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Tech Ninja

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?

Sending students immediate feedback with Google Forms

I have been a huge fan of Google Forms for quite a few years. I have used it for everything from collecting survey data, to getting feedback on a course, to polling students during a class. For me, it has become a necessity in the way I teach my classes. A couple of years ago, I began giving my students short, specific assessments over the assigned readings each week. Students would read an assigned article or chapter, complete some questions pertaining to the reading through a Google Form, and I would give their response a score. This system has worked well for me, but one complaint I have heard from students is that they do not have access to their responses once they hit Submit. My solution (which is really just a work-around) was for them to write their answers in Word first, then copy and paste them into the form field. I would admit to the students this was not ideal, but it was the only option. With a class of 100 students, I did not want to have to send the students their responses one by one. This constraint of Google Forms made it seem a little clunky for what I was doing.

That is, until I found out about formMule. The add-on for Google Sheets has been a major time-saver for me, and it has been great for the students as well. In short, I have been able to use formMule to send students a copy of their responses immediately after they submit them to me. The responses are not automatically graded, but the students at least get immediate feedback about whether or not their answers made it into the spreadsheet.

Disclaimer: I am going to assume a person already knows how to create a Google Form, which sends responses to a Google Sheet. This tutorial will not include an explanation about how to set up either of those tools.

Step one: Install the formMule add-on for Google Sheets

This is really the easy part. If you have already installed add-ons, then this process is already familiar to you. One nice feature of the add-ons is that once you install it on one sheet, it will be available for all sheets you have created.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 3.59.47 PM

Step two: Make sure your form is asking the right questions

If you want to send your students a copy of the answers they just submitted, you must have an address to send them to. This may seem like a simple thing, but you must make sure you have a field in your form for the students to input their e-mail address.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.06.19 PM

Step three: Setup FormMule to send responses automatically

Once the form is created (including an e-mail field), you must setup the FormMule add-on so it e-mails students their answers immediately. I want to emphasize, FormMule is an add-on for Google Sheets, not Forms. Once you create a form, Drive creates a corresponding Sheet where the data is entered every time someone completes your form. The spreadsheet will be in the same place as your form, so just go back into Drive and open it up. Once you have opened your spread sheet and installed FormMule, this process is pretty simple and straight forward. Here are the steps to complete this process:

1. Choose your data source, which should be the worksheet labeled Form Responses 1.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.12.43 PM

2. Setup the form trigger to send a message as soon as the form is submitted. You can also setup FormMule to send the responses at a later time, which is what they call a Time Trigger.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.22.57 PM

3. Decide how many different templates you want to send students, and the establish conditions for each template. For example, if you are giving a multiple choice quiz you can use formulas to automatically grade the responses and send students either a certificate of completion for passing or a notification that they will have to retake the quiz. My recommendation, especially if you are new to FormMule, is to start simple by sending students a copy of what they just submitted to you. Once you feel more comfortable with this process, you can branch out and try sending different messages based on specific criteria.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.33.31 PM

4. Now you can create the message students will receive when they submit their responses. Because this is essentially a mail merge, you can integrate data from the spreadsheet into your customized response. To do this, you simply click on a merge tag and it will be added to your message. There is no text editor built into the template builder, so you will need to use good ole' HTML if you want to add any design features to your message. Below is an example of confirmation message I have created for my students.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.39.39 PM

Step four: Test your form

For me, this is the fun part. Once you have everything setup, you need to submit a couple of responses to make sure A) the confirmation message is actually sending, and B) the message looks like you want. I have to admit, I still get a little giddy when a message is automatically sent and it looks just right. Once everything looks just like you want, you are ready to go.

Feedback from my students has been they appreciate getting a confirmation message rather than feeling like their answers are being sent somewhere into the abyss. My next post will show you how to automatically score student multiple choice items, which is a pretty handy tool for giving immediate feedback.

What strategies or tools do you use to give students feedback when they submit their work to you.

The Teaching Professor Technology Conference 2015

TPT 2015

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

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

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

Using Google Drive as a file server

Have you ever been in a situation where you need to host several files on the Web? Did you need for those files to have a dedicated URL? Personally, I have had few situations where this was the case, but today I encountered a learning activity that required students to quickly upload images they just captured so they could add them to a Google Map. After some searching around, I found that the Google Drive hosting API is perfect for this sort of thing. Here is what I did ...

Create Drive Folders

The first thing I had to do was create a set of Google Drive folders for students to put the images they just captured. For this activity, students were running around our university taking pictures of some of the landmarks. They were then going to use these images to create an interactive map of the campus with the My Places tool in Google Maps. I created several folders in a Google account I use only for this class. My TA's and I connected a class set of iPads to this account so the students could load their images directly into Drive, which is what they did as soon as they got back to the classroom.

An important step in this process is to set the permissions for the folders to Public. You can do this directly through Drive. You will find the folder, right-click and choose Get Link.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.56.52 PM

 

You will then need to change the permissions. Google has a great explanation for how to do that right here.

Set Up the Hosted Site

This part is actually much easier than you might think. The first thing you need to do is grab this little URL:

http://googledrive.com/host/<folderID>/

Not sure where to find the folderID? I discuss it in this post. The URL will end up looking something like this:

http://googledrive.com/host/0B5YVN51uO5e_WGtSc2tBDB2bUk/ (don't worry, it doesn't work)

Google will add some characters to this URL as soon as you hit enter, but don't worry. It will work just fine. Here is an example of the files my students uploaded today. Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.04.13 PM Once students have found the image they need for their project, they will need to copy the URL so they can paste it (above).

Note: The only files that will show up in the hosted folder are image, video, document (Word, PDF, etc.), and HTML (and other web-authoring files). Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drawing files will NOT show up in the hosted folder.

In my case, the students were pasting these URLs into a Google Map placemark so their images would show up when the placemark was clicked. Several of them held the iPad the wrong way, so their images are sideways. (Sigh.) Here is the map we created in class.

So, that's it. Students can take images, quickly upload them to a Google Drive folder, and they are instantly hosted on the Web with a dedicated URL. No logging in, no FTP, clunky photo albums. Just my files and their URLs. I don't think I will need this functionality all that often, but it sure will be handy when I do.

Update on embedding Google Drive folders

As I have written about before, embedding Google Drive folders is a great way to manage content on your LMS. Rather than logging in, uploading, and waiting, you simply copy files into a folder on your computer, and they magically show up in your LMS for students to view.The only drawback was that last year Google blocked iFrame embedding on all Google Drive folders and Google Sites pages.

 

Thankfully, Wes Fryer posted about this same thing and I was able to get back on track using the following code.

List view <iframe src="https://drive.google.com/embeddedfolderview?id=FOLDER-ID#list" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe> Grid view <iframe src="https://drive.google.com/embeddedfolderview?id=FOLDER-ID#grid" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Finding the Folder ID can be a pain, especially if you are trying to embed a folder within a folder within a folder. I tend to create folders for everything, so I have to make sure I use the correct Folder ID. For example, here is the URL for one of my folders that is nested 4 folders deep. I have color-coded each level of the URL (which has been slightly altered to keep the folder private).

https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/#folders/0B5YVN51uO5e_ZHZlc3Zxd09pU3M/0B5YVN51uO5e_VlhYN1Q3MVoydjA/0B5YVN51uO5e_ei1aYmdFcW9EUWc/0B5YVN51uO5e_TFJkYzFhZ0ltbWs

The last sting of characters is for the folder I actually want to embed. I just need to copy that code and paste into the URL above where it says FOLDER-ID, like I did below:

<iframe src="https://drive.google.com/embeddedfolderview?id=0B5YVN51uO5e_TFJkYzFhZ0ltbWs#grid" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe>

You can always change the width and height to make the folder fit the space on your page. The process is pretty simple, and once you have done it a few times, it's actually quite easy. Good luck!

Give students timely feedback with a leaderboard

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Create your point structure

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

Step 2: Set up your spreadsheet

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

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

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

Step 3: Create a pivot table

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

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.05.54 PM

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets_and_Pictures

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

Step 4: Share the sheet with students

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

Option 1: The Whole Spreadsheet

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

Option 2: One Worksheet from the Spreadsheet

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

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

Here is where you find those values in RED:

Google_Drive_--_Page_Not_Found

 

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

Option 3: Interactive graph from Spreadsheet

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

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 2

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 3

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 4

 

Screen_Shot_2014-06-22_at_11_07_11_PM

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 5

 

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

 

 

Are You a Technology Ninja or Samurai?


ninja-samurai

I will start by stating the obvious: There is a HUGE difference between learning to use technology for yourself and using it effectively in the student learning process. Both applications of technology have specific skill sets, they inform each other, and they are both important. In the educational technology world, you might see this dichotomy through various lenses: digital media literacy, TPACK, SAMR, or some other framework you're fond of presenting at conferences.

My awareness of the massive difference between these technology applications came when I began encouraging the students in my large, 100-person education course to bring their laptops, tablets, and phones. OK, I don't have to actually encourage college students to bring their phones to class. Pry them out of their hands? That's more like it. Anyway, once I began infusing my class with activities that require technology, I realized I am not as good as teaching with it as I thought I was. Yes, I knew how to do some cool things to present information to my class, but when it came to using technology in real time with 100 students in a way that kept them active and engaged, I had a lot to learn. This is when I decided I was a pretty good Technology Ninja, but I had a long way to go until I was a Technology Samurai.

What do these two terms mean? Let me explain.

Technology Ninja

Ninja were covert agents who specialized in espionage, assassination, sabotage, and infiltration. They were skilled at disguising themselves as servants, camouflaging themselves with trees and other objects, and scaling the walls of buildings like Spider-Man. Their objective was to infiltrate enemy dwellings without being seen. In fact, there is probably a ninja in your pantry right now, scooping out your peanut butter with a Chinese Throwing Star.

As a Technology Ninja, I have gotten really good at using technology in ways that my students hardly know it's there. My most recent set of posts about Outsmarting the LMS is a good illustration of ways to be a Technology Ninja. You can embed documents and web pages, install scripts, and set up forms to make your job easier, and the people actually using these tools have no idea about the magic you have worked on the back end. They just know it works.

While these ninjutsu techniques save me a lot of time and energy in the long run, they do very little to influence the lived experience of my class meetings. Most of the work is done in the background, usually in the form of tinkering, testing, and modifying. It wasn't until I told my entire class of 100+ students that I wanted them to bring their devices to class that I realized these skills were not sufficient for me to reach the level of technology greatness I have always aspired to achieve.

Technology Samurai

When I first began thinking through these ideas, I wrote this out as SAMRi. Get it? SAMR with a lower-case i, like Apple does, only at the end of the word instead of the beginning. Because I am aiming for the R (redefinition) in SAMRand after I achieve the R in my technology integration skills/knowledge, then I will be a technology SAMRi! Uh ... yeah. Anything that needs that much explanation is not as clever as I initially thought it was. Also, SAMRi would direct a lot of traffic to my blog by people looking for Saudi Arabian folk music.

So, what is a Technology Samurai? The traditional samurai were an elite class of noble Japanese warriors, dedicated to protecting their culture, leaders, and territory. Unlike those stealth and sneaky ninjas, they were skilled at hand-to-hand combat and infantry tactics. Their weapons of choice were swords, kama, longbows, daggers, and armor. They were skilled horsemen, and they were also known to use rifles and cannons in the latter years of their existence. Samurai were also governed by a strict honor code, characterized by discipline and loyalty. In a word, they were fearless.

You know what else is fearless? Telling your class to BYOD. Unless you have thought through the details of your activity, you will have students knee deep in Pinterest or Facebook before you can say, "OK, let me just try one more thing to get this to work." Students love technology, but not in the way nerds like me think they love it. They love that technology connects them to the things they love.

So, after having done this for a semester, I have started coming up with a few essential skills that every Technology Samurai must master. These skills/tools are focused primarily on teaching in a BYOD or 1:1 environment. I will address being a Technology Samurai in the areas of digital media projects, collaboration, research, etc. in the coming weeks.

Sync your class

You must have a way to get every student in the same place and keep them there. Your class LMS page won't work. Neither will a Facebook group or Schoology or Edmodo. Why? There are too many other features to look at. Grades, assignments, forums, friends. Too many distractors. You need to keep them all in the same place at once. I recommend a tool like Apollo or Top Hat. If all of your students are on iPads, you may consider NearPod. Each of these tools has something in common: they put your content on every screen in the room at the same time. Yes, students can stray away, but not as much as you might think.

Reduce Friction

This is something that took me awhile to figure out. Personally, I do not like logging in to things. I would much rather log in once and then have the tool remember me. Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter .... they are great at this. My school's LMS? It's like Guy Pearce in Memento every time I close the browser window. Whenever possible, I try to minimize the number of times students have to log in to do class activities. Once is ideal, twice is acceptable, three times is just getting to be plain annoying.

Collect student responses

In addition to getting all of the students in one place, virtually speaking, you want to keep them engaged. A good way to do this is to involve them in activities that make them think then require a response. There are several tools that will let you do this. Apollo and Top Hat have built-in student response features. Socrative and Infuselearning provide another way for students to respond, and they do not have to set up an account to do it. They just enter the class code, and they automatically receive a prompt every time the teacher posts a question.

Deploy links

Another important tool to have in your arsenal if you are going to teach like a samurai is to be able to deploy links to the class. By deploy links, I mean send the student out from your synced content to other content (videos, web pages, forms, etc.). Apps like Apollo and Infuselearning have a built-in link tool that will send a URL to every student logged into your class page or presentation. This is really handy if you want students to spend a few minutes reading and discussing an article, blog post, video, or image. You can also send the students to an editable Google Doc, Sheet, or Presentation if you want to give them a place to discuss or share ideas.

An acceptable alternative to sending links to students is using a URL shortening tool, like bit.ly or goo.gl. Just remember to use a serif font so the students can tell the different between capital I and lower-case L. You may also want to consider if this is appropriate based on the size of the room and projection system, the age of the students, and number of times you are having them key in shortened URLs. If you have a bunch of these on the board, it may get confusing to the students.

Facilitate group work

Another skill to master as a Technology Samurai is to keep students engaged in group activities with their computers. I mean, the students have lugged their computers to class and followed along up to this point, so why not do some things with computers that computers are uniquely good at doing. Maybe that involves editing the same document at the same time, or adding slides to a common presentation. You can have them pin and explain places on a map.  Annotate or draw images using the drawing quiz tool in Apollo or Infuselearning. Create a 5-picture story, or capture a 30-second explanation on Educreations. I'm not trying to exhaust the possibilities here. If you went to the trouble to have the students bring their computers to class (or went to the extreme trouble of providing a device for every student in the school), then leverage the capabilities of a computer. Don't use it like a pencil then complain that students just want to look at Pinterest.

Showcase the students

Now that you have had the students doing some activities on the computer during class, showcase their work. Display their annotations and diagrams. Flip through the presentation and let each group present their page. Show the 5-pic stories and see if the students can guess the topic. Watch the 30-second explanations. This part of the BYOD learning environment is more than the payoff. It's the point in the lesson in which you communicate to your students whether you, as the chief learner in the room, value this activity as a real learning endeavor or just a hi-tech time filler. If you truly value the work they are doing, then devote time to acknowledging, praising, critiquing, and sharing the fruits of their labor. If you blow past the showcase, don't be surprised if the students show less enthusiasm and engagement the next time around.

You should strive to be both a ninja and a samurai. A samja. A ninjurai. A SAMuRinja. Both skill sets are important for teachers these days, for different reasons. One will keep you learning, the other will help you focus on student learning. The way of the ninja and samurai is not easy. They involve risk, uncertainty, failures, faith, persistence, patience, creativity, and problem solving. There is great cost in becoming a lifelong learner, but it's not nearly as costly as settling in and ceasing to grow and develop as a teacher.

So, what are your examples of being a Technology Ninja or Samurai? I will follow up on this, and I would love to hear your ideas.

Outsmarting the LMS: Creating a DIY Learning Module

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

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

Step 1: Create a Google Form

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

Texas_Ethics_Online_Training_-_Google_Drive

Step 2: Set up the spreadsheet

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

Texas_Ethics_Online_Training__Responses_

Step 3: Create a certificate of completion

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

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive

Next, you open the Merge by MailChimp panel.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 9.36.06 AM

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

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

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive 2

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

Copy_of_Ethics_Texas_Certificate_template_-_Google_Drive 3

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

_Test__Texas_Educator_Ethics_Training_Course_certificate_-_curbyalexander_gmail_com_-_Gmail

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

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

Outsmarting the LMS: Download Links for Google Docs

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

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

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

Step 1: Locate the Document ID

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

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-9

Step 2: Create a download link on the document

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

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-5

Step 3: Add download URL to the link

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

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

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

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

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

Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-15

 

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

Outsmarting the LMS: Embedding Google Docs

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

Obviously, I chose the second option.

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

Step One: Convert to Google Docs

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

TCU_Shared_-_Google_Drive

TCU_Shared_-_Google_Drive

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

Step 2: Grab the Code

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

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

Step 3: Paste and Modify the Code

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

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_-3

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_-3 2

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander_

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

Student_Teaching_Mid_School_742__Alexander__and_Embedding_Docs_in_eCollege_-_Google_Drive-4

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

Outsmarting the LMS: Creating Drag and Drop Folders

Update! Since posting this several months ago, Google has disabled embedding a Google Site. It's nice to know my Technology Ninja skills are being noticed (which is the exact opposite of what a ninja actually wants to do). I will leave this tutorial in case Google decides to start playing nice again.

Software developers must have a really distorted view of how professors use their time. Maybe they think we teach a few times per week and spend the rest of our time playing golf or drinking coffee while we complain about students. Maybe they think we enjoy spending hours each semester staring at progress bars while our files upload. Who knows. What I do know is that over the last 10+ years in higher education, I have developed a love/hate relationship with every LMS I have been forced to use. I love them because it is the best way to communicate with my students. When they want to know something, this is where they look first. I can post grades quickly, give feedback on their work, and create a safe place to share information.

I also hate the LMS because most of them are outdated, not very attractive (though that is not really such a big deal), and require redundant work from semester to semester. My goal the last few years has been to outsmart the LMS and find ways to work efficiently despite its limitations. I will spread these ideas out over several posts, which may take me several weeks to work through. The first topic I would like to address is creating drag-n-drop folders for documents and other media.

Step One: Creating Folders in Google Drive

The first step is to download and install the Google Drive desktop app. This is a pretty easy step, and the program runs unnoticeably on your computer. Once you have this installed, it will sync your Google Drive from the cloud to your computer. Anything you create from the computer (folders, files, etc.) will also be instantly synced to the cloud. I like to stay organized, so I created folders for each class, and then created folders within each class folder for the different things I would be sharing with students. This includes assigned readings, PPT files, assignment descriptions, etc. I already had some of my files ready for the new semester, so I copied them into the appropriate folders.

Step Two: Embed Folders into Google Sites

This is the step that might be a deal breaker for some people. As you may know, you can share a Google Drive folder with anyone with the link, which is a pretty handy feature when you want to share a bunch of stuff that might exceed the e-mail attachment limit. Unfortunately, Google has blocked the folder view in Drive from being embedded using the iframe tag in HTML. If you do this, you will be met with a blank box in the middle of your webpage. The only way to embed dynamic content from a Google Drive folder is to embed it in a Google Sites page. Sites has a widget for embedding an entire folder. So, for every folder you want to share with students, you will have to create a webpage for that folder. In order to keep myself organized, I structured the Google Site exactly like the folders in Google Drive. For example, I created a page for each class, then I made a page under that page for each folder I want to share. This took some time, but I should only have to do this once. I can always make more pages and folders, but the basic structure is there.

Step Three: Embed the Google Sites Pages

The final step is pretty straight forward. You do not need to know a lot of HTML to embed the Google Sites pages into your LMS. My institution uses Pearson LearningStudio, which allows me to directly edit the HTML. First, I created a tab, or Unit as they call it, for each folder. I then used the following code to embed the webpage on that tab:

<iframe src="http://www.somepage.com" width="100%" height="1000"></iframe>

You may need to adjust the settings of your Google Sites page so the embedded folder will stand out, but that is an easy fix. It should look something like this:

Crit_Investgatn_Teach_Learning_040__Alexander_

The beauty of this system is two-fold. First, any time I want to add or delete files from a folder, I just do it from the Google Drive folder on my computer and the changes are immediately synced anywhere the folder is embedded. I can also edit files and the changes are immediately synced. Second, this code is preserved anytime I copy a course to a new semester. So, I only have to do this once and all of my content follows.

What hacks have you come up with to make the LMS easier to deal with? I would love to hear your ideas.