 to 87 (and that is a generous estimate). This is the difference between a B and B+, which is hardly the Hail Mary the students think it is.
  •  9 out of 53 students went down one grade based on their final exam score, and each of them was 1 point or less from the borderline. That is, they went from a B+ to a B, but they started at  87.1% not 89.9%.
  • Only one student went UP a grade based on the final exam score, and the starting average was already less than a percentage point from the cutoff.

Are you confused yet?

I am not advocating students completely blowing off a final because it won't make a difference in the long run. Students should always give their best effort no matter what. I also know that students spend just about as much time eating junk food and complaining about their professors during "dead days" as they do studying. I am just wondering if we should put so much emphasis on that one week when it's really the students' body of work throughout the semester that compiles their course average.

I am curious to know how others handle finals, and if they have more (or less) of an impact in your courses than what I have described? How are finals handled in other disciplines? Should they be more high-stakes, or are they just hype?

Dealing with Disappointment

I have been teaching for nearly 20 years, and I have seen just about everything. Throughout the many life changes I have experienced in that time, teaching, oddly enough, has been one of the constants in my life. Early in my career I would stay late at school and come home to an empty apartment. Soon enough, I was finding ways to have lunch with my wife over our short lunch breaks. Then I was rushing home after teaching so I could spend time with my babies. Now I have to be creative in order to balance my teaching with things like baseball, gymnastics, theater classes, church, committees, writing, and staying connected to family. During all this time, students have come and gone from my classes, hopefully taking something with them that will help in their life journey.

Teaching requires a lot of creativity and problem solving because no matter what is happening in your life, you have to try to do your best for the students. In my career I have had to deal with crazy parents, over-scheduled meetings which force me to plan my lessons late into the night, hectic travel schedules for the sports I coached, sleepless nights, unexpected family crises, unpredictable weather, and disruptions to the school day. All in all, I would say I have done a pretty good job of paddling and finding the current. There is, however, one aspect of teaching with which I have not dealt very well.

Disappointment.

Maybe it's because I expect myself to be perfect. Or amazing. Or brilliant. Perhaps I spend too much time comparing myself to my peers and wanting to be the big fish in the pond. I already know I put too much stock in my course evaluations and Rate My Professor and any other metric I can find to evaluate my worth as a teacher, so maybe that feeds my disappointment. It could be that my expectations are too high, and while I perceive the response to a good class to be a standing ovation, my students are just anxious to meet their friends for lunch. No matter what the cause - and it's probably a complex mix of those factors I already listed, along with some I haven't identified - disappointment has always been a tough pill to swallow.

For the better part of this semester, I have been dealing with disappointment: in myself, in my students, in the fact that I didn't foresee some of the problems with one of the classes I have been teaching. Since the third week of the semester, things took a downward turn and despite my attempts to make the class better it has not been enough to make it a positive experience for anyone involved. Like I said, very disappointing.

It would be easy to wrap myself in self-pity, curl up in bed, close my eyes, and just wait for the semester to end. Trust me, I have considered that many times, and perhaps in small ways I have done some of that. However, as the self-reflective navel-gazer that I am, the ultimate question is this: What do I plan on doing about it? Other than venting to a few colleagues, which I have done more than I care to admit, I can't help but abstract some lessons from my disappointing semester.

Disappointment reminds me that I care.

If teaching and teaching future teachers about teaching was not a big deal to me, this would be easy to shrug off. Blame the students and move on. But this does matter to me and I understand the importance of what I am doing. No one is guaranteed that living out their passions or purpose or calling will be without setbacks. The setbacks actually remind us how closely our calling, purpose, and passion are woven in with our very being.

Disappointment reveals areas to get better.

Do you know which of my classes have historically gone the worst for me? Those which follow a class which has gone really well. If I think I have reached superstar status, where is the incentive to do things better, to be self-reflective, or try new ideas? There is no such thing as cruise control in teaching, and just because a certain approach or teaching style worked with one class does not mean it will work the next time. As long as I am teaching, there will be aspects of my practice that need to be revised, refined, or removed. It's hard to see those things when I am blinded by my own awesomeness.

Disappointment reinforces what is constant.

Even though I have to adapt every class based on the unique dynamics created by the students and circumstances, there are some elements of instructional practice that should never be compromised. High (yet reasonable) expectations. Timely feedback. Positive teacher to student relationships. Close monitoring of student engagement. Consistency. Fairness. Preparation. These make up the foundation of a healthy, vibrant class. I may be stuck with a class full of disengaged, apathetic, know-it-all students (speaking in general terms, of course ... not any particular class), but that should not change those core elements of effective teaching. If anything, the tougher the students, the more I should lean into those aspects of teaching that have been proven over time. Don't play off your students' responses because chances are they stayed up too late, woke up minutes before class, and put off their assignment until the last minute. As a baseline, my teaching must be one of the constants in their lives.

Honestly, I am thankful things did not go as well as I had hoped this semester (in one class at least ... the others went great). I have a lot to learn, a lot to improve, and a long way to go. Adversity causes everyone to either wilt or get stronger, and I choose the latter. The day I think otherwise about my teaching is probably a sign it's time to choose a new career. Thank you, disappointment, for the not-so-gentle reminder.

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!

Presenting with LiveSlide

I am always on a quest to find better ways to control my content during class meetings with my iPad. I have tried just about everything, from mirroring with Airserver to SlideShark, and nothing has quite done what I want. Either the tool is too unpredictable (Airserver) or it is too narrow (SlideShark), so I continue to keep my eyes peeled for ways to present my lectures while mobile in the classroom.

The best solution I have found so far is LiveSlide, a simple browser-based tool that lets you remotely control slides from any device. Teachers can use it as I do, to project content to the class while controlling it from a mobile device, or they can share the slides with their students and have them follow along during class. Students can also take notes on the slides for themselves, and the tool has a few interactive features for questioning and quizzes. I have not used many of these features, but I plan on it in the coming weeks.

LiveSlide is incredibly easy to set up. Since it is browser based, there is no app to install. Educators who sign up with their school e-mail will be automatically upgraded to the Elite account for free.

Once your account is set up, you can either create presentations from scratch or import them from your computer or Google Drive. Obviously, I use the last option since I typically create my presentation with Google Slides anyway. I have imported approximately 20 presentations so far, and I have not had so much as a hiccup during the process.

Students can view slides using one of two options. If they want to simply view the slides, they can join remotely using an access key. The teacher can decide whether or not the students can advance the slides on their own or if they must view them at the teacher's pace. The teacher can add quizzes and polls for students to answer, and students can submit questions while the teacher is presenting. I typically log in from my iPad then join the presentation from whichever computer is connected to the projector.

If students want to make a copy of the slides for themselves, they can pay a small account fee and be added to the course. All slide decks for that class will show up in their account, and they can take notes directly on the slides. I have not used this option, so I cannot verify how the students takes notes (writing on the tablet screen vs. typing). I think this will be a great feature when I begin to use it.

My favorite feature of this tool is that teachers can quickly add content and blank slides to a deck while they are teaching. You can add a YouTube video, take or import a picture, or add a blank slide to draw a diagram. I have already surprised myself a few times by drawing impromptu diagrams or importing a picture for everyone to see. This is a feature not available on any other web-based tool I have used.

There are a few limitations to LiveSlide that I hope will improve over time. For one, there are shape tools (circle, square, and line), but there is no way to move the objects around once they have been added, and I can't figure out how to delete them. I don't use this feature much, but I might if it was more responsive. Also, sometimes the tools disappear from the page if my iPad goes to sleep. I have to reload the page for the drawing tools to come back, which can be a little distracting while I am teaching. If I don't draw attention to myself, I doubt the students know what I am doing. :-)

Overall, I have to say I am quite impressed with this little tool. The team that created and maintains this tool is very responsive (hint, hint ... read that last paragraph). You can learn more about LiveSlide from their YouTube channel, which I plan on viewing carefully in the future. I hope to use more of the features in the near future and write more about it.  Keep up the great work Atlas Learning team.

*Note: There are a few tools on the web that use the name LiveSlide. Make sure you look for the one in the Atlas Learning toolkit. There is also a social network called Liveslide, but that is not something I am interested in at this point. :-)

 

Teaching Naked: The workshop, not the dream

Last week, I attended a workshop hosted by our teaching excellence center called Teaching Naked. This is a catchy title for both Jose Antonio Bowen's book and workshops, but I find it a little ironic considering the content from his presentation. When I think of "teaching naked," I think of eliminating all adornments and superfluous elements from the class. I had a professor at UVa, Dr. John Sanderson, who taught this way. For an entire semester, he taught our Tests and Measures class without the use of PowerPoint, a LMS, or any other instructional tools. He showed a couple of short video clips on the VHS player, and he would occasionally bring some handouts. Most of his diagrams were written on the board when we arrived, and the majority of the class was discussion and lecture. It was an engaging class and quite helpful in my development as a researcher. I had already taken Stats I when I took Dr. Sanderson's class, and he did a nice job of filling in the gaps of what I had missed the first time. He truly taught naked. On the other hand, Dr. Bowen's workshop centered on using A LOT of technology. His approach to teaching could best be described as the "flipped classroom." He presents students with a variety of media to watch, think about, and learn outside of class, then uses class time to engage students in activities that require face-to-face human interaction. I like this approach to teaching and hope to emulate it with the same skill as Dr. Bowen, but I do not consider it "naked." In fact, it is quite heavily adorned with a host of social media tools, to the extent that I wondered how a students, or the professor, would keep up with it all. He talked about e-mail, Twitter, Socrative, Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, Skype, YouTube, Merlot, and several other tools. What he did not talk about at any point in the talk was PowerPoint. In fact, the take-away message from the workshop was, "Stop delivering boring lectures using PowerPoint and start engaging your class more ... during class time."

Some of Dr. Bowen's ideas were not new to me. Socrative, Twitter, YouTube videos, Google Docs. I use each of these tools in different ways to support my teaching and keep students connected to the class. Other ideas where, quite honestly, not ever going to be part of my workflow: Facebook groups, Skype, or MOOC's. But I did take away some ideas I would like to implement either this semester or in the spring. I have already taken one suggestion, which is to send student materials related to class electronically after class is over. This way, they are not reading the paper instead of listening. I also would like to try broadcasting a Google Hangout session live sometime before the next paper is due. I have responded to nearly 30 e-mails in the last two days, each of which ask essentially the same 3-4 questions. I will give the Hangout a try and see if anyone joins in to ask questions that everyone can hear the answer to. This also lets me record the session, so students who miss can watch it later. I have never been that open to devoting time in the evenings in this way, but after spending at least two hours in the last couple of days responding to e-mails, I like the idea of reducing this down to an hour. Show up, let the students ask their questions, and get them to work.

In addition to some new ideas to apply to my teaching, the hour and a half spent listening to Dr. Bowen speak was quite enjoyable. He's funny, intelligent, and has some very keen insight into the way students think and approach school. I haven't decided yet if I will read his book, but I will definitely look through his website for some new ideas. In no time, I will be teaching naked too!

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.

It's not you, it's me

For several years, I have asked students to fill out a Student Information Survey at the beginning of the semester. I adapted the same survey from semester to semester, but it essentially consisted of the same questions. Sometimes it was worth a grade, other times not. Sometimes I made the fields required, sometimes not. Since I have typically taught tech-integration courses for the past several years, most of my questions were technical in nature. I wanted to know such things as their current tech setup (type of computer/OS, access to other devices, etc.), experience with current tech trends (social, mobile, Cloud, gaming, etc.), the intensity of their love/hate relationship with tech, and how their teachers in the past have used it. I also asked a a couple of questions about how they learned best and about any teaching experience they had. Overall, this Student Information Survey was not very exciting, but it helped me establish a baseline for what I was dealing with. Now that I do not teach tech integration classes anymore, I have found my current survey needs to be updated as well. For one thing, I have started calling it a "questionnaire," which may just be a semantic issue, but it seems to capture what I am actually doing. The most notable change, however, is the questions themselves. Instead of getting descriptive data, I want the students to be introspective about themselves as learners. Based on a few studies I have read lately, I have learned that student evaluations of their professors are based more on their self-concepts as learners than on the efficacy and characteristics of the professor. For example, one study I looked at used a hierarchical regression analysis to investigate the relationship between students' academic self-efficacy and professor characteristics. The result of this study showed that students with high academic self-efficacy tended to give high ratings to professors with characteristics such as content expertise, professionalism, and disagreeableness (i.e., argues, challenges, steps on toes). On the other hand, students with low academic self-efficacy tended to give high ratings to such professor characteristics as compassion, helpfulness, and student-centeredness (though I personally find that trait to be problematic). The Social Exchange Theory is alive and well in the classroom.

In essence, the college classroom is no different than life in general: People evaluate others based on how they feel about themselves.

In response to this belief about my students, I want them to think a little more deeply about themselves as learners and unpack some of the jargon they tend to throw around. One example of psycho-babble jargon students tend to use is "engaged." For example, when I ask the question, "When do you learn best?" they will often respond by saying, "When I am engaged in my learning." My first response is, "Well, yeah, that's kind of how learning works. It's not a passive process." But I have really started to think more deeply about what students mean by "engaged." I always assumed engagement was a trait of the learner, as in, I am listening, taking notes, asking questions, participating in the discussion: I am in engaged.  Based on my experience in one class last semester, however, I suspect many students have a completely different vision for what "engaged" means. I now believe they see this as a trait of the instructor, as in, you are doing things in class that I deem worthy of my attention. The professor is engaging the students. It all comes down to locus of control. In a perfect world, both of these conceptualizations of "engaged" are true, and the professor is carefully thinking about how to present ideas in an organized and compelling way, while using strategies to draw the students into the process. At the same time, the students buy into this and are internally motivated to participate. Both parties fully understand their role in the process and take it seriously. Of course, I have no idea if any of this actually true, or if I just obsessed about it way too much and displaced a lot of my own insecurities onto the students.

This is why I am asking new questions. I want to know how my students evaluate themselves as learners, how they describe "engaged learning," and how they know if they have learned something or not. I am also including a question that asks them to rate themselves at multi-tasking. This item alone will probably explain 90% of the variance in test scores. In case you have never read my reflections on teaching college students, I believe multi-tasking is a horse apple dipped in a cow pie and sprinkled with bird droppings.

My purpose in asking these questions is two-fold. First, I want my students to honestly think about themselves as learners. I am not expecting light bulbs or fireworks, but I do want to push this issue to the forefront. Second, I want to know their (mis)conceptions about learning and teaching so I can address it. Once I know what they think about these important concepts, I can show them research that either confirms or refutes their beliefs. More importantly, it gives me the opportunity to make the class not just informational, but also transformational. Any time a person has the chance to reflect and say, "I used to think ..., but now I know ..." it opens the door to personal growth. Isn't that what all teachers hope to engender in their classrooms?

So, what strategies or activities do you use to learn about your students? How do you use that information? Is it valuable? Take a minute to let me know what you think.